Friday, April 22, 2011

Taking the MAN out of a Manifesto

I was sort of half-listening to the Ellen DeGeneres Show last week, when I overheard a segment called "Hunk in a Box". This caught me by surprise, so I started paying attention. The women in the studio audience (which seem to make up about 99.7% of Ellen's audience) were on their feet cheering wildly at a very large box which apparently contained a "hunk". The box opened and there was a guy wearing a tank top shirt and tight exercise shorts (if it hadn't been for the half a foot more height, 30 pounds less weight, 15 fewer years, the handsome face, and head full of hair, this guy could have been my twin!) When he did a few deep knee bends, the women again went wild.

I understood that it was in good fun, and I found out afterwards that it this segment was to raise money for disaster relief in Japan, which obviously I applaud. But I couldn't help wondering, what if Jay Leno, or Conan, or Letterman, or any of the other male talk show hosts had a "Hot Babe in a Box" segment? Even were it to raise charity for an extremely worthy cause, wouldn't many feminist groups, equal rights organizations and other PC-sensitive individuals be all over them for sexism?

Hopefully they would be, and rightfully so.

So, I started thinking about reverse sexism and double standards in our society. And since I really hadn't come to any firm conclusions on the subject, I posted the question in one of my Facebook groups. Two of the women in the group and I got into a bit of a discussion, and I understood their point of view, and was fascinated by their take, but it left me feeling even more uncomfortable than the segment on Ellen made me feel to begin with.

Essentially what these friends said (if either of you is reading this, I hope that I am accurately representing your views, and if not, please let me know in the comments section below) was that given the history of sexism and objectification of women over the centuries and to this very day, that in the very rare instance that it is done by the historically oppressed women to the historically oppressive men, then it's, if not acceptable, at the very least understandable and since it doesn't come close to what men have been doing for generations to women, what happened on Ellen's show is essentially a non-issue.

To further the point and to demonstrate how there is a currently an attempt being made by some men to make amends for the years of wrongs inflicted upon women, one of my friends shared the link to this clip:

This clip is based upon a document called "A Manifesto for Conscious Men" written by Arjuna Ardagh and Gay Hendricks. It has a very interesting idea behind it, and I like the underlying premise – that it is time for society, particularly the men in society, to recognize the wrongs which women have suffered for many generations, and to ensure that current and future societies do not commit the same grievous wrongs against women which have been prevalent for much too long.

So far, I wholeheartedly agree.

But then the clip takes a turn which I simply cannot accept. The men apologize to the women for the wrongs that the women have suffered at the hands of men in the past. Never mind that these particular men have not committed any of the atrocities themselves, and never mind if a woman seeing the video has not personally suffered any injustices – these men have taken it upon themselves to apologize on behalf of all men everywhere for the way in which society has viewed and treated women for millennia.

With all due respect to the sentiment, this strikes me as bordering on the absurd.

For one thing, I am very inclined to believe that we cannot ignore the societal influences in every generation which have played a significant factor in how women have been often treated. I am not sure how much we can judge the standards of other eras by the values of our present era.

Obviously here we need to be very careful, and to make a distinction between certain forms of mistreatment of women. Rape, abuse and sexual slavery are never acceptable, by any societal or periodic norms. Ever.

But things such as barring from political and religious leadership roles, even what we today recognize as subservient chores, are a bit trickier. It can be a very slippery slope applying our 21st century Western societal standards and sensitivities to other times, other places, other societies and other realities.

Beyond that, how can any men presume to apologize "on behalf of their gender" simply because we all have possession of a penis in common? Are we not each responsible for ourselves, our own actions, attitudes and prejudices?

Even more absurd is that the men who wrote this Manifesto acknowledge that they themselves never committed any of these wrongs, and that many of the men who were responsible for them are no longer living. So why the apology? Because, as they say "Among the living, many men may be unable to apologize because they remain shackled in a prison of anger, fear and shame".

OK – that's one possible explanation for the lack of apology by men who have not yet gone to meet their Maker. Another possibility is that of all the men still alive, there are men who have been guilty of sexism and of mistreating women, and those who have not. Of those who have been guilty of it, many haven't apologized because they are unaware that what they have done (or are still doing) is wrong. Of those who are not guilty of sexism, it is possible that they have not apologized because they have done nothing to apologize for, and they do not see is as incumbent upon them to speak on behalf of other men.

