Saturday, November 19, 2005

Shabbat shalom, from the Style section

Occasionally, an image comes along that is somewhat distressing to look at, yet one simply cannot look away. The photo of bat mitzvah girl Amber getting kissed on each cheek by her parents in Miami, wearing a $27,000 dress, with Ashanti and Ja Rule hired to perform at her party, is obviously meant to appear as grotesque to NYT-reading sophisticates. While the point of the article--big-name stars perform at private events for loads of cash--is not specifically about bar or bat mitzvahs, the notion Americans already have of a grotesque and crass party is associated more with these events than with, say, weddings or anniversary parties. Conspicuous consumption happens all over the place, in America and beyond, but if at the center of it all is a 13-year-old "JAP," it's all the better. Photographs from bar and bat mitzvah's are now all the rage, meant to be looked at ironically, to induce cringing, and so on.

The problem, of course, is that the image of Jews in America becomes that of an overly-dressed-up adolescent, looking simultanously awkward and spoiled, coming of age amidst the exploitation of not only hired singers and uniformed caterers, but also of their very own religion. Is nothing sacred to these people? Good grief!

Bar and bat mitzvahs are tacky not because they're Jewish parties, but because they're tailored to 13-year-olds. While adult parties can center around alcohol and children's parties around cake and fingerpainting, adolescents need something else. Dancing, shiny things, bright flashing lights, goodie-bags, one-upping one's friends, this is all quite normal for that age. But then once you start involving elderly relatives, and taking pictures of the proceedings, it begins to look as though everyone involved simply loved the macarena and the electric slide and those bracelets that glow for days if you keep them refrigerated, but which will inevitably leak all over your refrigerator. 13 is not the best age to pick for centering an event around, and for photographing. But as long as Judaism in America remains to many a culture with traces of a religion, the bar and bat mitzvah will continue to provide hipsters and sophisticates with more material than they know what to do with.


Anonymous said...

They've definetly got tackier over the last 15 years or so. Back in the day I used to go to lots of them. If anything the kids whose parents were better off tended to have lower key bar mitzvahs. Yes they are parties for 13 year olds but it doesn't mean that parents have to indulge their little darlings as much as they do. Saying "no" used to be part of being a parent.

Anonymous said...

These days, it seems more and more common for Hispanic parents to tell their daughters, "Do you want a wedding or a quincinera? Pick one." so, this sounds par for the course to me.


Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

"Saying 'no' used to be part of being a parent."

Oh really? When was this more the case than it was now? 15 years ago, you imply? I vaguely remember 15 years ago--definitely remember 10 years ago--and bratty kids/overly lenient parents have been around for at least that long.

Anonymous said...

The parents are not over-lenient. They are, in fact, in control, and using the over-the-top parties to show off their wealth and connections. The kid is a brain-washed pawn in the game.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Perhaps, but either way, lavish/cheesy bar/bat mitzvahs are by no means a new phenomenon.