Wednesday, December 28, 2011

A Modest Proposal

A couple of weeks ago, while reading the Huffington Post, a sidebar headline caught my eye -- "In Defense of Bridal Boudoir." Curiously, I clicked on the link and was led to a piece promoting the practice of so-called Bridal Boudoir pictures, those soft-core porn pix some women pose for when they become engaged or are newly married. Hawked hilariously as "tasteful," these photos are intended to be keepsakes or trophies of you at that moment in your life when you are/were at your most delectable and nubile.

But it wasn't just that the article was silly and written in breathless advertorial tones, it was actually offensive, urging women to get those portraits done before everything goes to hell:
But brides face tough questions in deciding whether or not to book a boudoir session: Should I let it all hang out? Will he still love me tomorrow? 
I'm here to say yes and yes! Yes for many reasons, some of which a young woman may understand now and some which she will not understand until she hits 50 and her tightly toned triceps just flutter in the breeze. And not everyone is Madonna, so don't even go there. 
All young women are beautiful. This is not a cliché, this is nature or God's plan or whatever you want to call it, but it's as true as all babies are beautiful. My best friend is really beautiful, we're talking Angelina Jolie beautiful and there's about a handful of pictures of her in existence. We spoke of it recently and she insisted that no one ever took her photo and I was dumbfounded because everyone TRIED to take her photo and she would put her hand up to block them. I reminded her of this and she looked sad and said, "Oh yeah, why did I do that?"
So much is wrong with this writer's thinking that it is hard to know how to begin to respond. Misguided concepts like Bridal Boudoir (the consumerism! the objectification of women! the ageism!) invariably compel me to respond, so I fired off a few salvos within the comments section to the article.

However, because I do not actually care about this subject for more than the three minutes it engaged me online, I blithely skipped away for a couple of weeks, only to be drawn back to the forum this evening when a notice stating that someone had responded to my comments popped up in the sidebar section of the HuffPo, obviously the source of all distraction in life.

In a state of semi-horrified fascination, I read the comment posted by someone called Ogaraj. Ogaraj is infuriated by my critique but what is really striking is how up close and personal he makes his response, using my actual name, ranting and raving.There is something both creepy and interesting about his counter-offensive. He is livid about my "passing judgment" on him and his wife, who are evidently sleazebag consumers of this dubious service. It is kind of funny that he cares what I personally think of Bridal Boudoir and it is not-so-funny that he believes I am critiquing him and his wife.

What's weird is that I stumbled upon this lost correspondence as I was preparing to research a related topic: Orthodox Jewish women who dress in a sexy or provocative manner, in defiance of the laws of tsniut or modesty.

I somehow get the impression that Ogaraj is not an MOT and would therefore not be useful to an exploration of this trend. For this, I am relieved because he obviously cannot draw the distinction between expressing an opinion and passing judgment. I would caution him to avoid reading negative reviews of movies, books, plays, restaurants or anything else that he likes. The judgment might be too much to bear.

Here is my volley with Ogaraj, from the comment section of the HuffPo. You can link through to the original piece here.

In Defense Of Bridal Boudoir
While it is customary for couples to book wedding and engagement photography sessions, a whole new world of possibilities hangs over the bride with the rising trend of the "boudoir" photo shoot.
Shira Dicker Wow. The fact that you see someone having posed, soft-core porn shots taken of herself as a sign that she is in command of her sexuality is the essence of the problem.This is hardly a liberated gesture; it's pathetic. I feel the same way, incidentally, about the so-called Slut Walk; in fact I blogged about it. When women conform to MALE ideals of sexuality, that's not liberated.

Bring on empowered female sexuality. But this, my friend, is not one of its manifestations.
posted Dec 21, 2011 at 07:04:37
Reply  |  Link
ogaraj First, you implied that my wife, (along with the many other women out there who have done boudoir), lacks dignity for doing so. Then, you raise that ante by determining that it qualifies as soft-core porn, and go so far as to call it pathetic. You even go on to foolishly imply that there are largely differing male and female ideals of sexuality, but pass judgement on what does or does not qualify as liberated.

