Friday, September 24, 2010

Big Pimpin', Flashin' G's

Benyamin Cohen over at The Huffington Post is being critical of the well-endowed Esther Petrack, the "Modern Orthodox Jew" who shed her tzinus on America's Next Top Model for the chance to make it big.  According to Cohen, Petrack, first chose to take pride in her Jewishness, telling Tyra she was from Jerusalem and taking the time to explain her beliefs. But once she realized that the rigors of the show would conflict with her Sabbath observance, Esther opted to switch gears and take pride in something else that made her unique: Her comedically enormous breasts.

This immediate about-face -- a proud Modern Orthodox Jew one moment and sashaying in a bikini and heels on national TV the next -- was a sad commentary. After all, the contestant is named after the biblical Queen Esther. That historical figure also competed in a beauty pageant, and even hid the fact that she was Jewish. But, when the chips were down and the time called for a hero, Queen Esther used the opportunity to reveal her faith and saved the Jewish people from imminent annihilation. It's her self-sacrifice that we celebrate each year on the festival of Purim.
There are three major points to be made right here:

1.  Petrack walked into that contest knowing full well that being an "American model" would require her to live a lifestyle that is in complete conflict with the mores of Modern Orthodoxyism-- a fact Cohen admits to later in the article. So, spare me your idealism.

2.  Telling someone you're from Jerusalem has nothing to do with expressing pride about your identity.  It's a fact.  I taught plenty of American college students who were born in the U.S. and had a complete lack of pride for this country, but they weren't about to tell people they were born in France.  So, spare me your idealism.

3.  Now you're trying to make a pun on the fact that her name is Esther?  Seriously?  We're turning one girl's fall into the ring of celebrity D-List hell known as America's Next Top Model into a Talmudic appeal for Jewish pride?  See points #1 & #2 for my response to this rabbinic-inspired gem.

And if those three advents of hypocrisy in 200 words or less aren't enough to make your eyes roll out of your head, Cohen doesn't just go after the Good Jewish Girl Gone Wild, he goes after the editors and producers of ANTM, claiming that, while Esther's personal choices were made before she went on air, "...the producers edited it in such a way that she appeared to be, as many grandparents would say, 'finishing Hitler's work.'"

If the Rabbinate can't send her to hell via minyan, they will convict her--with the show's crew as accomplices-- on the grounds of Godwin's Law.  The girl shakes her jugs on cable TV and she's sending a nation to the gas chambers.  Quick!  Where's my chicken?!  Esther shed her clothes--I feel the need to shed some blood!

Moral choices aside, the painful truth is this: If your entire life is governed by a set of rules and regulations that prevent you from living your dreams, why wouldn't you shed those traditions in favor of moving forward to accomplish your goals? 

Like the perfectly Modern Orthodox Jew he is, Cohen concludes his commentary with, "So, should the Modern Orthodox blogosphere be upset with Esther? Well, yes and no."  Yet, his opinion of Esther, the next member of the local Hitler Youth, is very clear:  By turning her back on a Modern Orthodox lifestyle and worldview, Esther has not only failed her religious community, she has failed the Jewish world.

And, in my own culturally Jewish way, I have to ask: Don't Esther's actions make you wonder if this rapid-to-criticize Jewish world hasn't failed her?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Anti-Social Media

I hate technology.

Scratch that.  I don't hate technology.  I hate the fact that people use technology as an excuse to call themselves "connected" when, in reality, they are the most disconnected, anti-social, and often the most anti-informed people on the face of the earth.

Social Networking technology is nothing more than an excuse to communicate through a machine, something only the extremely disabled did not more than a few years ago.  What?  We're all into being the next Stephen Hawking minus the brain?  Is that what's cool?

Recently, I was asked if I was familiar with Wikis, a tool created to facilitate interoffice communication by eliminating as much face-to-face communication as possible.  Mind you, I was asked this by co-workers whose offices are literally twenty steps down the hall from mine.  I'm "encouraged" to come to the annual staff dinner, but when it comes to actually working on projects together who needs a face and a voice when you've got an Internet connection?

But it's worse than that.  I've been at social gatherings where the attendees are too busy blogging or Facebooking to actually talk to the people sitting next to them-- who are also hooked into their laptops or texting on their phones.  We're so busy being virtually social that we've literally lost the art of holding a good conversation.

Check out Beloit College's Mindset List and you'll find that, to the incoming class of 2014, "'digital' has always been in the cultural DNA, they've never written in cursive and with cell phones to tell them the time, there is no need for a wrist watch. ...They will be armed with iPhones and BlackBerries, on which making a phone call will be only one of many, many functions they will perform."  Most strikingly, the Mindset List notes that incoming freshman, "...will now be awash with a computerized technology that will not distinguish information and knowledge." 

In other words, these kids today are so busy pushing buttons and absorbing whatever shows up that they're too busy to tell if what they're encountering is fact or fiction.  This is postmodernism at its finest: move over, Peter Griffin; you're not as fast and flashy as Facebook. 

Speaking of which, I've spent more time screwing with the code bugs on Facebook in order to get readers to this blog than actually writing content.  Then again, who cares?  Content doesn't matter; hits do.  Who cares what you say, how you say it, or even if it is correct-- as long as spell check has done its thing and you're writing in 140 characters or less, you're a hit.  Or a thousand.  That all depends on the speed of your fingers and your wireless connection. 

