Sunday, May 30, 2010
Friday, May 28, 2010
-People I knew in high school who now blog, in their own names, about their attempts at finding boyfriends. Yes, "people," as in, more than one. You know how Facebook lets you waste time learning that Acquaintance A is In An Open Relationship and viewing all 500 of her photos to figure out which guy is Open Boyfriend Z? Thanks to this one blog, I now know the minutiae of Acquaintance B's attempts at getting a dude, how her relationships tend to go south, where her mother and therapist stand... If someone had straight-up asked me, "Do you care what Acquaintance B is up to these days, and wonder as to the state of her love life?," I'd have had to say not really. But it's just there.
-Cheapness Studies. Hey, I'm trying.
Benjamin Schwarz analyzes the nostalgia many feel for a certain type of lively, diverse urban neighborhood, with its mom-and-pop latte shops and so forth, and points out that such areas are by definition transitional. Those whose complaints about "gentrification" are really about blandification (a Subway replacing an old-time stockings boutique; a pricey café closing, that could well be replaced by - god forbid - a cupcake shop; anything, however posh, being replaced by a Starbucks) are interested, Schwarz explains, not in a sustainable form of urban life, but in a particular stage of the gentrification process, one they romanticize into permanence.
It occurred to me that this is the same thing as is going on with the efforts to keep secular/cultural Judaism alive in the US. It's not so much that what's missed never existed as that its presence was so precarious, dependent on factors whose reinstitution no one sensible, when it comes down to it, would support. In the case of quaint Greenwich Village, poverty and crime kept the Marc Jacobs empire in check. One can respectably wish neighborhoods would remain less wealthy, but more impoverished is a tough case to make. To sustain quirky Allen-Costanza Judaism, you'd need to maintain a level of mutual wariness between Jews and non-Jews that would feel like a great step back. As in, there are Jews who regret the intermarriage rate, and who ask that even secular Jews marry in. But does anyone Jewish, however nostalgic, long for a time when non-Jews shuddered at the thought of marrying one of our kind?
I lovelovelove how this letter turns the fact that Elena Kagan got some non-A grades in law school into something not only compatible with brilliance and dedication, but indicative of both.
Thursday, May 27, 2010
On the subway in one direction, I'm listening to Dan Savage's podcast, and I look over and see the guy next to me is reading his column in the Village Voice.
On the subway back, I'm reading the Abbé Grégoire's 1788 manifesto on what's to be done about the Jews, the one that set the stage for the emancipation of France's Jews during the Revolution. More specifically, I'm reading the chapter where he explains that the Jews, they have kids way too young. I look up to see a very young Hasidic woman pushing a baby carriage, accompanied by a girl of about 14.
It's always fun when two advice columnists take on more or less the same issue simultaneously, with radically different results. For example:
-Dan Savage defends a 32-year-old high school coach's relationship with a 20-year-old college student.
-Emily Yoffe vetoes a 25-year-old grad student's crush on a 19-year-old former student.
There are some minor differences (the coach case involved sexting, but the gf's not a student at the same institution; the coach is a young man, whereas the grad student's an ancient cougar), but I suspect if the questions had been posed the other way around (Yoffe dealing with the coach, Savage with the TA), or with the genders reversed, the responses would have been the same.
For Savage, the issue is consenting-adults. Taboos should be kept to a minimum - here, no one's anyone's teacher, boss, or relative. If every relationship that could seem however mildly unsettling to anyone for any reason were ruled out, romantic options would be limited indeed. (Meet someone through work, who's not a supervisor or employee, but still, someone in the same field - scandal! Avoid work relationships and opt for bars or online dating - desperation!)
Meanwhile, for Yoffe, who's an advice columnist but not, as Savage is, a sex columnist, it's whether a 25-year-old already building her career is well-served by dating, as she puts it, a teenage boy. Even though the (potential) relationship in question wouldn't even violate Yale's expansive rules on such matters, Yoffe presents the situation as... well, it made me think of the "South Park" episode where the kindergarten teacher has an affair with one of her students, and rather than being scandalized that a five-year-old's involved, all the men of the town just say "niiice," because the teacher's young and good-looking. (So, perhaps gender does enter into it. One imagines a 25-year-old woman is thinking commitment or even marriage, and that a 19-year-old guy has another good decade before the thought crosses his mind. There are exceptions, but advice columnists deal in generalities, and nothing in the letter suggests the TA wants a hookup, or that the undergrad is interested in the TA to begin with.) It doesn't matter to Yoffe that a grad student dating an undergrad who's not her student is probably technically allowed by every university that permits dating. The issue is what happens when she brings a date to the department holiday party and someone in a position to recommend her for jobs asks, "Where did you two meet?"
I'm not sure what to think. I want to agree with Savage, and don't think either relationship crosses the line, but Yoffe makes a decent real-world point. What she's suggesting isn't a ban on relationships like the one her reader seeks, just a certain degree of attentiveness to the possibly but not necessarily unfair consequences to one's actions. I suppose the only message to take from all this is the rather banal one, that much more ought to be permitted than done.
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Here's something I don't understand: kitten heels. They pair all the wobbliness of stilettos with the non-leg-lengthening properties of flats. I've often been in a store and noticed a shoe I thought was a flat, only to pick it up and see that pointless thing jutting out from the bottom, a heel that won't make me perceptibly taller. So, women who like them, what's the appeal? The name? The association with our (otherwise) well-dressed First Lady? If you want dainty without the height, what's wrong with ballet flats? What is the advantage of this over this?
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Saturday, May 22, 2010
Today, I dragged Jo to that coffee shop, because the brownies really are worth it. Then I see the sign for brownies, but no brownies! I see a man who's just ordered one - the last, no doubt - and tell Jo that we should probably just leave. But just in case, I ask the intimidatingly hip barista if they happen to have more, and lo and behold yes they do, and out comes the next batch of 'em. Oh lucky day! So we split the thing, and I'm really digging in. I notice that there's brownie all over my face, and as we're having a good laugh about this, Keanu Reeves walks in, dashing, perfect hair, and with entourage. That man (an actor I hadn't thought about since cutting his picture out of a magazine at age 10 or 11) has aged well.
