Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Scrambled tofu

The Village Voice profiles a band called The Shondes, "a three-quarters transgender, three-quarters Jewish, 100-percent-political Park Slope quartet." I was intrigued, in part because one of these Shondes is, I believe, a former co-worker (just someone I'd see around the building), but more because this group is clearly a parody of itself, whether it's aware of it or not. From the Voice:

"I think we all have a lot of frustration about hipster Jewish culture," [band member Louisa] Solomon says during a discussion heavy on politics, music, and appropriate transgender pronouns (Brannigan is "she,"Oberman is "he," and Fruchter won't commit to either) over coffee and scrambled tofu at an East Village vegetarian diner. "There's an assumption in those communities that it's pretty liberal and progressive. But in fact, especially in the hipster culture of Matisyahu, the politics underlying them are in fact funded by Jewish institutions that are really Zionist and wedded to an ideology of Jewish nationalism and Jewish heterosexuality and procreation and all this stuff we really hate."

I'm going to have to step up to the plate and defend Zionism, Jewish nationalism, and Jewish heterosexuality, all things I find quite wonderful. Not sure what Solomon means by "Jewish heterosexuality," now that I think of it, but I'll assume she means being Jewish and into the opposite sex. Guilty as charged. But I don't "hate" Jewish homosexuality--"Yossi and Jagger," the most beautiful movie ever made, would never have come into being without it. Seriously, people, don't hate.

But what about Zionism or Jewish nationalism does this band have a problem with? Granted neither is especially hip. "Hipster Judaism," which they rightly denounce as lame, is also not hip, but is rather an invention of various Jewish institutions--yes, the same ones that have the politics so despised by The Shondes--to keep younger Jews involved, and as such is no cooler than Christian indie rock or "Seventh Heaven."

Breaking away from pieties and embracing self-hatred always guarantees Jewish artists a certain audience. Ironic love of the shtetl and the nebbish, while wearing a keffiyeh, is hip; wear an IDF shirt and you might as well announce that you are boring, suburban, and psyched about the next Dave Matthews Band concert. But is it any more interesting to follow a hipster party line than a suburban one? It's certainly no more progressive. To "really hate" Jewish nationalism is no less idiotic than really hating Palestinian nationalism. Declaring one's hatred for one side or the other does nothing to help find a peace-oriented solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although perhaps, progressive as they are, this is not The Shondes's wish.

As for procreation, that seems an odd thing to "really hate"-- it's one thing not to wish to be involved in any personally, but if sperm and eggs did not meet and merge, not only would there be no Zionism, there'd be no transgendered rock bands, no Village Voice, and no one to scramble all that tofu.

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