Wait a minute-- when did the need for speed and accuracy take place over the need for quality content?  Have our thoughts finally entered the industrial age?  Is our ability to independently think and express now gauged solely by how quickly we can distribute those expressions far and wide?  Since when did delivery matter more than content when it came to ...thinking?

There are scary real-life consequences to this lack of attention span and absent fact-filter among today's "Generation Y" (ages 30 & younger).  A new survey released today indicates that Gen Y Moms communicate with their children via Facebook, text, and email versus face-to-face dialogue.  Those kids are going to have some serious social skills when they grow up.  If you think receiving your wedding proposal via text is cute, try typing just your part of the whole ceremony.  Think of the savings!  "Sorry, we would've had a reception, but we didn't have time to book the venue, the food, or the entertainment.  So we all got you these disposable phones so you could Facebook the wedding instead.  Thanks for coming!"

This factoid is a real gem:  The Yahoo News article titled "Generation Y is Giving Cars a Pass" quotes one expert who says, "“This generation focuses its buying on computers, BlackBerrys, music and software and views commuting a few hours by car a huge productivity waste when they can work using PDAs while taking the bus and train."  Cars, the symbols of freedom and independence, are now shoved to the side in favor of digital devices that connect audiences of one with the rest of the virtual world.  The article also cites the fact that many Gen-Y'ers see cars as "damaging to the environment."  Yeah.  Right.  That's why they're so eager to pile onto those mass transit vehicles that send exhaust soaring into the atmosphere--something they'd know of and avoid if they were driving in the cars behind those nasty Public Transit buses.  They don't care about carbon footprints, where they're going, or who is in the driver's seat:  This generation just wants to be left alone with their techy toys.  Now that's what I call connected.

George Orwell wrote of a time when Big Brother monitored thought criminals through telescreens.  As futuristic as Orwell's writing was for the audience of his day, today's generation only knows Big Brother as a British television import.  I suppose that's because an hour of nothing is faster and easier than a few hours of ideas that are real and lasting and have even more meaning today than when they were originally put to paper in 1949. 

To be sure, life is faster and easier with technology.  And because we've foregone the ability and the time to analyze and contemplate the world that we have become, one-by-one we're making the ride down the cultural toilet faster and easier by-- however fast your wireless connection can take you there.

Now, please pardon me while I go Facebook and Tweet that this posting has been made.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Shegetz in the HOUSE

For the record, I grew bored with HOUSE three years ago, at least.  Whatever season it was when they decided to throw the old cast into the ER and hire replacement lookalikes so HOUSE had some fresh emotional baggage to sift through was when the Americanized Hugh Laurie jumped the shark for me.  I suppose his redeeming qualities (namely Blackadder and Jeeves & Wooster) left some love in my heart for the snarly, depressed drug addict, enough to intrigue me into watching last night's season premiere. 

That and I've always been a sucker for a good train wreck.  Nothing could be a better train wreck than the emotionally convoluted Cuddy sucking face with a rehabbed walking bottle of vicodin.  Throw their neurotic, self-appointed pseudo-superhero oncologist into the mix and the next words out of your mouth should be, "Iceberg ahead!"

Ah, but then, the writers of HOUSE always find a way to disappoint, and last night's season premiere was no exception.  "I don't want this," House declares after a day's worth of uninterrupted animal passion.  No one with a child, he argues, should have somebody like him in their life.  Why?  Because he is a child, you can hear yourself say, a whiney, self-involved brat who can't get over the fact that shit happens in life.

If Cuddy is going to strap herself to a goy, why pick a miserable one?  At least with a miserable Jew she'll get a good sense of humor.  House is just, well, miserable.  Where's the fun in that?  As much of a Woody Allen fan as I am not, you have to admit that if Cuddy wanted neurotic she's got plenty in the tribe to choose from.  Why get stuck with some miserable drug addict who needs either pills or sex to distract him from his endless navel-gazing?  There's no mystical, Talmudic majesty in self-obsession; just ask Larry David.  At least, if she had Larry David, she'd be entertained. 

Let's face it: Hollywood loves interrelating Jews and gentiles.  Usually its the shiksappeal that draws in good Jewish boys like Ben Braddock, Gaylord Focker, and the Zohan in major motion pictures, and let's not forget prime time's poor Bernie Steinberg (we know how well that turned out).  Rarely do we get to see a shegetz walk onto the screen (I suppose all us Jewish girls slighted by our male tribal counterparts just become Jewish nuns, whiling away our childbearing years playing Mah Johngg) so when he does, he's got to have more to offer than a bitter tongue and a secret stash.  Like Maxwell Sheffield, he should at least be able to offer some decent real estate and a few celebrity connections.  Okay, so we might not be able to score the good-hearted nurses or the bushy, rock-hard Mossad agents, but middle-aged navel-gazing nihilists?  Is this Jewish Mother syndrome biting us in the tuchus?  Really, what did us good Jewish girls ever do to you?

As far as HOUSE goes, the iceberg has already melted out of boredom, leaving the Titanic known as Cuddy&House to drift into the same lackluster oblivion occupied by Dr. Cameron, 13, and the hoards of other women unfortunate enough to get distracted by TV's attempt at a modern-day Lord Byron. 

Lisa, listen to your inner mameleh and make a quick exodus while you can.  You're still young, vibrant, and successful: If anyone can rescue the Ari Ben Canaans from the shiksas, it's you.