Friday, May 21, 2010
I normally agree with her suggestions, but Prudie's way off in her advice to the girlfriend who finds it unsettling that her boyfriend's female friend will be sharing a room with him at a conference that, it appears, she's not even attending. Obvious questions: If he's only seeing the friend because she lives nearby, why the slumber party? Isn't his disclosure almost a free pass for messing around? (Wasn't this dealt with on Seinfeld, when George uses pseudo-openness to attempt an affair with Marisa Tomei?)
But more to the point, different people are comfortable with different things - even among its adherents, monogamy has endless meanings and variations. A wide range of activities could be considered iffy by some and 100% OK by others - ambiguous-sounding coffee-dates that aren't work-related, drinks alone with a new friend of the opposite sex, remaining close friends with exes, sharing a hotel room with a just-a-friend, etc., etc. None of these are breaches of capital-M Monogamy, but all have the potential to contradict monogamy as understood by a particular couple. Obviously, there are limits - restrictions ought to go both ways, and there are some rules that could impact both partners while plainly speaking to creepy possessiveness on the part of one (ruling out Facebook friends of the opposite sex, say, or insisting on only having joint email accounts). The professional sphere is coed; any attempt at restricting a partner's interactions with the opposite sex that interferes with (legit) networking probably crosses the line. (Extreme example: forbidding a partner to even attend far-off conferences in the first place.)
But I don't think it would take much effort to track down relatively non-neurotic couples who'd object, in both directions, to the hotel-room scenario, or who'd agree, again, in both directions, that it was quite reasonable. It's not that the boyfriend's callous, or that the girlfriend's a possessive freak. It's that if this isn't something they can work out with an effortless compromise, the sort that doesn't require an advice-columnist's intervention, they might want to both see other people.
I recently predicted the disappearance of The Secular American Jew. But I'm talking eventually. For now, Seinfeld's in syndication and we're not going anywhere. While I don't think there's much that can be done to make a population whose very existence depends on an ever-fading social divide with non-Jews continue for all eternity, I do think there are ways to increase interest in Israel among the apathetic. I don't quite agree with Beinart that a more liberal Zionism that chucks any anti-Arab rhetoric would bring young liberal Jews into the Zionist fold in droves, although I'm all in favor of that shift happening, so who knows. Anyway, my ideas are outlined below:
1) Make Birthright about Israel and not America. The trip that sends young American (and other Diaspora) Jews on free trips to Israel is obviously the place to begin. And every time Birthright comes up, someone, soon enough, will refer to "Zionist brainwashing." This could be the case on some trips, but the one I went on was far more devoted to convincing wary American Jewish guys to embrace (literally, figuratively) American Jewish girls - and, in the person of IDF soldiers, to convince American Jewish girls of the potential of Jewish masculinity - than it was about anything to do with our surroundings. If my group took anything away from the trip relating to Israel in particular, it was probably that the country's drinking age is under 21. The whole thing might as well have taken place in Montreal. Israel was at best a picturesque environment, one from which we had to be shielded by a security guard and rules preventing us from wandering off on our own for ten minutes because OMG terrorism. What I'd like to see isn't indoctrination, just more discussion of Israeli history, contemporary life in Israel, and so forth, including but not limited to the conflict, and less pleading instruction on how to be a Jew in America.
2) Place Zionism into a postcolonial-studies framework. Young, liberal, educated American Jews who hear "Israel" and "colonialism" assume what's meant is that Israel is a colonial entity. We need to get everyone to read Memmi, and to think of Israel as a state that came out of oppression, that's flawed in all the ways one expects of such states, but that's surprisingly successful, considering. No, the right-wing friends-of-Israel won't like this. But if young Jews had a better understanding of Zionism as a liberation movement for a people who'd been faulted for centuries for not having a land of their own ("Go back to Palestine" was a cry yelled at Diaspora Jews, after all), a movement that couldn't possibly have emerged in response to the Holocaust because it began well before, then perhaps the necessity of Israel as a Jewish state would become a starting point. How to best and most ethically protect Israel - and how to criticize its current actions that some read as colonialist but that I'd choose to criticize with other language for reasons I won't get into here - could then be discussed from a place where the country's very existence isn't up for debate by those who don't quite get where it came from in the first place.
3) Put Israeli culture above Israeli politics, or at least shift their relative importance to American Jews so that the latter doesn't fully overpower the former. Israel apologists so often come up with the same list of reasons we should love the place. Reasons 1-98 have to do with Israel being the good guy in every last conflict with its neighbors or the Palestinians - those who believe this believe it, and those who don't think it's all kinds of ridiculous. Reason 99 is Israeli high-tech achievements, inventions, and so forth. Reason 100 is Bar Refaeli. It gets tiresome. The existence of any kind of Israeli culture, high or low, is obscured. Music? Cuisine? Fashion? Film? If what Israel's defenders are trying to communicate is that the country is not defined by its symbolic place in international relations, the way to argue that point isn't by explaining just how hopeless the Palestinian leadership was in this or that year, but by cultivating an appreciation of Israel-the-place. American Jews more up on how Israel actually is, and what Israelis really are like, might end up in some ways more critical of specific Israeli policies and all that. There'd be less knee-jerk rah-rah, but also less knee-jerk I'm-liberal-which-means-I-think-Israel's-evil.
Wednesday, May 19, 2010
It seems self-evident to me that secular/cultural American Jews - the ones who really get Allen-Roth-Seinfeld (even if we, too, cringe from time to time), whose speech evokes Zabars or Flatbush, and whose level of observance is slim-to-none - are on their (our) way out. Ours is an entity that has always required two factors to persist: on the one hand, an active interest on the part of some members to keep the group going, and on the other, a social border of sorts keeping Jews and non-Jews apart. This border existed in part but not entirely because of anti-Jewish feeling from the outside, but at any rate it's the two combined - the positive interest of some Jews in keeping the culture going, paired with the fact that all Jews were defined externally and incapable of escape even if they wanted out (converts still being referred to as Jews and all that) - that in the US and in Western Europe kept that thing going. Today, one part of that equation is just about gone.