Your insults and hateful judgement says far more about you and your own (fear? loathing? hatred? confusion?) of your own sexuality than it does about the women and men you pass judgement on. The photos my wife (and many other women, along with those in the article) had done have her wearing more clothing than women wear out for a day on the beach with family. Hardly porn. No nudity involved. Hardly undignified. Very classy. Very sexy, and very beautiful.

Most importantly, she enjoyed doing the photos, and enjoyed my response to them. In the end, it was something that she found empowering and fun, despite whatever repressed sexual ideal that Shira Dicker thinks she should conform to. You close by hypocritically saying "bring on empowered female sexuality." In what form- the kind that you approve of? What are the rules that my wife needs to conform to that Shira Decker will accept as a manifestation of what is sexually empowering to a female? Next, are you going to say that a mom wearing a two piece at the beach with her family and posts it to facebook is a bad mother? Better yet, since you see yourself as the authority on female sexual expression, are you going to instruct wives everywhere on what positions are acceptable for a woman to perform in the bedroom as part of *your* opinion of what is empowered

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas Heroes

On this Christmas Day, I want to honor two heros: Pope Benedict XVI, for railing against the blingy consumerism that has become synonymous with the season and this little girl who takes on gender stereotyping in toys.

Both messages are as appropriate for Christians as they are for the rest of humanity.

Merry Christmas! And oh yeah, Happy Chanuka!!!

Friday, December 23, 2011

It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got that Swing!

For my MA thesis at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, I researched young American expats in Berlin, an undertaking which compelled me to spend time in bars and clubs.

In tomorrow's Weekend section of the New York Times, my article on Manhattan's Swing Dance Demimonde appears. My research compelled me to spend time going to swing dance clubs and parties.

There is a lesson in this:

Do what you love and your work will never feel like work.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Red Wallet. A True Urban Tale.

One week ago, I found a small red wallet in the street outside of the 8th Avenue entrance to Penn Station.

It was 12:30 a.m. Having been out the previous three nights, I was eager to get home quickly. Though I was not more than a five minute walk from the subway, I gave into temptation and hailed a cab.

As I sprinted towards the car that was in the process of discharging a passenger -- a small man with an over-large suitcase -- I saw the wallet winking up at me from the pavement. It was a woman's wallet, probably freshly fallen. Holding the back door of the cab open, I craned my neck around, checking out the street-scape. A young girl was making out with a guy against a building. Some young toughs glared and glowered as they trumbled by. A bunch of British businessmen walked briskly, talking in that too-bright, too-loud voice of the intoxicated. There was a high concentration of questionable people on the street; any number would have loved to claim the wallet as their own.

So I scooped it up and jumped into the cab.

"Amsterdam and 116th and can I have a light back here?!" I shouted to the driver.

I felt a jolt of adrenalin, a surge of sudden wakefulness. My palms were sweaty. Guilt mixed with curiosity and excitement.

Whose wallet was this???

And what if there was the proverbial million bucks inside? Would I have the moral integrity to return the wallet to its owner?

I opened up the wallet and peered inside. There was not, as it turned out, a million bucks. The sum was closer to one hundred dollars.

There were seven credit cards, an employee ID and a driver's license, with an address. The owner of the wallet was a 26-year-old woman from Long Island who worked in Manhattan. She had long blondish hair, parted in the middle. She was the kind of young woman who blended into a crowd. Nice looking but utterly unremarkable. Kind of bland. She had receipts from several meals. She had store charge cards. I counted her credit cards again. Seven credit cards for a 26-year-old. Huh.

Peering in the inadequate light, I called information on my BlackBerry and fed them the address on the driver's license. Within minutes, I was speaking with a woman who was completely awake, not sleep-saturated, as I had feared. The wallet belonged to her daughter, she told me, but she hadn't come home yet and there was no indication that she even knew the wallet was missing.