What bothers me the most about this Manifesto is that rather than breaking down gender stereotypes, in many instances the document reinforces the stereotypes, and in doing so, they reinforce the very roots of sexism.

So, obviously I have "issues" with this "Manifesto for Conscious Men." But even if one is to accept it all as it stands, it still does not really address what initially bothered me – which is the double standard I believe would exist if a male-hosted talk show included a similar "Hot Babe in a Box".

If gender-based objectification is inherently wrong, then it is wrong no matter who is on the receiving end of it. Otherwise, we are simply grouping all men as "guilty" of what women have endured, and even justifying collective punishment on an entire gender by "doing to them what 'their kind' have been doing to women for years".

The "Hunk in a Box" has nothing to do with the history of women's oppression. If I could invent a time machine, and go back to undo the wrongs committed against women through the centuries throughout the world, I would do so, and gladly.

But alas, we are limited by the fact that life is not a fantasy novel or movie, so we need to be focusing on what we can do. And that is to concentrate, men and women alike, on celebrating the common ground which lies between the genders as well as whatever inherent differences may exist between us. Our job is to treat all fellow members of the human race, no matter their gender (and of course race, creed, color, religion, and so forth), as equals, worthy of love, respect and equality in every way. Most of all, it is our responsibility to educate our children, and they in turn their children, what gender equality and respect truly are.

To be honest, I seriously doubt that we will ever see true full gender equality in our lifetime. But if all men and women begin planting the seeds today, perhaps by the time our great-grandchildren have been born, the entire issue of sexism will exist only in history books.

Until then, if they insist on using my near-double as the "Hunk in a Box", I think I should be paid some royalties.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Large Family - Available For The Taking

A couple of nights ago an opportunity presented itself for me to undo one of my biggest regrets, that I have not established relationships with the many distant relatives that I have in Israel.

We didn't even know about the entire Israeli branch of family until about 30 years ago. How's this for a small-world-all-the-cosmic-forces-coming-together story? (By the way, in the interest of not printing any names of relatives without their permission, I am requesting in advance your forbearance for a lot of initials which be used instead).

I have an older cousin on my mother's side; I'll call her "CB", who is a real "Auntie Mame" type of character – she lives life to the fullest, she has a great time "doing her thing", and she has no qualms about speaking whatever is on her mind whenever it's on her mind. CB used to come to Israel on a regular basis with a program allowing retirees to volunteer on army bases. One year her group was taking a one-day trip to a city she had previously seen, so CB went to the city of Rishon LeTzion on her own since she had never been there.

While strolling through the city, CB saw a man who looked very familiar. Being the "Auntie Mame" that she is, she approached him, and said that there is no way she could possibly know him, but he looked too familiar for this to be coincidence, and asked who he was. It turns out that he was the oldest of five siblings who were orphaned in the Holocaust. They all came to Israel in 1947 (which was called Palestine at the time) with a group of 720 orphans known as the "Tehran Children" who were brought to Palestine from Europe via Siberia and Tehran (hence the name of the group). This gentleman (we'll refer to him as "YR"), was the son of my mother's father's brother, and he looked so much like my maternal grandfather, which is why CB approached him in the first place. When CB went to meet YR's four siblings, she almost fainted when she first saw his sister LN – she could have been my maternal grandmother's twin.

The most incredible aspect of this was that YR did not live in Rishon LeTzion (where he met CB) - he just happened to be there that day for work - on the very day that CB just happened to be there because it was the free day she had while her group was somewhere else, and she had decided not to join them that day.

Seriously - what are the odds?

So, all of the sudden, we had a whole branch of family in Israel, and when I came in 1988 I became close to YR, his wife and their only son (JH), who was in high school at the time. I also became friendly with LN and her husband, but their children were all grown, married and out of the house by that time, so I never got to know them.

Over the years YR and his wife passed away, but I was still in regular contact with JH, I attended his wedding as well as the bris for his first-born son. But, other than LN and her husband, I had almost no contact with anybody else in this extended branch of the family. At one gathering I met one of LN's daughters but that was it. CB has been in regular contact with LN, and they are very close, and my mother has also become very friendly with LN, in spite of the fact that they don't have a common language (whenever Mom is here, they get together with either me or Sharon translating for them).