Which leads me to the WWPD Grand Theory of Intermarriage in the Contemporary US: The social border here today exists less than it did at any point in modern Jewish history I can think of.* What this means, among other things, is that while in past generations, the default was to marry another Jew, today, not so much. Rather than congratulating previous generations of secular-but-in-marrying for really caring about what it means to be Jewish and chastising our own for apathy, as is the typical Jewish-communal (and, often, Jewish-individual) response, we might consider that back in the Golden Age, non-Jewish marriage partners were much, much less of an option, in terms of Jewish family disapproval, sure, but also in terms of who non-Jews were willing to date, and of how socially integrated even acculturated Jews were in the first place. Jews had all kinds of will towards assimilation way back when - not all, of course, and not even most, perhaps, but there's enough evidence that those who tried so often failed that it helps to look not only at what some Jews wanted, but what, broadly speaking, was possible.
Because here's how it goes today. Let's say you're a secular Jew who really cares about Jewishness, who's involved in all those great activities aimed at keeping the legacy alive (Heeb, J Street, you name it) and who's all principled and opposed to intermarriage. You'll meet more Jews than those who really couldn't care less, but since you're secular, you live in a mixed world, your college, even if "disproportionately Jewish," is still majority non-. Possible Jewish partners for you are reduced because you're not looking for someone observant, but also because you'd rather not be with someone Jewish and, for lack of a better phrase, self-hating, because that gets tedious, and because such people are not usually looking to date other Jews to begin with. Of the two or three remaining Jewish possibilities, there's a good chance there won't be sufficient mutual romantic interest to get anything going. At which point, non-Jews or cryptic singledom start to seem like the only options.
Or let's say one of the two or three acceptable Jewish possibilities does work out. You can rest assured that you, at least, did not contribute to the problem. Then what of your children? They'll be Jews sure enough, but then... You can tell them to marry in, but "in" what? If it's not about religion, then what? Blood? That's racist! they'll exclaim, and you'll have a tough time with counterarguments. And it's back to square one.
While intergroup marriage doesn't mean the end to any kind of secular Jewish identity (consider, for instance, that the two young actors most associated with Jewish roles were born to such unions), it means the eventual end of an ethnicity independent of either religion or the state of Israel (as in, actually inhabiting it, not just approving from afar).
As much as I find this unsettling, I'd find the only practical alternative even more so. To resurrect, so to speak, the social boundary might do wonders for the Jews, but would be a disaster for actual Jews, who are now accustomed to deciding how much we want to opt in or out of various aspects of Judaism and Jewishness alike. Asking secular Jews to resist assimilation sounds noble enough when we're picturing a bold stand against blond WASP hegemony. But what assimilation really means isn't, these days, joining up with some generically white-country-club version of America. It frequently means pairing off with someone even less assimilated to this upper-crust version of white America. It's easy enough for a liberal American Jew to roll his eyes at cousin Larry from Long Island marrying a bubbly former Miss Kentucky. But what if the "shiksa" is not The Oppressor, but a black or Mexican woman? Or what if the partner's WASPy as all get-out but same-sex? Once "assimilation" means full participation in liberal America, rather than simply a form of social climbing with a twist of self-hatred, it's near-impossible for liberal American Jews to oppose it except through... big-time religious observance or Zionism, neither of which are real possibilities for that set.
Usual suspects I suspect may respond to this, and all others, comment away.
*And thinking of it I have been. Countdown to all-about-the-diss post begins.
The model-off-duty-as-fashion-inspiration-for-us-all trend has seriously gone too far. Wow! A black jacket, white t-shirt, and jeans! I bet if I made the same style choices, I'd look just like her! But wait! I wear the same thing every day! How can it be? Must be her accessories... In other news, that Fashionista post has just told me which model it was who took my spot on the bench in front of a certain Nolita coffee bar not long ago. (If she's 19, let's just call me Elena Kagan minus the accomplishments and be done with it.)
I feel as though there's a post to be written, between on the one hand Rita's ongoing discussion of academic frauds ('I swear I was valedictorian of Harvard, Yale, and Princeton!') and the broader ongoing discussion of how tough it is out there for high-achieving women, how they're forced to deny their academic successes just to get a date ('What's a Harvard?').
I'm not sure what that post should be. ('Status is Everything Except When It's Not?') I'm reminded of Simone de Beauvoir's focus, in The Second Sex, on the ways discrimination against women have affected the sort of women who but for their gender would be Sartre. As in, how many women are at the very-very tip-top of the most-impressive-sounding programs at universities whose names are best referred to euphemiso-geographically? Is it unfair that Kagan 'can't get a date' (which I don't buy), whereas a male Kagan would have a harem of eager interns (which I do)? If that's true, then fine, unfair. But how many women are cursed in this way? You'd need to be a woman whose real CV mirrored the fake one Rita links to for this to be any kind of issue. If you blur the question, you can reach something approximating Major Issue territory - Emily Yoffe, for instance, conflates achievement, intelligence, and income, when in life these only partially overlap. Lots of wives may outperform their husbands in one or two but not all of these, so if the husband for whatever reason needs to see himself as higher-status than the wife, he just has to focus elsewhere. To stick with examples I can understand: She studies poetry at Yale? He can study math at Obscure State U. She studies math at Obscure? In that case he can study poetry at Yale. And so forth.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
Now that the latest round of American Jews and Zionism has been pointed out to me by three people, I guess it's time to weigh in on behalf of my anachronistic demographic: the under-30, not-right-wing, non-Orthodox, American Jewish Zionists. Or, speaking just on behalf of myself, as another member of this dying breed has already responded.
I'm saving actual paragraph-formation for the dissertation (which, lucky readers, you'll be hearing about soon, and which has diddly squat to do with matters I-P), so allow me to respond in list form. Apologies for not having read what all the young male Jewish wunderkind journalists have, I've heard tell, already said on the matter.
1) It's not cool (sorry, not respected) for young, educated Jews to be rah-rah Israel these days. Having such views is, in my generation, typically assumed to mean that one failed to properly rebel against the "establishment," the presumed parental indoctrination, and so forth. Speaking as the only member of this set to go on Birthright Israel and find that there could have been more discussion of Zionism (rah-rah would have been OK; positive and critical alike would have been fantastic), I think it's fair to say that Beinart has correctly assessed the mood of this generation of secular American Jews.
