-Do not, I repeat, do not go to Chelsea Market on Halloween. It was like the four years I spent living in and around Park Slope condensed into a single food-court experience. Painted children, many of whom were adorable, many of whose parents were insufferable (camera guy, you know who you are), everywhere. I was relieved that I'd at least gone with black corduroys and black boots, given that anything light-colored on the lower half of my body would probably be stained by now if I hadn't. (I may be short - see below - but the average toddler's still shorter.)
-Mark Bittman, you are a genius. Both times I've made the ricotta-cheese gnocchi (and that would be two days in a row) I upped the flour-to-cheese ratio, because I'm a cheap graduate student who was running low on parmesan, and because I didn't want to lose ingredients to gnocchi disintegration. I added olive oil to the butter-sage sauce, because otherwise I find butter sauces taste too buttery. But otherwise, Bitty, it's all you.
-Is there such a thing as "short privilege"? I think not. Certainly not for men, but not for women, either. My reasons are in the comments at Amber's, so I won't repeat them here. All I'll add is that I think we're confusing "short" with "thin." Yes, short women take smaller sizes and weigh less than taller ones, and with our society's fixation on numbers for these things, it might seem as though small-all-around women have some kind of an edge. It might seem as though women who wear kids' clothes do so in order to seem thin, when the fact of the matter is, some of us look like we're playing dress-up in womenswear because we're that short. If we were taller but otherwise identically built, we'd wear unremarkable women's sizes. The fact that there are single-digit numbers associated with our builds doesn't make us somehow equivalent to models who might weigh the same and take the same dress size up there at 5'10". (However, Hadley Freeman's 100% correct about the dangers of letting vanity sizing - whether an adult 2 or a kids' Large - get the better of you. Just because you can squeeze into it doesn't mean it, whatever it is, is a good idea.)
-Simon Doonan is against the "investment piece." Thank goodness!
-Speaking of the "timelessness" trend, what do those of my readers willing to admit to non-ignorance-of-fashion think of the "heritage" fad - an oxymoron, yes, but otherwise a good thing? Yes, the Americana of L.L. Bean and Banana Republic is produced, like flashy jeggings, in China. No, there's no reason to think clothes in styles meant to represent durability are, in fact, any more durable than whatever was trendy before them. But the stuff itself is kind of... nice. Its ubiquity has made it much easier for me to explore Fashion Personality #1. (However, once you know what you're looking for, this look is all over thrift stores.) Plus, the "heritage" color scheme - lots of camel, gray, chocolate brown - seems to work for my coloring better than the pastels of 1980s prep or the all-black palette of I-live-in-New-York-and-study-French. So, while in principle I think it's dumb, I must admit that a (small) percentage of my salary has gone to this look.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
-Do not, I repeat, do not go to Chelsea Market on Halloween. It was like the four years I spent living in and around Park Slope condensed into a single food-court experience. Painted children, many of whom were adorable, many of whose parents were insufferable (camera guy, you know who you are), everywhere. I was relieved that I'd at least gone with black corduroys and black boots, given that anything light-colored on the lower half of my body would probably be stained by now if I hadn't. (I may be short - see below - but the average toddler's still shorter.)
-Movies now cost $13?
-But the Battery Park City movie theater is right there. How was this my first time going?
-Oh right. Movies cost $13.
-Yes, Facebook's neat and all, but was its creation really that amazing? There were other sites like it - one was bound to render the others irrelevant sooner or later. Mark Zuckerberg, with or without the help of stolen ideas, didn't split the atom, which is kind of how the movie presents it.
-But what is brilliant about how Facebook began, and what the movie highlights well, is how key the air of exclusivity was to its marketing. I remember hearing about the site from friends who were at Stanford. Soon enough, my classmates at UChicago were complaining that Facebook was now open to those from inferior institutions - as though UChicago's arrival hadn't, in all likelihood, been received the same way. At least in its initial incarnations, the idea that one was suddenly part of Harvard's inner circle flattered students at elite-but-not-that-elite schools. One suddenly had this list, not only of friends and acquaintances, but of friends and acquaintances at colleges at least as prestigious as one's own. Which suggests that social positioning is more exciting to people than the mere prospect of hooking up with strangers or friends-of-friends.
-Contrary to Withywindle's prediction, I wasn't that moved by the Jewish angle, other than to suspect that the Jewish-striver, WASP-blue-blood distinction both existed and mattered far more in the filmmakers' formative years than it does today, and that that explains its role in the movie. But fine, there's that one line about how Jewish guys like Asian girls because, among other reasons, Asian girls aren't Jewish. (Except the many who were adopted by Jewish parents on the Upper West Side, not to mention the offspring of Asian-Jewish marriages who are often Jewish by religion but, given how our society defines race, more visibly Asian than Jewish. And the Jews of China, India, etc.) One thing though - at the beginning of the movie, our protagonist writes a blog post, insinuating that family name of the girl who just dumped him was changed to Albright from "Albrecht." I was reminded of the discussion in the comments to this post about how no one (myself included) can tell which names are meant to sound German and which Jewish. Is Zuckerberg calling his ex a self-hating Jew or someone descended from Nazis? Either would sting, but the case for the movie not having Jewish female characters - what Withywindle said I'd pick up on - rests on how we're interpreting the Albrecht remark.
-The Winklevoss twins were by far the best part of the movie, and not just because I, as a heterosexual woman, and one who has perfect vision, am writing this post. (If the Winklevoss twins were just as pretty but women, this would be all any movie reviewer would be able to talk about.) The movie's best lines were when Zuckerberg refers to them, in plural, as "the Winklevii," and when one of the twins explains why no hit-man is needed if they're going to play dirty in their revenge. "I'm 6'5", 220, and there's two of me." Indeed.