A couple of months ago, LN's daughter – RJ, called my mother from Israel to invite her to her son's wedding. While Mom had only met this woman a handful of times, the invitation was very warm, very genuine and very sweet. And since any excuse to visit Israel to see us and the grandchildren is a good one, Mom decided to come. RJ also called me to invite us to the wedding, and like with Mom, while I had met her only once, and that was about 15 years ago, I felt that she truly wanted us to join her family for this joyous occasion.

This past Sunday we went to the wedding. We only knew a handful of people there – LN and her husband, and JH, who I had not seen in about 9 years since before he and his family went to South Africa for a 4-year stint, and we had not been in touch since then or since they returned. When I approached JH, he gave me a hug and an invitation to his son's Bar Mitzvah which will be a weekend-long event at a hotel in two weeks. He brought the invitation since he had been told that we would be at the wedding, and he made it very clear that he really hoped that we could come to the Bar Mitzvah.

In spite of knowing next to nobody there, we had an absolutely fantastic time. We were seated at a table with CB, who is now in her late 80's and her newlywed 95-year old husband, with LN and her husband, and her son (who I had never met) with his wife and two sons. We also met the groom and bride (who said that they had heard about us and were very happy that we were able to come) and the groom's sister.

The mother of the groom, RJ, who had taken the initiative to personally invite us to the wedding, told me basically what I needed to hear – that the "ball is now in my court."

Of course, she's right. She made the first move and called us to invite us to the wedding. This was her way of reaching out to establish a connection between her "branch" of the family and us. Now it really is up to me to demonstrate that it is important to me as well.

And I really hope to keep up my end of things. I was able to briefly meet two of RJ's three children, as well as her brother and family sitting at our table. They all seem genuinely happy for us to start knowing one another, and as somebody with no immediately family in Israel other than one of my wife's sisters, for me this is huge.

I have no regrets about the fact that I have chosen Israel as the place to build my life and raise my family. As I have mentioned in other blogs, one of the biggest difficulties in this is the fact that my family is still in America. I am very grateful to my family for all of their love and their support on my decision to live in Israel, but I also miss them terribly and I feel the hole in my life for not having them on the same side of the world as I am.

Even more, this is hard on my children. They have a large number of cousins, aunts and uncles in America, but only one aunt and uncle and four cousins living here. They have a wonderful relationship with the cousins here, but it is not the same as it would be if they had the entire extended family living in Israel.

And this is why RJ putting the ball into my court is so important. I owe it to my girls (and to myself) to enjoy having family, and to developing a relationship with people with whom we by all rights should have a natural connection.

The extended family here is very different than Sharon and I are – they are all native born Israelis, we are immigrants. All but one of the families are secular, whereas we are religiously observant. Yet for all of the differences, they have shown us only warmth and welcome, and a true hope to share family events and celebrations with us.

How can I deny my children what I have been foolish enough to deny myself up until now?

So the hard part now begins. I say hard, but I have no doubt that it will be worth every bit of effort that I put into it. And my girls may then grow up like most other Israeli children – with a large and loving family throughout the country.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Second Door Opens

In late November, I parted ways with my last job working in Incoming Tourism. While there was a certain level of disappointment at the time, I was also very optimistic about what I saw as a change in direction (if you are interested, I shared my feelings at the time in the blog “Doors Close and Doors Open”). Last month, I decided to take advantage of the fact that I am no longer stuck in an office every day, and I went back to school in pursuit of my never-ending-Bachelor’s-degree-from hell, and I blogged about it in “Opening The First Door”.

So, now a Second Door has opened, and I can barely contain myself for the excitement. As mentioned in “Opening The First Door,” I have been participating in a course to be a guide at Neot Kedumim – Israel’s biblical botanical nature reserve, which is just a few minutes outside of Modi’in. When I interviewed for the course, I mentioned my background in sales and marketing as well as my love of writing, and asked them to consider me if anything came up. A couple of weeks ago, I received a call from Neot Kedumim letting me know that they are looking for a person to write and edit their newsletter on a freelance basis, and could I come in to discuss it with the Director. I did so, and then waited while they met other potential candidates for the position.