2) Weird that Beinart doesn't mention J Street. There are lefty American Jews who care about Israel, and not in the "I care so much about Israel that I'm going to devote my life to destroying its existence as a Jewish state" sense that other lefty American Jews have made famous.
3) It's all kinds of absurd to suggest that Jews are the new WASPs* (gin and tonics I consumed on Birthright Israel notwithstanding), but I think Ross Douthat's right that the importance of secular Jews as a distinct group is ever-shrinking. The fence, so to speak, that used to keep the Alvy Singers away from the Annie Halls is long gone. Demands that secular Jews in-marry or otherwise in-socialize strike many secular Jews - rightly, I think - as tough to back up, if not "racist." (Oh these cans of worms.) Jews are simply more accepted in America today than in Europe (or the US) way back when. All of this certainly does add up to the likelihood that soon enough, the vast majority of Jews remaining in the US will be ones with an active, internally-driven Jewish identity. Which is a good thing, because it means Jews are no longer being defined, from the outside, as a "race" from which there's no exit, and because Jews who felt 100% whichever nationality (German, say) but were often seen as 100% Jewish regardless are the classic victims of anti-Semitism. But it's not so fabulous insofar as it's the end of a certain cultural tradition, and really, how many Jews who identify with Seinfeld look forward to "Jewish" meaning, by default, Republican and Orthodox?
4) A quick mention/disclaimer, for those who haven't read any of my other posts on the matter, on what I mean by "Zionist" when I use the term in reference to myself.
5) The line of Beinart's that stuck out to me most was: "The drama of Jewish victimhood—a drama that feels natural to many Jews who lived through 1938, 1948, or even 1967—strikes most of today’s young American Jews as farce." Why this? Because if you have a sense of modern Jewish history that extends back more than five minutes - back to before the 20th century, say - you'll realize that every time anti-Semitism was on the rise in Place X, the right-thinking, liberal-minded, sensible Jews of Place X considered the Jews who pointed this out overreacting hysterics, because after all, we're no longer in the Middle Ages! Replace "Middle Ages" with "Nazi Germany"... I mean, of course things have been worse for Jews, incomparably worse. But there's enough precedent of mainstream, well-meaning Jews dismissing threats to Jews - either out of disbelief or out of fear that seeming whiny will spark further anti-Semitism - that I don't think it's safe to, well, to dismiss the possibility of a threat to Jews on account of mainstream, well-meaning Jews' refusal to march through the streets in protest.
*Philip Weiss, where to begin... "The Kagan moment spells not just the end of anti-Semitism, but the end of Jewish responses to it, including the Israel lobby." Just like the Obama presidency means there's no more racism against blacks. (Except this didn't even take a Jewish president to prove!) Glad that's been cleared up. Douthat quotes Weiss why, exactly?
Sunday, May 16, 2010
-I fully approve of Helen's post about restaurants that use "Market" in the name, and was especially amused by the inclusion of a dingy pizza place down the street from my office, about as far from rustic as you can get. I'd go further than she does and say that the problem's not just in the names, but in the trend of restaurants acting as though the mere fact that they serve food made from fresh ingredients ought to be celebrated. Ideally, this would be assumed at anywhere but McDonalds, but at any rate, the inclusion of a word like "market" in the restaurant name (or of the names of the farms the ingredients come from on the menu) only makes patrons all the more aware of dishes not tasting quite as fresh as ideal. My only slight difference of opinion is about Markt - the name sounds market-like to anglophone ears, but according to my translator means both "market" and "town square" in Dutch, and so might be about farmstands but could also be something along the lines of "Union Square Café".
-Commenter Matt hates bangs. This slideshow may make him change his mind.
-I've been semi-following the anti-NYC-centrism discussion (see here, here, here) and am half-wary of responding, for fear of contributing to the problem, what with the inevitability of my commenting from the standpoint of someone from and currently living in that city. But only half, so here goes, in list form because I'm feeling just that articulate:
1) My first reaction was to think, oh no, not this again, and that we were once again witnessing a Palinesque anti-coastal-elites populist-xenophobic mood. Because the city - as in, urban areas, not just New York - represents diversity, etc., etc. But it turns out the issue really is, why does NYC get so much more attention than other major US cities. Which is a different issue entirely from urban-versus-rural.
2) Or is it? We've certainly moved past the era when in polite society a person could be referred to discreetly as 'so very New York' and this was a way of saying, 'ugh, Jews.' But to many, New York still represents the foreign, the dangerous, the not-really-American, so even if the targets have (partially) shifted, there's a certain continuity in anti-NY discourse. (And yes, whenever I read anything about an entity that might be confused with Jews and how they "dominate American media, finance, and letters," the light bulb goes off, but again, I think Conor really does mean New York and not just one ethno-religious subset thereof.)
3) But! New York "tyranny" is very real, and very much experienced even by New Yorkers, the very people for whom it's natural to think more about this place than elsewhere. As Amber correctly notes, this is most egregious in sitcom settings and on TV more generally. As offensive as the overrepresentation of the city may be to the rest of the country, it's awfully irritating to those who do live here. There's the apartment-size issue, but also the fact that anything approximating a typical life in this city can't be depicted, because it wouldn't be relatable. (I blathered on about this in Amber's comments and so will shift slightly...). So it's not just that upper-middle-class white TV characters said to live in NY don't correctly represent upper-middle-class white New Yorkers. It's also that the city's so often presented as only consisting not merely of this already-specific demographic, but of, well, socialites, celebrities, investment bankers, and other not-so-relatable demographics. Yes, such people live here, but so, too, do people with less glamorous lives, in worlds less prone to narcissism. (Are grad students prone to narcissism? Sure, but of a different, non-location-specific, kind.)
4) Speaking of narcissism, on a personal note, I find it kind of bizarre that I still live in New York. People I meet often assume I returned because four years of Chicago had taught me I couldn't live anywhere else, but the fact of the matter is that this only exists in New York. I'm here, odd as it may seem, because of the Dreyfus Affair; Uniqlo's just a plus. Which is lucky, because the likelihood I'll still live here after grad school is slim indeed.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
The Sartorialist, reacting to a woman he's just photographed for his street-style blog: "To me, this is such a great reminder to stop obsessing about my own personal imperfections and start highlighting the little gifts."