Friday, October 29, 2010
I'm too tired to continue arguing Tea Party with Miss Self-Important (see comments here), who's convinced me I'm wrong but I'm starting to think I'm too tired to figure out why or what about, and that after sleep I'll have work-work to get done. So let's try this, readers who are not averse to commenting: Does the expression "Real American" make you think "anti-Semitic"? Does it evoke something else instead? Something else in addition? Nothing at all? Please explain.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Today was especially productive work-wise, probably because the device I'm now typing on (Last Legs MacBook) was at home, and I was not. The extra-shot iced cappuccino also didn't hurt. However, working in a coffee shop has its disadvantages. While trying to focus on the question of Jews and intermarriage in 19th C France, I overheard the following, from someone I surmised from various remarks was a Jewish, but not pious, college freshman: "I'm looking for a husband. He either needs to be Jewish or hot." This in the course of an intense discussion of hook-ups, male beauty, and I won't go into more detail so as not to accidentally reveal anyone's identity, but it was quite compelling. The conversation was both tangentially relevant to, and distracting from, the task at hand.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Britta's comment below has got me wondering: how have I lost my spot on my own blog as the sniffer-outer of anti-Semitism in contemporary America? Why have I failed my readers? I had to remind myself that I have, in fact, addressed the relationship between 21st-century American populism and the Bad Old kind, here, here, here, here, and probably elsewhere as well - these were just the posts I found doing a search for "Palin" on this blog.
But, to re-address: How we phrase the question is important. We should ask what the relationship is between "Real America" Tea Partyism and anti-Semitism, as opposed to whether the populism of today's right-wing is anti-Semitic. Because there's a relationship - any time New York, media elites, and overprotective parents are the villains of the day, there's a whiff of anti-Semitism. That there is some relationship isn't up for debate. Or of it is, it's because people can't tell the difference between anti-Semitism and genocidal Nazism - if you think any entity not set on exterminating the Jews couldn't possibly have even the faintest ties to anti-Semitism, than maybe you'd find even the "relationship" accusation too harsh. But if you (like me) think anti-Semitism just means bigotry against Jews, with a particular and historically consistent-ish set of tropes, then the fact that "coastal elites" kinda sounds like it refers to "Jews" isn't controversial in the least.
Murray's complaint, that the "New Elites" are not culturally representative - not of America, but of that which is "quintessentially American" - highlights where populism stops being about improving conditions for the majority, and starts being about the deification of an "authentic" minority. (See J.L. Wall's discussion.) And of course, Jews are never part of any country's Real population (except Israel's, but the country's realness is still, unfortunately, for practical purposes, up for debate), according to the sort of people who see things in this light. However, if we were to ask, is the Tea Party anti-Semitic?, it would be too easy to radically over- or underestimate.
This leaves several questions:
-Are Tea Partiers and Palinites consciously anti-Jewish? A caricaturist might depict a generic evil banker as having a big nose without thinking about that banker's ethnicity. It's just banker=nose in the popular imagination. The caricaturist could perhaps be faulted for ignorance, maybe expected to apologize. But it wouldn't necessarily be the case that either the caricaturist or his non-Jewish audience had made the connection. While I would be shocked if there weren't some populists today who have it in for Jews (and the Internet threads where they assemble are a Google away), I also suspect that many who are all riled up about coastal media elites aren't making that connection. Today's political correctness prevents leaders, at least, at least most of the time, from giving speeches in which they actually refer to "Jews" as the source of the country's problems. And not everyone can read between the lines. If there's mounting hostility towards wealthy, New York-based, large-nosed media elites, but the hostile masses haven't connected their enemy with those of the Mosaic persuasion, what changes?
-Do sympathy for Israel or hostility towards Secret Muslins act as a kind of shield against anti-Semitism coming from today's right? Britta mentions this possibility, and I think it's valid. Maybe the silver lining, such as it is, to Islamophobia on the right is that for geopolitical reasons it prevents The Enemy Within from being identified as Jewish, as opposed to coastal-media-elitish. Or maybe not - in Europe, it's possible for white supremacists who hate Muslims to claim the Palestinian cause as a pretext for attacking Jews. It's not inconceivable that American right-wingers could take Israel's side politically, while still hating Jews at home. Hate doesn't have to be consistent. In other words, I'd say that far from taking comfort in populist Islamophobia, American Jews ought to view it as dangerous to us both as Americans and as Jews. But in the short-term, it's entirely plausible that one xenophobia's reducing the openness, at least, of another.
-Are American Jews in any kind of danger on account of anti-coastal-media-elitism? This is what it comes down to, and I don't have an answer.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
I'd been meaning to post on the concept of 'your privilege is showing' - what this phrase is for, who's using it, and why. Brief, sleepy hypothesis - those using this phrase are themselves doing just fine. If they're young, they think it's square to be rich and are rag-wearing hipsters. If they're much post-college, they're meritocrats who'd like to believe themselves to be self-made, who kinda-sorta know they're not, but who feel better about themselves if they can convince themselves that their (online, often) interlocutors were born with platinum spoons in their mouths. If I believed that the phrase was being thrown at haves by have-nots, I'd be more sympathetic. However, I suspect that 99% of the time, that's not how it's being used at all.*
I was reminded to post on this by Charles Murray's article about the "New Elites." At a certain point (Britta's second comment to the post below was the catalyst), it occurred to me that the set Murray was describing was, contrary to the impressions one might have from, say, reading the piece, identifiable. The New Elites are those against whom a 'your privilege is showing' would sting. Those who'd even be in that kind of discussion in the first place. For this set, whose actual privilege (measured by $ or marketable skills) is quite variable, the shame is so great that an entire system of disclaimers exists to preempt such accusations. If you're going to complain that Whole Foods was out of your favorite goat cheese, remember to use the phrase "First World Problems." And so on.
(This does not address the other issue with privilege-talk - the overuse of the word when what's really needed is a simpler one: luck. The difference between those of us who went through an awkward phase as teens and those who did not is one of luck, not privilege, assuming the awkwardness did not lead to serious bullying. Being pretty or amazing at math - these might be 'privilege' if the comparison is someone with severe facial deformities or someone who can't add. But in day-to-day life, there's always someone better and worse off than yourself, in every arena. The word "privilege" evokes a certain magnitude of advantage, and it's appealing to connect whatever ways you feel screwed over in life to the kind of systematic edge of, say, a rich person over a poor one, a WASP over a visible minority.)
*To give an off-line example - I have met many people who've presented themselves as having hardscrabble backgrounds, to the point where I was starting to think that being a doctor's daughter from Manhattan was basically a capital offense... only to either see their homes or find out their parents' professions and realize that, wait a moment, this person is in fact from a more privileged background than I am. People I've met from significantly less privileged ones tend not to advertise this fact in casual conversation.