I was thanked profusely and praised for my honesty; arrangements were made by the parents to retrieve the wallet the following day. But the next day I got a call from the father who was at a holiday party and couldn't make it and asked would I mind babysitting the wallet until Monday.

Somewhat surprised that he trusted a complete stranger with his kid's seven credit cards and cash over the weekend, I agreed.

The weekend came and went. On Monday afternoon I got a call from the father. He would be coming to my home, by subway, to meet me and get his daughter's wallet back. Feeling sorry for him for having to make the shlep uptown, I arranged to meet by the gates of the Columbia campus.

The appointed time arrived. The father showed up at the Columbia gate, looking out of place. He had white hair and wore a boxy black coat. His face, as they say, had the map of Ireland etched upon it. He thanked me sincerely. I handed him the wallet out of my bag. Awkwardly he gave me a small box his wife had "thrown together." I told him a gift was unnecessary. He said that when his daughter returned home at 3 a.m. that morning, she hadn't even noticed that her wallet was missing. He borrowed my phone to call her, since his phone battery had died. He got his daughter's voice mail and arranged to meet her at Macy's to do Christmas shopping.

Handing the phone back to me, he waved goodbye and left for the downtown subway. I crossed the Columbia campus, heading home. Something nagged at me but I couldn't put my finger on it.

It's been a week since I found the red wallet. I now realize what was amiss, indeed, every time I think of this small saga, I am struck by the same three things:
  • The fact that the father made all the arrangements and traveled to pick the wallet up for his adult daughter
  • The fact that the adult daughter didn't notice her wallet missing all evening. (Was she drunk or very drunk?)
  • The fact that the adult daughter didn't once contact the person who found her wallet
I don't need to be thanked. That's not what I'm saying. But I am truly astonished that not even once, not even by text or email or Facebook message, did I hear from the owner of the missing wallet. Not the evening it went missing, not the following morning, not that Friday when her dad was going to retrieve it, not over the weekend and not the day I gave it back or the next day or any day since. Not out of a sense of anxiety or gratitude. There was a silence so strange that, before I heard from the father on Friday afternoon, I feared the young woman had met up with trouble and perhaps the wallet might turn into a clue in a crime scene.

Her glaring absence from the retrieval process made it seem like the wallet did not really belong to her. Though the wallet contained a driver's license that bore the face and name of a 26-year-old girl and there were lots of credit cards in her name and certainly a decent amount of cash, she appears to be a phantom, a figment of my imagination.

But the wallet's owner actually does exist. I found her on Linked-In. I Googled her and learned where she went to school. And now, because her father used my phone to call her, I have her cell number as well. I admit it. I'm tempted to send her a single text. It would say "hey kaitlyn! yr wlcm!"* One week after I found the red wallet, the conclusion I've come to is that, unless her parents are covering up for some terrible thing that happened that evening, the wallet's MIA owner is a 26-year-old child --someone with a case of impaired responsibility, faulty decision making and an stunted sense of menschlichkeit**.
*You're welcome
**Human decency

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Sister (and Brother) Act or YouTube Lunch Break

My morning was spent working on a book launch for a new Bible commentary and fact-checking my second Occupy Wall Street article for the Jerusalem Report; my afternoon will be booked with final interviews for an article on Swing Dance for a great metropolitan newspaper -- due tomorrow (!) -- and groveling before press agents to request an interview with the Red Hot Chili Peppers in advance of their January 25th concert in Charlotte, NC.

The Swing Dance article necessitates that I attend a party tonight which begins at 9 and goes on until the wee hours of the morning. The groveling before press agents probably requires booze but I never drink before 6 p.m.

Bleary-eyed and mush-mouthed, I needed a little break without going too far from my computer and found it in the following video, courtesy of two talented kids and one of my favorite songs of all times from one of my favorite groups of all times, "Psycho Killer" by The Talking Heads.

Oh, and speaking of killer, these kids KILLED the song.

Fa, fa, fa, fa, fa, fa, fa, fa, fa, fa, fa.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Diaspora-Bashing. The Sport Continues...