Earlier this week I received a call from the site’s Marketing Director further discussing the position, as well as an additional project of English content writing for the new website which they are in the process of building. Afterwards, she sent me a couple of documents to translate (the position will involve writing, editing and translating articles from Hebrew to English). Besides providing a fairly straight translation of what was a very interesting article about a particular plant, I also sent a suggested revised copy of the same article after editing it. Yesterday I received an email asking if I could join the Marketing Director and three other staff members for a meeting in Tel Aviv with the company that is building their website. This morning, I asked if this means that we are “moving forward” and that they will also be using me for the newsletter, and the answer was yes. To make sure that I wasn’t missing any obscure messages of indecision, I also asked if that means that I can tell my wife that I have found a job. Again – the answer was in the affirmative, thus putting to rest any doubts that I may have had rooted in my personal insecurities.

I don’t yet know exactly what the conditions and terms will be – I am meeting with the Marketing Director on Sunday to work that out, but it is looking like this work will be fairly long-term between the web site and the newsletter as well as other projects (one of which was already brought up today by the Director of Incoming Tourism for the organization.

So, as I keep telling myself to remind me that it’s real – I have a job. Even better, it’s a job doing work that I absolutely love doing, and with an organization for which I have tremendous respect. Even better than that, it will be working very flexible hours, mostly from home, which will allow me to continue spending a lot of quality afternoon and evening time with my family – something that was sorely lacking in my life throughout the years that I was a full-time employee sitting in an office. I took a chance in not looking too hard in the field where I have worked for the past 7 years, preferring to follow my heart and do what would make me truly happy, and it feels as though that chance has come back with wonderful dividends.

Of course, now a lot of the “real” work begins. I need to work out with Neot Kedumim the conditions which will be good for me while also fitting into their needs and resources. I need to open a file officially declaring myself as “self-employed”, but before doing that I need to sit with an accountant and explore as much as possible the various options open to me and the pros and cons of each one (when it comes to some areas of knowledge, I am a complete Neanderthal, and everything involved in accountancy, self-employment, etc. is of course one of those areas).

Then of course, I need to start working, and finding the balance with school work and Neot Kedumim work, but after going through all of the bureaucratic and accountancy stuff, that should be a breeze.

Sharon has often quoted her parents in saying that a if a person follows their heart, the money will then follow.

I love that idea and here I am, really following my heart. Considering that I’m middle-aged, overweight and out of shape – if my in-laws are right and the money is following, I hope it doesn't take too long to catch me…

Friday, February 25, 2011

Opening The First Door

In December, I posted this blog after my last job ended. I wrote that while one door was closing, I saw several other doors on the verge of opening. The period has been both exciting and a bit scary – scary, because we don’t want to be (can’t afford to be) a single-income family, and exciting because, as I mentioned in Doors Opening blog, I am feeling very optimistic about some of the possibilities that I see in turning my recently-found passion for writing into a full-time career move.

I had also mentioned in that blog that I was toying with the idea of starting to work as a freelancer – I really enjoy the flexibility that it would allow and the extra time I would have with the kids. I have been exploring this possibility much more and I think that very soon I will officially declare “Self-Employed” status and working on some freelance projects.

I have a couple of possibilities that are on the horizon – in writing and in Sales and Marketing, although until anything is definite, I’d rather not go into details just yet. A lot of very encouraging feedback and suggestions will hopefully be going into play very soon.

I have also completed 4 of 6 meetings in a course to be a guide at Neot Kedumim – Israel’s biblical botanical nature reserve (check out the website here). Once the course is finished and I “tag along” a few times with some of the more experienced guides when they lead groups, I am very hopeful that this will start providing me with a wonderful freelance income – even just few hours each week.

But for all of the possibilities, the potentials, the hopefullys and the maybes looming on the near horizon, today I stepped through the first of many newly Open Doors in the next stage of my life. I have gone back to school to finish my Bachelor’s degree.

Quick background time: When I graduated high school, I did what was pretty much expected of all of my friends, and the kids that I knew and hung out with – I went to college. My grades in high school were consistently underwhelming, so it took the intervention of a family friend to help me be accepted to the University of Maryland, College Park. I had a wonderful time there – I majored in Hillel (the Jewish Student Center where I hung out) with a minor in late-night television and partying whenever I could.

It was the period of my life when I lived on my own for the first time, worked jobs not for spending money but for living expenses, was basically responsible for myself (not as successfully as I wish in retrospect that I had been). More importantly, I also met a number of very good friends with whom I am still very close to this day.