The difference online is that socioeconomic privilege is seemingly easier to hide, what with pseudonyms and the unlikelihood that anyone will end up visiting anyone else's family manse in Brooklyn Heights. This is why privilege-talk online tends to manifest itself as witch-hunts - someone will mention having eaten arugula as a toddler and whoosh, they've revealed their ignorance of food deserts, their ignorance of everything outside their posh bubble, they probably don't even know that 99% of Americans haven't even heard of lettuce, they're so sheltered. And so on. The thing is, I'm not convinced privilege-talk makes the privileged any less sheltered - it just necessitates disclaimers.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Charles Murray points out that today's elites marry in, perpetuating their elite elitism. "Three examples lifted from last Sunday's Times: a director of marketing at a biotech company (Stanford undergrad, Harvard MBA) married a consultant to the aerospace industry (Stanford undergrad, Harvard MPP). [Two more of the same idea follow.]"
The marriage part of his argument* bears a striking resemblance to (bear with me) an aspect of my dissertation. Early-nineteenth-century French Jews were faulted for marrying other Jews, as opposed to marrying 'the French.' But who were the French? Wasn't "France" just a big conglomeration of endogamous groups, groups that spoke their own languages, lived in their own worlds? Was there on the one hand a free-floating, marry-anyone majority, and on the other, the Jews, an insular, marry-in minority? If other groups - ethno-cultural, professional, regional, linguistic - were also marrying in, how was in-marriage a trait specific to Jews, proof of a unique xenophobia? Might it be that those whose chief complaint against the Jews was that they refused to marry out (ahem, Napoleon) were just accusing them of behaving like everyone else?
Back to the contemporary 'merica example. Who are the Real Americans, with whom the Ivy grads won't consider so much as a dinner date? (Reihan Salam had mentioned on Twitter he'd be addressing the question of who Murray's Americans are, and I'll add a link to that here if he does and I figure out where.) Are non-elites this homogeneous class, with Nascar fans in Kentucky marrying with residents of Chicago's South Side? And (thank you, Gawker) what about immigrants? Are they part of the monolith that is Non-Fancy-Pants America? Or does the inherent cosmopolitanness of having been to more than one country, spoken at least a few words of more than one language, make them elites, no matter how little education or money they have to their unpronounceable names. (As if "Maltz" were my family's real Old-World name.) If America is a set of insular-ish groups, how is it any more surprising that a Harvard-educated banker isn't marrying a factory worker, than it is that that factory worker isn't marrying an undocumented nanny?
Or, to put it in simpler terms, you can't blame the cheerleaders for only dating football players if the goths only date goths, the stoners only date stoners, and the preps only date preps.
People pair off within the socio-cultural-economic-linguistic-etc.-etc. limitations. All people, not just arugula-munching yoga-mat-carriers. To suggest that there's something nefarious - or particular to the present - about the Vows couples is bizarre. Don't like elites? Fine. Think there's too much of an income disparity? Suggest higher taxes for the rich. (Is this what Murray's suggesting?) But who exactly are fancy-pantses going to marry if not people they meet in the course of their fancy-pants formative years? Basically, Murray, sympathetic to those who'd have tea at their parties, has it in for the librul elites. He needs things to criticize them for, and since not watching "Oprah" isn't enough, he adds to their list of crimes their tendency to act like all other groups at all times ever.
But wait! Something has changed, but I can't quite put my finger on it... Oh oh, I know! The merging of impressive resumes is only possible when there are women with impressive resumes. (Unless the three examples Murray cites are of gay male couples, in which case we're talking about a different set of new opportunities.) Is this nostalgia for a Golden Age when brilliant men married their pretty secretaries? The only way graduates from highly selective colleges are going to stop marrying one another is if one sex simply doesn't go to college. Give it time - soon the men will stop at 10th grade, and babies of sensible levels of brains and looks can be born once again.
But yes, it's significant, it's progress, that being female or non-white and being an elite are no longer mutually exclusive. The "meritocracy" is flawed and not even close to 100% meritocratic, but the fact that massive segments of the population aren't by definition ineligible is an achievement, enough of one that any nostalgia for the elites of yesteryear deserves suspicion. (And yes, I know for what work the author is famous.)
* This was kind of a where-to-begin article. Consider the above to be my post on it, and what's below to be a disorganized array of other objections:
-Murray picks a few examples of cultural divide - romance novels, yoga - but ignores the huge overlap brought about by something called "pop culture." If the name "Lindsay Lohan" doesn't bring to mind the word "rehab," you're not just an elite. You're part of some micro-elite that has managed to shield itself from the world outside a massive, dusty, home library. But once you reach that level of seclusion, you're more likely to be home-schooling in the woods somewhere than, I don't know, a graduate of UPenn. I'm not talking about when a politician who's gone from New England boarding school to the Ivy League suddenly pretends to care where to get the best corn dogs in Nebraska. I'm taking about highly educated types who read Perez Hilton, not to connect with the masses, but to find out which jeggings Lohan wore for her latest trial.
-A rotary phone? What what?
There so many quintessentially American things that few members of the New Elite have experienced. They probably haven't ever attended a meeting of a Kiwanis Club or Rotary Club, or lived for at least a year in a small town (college doesn't count) or in an urban neighborhood in which most of their neighbors did not have college degrees (gentrifying neighborhoods don't count). They are unlikely to have spent at least a year with a family income less than twice the poverty line (graduate school doesn't count) or to have a close friend who is an evangelical Christian.
Murray's use of "quintessentially American" reveals his bias. Once we start getting into which activities or situations count as "real American," we're in Palin country. Is it particularly American to live below the poverty line, or in a small town? As in, are other countries all big cities and comfortable living, and if so, what's anyone doing here? And what does it even mean that the elite class is not a version of America in miniature? Why would it be? And (and we've come full circle) why are we supposed to be surprised if the experiences of any small minority of Americans differ from that of the majority?
Things start to look very circular. Yes, elites are elite, college graduates have attended college. Yes, yes, we all know that living in Bushwick in grad school isn't the same as living in East New York for 30 years. But this whole "doesn't count" business is kind of pointless. If the problem is that elites aren't living in small towns or the inner city, yet under certain circumstances they are living in these places, why are we not counting those circumstances? (Sure, college students leave after 4-6 years, but the profs stick around.) If elites were living in small towns working as gas-station attendants, or at fast-food joints in the inner city, they wouldn't be elites. If a fancy-pants lawyer is living in the inner city, the neighborhood in question is gentrifying, thanks to the lawyer and her lawyer-friends. The mere presence of elites changes environments, summons organic grocers and Lululemons.