What, one might wonder, is "imperfect" about this woman? Perhaps she weighs 400 pounds, or is elderly, or has a disfiguring skin disease? Perhaps she's been in some kind of accident? Is she - god forbid - non-Aryan? In what way does her physical appearance stray from the norms of conventional beauty? What great obstacle did she overcome through well-chosen and well-styled garments, so as to be featured on a blog devoted to the well-dressed, as opposed to the simply nice-to-look-at?
How horrible: the poor dear, a young German woman, is 5'1"* and "curvy." She's wearing a huge Freaks and Geeks-style army jacket, so you're expected to take his word re: curves; it goes without saying she's photographed from an angle that makes her height tough to determine. Her face is kind of high-fashion Angelina Jolie, and because it's the Sartorialist, she's holding a cigarette rather than, say, grocery bags. She has long, straight, shiny, light brown hair that looks to be cut by someone who knew what they were doing. If the text accompanying the image didn't shout THIS IS NOT A MODEL, 99 out of 100 observers would assume this was a photograph of a woman paid for her good looks.
The Sartorialist post is part of what could well be a trend of what might best be described as faux-body-positivity, in which classically beautiful women are presented as somehow having made it into the public eye despite an "unconventional" appearance. The runway model who was always too lanky. The slim-but-busty "real, everyday girl" (how the Sartorialist describes his subject) who can't be squeezed into a sample size. Because there are roughly two types of conventional beauty (scrawny-Estonian-preadolescent and hourglass-bee-stung-lipped-22-year-old), no one woman fits both, so it's possible to say of absolutely every model or actress that she's being featured despite not quite measuring up. And this does what, precisely, for women who are in fact of average appearance?
*Is shorter-than-average stature understood as detracting from female beauty enough for this to be a feature in spite of which a woman might be considered attractive? I would press the instantly-taller button if such a thing existed, but more because it would make riding the subway more pleasant (i.e. who likes being at armpit level or worse?) and make it easier to walk down the street without people not seeing me and walking into me and just generally make me more intimidating-looking than because I think this would improve my looks. I also find models intimidating more because of how gosh darn tall they are (especially in those heels!) than because of their facial features or slimness. Thoughts? Isabel Archer, say?
Or consider the 16-year-old model who, though taller and thinner than most could dream of, was told to lose weight if she wants to make it in the biz. I mean, yes, it sucks that skeletal is so highly valued. But maybe rather than being aghast that such a young girl is being told she has to diet, we could be bothered by the fact that 16 is the age of the 'women' modeling women's clothing? Maybe, rather than focusing body-issues discussions on women a millimeter away from perfection...
This crust plus this filling plus improvising (some relating to conversions and others due to my own sense of what texture flan custard must have before getting poured into the crust) resulted in something I think kind of looks like flan. Other issues that arose: the tart tin I own is not the appropriate 'host' for a flan (way too shallow, a possible problem given that the thing nearly exploded all over the oven like a wild souffle); I didn't let the dough chill for a whole hour; I didn't pre-bake the crust for terribly long; and so on, and so on. The crust is usually my least favorite part of flan, but you do sort of want there to be enough of it that the custard doesn't coat the bottom of the oven. Yet all so far went according to plan. If it tastes as flan-like as it looks, there goes my principal non-research reason for needing to be in Paris this summer.
Posted by Phoebe Maltz Bovy at Thursday, May 13, 2010
Why does every recipe for a dough of any kind call for a) unsalted butter, and b) salt? Presumably this is so that you can control the amount of salt you put in, but the end result is almost invariably in indistinguishably different salt-to-butter ratio. Is it something to do with the texture of the butter? Is it part of the Pollan-esque need to make everything from scratch, and to consider all pre-combined ingredients suspect? Am I the only one who just uses salted butter for everything, without noticing a problem?
Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Much has been made about the overrepresentation of New Yorkers and Jews on the Supreme Court. And now Kagan! It's fairly self-explanatory how overrepresentation negatively impacts the underrepresented. But what of those who are part of that very same demographic? We must feel kind of awesome now, right? Yes and no.
So Kagan, in brief: Upper West Side to Hunter for high school. Me: Upper East, Stuyvesant. We're practically twins! Except not so much. The similarity in background does not make me feel as though positions of immense power are at my fingertips. It does the following things:
-It reminds me of how much privilege comes from simply having the luck to be born at a place thought by many, for better or worse, to be the center of everything, to a community that might be much-hated but that traditionally encourages being a good student. (I could go on re: assimilation, blah blah, Jews aren't so studious these days, and the same will come soon enough of every 'model immigrant' group in this country. But these things take generations, and for now there's still a lot of my kind excelling in these realms.)
-It makes me hyper-aware of how little I've done with a background of what is apparently the ultimate in privilege (daughter of a gastroenterologist, no less!). What have I done with my life? Am I doing what I can to work that geographically-, Semitically- and gastrointestinally-derived privilege to the fullest? No one's debating my interpretation of the Constitution or resemblance to Kevin Arnold.
-It reminds me how demographic groups always look more homogeneous from the outside. As in, coming from a similar background allows me not so much to identify with Kagan as to be able to imagine just the kind of student she was, and where she would have fit into the general scheme of things. As an academic late bloomer (it happens), I have trouble identifying with the straight-A student. And no doubt within the always-an-A-student community, there's sufficient diversity that for one reason or another, even there, Kagan appears part of a specific mini-demographic as well.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010
In preparation of a summer of eating the stuff continuously, I'm going to attempt to bake a flan tart myself here in NY. I'm going with a recipe on a site aimed at French women (the Real Housewives of Paris? the French Women who do Get Fat?), even though this will mean conversions, conversions, conversions. Stupid Celsius, grams, cuillères à café...