I wouldn’t trade my time at College Park for anything in the world, but the bottom line was that for all of the positive that came out of the experience, I really had no business being in college at the time. I had been an exceptionally mediocre student in high school when I had parents there to sit on my head to get some homework and studying done. Left to my own devices away at college, with my horrible study habits (or lack thereof), attending class simply wasn’t high on my list of priorities. It amazes me to this day that I even lasted the 2 and a half years that I did before being booted.

After my unsuccessful foray into higher education, I worked for a couple of more years in the States (Atlanta, Ga. to be exact) and then moved to Israel. I enjoyed 2 years of learning at a yeshiva (institute of Jewish study) which was great for me because the studies there for not for grades, or degrees, but rather for the sake of learning Jewish texts, laws and philosophy.

After serving for a year in IDF, and working before and after my army time, I decided that it was time to go back to university, and I was accepted to Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan (a suburb of Tel Aviv). My major was Land of Israel Studies, which primarily entails archaeology and Israeli history from Biblical through modern periods.

I was older at this point, and more ready to be a student. My study habits still weren’t great, but they weren’t so bad either. The biggest difficulty that I had was the language. My Hebrew was pretty fluent, but studying in it as a second language – listening to lectures, taking notes, reading academic articles and books, writing papers and taking exams – was a whole new proverbial ball game. To make it even more difficult on myself, I decided to write all papers and do all exams in Hebrew, unless the professor was a native English speaker. Over the first couple of years, my grades were decent, but not great. Then I started really getting the hang of things, and my grades started improving significantly.

After a couple of years, I got married, and started working full-time which allowed me the time just for a few classes each semester, so the degree was dragging along. When I started working in Incoming Tourism, my busy season was from about a month before exams started in June until a month after they finished in August. So I had to choose between doing what was needed to stay in school and supporting my family. Family was paramount, and in the spring of 2005 I simply stopped going to classes.

What made this especially hard for me was that I had discovered a love for the studies in the Bible department, which I had declared as my minor. I had even spent a couple of years teaching TaNaCH, which is the initials for the 24 books of the Jewish Bible – standing for Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (the Writings).

But I had to work, and tour operations – particularly for the American market, is not a “student-friendly” line of work.

Return to the present: over the past couple of months, while I have been looking for work, and especially aiming towards freelancing, Sharon and I realized that this may be the perfect time to look into getting back into school and finally finishing this damn degree which has been eluding me (as though I were the completely innocent victim) for nearly 30 years.

So, a couple of weeks ago, I went to Bar Ilan University, did what I had to to do to request returning to my studies and was told that I would have an answer within 2 weeks. I also determined how many classes I still need in order to graduate, and even looked into switching around my major and minor. In the office of the TaNaCH department, I sat down with the secretary and looked at which courses were available second semester of this year which would help me meet my requirements, and came up with 4 classes, all of which are offered on Thursdays.

The two weeks came and went without an answer, and second semester began this week. I went to the campus today in the hopes that I would be allowed to renew my studies, and I figured that even without having an answer yet, it would be good at least attend the 4 classes that I am hoping to take this semester. The first thing that I did this morning was to go to the office responsible for my request to be reinstated. The woman there told me that I have been approved and went through with me step-by-step what the necessary procedures are now for making it all official – paying tuition, getting my student ID card, etc. I’ll take care of that next week – today I need to get to class.

I have decided switch my major and minor, and the degree that I hope to have after 3 or 4 semesters will be in TaNaCH and my minor will be Land of Israel Studies. I have 4 classes to attend this semester, plus I am planning (hoping) to register for 2 additional courses of independent study. It is very possible that by the end of next year, I will have finished all of the requirements and be a college graduate.

Best if all, I really enjoyed the four lectures today.

Whether or not I ever actually use the degree is irrelevant. There is a good chance that I will, but at this point, who knows? I do know that just having the piece of paper will make job hunting a little bit easier, and I truly love the Bible Studies and would consider going back fro further degrees at some point.

What matters for right now is that what was expected of me and hoped for on my behalf – by family, friends, and most of all, myself – now has a fresh chance to actually happen. When something is really important, circumstances might delay it for a while, but there’s no such thing as too late in fulfilling the dream.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

I have been debating with myself for the last couple of hours whether or not to write this up and to post it. I think that I’ve decided to go ahead with it (if you’re reading this, then I guess that means we know what I decided).

