Two houses, quite unlike in dignity, in fair Manhattan, is where we lay our scene. One is the House of Weissman, whose patriarch serves as an esteemed tenured professor of mathematics at Columbia University. The other is the House of Maisel, whose patriarch operates a garment factory, a profession commonly known as “the rag trade.”
We are of course in the milieu of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the award-winning series about Miriam Maisel, née Weissman (played by Rachel Brosnahan), an affluent Jewish girl, circa 1958, who seems to have it all: Upper West Side apartment, supportive husband, a toddler and a baby, and two very sophisticated and cosmopolitan parents. But by the end of the first episode, her husband has left her for another woman, and she is forced to move back in with her parents. Miriam decides to pursue a career in stand-up comedy.
Critics have seen Mrs. Maisel as an Eisenhower Era precursor to the Modern Woman. A review in the New Yorker notes that her “routines feel like feminist TED talks, with some ‘fucks’ thrown in.” The New York Times proclaims that Brosnahan’s star turns “comes at a time when it’s crucial to reclaim women’s place in stand-up history.”
But something deeper than feminism seems to be at work in the series. Consciously or not, it touches upon a historic division within the American Jewish community: the chasm between American Jews of Russian or East European descent and those of Germanic descent.
Last week witnessed two events, both involving Harvard University and the enigma of ethnic diversity. On October 15, the trial of Harvard College began in a Boston federal courtroom. The institution stands accused of racial discrimination against Asian-Americans in admissions. On the same day, in the courtroom of public opinion, former Harvard Law Professor, now U.S. Senator, Elizabeth Warren released a DNA report supposedly corroborating her claim to Native American heritage.
Both events are surrounded by controversy, with partisans lining up along predictable lines. And both events take on added significance when viewed against the background of Harvard’s first experiment in what might today be considered affirmative action: the establishment of an “Indian College” in 1655. Continue reading
Funerals are meant to be dignified occasions to honor the dead and to remember their deeds. Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, led a life that certainly deserved honor and memory. The first female performer to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, she was also inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, and received the National Medal of Arts and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
It was therefore distressing – in fact, disgusting – to see the occasion stained by the presence of Louis Farrakhan. Not just present, but in the front row, next to former President Clinton, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton.
We live in age in which terms like racist, sexist, and anti-Semite are bandied about so freely, that they have almost lost their meaning. Watch cable news. Listen to talk radio. Nearly anyone with whom one disagrees is labelled a “hater” in today’s over-heated climate. If one wants to witness true, sincere hatred – not the ersatz version paraded in the media – one need only read the words of Minister Farrakhan. Continue reading
He is largely forgotten today, but ten years ago, a furious, wide-mouthed Kashmiri protester caused a stir in social media. His name was Shakeel Ahmad Bhat, but he became known as “Rage Boy.” Whenever cameras were present to record angry mobs protesting Israel, Pope Benedict, Salman Rushdie, or the Danish Muhammed cartoons, there was Rage Boy, demonstrating, in the words of the late Christopher Hitchens, “his piety and pissed-offness.”
After his identity was ascertained, Rage Boy became something of a cult figure. He was widely interviewed. His visage adorned posters, bumper stickers, and even boxer shorts.
Then he disappeared. No one knew what happened to him. Until now. We now know that Rage Boy emigrated to the United States, cloned himself, joined both political parties, and became the guiding spirit of American opinion.
Thanks to the absorption of Rage Boys into the body politic, rivalries today are less contests over ideas or ideology as they are competitions over who can lay claim to the sincerest, most deep-seated sense of rage. We have become a nation of Rage Boys. Continue reading
“Cultural appropriation” is the latest vehicle for those thumbing a ride to victim status. Unlike Black Lives Matter or the #MeToo movement, one needn’t have experienced injustice or discrimination to sign up. Practically anyone, from any culture, may proclaim his, her, or their victimization.
The most common definition of “cultural appropriation” is: The act of taking or using things from a culture not your own, especially without showing that you respect or understand it.
Now some cultures – those that sanction slavery or female genital mutilation, for example – deserve disrespect. But as a general rule, showing disrespect for or lack of understanding of another culture deserves condemnation. Still, many of the most recent examples of alleged cultural appropriation suggest that those complaining most loudly have the least understanding of the cultures they purport to defend. Continue reading
As widely reported in the press (see here, here, and here), Angela Davis has decided to donate her papers to Harvard University’s Schlesinger Library. Well, not exactly “donate.” The long-time Communist Party member has overcome her distaste for free market forces and sold her papers for an undisclosed sum of money. Harvard alumni might well ask: Is this how we want our contributions spent?
Sometimes social change arrives slowly.
Slavery was abolished and equal protection enshrined in the Constitution in the 1860s. Yet nearly a century would pass before segregation was outlawed in public facilities, and racial equality would begin to emerge as a fact.
Sometimes social change travels fast. Thirty years ago, 57% of American adults did not approve of sexual relations, let alone marriage, between gays and lesbians. Gallup did not begin to ask respondents about same sex marriage until twenty years ago. Before then, the issue was not considered controversial enough to warrant polling. In 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act went before Congress. Section 3 of the Act declared: “The word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” It passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Two thirds of the Democratic senators and representatives voted in favor, along with nearly all Republican members. The Act became law when President Clinton signed it. At the time, Bill Clinton opposed same-sex marriage. So did his wife. So did every notable figure in both major parties.
In 2008, when Barack Obama ran for President, he too opposed same-sex marriage, stating: “I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage.” He continued to oppose same-sex marriage until 2012. Hillary Clinton continued to oppose it until 2013.
That same year, 2013, the Supreme Court, in United States v. Windsor, declared Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, effectively ending federal bars to same-sex marriage. Two years later, in 2015, the Supreme Court ruled in Obergefell v. Hodges that state laws banning same sex marriage were also unconstitutional. Continue reading