-As always in these discussions: where's the cutoff for "elite"? Harvard or nothing? College vs. high school? What about the overeducated hovering around the poverty line? (You're broke, not poor, if you're in debt to attend Yale Law School, but what about Medieval Knitting PhD students at Obscure U?) What about the rich and red-state? What about... oh, this has gone on too long.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
If you're in a French doctoral program, you've seen the following articles, then been reminded of their existence by everyone you know: "Do Colleges Need French Departments?" We're all accustomed to The End of the Humanities articles, and we've all decided to ignore those warnings. At least - In These Economic Times - we get paid enough to live on and have health insurance along the way, right? Right? But The End of French, this does not bode well.
In an early episode of "Seinfeld," George sits on Jerry's living-room floor and contemplates career choices once it appears his days in real estate are (for reasons unrelated to the subject at hand - not an End of Real Estate so much as an End of Costanza Employability) over. Literally and figuratively at a low point, he lists alternatives. Stable boy. Talk-show host. Movie projectionist. Oddly enough, college history professor.
This scene (technically two scenes - one after he quits, the other, at the end of the episode, after he's been fired) comes to mind whenever the crisis in academia is announced. The specificity of this particular incarnation - French! - has motivated this post.
Here are our viable alternatives:
-Poodle groomer: For dog shows, or (why not?) the mostly-human runway. There's certainly room for advancement. French-language skills are probably useful in the caniche line of work. Also, we have an edge when it comes to beret placement on lap dogs. Because, obviously, lap dogs should wear berets. (See above.)
-Local/seasonal/organic farmer: The food movement is full of leaders whose formative years in Frahnce led to their appreciation of real food, unlike the deep-fried cardboard that is our own national cuisine. Anyone with some background in French is more than halfway there. If I were to go this route, it would be all ail, all the time. Green garlic and garlic scapes are the highlight of spring. Can these be grown in other seasons? What I lack in farming/gardening knowledge I could make up for in sheer determination to eat green vegetables that taste like garlic year-round. And I didn't see a single scape in Paris. I would introduce the scape to a city otherwise lacking in good food options.
-Fashion: While the age alone of PhDs rules out working on the modeling end of things, students of French - literature and history - tend to be more... aesthetically-minded than the typical academic. By which I mean, possibly after art-history grads, we're the best-dressed. And a PhD in French sounds like the sort of thing that would add caché to a fashion-writer's bio - at the very least, we know the keyboard shortcuts for typing words like "caché."
-French fryer: No explanation necessary.
Tuesday, October 19, 2010
Torrisi Italian Specialties: I remembered this as a new sandwich place near campus where the food was Italian but made in the States. I remembered sandwiches in the $4-7 range, and so suggested it as a lunch option. They've shot up to the $10 range, thanks, presumably, to this. That, and the place is this odd mix of table-service (food is brought to your table and dishes are taken away) and order-at-the-counter (and pick up your own water, cutlery, and paper napkins, cafeteria-style), where it's not clear what to do in terms of a tip. I opted to leave one of about 15%, which makes me, I'm convinced, either a miser or a fool.
Super Sad True Love Story: Fellow Stuyvesant grad and longhaired dachshund (and James Franco) aficionado Gary Shteyngart has written another novel, and it's serving as my reintroduction to contemporary fiction, after a deep foray into the parallel universes of 19th C French newspaper fiction and 20th C Fran Fine. A full report would require me having finished the book, but I'm almost there. If the ending changes my view, expect an update. But lord almighty. Do we need another story about the tender yearnings of a nebbishy New Yorker? (Asks this nebbishy New Yorker.) As with The Ask, I like the book, but I feel as though this is not so much a narrator as part of some kind of giant narrator-thing, constant across novels and authors. Genre fiction, for those who don't hold it against a book that ones just like it have been written before. As much as I get a certain insider's kick out of reading about the shame of having a mediocre GPA at unnamed-math-and-science-high-school, I keep cringing. Cringing at the fact that a story set in the future centers on (along with Existential Angst as experienced by Woody Allen 2.0) an older, unattractive man's lust for a younger, universally-agreed-upon-to-be-attractive woman. What makes this woman so special? Well, she's Asian-American, which fits the protagonist's self-proclaimed type (he's a Jew with a thing for non-Jewish women - finally, a novel on that topic!), and she weighs less than 90 pounds. At Jezebel, so many references to a woman's weight would be called "triggering." However, I find the discussion of whether Tiny Asian Love Object weighs 83 or 86 pounds triggering me to wish I had talent in the literary arena, and that I had it in me to write a novel about for god's sake any romantic attraction that has not already been explored on "Seinfeld." What bothers me isn't that the book is set in NYC - it's a giant city, and there are more than enough stories to tell. It's that this story has already been told so so so so so so so many times. If you're a neurotic, high-libido, heterosexual Jewish man in Manhattan or Brooklyn, approaching middle age, think hard, think really hard, before unloading your semi-autobiographical fiction on the reading public.
American Apparel "bamboo" tights: The hipster cashier warned me they were non-returnable. I took this as a good sign - who wants to wear pre-owned tights? They lasted a few hours before a decent-sized hole formed in the toe, probably a lifetime record for shortest lifespan for tights. And these weren't even pantyhose/stockings, but thick tights, the kind that are supposed to be worn for more than five minutes, and that can't be repaired with nail polish. So, readers in search of "sweater" tights, I suggest Nordstrom Rack, which has the same Hue ones as sold at Ricky's, but for half the price. Barring any unforeseen burst of creativity, leading me to write a New York Jewish novel that hasn't already been written, expect a post in the near future on the difficulty of finding so-called "basics" in the clothes-shops of our age.
Friday, October 15, 2010
How is this guide to dating European men a book? Both because it's already an Onion article, and because young American women looking for European men don't need to look further than their American university campuses. (Grad-student ferners. Hello!) However, I sort of love the idea that a ex-Vanderbilt cheerleader fetishizes men from Macedonia. I'm also fond of the earnest comment at Jezebel about how the book's author is "othering" Euro dudes. The straight white male, oppressed at last.