I wanted to give Sharon a little surprise today by cleaning the windows in our living room and kitchen both inside and out. I got the outsides of the living room done before the rain started, and after washing the insides I went to the kitchen windows. Now came the tricky part. Our kitchen windows face behind the building, with a small service porch (about 2 feet wide) between the window and the rear wall of our building. It’s not really that serviceable (in spite of the fact that is called a service porch), and the only way to get onto it is by climbing through the window (originally it was where the clothes line was, and that has been out of use since long before we moved in to the apartment and the wires are all broken).

So I climbed through the window onto this service porch with my paper towels and window cleaner ready to attack the much accumulated dirt on the window and I closed the window in order to reach all of it.

BIG mistake. Huge! One for the all-time “Asher Screw-Up” record books.

Intellectually, I knew that the window clicks closed and has to be opened from the inside. I have known that since we moved into this apartment nearly 5 years ago. I’ve known it with other similar style windows in other apartments where I have lived.

Yet my brain conveniently forgot this little tidbit until after I had cleaned the windows (very nicely, I might add) and was ready to go back inside.

Out of the rain. Out of the cold. And to where there was food for me to grab before I had to pick up my 9 year-old daughter from school in 20 minutes.

In a word – Shit!

Of course, since I never would have thought that I'd need my cell phone for cleaning the windows, it was in the house (being nice and warm and probably laughing its apps off at me). So I couldn’t call Revital to tell her to take the bus home instead of waiting for me, so that she could let me in. I also couldn’t call any of our friends who live in the area, or call Sharon to have her call friends whose numbers she has that I don’t.

What I could, and did do, was try to tap on the kitchen window of our across-the-hall neighbor, whose kitchen window is adjacent to ours. Since he wasn’t home, I relied on my back-up plan of waiting and hoping that somebody would come around behind our building soon. While there are several parking spaces behind the building, they are not used as much as the ones in front of the building and very few people are usually hanging out behind the building. Occasionally some of the local kids do play back there, but today was a cold, rainy windy day. This weather is ideal for Israel, but not so great for enticing the kids to come outside and play and help a poor schlemiel get back into his apartment.

So I waited. And I got pretty well soaked. I watched the time that I was supposed to pick up Revital pass on my watch, and even though I couldn’t hear my phone ring from out on that porch, I had no doubt that it was ringing and that she was trying to reach me. I started to wonder if I would get out of there in time to pick up Limor an hour and a quarter later. Most of all, I passed the time trying to decide if I should be laughing or crying about this predicament. It certainly was unlike anything I have ever faced before, and while part of me was thinking about what a great blog this would make, another part of me was thinking that it was pretty damn embarrassing to be sharing with the world. As if people don’t already have an easy time of laughing at me, here I am giving them free ammo.

After about 35 minutes a car pulled up in the back. Thank God! Of course, as is often the case, especially when one has Murphy as a stalker, the woman waited about 5 minutes before getting out of her car. Once she did however, and I managed to explain what exactly I was doing out there on the service porch in this weather, and what exactly she could do to help me, she was only too happy to be my Saving Angel.

I got inside, and of course the phone was ringing, and of course it was Revital, whom I was supposed to have picked up 15 minutes earlier. Fortunately, she was asking if she could go home with a friend who lives a 5-minute walk from the school, and said that this friend’s mother would drive both girls to the birthday party that they were attending this afternoon. I was then able to shower, and thaw out a bit before going to pick up Limor.

I was also able to appreciate how much God, or luck depending on your point of view, was actually on my side through this entire episode. While it had been raining steadily on and off during the 40 minutes or so that I was outside, it was about 3 minutes after I came inside that the truly heavy torrential rain started. I was spared sitting outside during that.

Besides that, there were a some good things that came out of the whole experience. Even though I had to weigh whether or not I should post an account of this embarrassing day, it did help me break through a mini-writer’s block that I have had for the last week and a half. Plus, I was able to get the windows clean, and that really was what the day was all about.

Ultimately, I probably will share this story. As sheepish as I may feel over getting myself into such a ridiculous predicament, I have to also be honest with myself and recognize that intrinsically, it is funny as hell. And if I really want to turn my recently-found love of writing into a full-time thing, then how can I let an opportunity like this one get away? In retrospect it is simply too much fun to not have a record of it for years to come.