First came the video ads in such shockingly poor taste as to appear like Saturday Night Live parodies of commercials -- the Israeli grandparents enjoying a Skype conversation with their grandchild in America during Chanuka until the little girl proudly announces the name of the holiday -- "Christmas;" the little boy nudging his sleeping father with the mantra "Daddy. Daddy. Daddy...." switching finally to "Aba!" which works its magic; the American boyfriend clueless in the face of his Israeli girlfriend's sadness on Yom HaZikaron, Israel's Memorial Day.

These ads were the brainchildren of the Israeli Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, part of their "Returning Home" project. The tagline of the campaign: They will always stay Israeli. Their children will not. Help them return home. The message rendered loud and clear was: The Diaspora is toxic. Move there and lose your Jewish identity, memory and soul.

Then came the scores of incredulous Facebook postings and sharing, the outraged response by American Jewry to the ads' implicit message. For it was not just any old outpost of the galut that was portrayed; it was that goldeneh medinah of diasporas: the United States of America. You know, that country that is Israel's staunchest ally, with the world's largest concentration of Jews outside of Israel (or maybe also inside Israel?), that nation that gives untold sums of money in government aid and private donations, where so many consider Israel their far-flung home-away-from-home.

The media went nuts (I got contacted by several reporters working on stories, including a CNN producer) when the ads came to the attention of the public, seeking commentary from those newly-appointed agents of assimilation -- American Jews. I suddenly envisioned myself standing in dark glasses and a trench coat on street corners, targeting Israelis newly arrived to New York with the words -- "Hey kid! Have I got something for you!" -- handing out vials of American Dream assimilation potion.

Now here was a story! Not "man bites dog" but "dog pees on the leg of the man who pets him."

The New York Times put Joseph Berger in New York and Isabel Kershner in Jerusalem on the case to cover the next phase of the story: man shouts at the dog that peed on him. In other words, the campaign had been pulled because of the loud public outcry from American Jews, including prominent community leaders. To quote the late Amy Winehouse, theirs' was a unanimous chorus of "No, no, no!"

The outpouring of outrage died down and the ads became ghostly reminders of a dumb idea or the butt of jokes told around the Shabbat table, a welcome bit of comic relief from the not-funny-in-the-least SAT cheating scandal which tragically was a Jewish story as well.

Yet this morning I found a piece of writing on a Forward blog that is even more baffling to me than the ads themselves because it is written by an American Israeli, an educator and a public intellectual. The essay, by David Hazony, posits that the voluble and unified reaction of the American Jewish community indicates that the ads touched a nerve not because they were tacky but because of the truth they contain.

In other words, the American Diaspora, really is a Roach Motel of Jewish continuity where Israelis check in as Jews but they don't check out. Or they check out as Goyim.

Hazony writes:
These ads are ill-thought out. But a secure, self-assured, thriving Jewish culture would have just shrugged them off. Instead, we get responses that are totally out of whack — suggesting that the Israelis really stepped on a live wire in the American Jewish psyche.

As the daughter of a rabbi who became a clinical psychologist when she was a teen (therefore I have a PhD in psych by proxy, as well as millions of reasons to be in therapy, which I am), I seize the authority to state that Hazony's analysis not only insults American Jews by claiming that their response was "out of whack"  (earlier he calls it hysterical) and accusing them of being insecure members of a Jewish culture that is failing to thrive, he also demonstrates an utter lack of intellectual sophistication by resorting to this sophomoric "psychological" interpretation.

I wonder why Hazony needs to believe that American Jews are not "self-assured." We are actually the most self-assured Jewish community of all time, proudly and publicly and proactively Jewish. And as the assertive, in-your-face Jews that we are, it is incumbent upon us to stand up to what amounts to a smear campaign that sadly illuminates the insecure ability, or perhaps the inability, of the Israeli government to hold onto its citizenry.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Notes on a Scandal

If you want to hear a range of opinions and reactions that might blow your mind, ask people what they think about the recent SAT cheating scandal on Long Island.