Tuesday, October 12, 2010
I had always - "eternity" defined as since beginning grad school - figured that the end of the eccentric prof was due above all to the educational system today, and its emphasis on well-roundedness. To get to the point where you're not only at a good college, but where you've excelled and found three or four professors willing to write on your behalf, you've probably played some team sports (in high school, if not beyond), learned what "Seven" jeans are (or the male, non-2005 equivalent), and otherwise had your normalcy confirmed, time and again. The requirements for getting a PhD and any other professional post-college outcome are virtually identical. It's not that eccentrics don't get hired or, if hired, get refused tenure. It's that they are, if employed, working at jobs that don't require proof that one came across as reasonable and competent from ages 14 to 22. They never came close to the academic job market. Damned if, former track-team member and owner if inconsistent user of a hair iron, I'm not part of the problem.
Then Jacob Levy linked to a couple of articles about the decline of the wacky prof, and they got me thinking: the absentminded professor - like the douchy banker, the sleazy lawyer - is a man. The cliché is male. While we as a society have kinda-sorta evolved to the point where "accountant," "doctor," and so forth don't necessarily bring to mind male pronouns, the professional "types" remain fixed. Profs aren't nutty these days because it's much easier for a man to be a high-functioning eccentric. The unkempt-hair, the stench of tobacco mixed with body odor, the neglected waistline flaunted, the fly unerotically unzipped, this is an image available to a man, not a woman. It's acceptable if the nutty prof has no home life, but maybe he does! If eccentricity, as too often happens, gets confused with genius, there might be an unfairly hot young acolyte, male or female, to fetch the slippers and sherry. It's not that women can't be eccentric, or even that eccentric women aren't the basis for positive-ish clichés of their own, but that lady-eccentricity doesn't read as endearing-yet-commanding-of-respect. Now that women can be profs, profs have to bathe, exchange pleasantries, and otherwise act, well, professional.
Have you ever dined at a nice restaurant and wondered, why are there not grocery shoppers with shopping carts weaving between the tables? Or, have you ever been buying groceries and thought, what would make this even more interesting is if a waiter carrying the dishes and glassware for a party of six were to cross my path? If you answered "yes" to either of these questions, Eataly's got you covered. The place also takes the 'stand while you eat, it's not annoying, it's European!' trend to a new level. Not only do customers at the what's-Italian-for-charcuterie (antipasto?) "restaurant" have to stand at free-standing "bars" in the middle of the food hall, but customers using the place as a supermarket could make one wrong turn and oops there goes the Chianti.
If the groceries were just decor - and I kind of assumed they would be, what with the press about the "vegetable butcher" - there'd be no shopping carts, and the cost would be in the 'is this a store or a museum?' range. Yet the prices were... unremarkable. I wouldn't say cheap, but assuming you're looking only for the sorts of things that never are (good meat, fish, vegetables), and you're not the sort to fall for the 'hmm, that dry pasta is $8 a box, it must be so much better than De Cecco' hoax, you'd be no better off price-wise at Whole Foods.
The other advantage over the Greenmarket - or the more apt comparison, Chelsea Market - is that you can pay for everything at once, and with a credit card. Which I sure did. Baby artichokes at $3.50/lb, this is a delightful way to make a dinner non-blah. (I "butchered" them myself, and with one hand mostly out of commission.) I also picked up fish and steak, each of which were $10 for two. (One can only base so many meals around the concept of plumping up legumes or dry pasta in water. Even grad students gotta eat!) And, uh, some Barilla bucatini. It's really a shame the place is so hard to navigate, because food halls are, in theory, the greatest thing in the whole world.
Monday, October 11, 2010
-So much for complaining about being called "ma'am." Today I got a "sir." Wearing a dress. This is not how the blurring of gender boundaries was supposed to play out.
-There was this memorable self-deprecating joke in "30 Rock" - Liz Lemon referred to using acne-fighting wrinkle cream. A joke and only that, I assumed. Then at Duane Reade - where I was called "sir," making my love for the pharmacy chain that much more profound - I noticed this product for sale. If I were to take the plunge and purchase face-specific soap (or "wash" or whatever), this is obviously the best one. What is 27 if not a moment for skin problems of the young and old to converge?
Sometimes, when I'm putting on makeup, I think how lucky I am to be of the sex for whom this behavior is socially acceptable. I absolutely can and do go out with none on, but I like having the option of no undereye circles, of tooth-whitening (seriously, my dentist recommended this) red lipstick, or tan-illusion-producing pale or nude shades. And what a difference eyeliner makes. Poor, poor men who don't have this possibility!
I'm going to suggest that, rather than embracing no-makeup as a feminist ideal, we put some paint on men.*
Exhibit A: James Franco. Not how I'd have styled him - bright eyeshadow and bright lipstick? - but it kind of works. Note the lack of wig, décolletage - he's not exactly in full drag, but a bit beyond man-in-makeup.
Exhibit B: Franco all made up reminded me of Tim Curry in "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Also extreme, but I remember seeing this movie quite young - 8? 9? - and thinking, men in makeup, why not?
Exhibit C: Rufus Wainwright. A pretty man made prettier by eyeliner. Not the example, I realize, that will convince anyone that eyeliner on a man signals heterosexuality, but hey. Women are noticing Rufus. If men who want to be noticed by women take Rufus's lead, fantastic, but it's not as though terribly many gay men are walking around with eyeliner, either. Whatever subset of the male population gets the message, a step in the right direction. But yeah, for this change to occur, it's probably essential for straight men to be involved.
Exhibit D: Period Dress. I'm not convinced blush does Hugh Laurie any favors, but the point of this example is that things change - makeup has not always, in all cultures, been gender-specific.
*What I'm really advocating is options. Girls and women should be able to go without, boys and men with.
Saturday, October 09, 2010
Last night, it was going to be a stirfry. Vegan, even - broccoli, bell pepper, tofu, the first two from the farmers' market. Health! Local! Seasonal! Cooked with care at home, without the extra grease/MSG/chef-spat-in-the-food-or-worse/$20-for-two-for-that? of a takeout meal!