And I’ve learned that either somebody has to be home when I wash the kitchen windows, or those suckers just stay dirty.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Showing Us What's Real

I could get into a lot of trouble for this with friends and family, but that’s a risk I’ll just have to take.

Since I bought my new/used laptop last month, I try to spend more of my evening computer time using it while sitting in the living room. It helps me not cut myself off from family time while getting done the things that I need to get done (as well as my “vegg-out time” on Facebook, or playing games, etc.). Inevitably, this keeps me sitting in the living room long after Sharon has fallen asleep but the TV is still on and all too often, the show that comes on is “The Bachelor”.

I know – I should get up off my lazy behind and turn the TV off, but once I’m sitting and doing my thing on the computer (like this very moment; for example), I simply can’t be bothered with such tasks. So “The Bachelor” keeps playing in the background.

Most of you probably at least know this show, if not actually watch it. A flock of very young, very attractive women compete against one another to win the undying love and affection, and of course, Wedding Ring, from a young, eligible bachelor who just happens to have the very rare and fortunate combination of being more ridiculously wealthy than any one guy deserves to be plus looking like he just finished a photo shoot for GQ magazine.

As a general rule, I am offended by the existence of these so-called “reality shows” (although I admit that I did enjoy the one season of “The Biggest Loser” that aired in Israel, but that was different). I hate the hype of these shows; I hate the premise of these shows. Basically (in case you haven’t figured it out yet) I pretty much hate everything about these shows.

But “The Bachelor” especially bothers me.

While I’m sitting at the computer doing whatever it is that I feel I need to do, I get to hear a lot of the interviews on this show. The women keep talking about how “they really are falling in love with” the Bachelor who, at the end of each episode decides which ones are worthy to continue vying for his money – OOOOPS! I mean – his love and affection.

I would love to meet each of these woman – one at a time, look them each deeply in the eyes, gently put my hands on the shoulders, and the shake the stuffing out of them while asking “What the hell is wrong with you, you stupid bitch???”

I mean – seriously! You’ve been cooped with other Playmate dropouts waiting for your chance to have a date with this guy, you finally get that one date – a nice quiet romantic whatever-the-hell you did, complete with cameramen, soundmen, director, best boy, dolly grip and whoever else, then you talk about it as if this was the “real thing”??? You really connected with him so well that you’re ready to throw all caution to the wind and marry him if he’s only smart enough and perceptive enough to pop the question to you?

Tell me the truth, you silly woman – if he wasn’t as rich as a medium-sized country, or if he looked more like a John Q. Public – would that date have still been as “magical”? Would the spark be there and would you really be able to envision marrying this guy. Would he really be the one that, as Rita Rudner quipped “you can picture your kids spending their weekends with”?

The only thing that puzzles me more than the ludicrous nature of these shows and of the people appearing in them is their popularity among the general public. Shows like “The Bachelor” (that’s only one example – there are a plethora of others equally annoying) are being made, re-made, copied, in countries all around the world. The American versions are also carried and watched throughout the world. And people really get into them!

Fans honestly discuss – on Facebook, or over lunch, or wherever – who they think will be or should be voted off of these shows. They dissect the pros and cons of each “contestant” and analyze who they think is the “right” person to be chosen.

I especially don’t get how these shows are being passed off as “reality” when I don’t believe that in any way, shape or form they reflect real life. And why are people so into them?

Is real life so drab and colorless that we need shows like these in order to live vicariously through the lives of people that, in all honesty, have little if anything in common with us?

If these shows were marketed as dramas (or perhaps comedies would be more appropriate) then I would probably be less irritated by them, and unquestionably less offended.

If they were marketed as “entertainment” rather than “reality”, then it would be easier for me to say “Feh!” and ignore them.

Then it would be easier to be amused – by how silly the shows are and by how people are so enthralled by them. It would be similar to teasing those who “can’t live” without their soap operas, and similar to the way friends (and my wife) used to tease me for enjoying professional wrestling.

Or maybe all of the people that watch and enjoy these shows have it right and I’m the one missing something.

Perhaps what really bothers me about these shows is that I’ve become so jaded that I can’t even pretend that they do represent some kind of “reality“ that I could imagine myself ever living.

If that’s the case, maybe I should go back to watching professional wrestling…?

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

H*ckl*b*rry F*nn - Are you kidding me?

How far is going too far with even the best of intentions?