In other news, Jezebel has acknowledged this blog's existence, linking to a thankfully not-so-embarrassing post here from 2005. Still, how flattering! (I first learned about the link from my Sitemeter - I'd had Jo block both Jezebel and Gawker from my computer when I was preparing for exams, and hadn't wanted the procedure reversed what with the dissertation and all... although I did have him send me the text to this post.) I do find it slightly suspect that Jezebel happens to pull the exact same passage from a NYT piece as I did in a 2006 post they don't link to (one that someone had looked up, said the Sitemeter god, around the time the Jezebel links started coming in, ahem), and to use the quoted text to make just the same point, but whatever, people need to get their inspiration somewhere, and on these matters (Jews, gender, pop culture manifestations thereof) WWPD is basically the AP. The J-AP. Oh well.
From a computer with full Jezebel capacities, I've learned that one of the comments to that post is a dig at Jewish women who are 1) from New York and 2) the daughters of gastroenterologists. How... specific! (Ducks head.) This is, I'm now learning, the very definition of a pampered and obnoxious existence. I'd apologize more fully, but am running late for my manicure-pedicure-facial-nose-job-couture-fitting appointment.
Helen just passed along this article about Israel's first delicatessen. It's bizarre (and I'm not fully convinced) that none existed before, but anything's possible. The traditional Israeli wariness about the Diaspora probably lumps together presumed-self-hatred, 19-year-olds without hot bods, and matzo ball soup, rejecting all of this in the name of creating and sustaining the New Jews. From my perspective as a culinarily-self-hating Ashkenazi, who'd pick Middle Eastern or North African over Russian or Polish any day, I'm not so excited on behalf of Israelis, especially not given how delicious the falafel and schwarma are in Israel. But what's wrong with some variety?
The authenticity police, in the form of deli expert David Sax, have a say: "'Hopefully, they won’t be like the delis in New York but would inspire a local, Israeli version.'" Argh. If this deli is inspired by NY delis, it will be somewhat like the delis in NY. It will not be an exact replica of the shtetl. Or of Katz's, for that matter, but I don't see how a deli in Israel could possibly not have Israeli influence, which leads me to think "local" is just such a food buzzword these days that smug nodding simply will ensue.
Oh, and I love that one of the pro-deli camp is a man named Portnoy! And that he's quoted as saying, "'I love my pastrami.'"
Monday, May 10, 2010
What do we think of this image (scroll down) of Elena Kagan? Her sense of smell would have to be excellent if that in any way resembled her appearance.
Which is worse, to play up the nose in a sketch of a Jew without a particularly prominent schnozz, or to emphasize the masculinity of a woman who absolutely looks like a woman but who's rumored to be a lesbian? (Tangentially via.)
After a long run, the time had come for the post-run coffee and pastry. (This is what happens when I run before breakfast.) I went to a place that somehow gets away with not having chairs - in the Italian manner? - figuring that there was a bench out front, and it was a nice enough day to sit outside. No sooner did I get my almond croissant when the available spot, the one I'd had my eye on, was taken. Not just taken, but taken by a model who could not have been older than 17, and a particularly pretty one even by 16-year-old runway model standards.
I want to say this makes me so ready to leave NYC for the summer, but I doubt if Paris will be much better on this front.
Yes, I've read it. Given that I'm fully capable of reading English, I know far too little about British Jewish history. Anthony Julius's book seems like a good intro, even if it's about representations of Jews and more specifically negative ones, given that I'm in the business of reading absolutely everything I can get my hands on about literary representations of Jews. So, my lack of authority on this subject established, along with my slightly greater authority on a vaguely related topic (catch a theme?), onto Harold Bloom's essay.
Bloom remarks at the start of the review that the book led him "to give thanks that my own father, who migrated from Odessa, Russia, to London, had the sense, after sojourning there, to continue on to New York City." I could see this if his father had gone to, say, Berlin, but I'm always wary of assessments by Americans that compare anti-Semitic There to safe-haven, Semitophilic Here. If we're talking Then, then we can go through the whole discussion of quotas and country clubs, but basically, Alvy Singer felt uncomfortable for a reason. (And don't Americans read British literature? I definitely encountered Shylock in high school English.) If we're talking Now? I'm often asked how anti-Semitic France really is these days, and my own "first, personal, reflection" is to consider Walt-Mearsheimer, that note, the Roissy commentariat... and just generally, the fact that Jew-hatred continues to exist in the US. That blacks are and were in an undeniably worse situation discrimination-wise than Jews in this country, and that the anti-Semitism that does exist in 2010 America is clearly zilch compared to 1942 Germany, makes this particular form of oppression less salient. But before pointing fingers, we might want to check on what's happening and has happened at home.
The rest of the review? I'm basically convinced, and it's refreshing to see it mentioned in a major publication that regular old anti-Semitism hides under the label "anti-Zionism." I'm not up on contemporary American or British literature enough to say whether the latter's more insulting to Jews than the former, but that could well be the case. There was a not-so-flattering portrait of a Jew in "The Group," one of the American novels I read most recently, but it wasn't written recently, so who knows.
What makes me slightly wary about the book being reviewed is the same thing as concerns me about all works devoted to representations of Jews in Country X between years Y and Z. The goal of these works is almost invariably to explain what understandings of "the Jew" can tell us about the non-Jews of a given time and place. Given that this is part of what I hope to do with my dissertation,* it's not something I disapprove of - hardly! But it needs to be paired with something about the existence of actual Jews during that time and in that country. Works that do this well (such as) avoid reinforcing the idea that Jews are merely an idea in the heads of the rest of humanity. Because any study with "Jews" in the title confronts this massive asymmetry - far more people have contemplated "the Jews" than have experienced being a Jew. This makes "the Jews" appear a important historical phenomenon than Jews themselves. But since there are plenty of ways to get at what Italians thought in 1850, or the French in 1820, etc., if this is the one you pick, it's only right to see how Jews represented themselves, and (as much as this is possible) to know the lives of Jews at the time/place. This is not only fair to these Jews, but also useful even if all one is interested in is how the Jews were imagined and what this tells us about Italy, France, etc. Because think about it. If 90% of representations of Jews were of peddlers, this means something quite different if 90% of Jews at the time were peddlers than if the novel's set on the Upper West Side in 1998.
*Which, oh lucky WWPD readers, you'll be hearing about in immense detail in the weeks, months, and I hope not years to come.