By the time evening came around, I was far too tired to start on something along these lines, but I had the ingredients and figured it must be done. Although I've made this (most tasty, if I may say so) dish a million times before, this time a combination of a different pan, too much pan pre-heating, too much peanut oil, and some poorly-thought-out tofu maneuvering ended up searing not just the tofu, but also my left wrist and hand. Vegan, not so much.
I cook most every night, and rarely does it lead to something along these lines. I mean, cuts and burns are inevitable, but the main obstacle isn't injury, but hassle and mess. Take the stirfry. When it goes well, this is what must be done:
-Have all ingredients in the house. Shop in time to make the dish, but not too soon, or else the broccoli goes bad.
-Peel and chop the garlic and ginger.
-Drain, pat dry, and cut up tofu.
-Preheat pan, put oil in pan, and get tofu into pan without causing major injury (possible) and without coating the floor with oil (impossible).
-Cut up two bell peppers, without getting the seeds all over the place. (I have a technique for this, but it's not 100%.)
-Cut up broccoli into a bowl, wash broccoli, and dry it so as not to have mushy broccoli/coat the kitchen in yet another layer of peanut oil. The salad spinner works for this.
-Put the vegetables (including, if they've been lost in the mix, the garlic and ginger) into the pan with the tofu.
-Pour soy sauce and sesame oil over the whole thing.
-Cover for a few moments to make sure the broccoli's kind of evenly done, but not so long as to make it mushy.
-Let cook for just long enough that the vegetables no longer seem raw.
-Serve with rice that's been timed just right, and stirred periodically. Serve with hot sauce - that's in the house, too, right? Wait, they don't sell any decent hot sauce at any decent supermarket nearby? Better track that down somewhere out-of-the-way.
-Set the table - beverages and cutlery don't come in the takeout bag if you haven't ordered in.
-Load dirty dishes into dishwasher.
-Soak pot the rice cooked in overnight, because the dishwasher, bless its heart, has its limits.
-Remove layer of oil and soy sauce from kitchen. (Do splatter-guards work, and are they worth $9.99 or whatever they cost?)
-Take out the saucy trash.
Division of household labor improves the above-described scenario, but this is a whole lot of time and fuss. Note the difference between the "recipe" above and how putting together a "simple" stirfry is described by a professional. I've said this before and, in that I can't come up with infinite new things to say, I'll say it again: because food and health writers whose topic of choice is home cooking do this for a living, their entire concept of how much cooking interferes with the life of someone whose life doesn't revolve around cooking is warped, warped, warped. I say this as someone who likes to cook, albeit someone whose "cooking" in the near future will probably be limited to blender pancakes.
Friday, October 08, 2010
Best Pancakes That Are More Like Crepes
Heat a small amount of butter - like enough for a piece of toast - in the microwave for 30 seconds or so, until it melts.
Break an egg into a bowl. Check for shell.
Put that egg, half a cup of flour, an almost invisible amount of baking powder, and the butter into the blender. Put the amount of milk you think pancakes would require in as well. Blend away.
Add lots more milk, more than you think the pancakes could support, and liquefy. The batter should be more like milk than dough. Skim milk might even be best, because liquid's what you're looking for, but I've never tried it with whole. I can't see that this would make a huge difference - you might be able to skip the butter step if you have whole milk on hand.
Heat a nonstick pan, but put some butter in it just to be sure. The heat should be high but not too - 4.5 or 5 on a scale of 6.
Here's where technique comes in: Lift the pan off the heat. Using the blender and its helpful spout, pour just enough batter to create a pancake in the pan, but not so much that you need to spill any excess back into the blender. Swirl the pan around so that no holes remain, but not so much so that the pancake's all over the sides of the pan. Once the top looks cooked through, flip. If you want them browned, wait a minute or so, but they're done at this point, so you can take them out of the pan whenever.
The resulting pancakes are something in the crepe/blini/blintz/Swedish pancake vicinity, but not an authentic replica of any of those.
Oh, and the above recipe serves... I have no idea! I can certainly manage it on my own, but people with qualms about eating six or seven pancakes - even when the reason there are so many is that the batter is so thin - might think this is a serves-two situation. When I make it for two, I double the recipe, but hey. Meanwhile, if you're going to use the pancakes as a vehicle for something else, you could go a pancake a person... How do "servings" work, anyway? Whatever, just make the pancakes, you won't regret it.
Thursday, October 07, 2010
Fashion, its enemies declare, creates waste. Because the industry declares new looks "in" every season, women discard their clothes once they're no longer fashionable. If it weren't for the industry, clothes would be valued for their durability and flattering cuts, not their of-the-moment status.
But do many women really get rid of clothes when they go out of style? Is that really our reason for chucking or donating the old and moving onto the new?
While a tiny subset of tiny women probably do buy new clothes every season, most of us are neither that consistent size-wise nor that committed to looking current. In my own experience, the end of a garment comes either when it reaches a truly unwearable (non-donatable) state, through wear or through my own wore-it-to-cook-in/washed-it-wrong negligence, or when I've accepted that pants that were snug when I was 19 are, at 27, unbuttonable. I'm not alone in this.
If fashion is to blame for waste, blame the industry's insistance, season after season, of making us buy clothing with a particular fit, such that any gain or loss of five pounds makes much of a wardrobe unwearable. A more eco- and wallet-friendly approach would be outfits that allow for changes in shape. Leggings and sweatpants, saris and togas, wrap dresses and t-shirt dresses, turtleneck dresses and pants held up by a belt that comes with the pants... need I go on? Some such options might be either too revealing or too casual, but it's possible to find appropriate outfits for just about any setting that do not cause severe discomfort if weight is gained or turn into tents if any is lost. Thinking creatively along these lines, women end up with far more comfortable and size-flexible options than do men.
A move to not-so-size-specific clothes would, of course, eliminate the option of using jeans as a dieting tool - as with those commercials for I forget which diet or yogurt or who knows, where the woman fits into her old jeans and runs down the street to proudly announce this to her incredulous female neighbor. But women dead-set on this method of staying slim could still keep a pair of jeans as a "scale" of sorts at home, without having to get all new clothes with every shift in size. We could, as it were, keep the feel-bad-about-our-bodies part, and chuck the gotta-throw-it-out one, although getting rid of both works too.