As the incident has been forefront in my mind, that's what I've been doing. Herewith, a brief playback of actual commentary, gleaned from recent conversations:

The SAT scandal is the tip of the iceberg, in terms of the cheating that goes on.
The prosecution targeted a Jewish community. Once the investigation gathers momentum they will find the Asian kids who cheat as well.
Queens College has an elaborate tests-for-drugs network in place, administered by Yeshiva kids from Long Island.
They nailed the Long Island kids. Wait until they find out what's going on in Indiana.
Test cheating at Yeshiva of Flatbush was so pervasive that I (a total straight arrow) started cheating just not to be at a disadvantage.
I remember that Yeshiva kids stole the trig Regents exam sometime in the mid-seventies, causing the test to be cancelled that year. We were overjoyed.
It was gratuitous for the newspapers -- especially the New York Jewish Week -- to name names. For instance, no one needed to know that one of the test-takers-for-money was the son of a past president of a Great Neck synagogue.
Kids routinely outsource the writing of term papers for entire courses.
At Columbia University, cheating is just a fact of college life. Some do and some don't. 
How is this scandal different from hiring high-price tutors for the SAT's? Really??
The fact that the test takers were largely the sons of successful, prominent people is significant. It signals their sadly misguided attempt to also be powerful and successful.
The scandal is part of a culture of entitlement. Parents are raising kids to believe that anything -- including undeserved grades -- can be purchased.
Some of the parents had to know this was going on. 
The scandal does not accidentally involve Jewish kids. Cheating on tests is simply not believed to be wrong in some pockets of the community.   
In the past, private school principals protected cheaters when they were the scions of wealthy and powerful parents. I can recall at least two incidents like this when I was in high school. This time, the head of Great Neck North, a public school, was able to speak out because his funding is not dependent on protecting the guilty.

In about 40 minutes, I will head over to the Jewish Theological Seminary to teach three classes to the fine students of the Rebecca and Israel Ivry Prozdor program. In my classes I will be talking about the cheating scandal, eager to hear what the students think. But I will not report on my findings. Instead, I will leave it to the students to blog or report or talk about, adding their voices to the on-going conversation about a rip in our social and ethical fabric that saddens me so much I want to cry.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Gloria, Don't You Think You're Fallin' OR Yet Another Chapter in the Ongoing Public Humiliation of the American Wife

Another day, another tidbit of information about the slo-mo undoing of Herman Cain, presidential candidate.

This time, as told to Sean Hannity, hardly a member of the so-called liberal media, Mr. Cain told America that Mrs. Cain -- his loyal wife Gloria -- didn't know about his 13-year friendship with Ginger White. Check out the deets here.

Forget all the allegations of sexual harassment. Herman Cain is SO busted with the surfacing of Ginger White because she has the evidence in hand: text message trails, books inscribed with sexually suggestive notes and a money trail, of course, making her an official, old school kind of mistress.

And then, again, there is the matter of a close friendship with a woman for, oh, over a decade that Herman somehow neglected to share with Gloria. There is the matter of him not asking his wife how she felt about him receiving texts at 4 a..m. and paying another woman's rent and living expenses.

The degree of marital infidelity inherent in these two acts alone seals the deal for me....and for most married women with even a nominal shred of dignity and self-respect, I would hope.

Ginger White's latest public statement that her heart bleeds for Gloria Cain just offers further confirmation of the sexual nature of this friendship. White expresses deep remorse and shame. Only a guilty adulteress would think in that direction.

Which makes the disintegration of Cain's campaign a spectator sport right now. His arrogance in the face of these new and very credible allegations borders on the delusional. Forget about his horn dog ways. It is this moral ruthlessness, this bold belief that he can lie to his wife and the media and the American people and STILL pursue the nation's highest office that sends chills up my spine.

And the pleasure of watching this unworthy candidate fall is undercut by the tragic spectacle of yet another American wife being humiliated in a public arena where literally billions are watching.