"The average Zara customer doesn’t expect to wear what she buys more than about ten times. Uniqlo customers expect to wear their clothes until they wear out." Indeed. What I can't get over is that there were Uniqlos in NJ malls in 2001.
"These controversial aspects of her career may be responsible for the impression conveyed by Olivier Philipponnat and Patrick Lienhardt’s 'Life of Irène Némirovsky,' which seems not so much written as transcribed from one of those French talk shows in which the participants convene to argue and shout and wave their arms."
Friday, May 07, 2010
This afternoon, I was sitting on a bench on Houston Street when I suddenly noticed I was being photographed by what looked (by the camera and general appearance) to be a professional photographer. This was either because my chambray shirt, Target wayfarers, white jeans, and silver clogs (and, uh, tote bags) combo was awesome, or it was for a spread on poorly-executed trends, disheveled grad students, or something else of the fashion-don'ts persuasion. The fact that the man simply took the pictures and continued on his way suggests the latter possibility.
Scott Lemieux sent me a link to his post about the was-Nemirovsky-anti-Semitic debate. Shockingly, I like what he has to say about the problem with arguing against an ill-defined/unnamed opponent who apparently cries anti-Semitism at every turn, and about the problem with Patricia Cohen's Madoff analogy. Even more shockingly, I've found a way to respond in far longer of a post than I'd intended.
But I haven't read David Golder (yet) either, which limits what I can do here. I have, however, been studying a French writer of Jewish origin who wrote about Jews in the 1840s, and have been neck-deep in these themes for a few years now, giving me tangential authoritah. Basically, I think the best I can add to this discussion is to lay out just what I think the relevant questions are for this sort of issue:
1) Should we ask, our minds open to either possibility, whether a work is anti-Semitic? To sort out whether a given work is anti-Semitic is rarely the most interesting critique of that work, or even of representations of Jews within the work in question. (Exception: The Israel Lobby, or any other work whose significance is contemporary-political rather than literary-historical.) It's simply too broad of a category to get at anything sufficient. Far too many novels and plays about Jews include anti-Semitic tropes for this to be a useful way to distinguish one such book from the other. Teasing out what was where on the spectrum about Jews at a given time poses a problem. (My own way of assessing this, if need be, is to see how Jewish readers at the time responded to a work. This method poses difficulties of its own, but is better than going by how I react to it in 2010.) That said. It's a very different thing to choose another angle to focus on than to deny a work's anti-Semitism when it's sitting there for all to see.
2) But if we agree that a work is anti-Semitic, then it's evil and unworthy of study, right? What will happen to Literature? This, I suspect, is the fear that stops some well-meaning critics from correctly labeling some works. But given how many books remain in the canon despite their unflattering portraits of Jews (and blacks, women, gays, etc.), my sense is that unless the author was very directly involved in political anti-Semitism (i.e. Celine, Drumont, etc., as versus Zola having written about some Jewish financiers, then going on to save Dreyfus), there's not much to worry about, and even then, there isn't necessarily. But especially when a writer's Jewish, it's unlikely accusations of self-hatred will halt book sales. On the contrary! (See: Philip Roth.)
3) Is a Jew is capable of producing an anti-Semitic text? The answer to this is so obviously 'yes', but since some have their doubts, think of it like this: These Jews are not so much self-hating in the sense of gee-I-hate-not-being-Swedish as they are inclined to see themselves as exceptions. (Yes, yes, Arendt.) 'Jews are parochial/greedy/pushy/insert-stereotype-here,' they think, 'but I'm different, and thus blessed with the capacity to see what non-Jews see when they see Jews.' They conflate the complexity that all of us can see only in ourselves with some kind of unique quality that separates them from the clichés they feel surrounded by. The fail to see that everyone else also feels special, that no one feels like 'the JAP' or 'the Jewish banker.' What ought to prevent Jews from becoming anti-Semites is an awareness that anti-Semitism is about hatred of all Jews, even the ones who never worry about getting exact change in restaurants.
Of course, it's complicated. There are works written by Jews about unpleasant people in their own families that get adopted, though no fault of the authors', by anti-Semites. It could be that David Golder is such a work. I'll have to read it and find out.
4) One note about what isn't anti-Semitism in literature: It's not anti-Semitic for a Jewish character to be described as having physical features or a profession common among Jews of the milieu being described. In other words, if a Jewish character has dark hair and works as a peddler, or is named Gold-somethingorother, this is simply plausible description. Too often (including in the latest Nemirovsky discussion, but also in various things I've been reading lately about Jews in French literature), literary representations that fail to portray Jews as physically, culturally, and linguistically identical to their non-Jewish equivalents are classified as anti-Jewish. As I see it, as long as we're in 'prominent nose' rather than 'crooked beak' territory, we're in the clear. (Context is everything. If it's all about the nose, that's another story.)
Thursday, May 06, 2010
Wednesday, May 05, 2010
Now that I've turned in grades, I had time for a longer run than the 40-minute Savage Love podcast could contain, and had to resort to an NPR "Talk of the Nation" story on anti-Semitism for the last mile or so. The moment I saw that term and the question mark following it, I knew the answer would be 'no, of course not, who could think such a thing?' This, even before I considered whether the 'it' would be Mearsheimer, Ahmadinejad, the new New Yorker piece on a sleazy pro-Israel businessman, or who knows. Anyway, without suspense, the run felt longer that it ought to have. The story - 'it' turned out to be 'criticism of Goldman Sachs' - did, however, quite remarkably hit all the key points such stories must. Such as:
-Lots of people apparently claim that X is anti-Semitic. Yet the only person actually named turns out to be (drumroll please) Abe Foxman. Does anyone who's not Abe Foxman think criticism of Goldman Sachs is inherently offensive? Jury's out. Having not once encountered one of those allegedly ubiquitous Jews who believe every criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, here too I have my doubts.*
-All this crying wolf (which, again, has been attributed only to Abe Foxman, but which we are to believe is definitive of 'the political atmosphere') is said to detract from the fight against 'actual instances of anti-Semitism.' But! Not once is this true form of anti-Semitism defined. We get, as always, a long list of what's not anti-Semitism (calling Jewish bankers blood-sucking vampires, apparently).