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
Dear readers-arrived-from Sullivan,
-For the record, I don't think the character of Kyle's mom is the best example of the annoying-Jewish-woman stereotype, because, as Sullivan correctly notes, "South Park" is a world of equal-opportunity mockery. However, there's no better, immediately-recognizable visual representation of this cliché. The character most emblematic of this phenomenon on TV today is, to my knowledge, Wolowitz's mother. Granted Wolowitz himself is something of a leap backward as far as representations of Jewish men are concerned, but at least he's not a grotesque disembodied voice.
-Sarah Silverman is not a character created by a Jewish man or a non-Jewish man, for that matter, but the alter ego of one Sarah Silverman. Of course she's not hahruhhble in the way that the fictional Jewish woman often is. That she's considered both Jewy and sexy is unusual, exceptional, and probably has something to do with the fact that she was not created as the would-be date of a male Jewish protagonist, but rather is herself the protagonist. That she exists in no way negates the crap image of Jewish women in American entertainment of the last several decades.
-While I am of course delighted that my readership now (temporarily) extends beyond immediate family, I fear that Sullivan's introduction to what I posted - that I'm writing about Jewish women's "difficult position" - may give the impression that I believe crap images of Jewish women in media to be The Greatest Problem Facing the World Today. To preempt any such assumptions, let me be clear: it is not. Even for those of us who are Jewish women. OK, I won't speak for us all, but in my own life, at least, this problem ranks rather low. Perhaps because, as the Slate post I was originally responding to points out, so many actresses considered beautiful are in fact Jewish, for real-life Jewish women, being Jewish, looking stereotypically Jewish, these are not obstacles to attracting male attention. Again, even if it were terribly difficult for lady-Jews to get dates, this would not rank among the world's major catastrophes, but the fact of the matter is, it's not. This is what makes the crap images at once frustrating and irrelevant. OK, not irrelevant, but what exactly is the impact of these images on the lives of the women ostensibly being represented? My sense is that there is one, but I'm not quite sure how to articulate it without going the anecdotal route. Any ideas?
Why are we meant to be horrified by what goes into a hot dog or chicken nuggets, while at the same time, snout-to-tail is a food-movement-approved, eco-friendly, gourmet way of getting rid of odd parts of the animal? Presumably it has something to do with how the meat was raised, but if the "ick" factor is about weird cuts of meat, or about the resulting dish being less good-for-you than a kale salad, I'm thinking this is a class distinction more than anything else.
Tuesday, October 05, 2010
Speaking of the trend cycle, here's one I can live with. No, I don't think cropped sweaters are attractive, but I seem to have more than a few items that fit the bill. It's what happens when the wrong things go in the dryer. When sweaters from one's younger years are too darn pretty to abandon, even though the fit changed unfavorably once a post-adolescent build arrived. When sweaters are purchased because they're just so darn pretty who cares they're cut for straight-up-and-down... and then one "delicates" wash cycle later, oops.... There is a pile of sweaters in my closet just like the ones in this fashion spread, a pile so thoroughly ignored that I had to do a double-take - we're really supposed to be wearing that? For reasons I don't entirely understand, and that defy the laws of physics and laundry (but that probably relate to stinginess re: dry-cleaning and laziness re: washing-by-hand), all my sweaters end up going this route. I could buy one that was ankle-length and give it a couple years, crop-top time. So while I can't imagine buying one intentionally (let alone dropping $2,050 on one), if this really is the new look for fall, my so-very-now wardrobe just quadrupled.
I'm taking a break from writing a grant proposal about belles Juives to write a blog post about a Double X blog post about belles Juives. Meanwhile, though juive as ever, I'm in full library mode and not feeling especially belle. So it goes.
Rachel Shukert has won me over with this: "Hollywood ur-Jewess Natalie Portman (whose name I can never hear without a preface of 'why can’t you be more like …')" Ahem. Ahem. But also with this:
Hollywood’s repulsion isn’t directed toward actual Jewish women, but toward its image of the “Jewish Woman” who even in 2010 is still consistently portrayed as bossy, obnoxious, pushy, materialistic, shrewish, gauche, and impossible to please: Mrs. Ari on Entourage, Susie Greene from Curb Your Enthusiasm, Jill Zarin from The Real Housewives of New York (a real person playing a fictional character playing a real person). Real Jewish women can laugh at these depictions, but they can sting, too, not least because they are so often manufactured and promulgated by Jewish men: our brothers and our cousins and our dads. I mean, is that what they really think of us? (emphasis mine)I've written here before about the challenges of dealing with negative images of Jewish women in entertainment created by Jewish men. Am I saying Jews control the entertainment industry? No, but Jews do have a disproportionate role in the entertainment-with-a-Jewish-theme-intended-for-a-mainstream-audience industry. Same as all other minorities.
In a sense, these writers and directors get a free pass - the representations, we can imagine, are not anti-Semitic because they're self-deprecating, even when it's not so much the "self" being deprecated as the self's female coreligionists. The whole, 'it's OK, I can say it because I'm Jewish' nevertheless works, in that we-as-a-society put up with these images (and, uh, sounds - why did Shukert leave out the disembodied voice of Wolowitz's mom, on "The Big Bang Theory"?) precisely because they're presented as self-mockery. We-as-a-society would be a whole lot less forgiving of the Mrs. Broflovski norm if we imagined it was coming from non-Jews.
Add to this the generally-held idea (held, I suspect, by those who've never seen the first two seasons of "Absolutely Fabulous") that women have no sense of humor, and it's clear enough why Jewish women are in a bind if we try to complain (get that - Jewish women complaining?) about the use of representations of our kind as comic relief. This is why Shukert won me over further still by pointing out that "[r]eal Jewish women can laugh at these depictions." The obviously-Portnoy's Complaint-inspired episode, where Wolowitz's mothah is calling to him while he is 'occupied' at the hand of a robot that's just a hand wouldn't work if Mrs. Wolowitz were lovely and mild-mannered. We-the-lady-Jews can find this hilarious and objectionable at the very same time.
Oh and P.S.: Want some more belle-Juive action? Try "House." An actress named Lisa Edelstein (not "Portman" or "Ryder"), who doesn't look especially Swedish, portrays hotness-personified. Whether theoretical nebbish-types would find her appealing or whether she'd remind them too much of their mothahs is never asked.
