Author, speaker and social satirist Fran Lebowitz is known for her whip-smart commentary on all that is terrible and worthy of her disdain in the zeitgeist. At age 65, the longtime New Yorker is more plugged in than your average Millennial—despite never having owned a cellphone (she despises them). We got Lebowitz on the line to get her thoughts on everything from Kim Kardashian to the art (or lack thereof) of emojis before her stop in town at New Repertory Theatre for a conversation with WGBH executive arts editor Jared Bowen on Oct. 24.
So, what’s the worst thing about Boston?
The worst thing about Boston to me, even when I was that age, is that everyone seems to be the same age. Two, it’s so homogeneous. But now that I’m hundreds of years older than these people, it’s somehow less annoying. I suppose it’s because when I was that age it seemed like a giant school.
How do you keep so hyper-in touch with pop culture, not even owning a cell phone?
I can’t imagine I could know more about it. Basically, I don’t want to know much at all, but you know about these people because people never stop talking about them. If you gave up all your modern devices, you would find that it’s true. This is all that people talk about, so much more than I remember people used to do this, by the way.
What’s a current hot pop culture topic you find particularly annoying?
This is an awful thing to say, but when I heard that Kim Kardashian had gotten robbed, I giggled. [Laughs.] I know it’s not a human response, I understand that, but I can’t imagine I’m the only person who had that response. Stop. Showing. Off. That doesn’t exist anymore, that phrase. You never hear about showing off anymore, used in a derogatory way, or used at all. Because now, people are just “expressing themselves.”
Social media has had that effect…
Truthfully, before any of this stuff was even invented—social life was never real. … A lot of it comes from court life; not that you’d recognize it as such now. And that is artificial. You’re never completely yourself when you’re with other people—whoever that self may be. What’s new is that people seem to think of themselves as some sort of product…for mass consumption. I’m sure this happens in Boston, but my whole life I’ve heard, “Everyone in town thinks this.” “Everyone in New York thinks that.” And I always knew, even a child, and the town that they were talking about was a small town, that it was just the 20 people they cared about. Because that’s who “everyone” means. But now, I think they actually do mean everyone! Because now you can show it to everyone. If everyone in the entire world wants to look at it, you can show it to them. That seems like way too many to please, to me.
Do you think our society is on the decline?
Our society is definitely on the decline. Not because of that, though. I really don’t—I know a lot of people my age do, but I don’t think it’s this stuff. I think what causes a decline in our society is the unbelievably terrible state of the public school system. That’s what caused it. Nobody wants to hear that, because then you have to fix it. But most of the institutional fault is because of people my age. Because they’re in charge of everything, and they’ve been in charge of everything forever. If everything is falling apart, it’s your fault.
Well, everyone thinks this current generation is the worst generation…
I absolutely don’t think it’s true. It depends on what you mean by young. When you’re old, everybody’s young. My friends will say, ‘This young writer, he’s only 40.” And I’ll say, “Forty is not young for a writer. It’s young for the president.” Here’s the problem when you’re my age—you can be much, much younger than us, and still not young at all! My belief about generations below me, and that generation who are in their 40s, who are the first generation who looked to me, to be below me, are just a terrible generation, culturally. When they started writing books and making movies I thought, “This is horrible.” Because nobody ever realizes they’re going to get older than they are then. I think that the people who are really young, in their 20s, they’re a billion times better than people in their 40s, for sure. They’re much more interesting; they’re less annoying. At this point in my life, I really just want people to be less annoying. I’m not sitting here waiting for bursts of genius. Please just be less annoying. But the one way they’re fantastically better is that the boys are so much better. Not like the boys in my generation, who I suppose are old men now, but they’re still boys. One good thing the older people did is they didn’t raise boys the way they did when I was young. Nobody in their 20s now is ever going to turn out to be Donald Trump. It wouldn’t be allowed! And believe me, there’s more than one Donald Trump in that generation; there are billions of Donald Trump. And of course, not in every way—he has plenty of unique qualities, one of them being his hair.
Speaking of Trump, do you think he can possibly be serious about all this?
I imagine he is serious about it. [Laughs.] Here’s the thing I’m longing for. I’m longing for the day that I don’t have to hear, 10 times a day, “Did you hear what Donald Trump said?” This is literally like having to hear, every single day, the pronouncements of the stupidest person you ever met in your entire life. … He won the Republican nomination, so he’s serious. And it’s a serious matter for the country, and for the world. You know, who the president of the United States is affects every person on the planet. The United States might not be what it once was, but nothing has replaced it. So it’s a very serious matter. But I don’t think there is the slightest chance that Donald Trump will be president. Zero chance. And nobody would accuse me of being a cockeyed optimist. But I have to say—I don’t have a single friend who agrees with me. All of my friends, including ones who are kind of big-shot journalists and have actual sources—I have no sources, I’m not a journalist, and I’m not an optimist. I know how many stupid people are out there in the country, I just don’t think there are quite enough to put him over the top. I also know for a fact that all my friends who say they’re leaving the country if he becomes president are not leaving the country. Because none of them left the country when George Bush became president, and they all said that too.
I’ll give you a pop culture topic and you give me your thoughts. OK: Justin Bieber.
What do I think of him? Well, it’s simple, I’ve never thought of him.
Here’s an example of something I know of, but I’ve never seen—except printed, like in magazines and newspapers. But I have, actually, a strong feeling about them, which is that these are hieroglyphics. This is not progress. This is going backward thousands and thousands of years. [Raises voice] Progress was the alphabet! They’re very blunt, which is the opposite of the alphabet. They seem to me to be very confining. I understand you can make them up, but it would probably be easier, and definitely more interesting, to think of some new words.
I only saw the first three episodes of Girls. … If I was still a girl, I would probably have liked it. But I’ll tell you this: I like the idea of Lena Dunham a lot.
Harambe the Gorilla and the subsequent meme, “Dicks Out for Harambe”…
So the gorilla’s dead, right? Is this some sort of attempt to bring the gorilla back to life? … It’s hard for me to understand who has this kind of time on their hands. There must be some other idiotic thing you can be doing with your time.
Is Snapchat different from Instagram? I’m not sure which, but I did one of them for Vanity Fair. They ran them every day for a month, one a day, and they were like 15 seconds long. I never saw them, but I know that they’re very popular because when that thing was on I could hardly get in or out of the subway station.