-Jews simultaneously do and do not get to decide what counts as anti-Semitic. As in, if someone Jewish calls X anti-Semitic, this person's a hysteric at best and a wolf-crier by default. Whereas if some Jew somewhere can't emphasize enough that X is anything but anti-Semitic, then not only is that particular Jew one of the good ones, but the fact that there exists a Jew who does not find X anti-Semitic means that we can officially state with confidence that X gets the all-clear.
*Michael Kinsley's article that the NPR story was a follow-up to offers little more in the way of information. We get some examples of who's been accused of anti-Semitism, a blog post referring to one particularly poorly-worded criticism of this bank as evocative of anti-Semitic tropes, and a reference to Rush Limbaugh's gaffe, essentially, in which by accusing Obama of anti-Semitism he basically insulted Jews himself, but no supporting evidence for the idea that there's some widespread belief - among Jews or others - that every criticism of Goldman Sachs is anti-Semitic, or even that Jews are or should be on high alert when this bank is insulted.
Tuesday, May 04, 2010
This level of descriptive brilliance in a news story about another Christian-right homophobe lo and behold turning out to have hired a male prostitute is the kind of thing that makes it difficult for students of "literature" to define what writing does and does not count as such.
Monday, May 03, 2010
After looking in all the wrong places, I finally tracked down the shirt... at the place where I'd first seen it. (Ducks head.) The blue one, if that needed stating. I do not intend to pair it, as advised, with high-waisted bright red stretch-jeans or a see-through skin-tight lace camisole.
This purchase has officially exhausted my wanty list. (Silver clogs, check. Mint-colored nail polish that alas turned my nails yellow but only temporarily, check. Breton-striped dress, check. Glitter eyeliner like the much-missed discontinued Hard Candy one but from another brand, check. Professional haircut, check.) This sense of satisfaction mixed with guilt will, I've decided, leave me immune to the far more dangerous temptations the City of Shoes has to offer.
UPDATE Hehe. (via)
Sunday, May 02, 2010
Last night, I finally got around to seeing "An Education," a tough movie to watch without cringing as both a Jew and a young woman. First, the Jewish bit:
The story begins with a very pro-Jewish (well, pro-tolerance) message - those horrified by Jenny dating not just an older man but a Jew come across as foolish and narrow-minded.* Then, after David reveals himself embody every possible anti-Jewish stereotype (aside from his striking physical resemblance to Peter Sarsgaard**), things are not so clear, and David starts to look like a character out of some 19th century novel, in which you'd excuse him as a character on account of PC didn't exist back then, the Holocaust hadn't yet happened, and so forth.
The movie really, really reminded me of "Six Degrees of Separation," except that instead of a seemingly cultured Jewish conman in exploiting British post-WWII sensitivities regarding Jews and lingering hostilities towards blacks, while sexually corrupting young women from good families, that movie's about a seemingly cultured black conman exploiting American 1990s PC sensitivities regarding blacks, all the while sexually corrupting young men from good families. (After this occurred to me, I googled and lo and behold, I'm not the first to have had this thought.) Both movies are on one level straightforwardly racist, on another based on true stories in which members of certain minority groups behaved in stereotype-consistent ways, and on yet another so thoroughly directed at audiences who will identify with the majority-group characters that their depictions of the minority ones seem almost too naive to offend. The films are not about blacks or Jews, respectively, but about what blacks or Jews meant to the non-hyphenated folks whose feelings and nuance we're supposed to take as the ones that really matter. Blacks and Jews are adventure, excitement, exoticism, etc., etc., what Said said, and etc. some more. So there's something squirm-inducing about any representation of a minority used entirely to serve such purposes, without acknowledgment of the minority's own humanity. But at the same time, my sense, particularly from "An Education" (but this could be because I saw the other movie several years ago), is that there's just such an absence of consideration about the fact that discrimination is not merely frowned on at dinner parties, but a genuine threat to members of the targeted groups. As in, anti-Semitism isn't merely an ideology that limits the number of potential romantic partners for non-Jews in an anti-Semitic society, but it's also something of a problem for the Jews in such a society. Anyway.
Then there's the not-a-girl-not-yet-a-woman angle, the one far more central to the story, if only because half the world (and a greater percentage, I'd imagine, among the viewers of a movie like this) are women, while the percentage of viewers for whom it will register that David is Jewish is minuscule. Jenny looks to be in her mid-20s (because of course the actress playing her is not 16), smokes cigarettes like a pro, and yet we are to suspend disbelief, slip into that Period Piece, These Were Simpler Times mode, and believe that simply on account of being 16 (but almost 17, a subtle difference that at such an age can matter tremendously) and a virgin, one in a school uniform at that, David can show her some bright shiny objects, take her to some bright shiny nightclubs, and she'll agree to marry him without having ever been inside his house, without even knowing where he lives. As in, the shocker at the end ought not to have been so surprising - the man was either married to another woman, gay and living with the man whose house they're always at, or full-on living in his (bright, shiny) car. It's not just that she's younger and he's older, but that he's Experience and she's Innocence - the movie does nothing to this cliché to make it more interesting. The movie's more about authenticity than complexity, more worried with correctly imagining how someone of a particular age, gender, and milieu would act under given circumstances than with creating anything that might challenge expectations. This is extra-true of the female characters, so we have a timid-but-curious schoolgirl, a spinster teacher, a pre-Freidan housewife, and of course a dumb blonde. Yes, of all the aspects of this movie (which overall I actually quite liked), the one that offended me most was its depiction of The Blonde.
*Jenny's father's no fan of The Jews, but quickly comes around to David and even OK's her marrying him at age 12, 16, whatever. My theory is that Dad is himself a crypto-Jew (the actor, unlike Sarsgaard, looks like there's at least a chance he'd have some Jewish ancestry), and that this explains his frequent comments about Jews (self-hatred?), his pro-David stance, his aversion to alcohol, and his one-track obsession with helping his offspring ascend the meritocracy (he values education!). How much more interesting this story would have been if my theory were an honest-to-goodness part of the plot...
**I took this casting choice to be an attempt at being progressive - see, Jews don't necessarily look Jewish - although it could also be read as adding to David's sneakiness that he could pass for a man with consecutive a's in his last name.