Apparently a revised edition of Mark Twain’s "Tom Sawyer" and “Huckleberry Finn” are going to be published soon, “updated” to be timely with the 21st century. These modernized versions are meant to bring the 21st century ideas of “politically correct” to the 19th century, and will be using the word “slave” throughout the book in place of the word “nigger” (yes, I know – I’ve just committed a cardinal sin by even using the word in any context – I’m supposed to say “the n- word”, but I confess, for all that I agree with and support “Politically Correct” there are some measures which strike me a silly and pointless).

These editions will also replace the term "injun" with "Indian Joe" (I don’t get why not "Native American Joe", but what do I know anyway?).

Now, don't get me wrong – I am all for Political Correctness, and I agree that there are words that are offensive words – but here's the rub - when in a particular context.

It seems to me, being the layman that I am, that a huge part of studying classic literature is to understand it within the context of when and where it was written. "Tom Sawyer" and “Huckleberry Finn” were written in 1876 and 1884 respectively, and both stories take place in the pre-Civil War period. The books reflect the language of the period – both when the books were written and when the stories took place.

What's more, it is very clear from the books that Mark Twain is speaking out (very forcefully) against racism, segregation and hatred. To whitewash the language used in the books and reflected the period of US history (no pun intended, well not too much, anyway) is taking away from realism of the novels.

As an avid reader, I can tell you that a huge part of my ability to "get into" a book is to feel that I am there – in the story, watching it all happen from the very front row. I cannot read a 19th century book and feel that I am witnessing the story first-hand if the language used is catered to 21st century sensitivities. It simply wouldn't work – it would feel fake.

But I think the issue goes deeper than the use of the words in the book.

It seems to me that people by and large get so caught up in the word itself that they have lost perspective in the use of language.

I mentioned in this blog a couple of months ago my earliest lesson in life about using racist words (the lesson taught me not to use slurs, not how to use them). Nevertheless, I think that there is a huge difference in using a word as a slur – and using the word in a conversation or discussion about the word itself.

A few months ago there was a huge uproar over Dr. Laura Schlesinger's radio show when she used the word repeatedly. Now, I have never liked Dr. Laura, and with all that I know of her, hear and see about her, I have never had any desire to hear her show, nor did her resignation particularly bother me.

But I was surprised at what I read about the whole incident. Every article and opinion piece that I saw talked about how horrible it was that she "used the n-word", and they even counted how many times she used it. Then I read the transcript of the broadcast – at no time did she use the word as a way of referring to blacks. That is to say, at no time did she refer to blacks as "niggers". She didn't.

Much of what she said was racist and completely unacceptable and an outrage was very much in line as was her resignation. But the outrage should have been over what she did wrong – and I don't believe that using the word "nigger" in the context that she used it was what she did that was so wrong.

But this seems typical of how society is trying to over-compensate for its racist past. We can't even talk about a word that is such a horrible racist slur without using a code for it. I'm sorry but that seems to me somewhat ridiculous.

If I talk about the anti-Semitism which I have faced in my life, I don't say that somebody called me "the k-word". No – I'll say they called me a kike. And if the newspapers report an incident where the word "kike" is written all over the walls of a synagogue, they'll report the word that was used – they don't pussyfoot around it giving it some kind of code name.

Lenny Bruce had an absolutely brilliant comic routine (I assume that this was an actual routine of his – I saw it in the 1974 bio-pic "Lenny" starring Dustin Hoffman). In it, he starts "counting" how many "niggers" he sees in the room, followed by the kikes, wops, greaseballs, spics and guineas – he even turns it into an "auction" keeping track of many of each he's tallied.

He goes on say that the point he was making is that "it's the suppression of the word that gives it the power, the violence, the viciousness."

He finishes it up by saying that if President Kennedy were to go on national TV and say the word "nigger" over and over until it didn't mean anything anymore, "then you'd never be able to make a black kid cry because somebody called him a nigger in school".

Maybe this is completely non-PC of me and I mightmaybe I'll have to follow Dr. Laura on the road to resignation, but I think Lenny hit the nail on the head. We need to focus on truly eradicating the real racism and the hate that is still far too prevalent in the world today, and not waste our energies in pretending the words themselves never existed.

Doing that with "Tom Sawyer" and “Huckleberry Finn” isn't censorship, it's revisionism.