Monday, October 04, 2010
Today, I was very proud of my Fashion Personality 1 get-up: navy-with-white-details Aigle garden-store rainboots, Bensimon used brownish-green (greenish-brown?) Barbour-esque jacket, camel-colored bag and canvas tote, black corduroys, neatly-painted (matter of luck, really) dark red nail polish, pearl studs. It really came together, I thought, looking in (what passes for) a full-length mirror before leaving the apartment.
I suspect the outfit had something to do with why, on 8th Street of all places, I was accosted by a group of impeccably-dressed preppy Spanish (or wealthy South American, but I suspect Spanish) tourists. Who began speaking to me in Spanish, not in the way someone does when this is their only option and the language of the place they're in isn't one they speak, but the way a tourist does when they're abroad and delighted to have found someone of their own kind. My Fashion Personality 1, paired with my natural-born coloring and facial features, adds up to upper-crust Spaniard. Who knew?
Unfortunately I don't speak Spanish, but I understood, soon enough, what they wanted: Tiffany's. They wanted Tiffany's. I tried to explain how far this was from 8th Street, made somewhat more challenging by the fact that I assume it's on 57th Street but don't know for sure. I then remembered passing one on Wall Street. Neither of these locations would be useful if you're next to Washington Square Park. After the group of tourists recovered from their disbelief that I could not explain to them, in Spanish, how to find an expensive jewelry store, we parted ways and, in keeping with the Spanish-language theme, I got some excellent tacos.
Saturday, October 02, 2010
There were a surprising number of apricot poodles at the Dachshund Oktoberfest. And more lovely dachshunds than these pictures convey. WWWWAAAAAANNNNTTTTTT. Soon as the no-dog-apartment lease is up...
Friday, October 01, 2010
I've said it before and I'll say it again: college room-sharing is among the Worst Ideas Ever.
This view owes something to personal experience: I won the lottery and ended up with not one but two racist roommates, neither of whom, let's be clear, made an exception for The Jews. This was a pain in the neck at the time, and probably explains why I have a poster of Theodor Herzl on my wall today, why I thought to study Jews and not just French as planned, and why I ended up in grad school for what I did... in other words, a mixed bag. I made the experience work for me, and if my charming nature didn't turn either of them around regarding non-Nordics more generally, it may have Built Character as far as I was concerned. It was, at least, a Learning Experience.
It doesn't always work out so neutrally. There are obviously other important angles to the extremely upsetting Rutgers suicide - the challenges of growing up gay in a homophobic society, cyberbullying being no less real than the schoolyard variety - and I would in no way equate my own unpleasant experiences with the tragic ones of Tyler Clementi. But the room-sharing one might explain why the Rutgers freshman felt so trapped. Colleges make such a fuss about "safe spaces" and centers for different minorities and so forth, but the best safe space would be a bedroom not inhabited by someone who doesn't consider you fully human. The only way to guarantee this is to at least give students the option of living in their own rooms.
The argument for roomsharing, when subdivision would be physically possible, is that college is about meeting different kinds of people for the first time. Exposure to those unlike yourself, outside your comfort zone, will make you grow into a more open-minded person. And this much is true, to a point. The issue I have with this is that no one should be forced to share a bedroom with someone who doesn't respect the rights of their "kind." Throw together a black student and a white racist, a gay guy and a homophobe, a Jew and an anti-Semite, and everyone wins? True of a classroom or sports team, or - why not - a dorm room with separate bedrooms, but dangerous when it comes to shared one-room living spaces. The possibility that a bigot will see the light and realize that They aren't so bad after all has to be weighed against the fact that the They will have to go to sleep every night in the same room as someone who may not come around to Them after all. Even having a roommate who's not necessarily racist so much as insensitive can be frightening if you're a member of a group the roommate is insensitive towards, and you have to live and sleep in the same room as that individual.
Seriously, colleges. If you want to build the characters of your students, have them work in the dining halls and as janitors and landscapers alongside classmates of different backgrounds and viewpoints and whatnot, and with the money saved, get enough space to give students the option of a moment's peace.
Rather than comment further on the thread begun here:
-What is "fashion"? Luxury brands with identifiable logos? Wearing leggings-as-pants or skinny cargoes because thats what celebs are wearing in paparazzi shots? What's on the runways at Fashion Weeks? Avant-garde post-goth ensembles assembled in Berlin or Bushwick and sold for ungodly amounts? Creatively-arranged thrift-store finds? The last one might be better classified as "style," but the rest are all fashion, and tend to contradict one another. Some fashion is about looking beautiful. Some is about being the kid teased growing up for weird, who moves to the big city and finds an industry that celebrates this weirdness. Sometimes the same brands and magazines are simultaneously about both. This is fashion. So is this. To say it's all about $90 t-shirts, or all about innovative dress, would be inaccurate. It's both those things.
-What is "worse" - dressing hot and getting implants to please Men, or paying up and skipping lunch for Fashion? How about: both are bad and potentially life-threatening when taken to extremes. Both are about women focusing on their physical appearances, and are thus unlikely sites for the coming feminist revolution. Both can, however, be liberating, depending where one is coming from. If I'm admiring a bunch of androgynous-chic outfits while considering the impossibility of a woman with my build pulling them off (or, um, buttoning them closed), I can take comfort in the fact that The Males would consider my didn't-as-for-this-but-there-it-is "womanly" figure a plus. If I put on an outfit I see as my own unique twist on a look that's so-very-now, and my boyfriend looks skeptically at the results, I can reassure myself that a (theoretical) street fashion photographer would see things otherwise. (However, my boyfriend was once stopped by such a photographer, while I've never been, so perhaps I should be taking his advice...)
-Are runway-beauty and man-pleasing-beauty mutually exclusive? No. Youth, blondness, clear skin - these are big in both arenas. And I suspect that if Dude 1 tells Dude 2 over brewskis at the sports bar that he's dating a fashion model, Dude 2 will not respond with a remark about how androgynous and bony models are today, but will instead offer Dude 1 a high-five, or however Dudes today are expressing their hearty approval. But they are different enough realms that when a woman is hired to represent Hot - whether on a sitcom, in a men's mag, or wherever else, use your imagination, men might look at images of hot women - she will not much resemble those who strut down the catwalk for Chanel. Think Penny from The Big Bang Theory. Think (in her better moments) Britney Spears.