Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A little more on the Jewish American Princess

I was really intrigued by the presentation on Monday about modern Jewish stereotypes, particularly those of the Jewish American Princess in light of my pretty strong reaction against Crea.  I wanted to find out more, and did some searches in Google and on YouTube.  What I found was a consistently humorous portrayal of the JAP, one that mocked her and lampooned her stereotypical love of fancy bags, dislike for work or labor, and lack of enthusiasm for bedroom activities.  We saw the University of Michigan "Pursuit of Jappiness" rap in their presentation, but "JAP" related videos and jokes and humor articles are just about everywhere.  Very rarely did I see anyone be called out on these stereotypes-- in fact, maybe only once or twice.

What I found to be particularly disturbing about all these different videos on Youtube was that they were largely produced by younger kids.  Many JAP videos were made by college kids looking to get a laugh, groups of friends filming fake documentaries on JAPs, young comedians poking fun at JAP culture.  What distresses me about this is that the whole idea of the Jewish American Princess is focused around negative Jewish stereotypes-- that Jews are money-focused, materialistic, passionless, selfish.  The JAP stereotype that is serving now as a comedic gesture is perpetuating these stereotypes in a way that is appealing and enjoyable to the younger generations.  It's a spoiled rich girl-- what's not to mock?  The JAP is surprisingly easy comedic material, and shows in a variety of comedic forms.

The fact that the JAP is so prevalent in modern youth comedy presents a disturbing issue regarding covert racism and the perpetuation of racial stereotypes across generations.  I feel like this is the way people continue to have these sort of racial stereotypes-- they receive racial biasing information in a context in which it seems "okay" to make fun of these stereotypes, okay to laugh at them and mimic them themselves.  It was distressing to see how easily youth culture runs with an idea they think is good for a laugh, and how easily humor can mask underlying racism.

Shanon Pomerantz will shine your shoes

Found this fantastic video essay from Mrs. Pomerantz herself-- apparently, her inspiration for Rich Boy came from her job shining the shoes of rich businessmen in the business district.

There's a lot to be said here, and I'll really let the video speak for itself.  But I did have one really interesting tie from Pomerantz and Rich Boy back all the way to House of Mirth.  She opens the essay with a long description about how different men wear different shoes, and what these shoes say about them.  She learns how to define them very visually, how to categorize them based solely on what she sees and by how they dress.  Their physical appearance displays not only their wealth, but really how they came by their wealth as well, and where that wealth was going.  This all made me flash back to Lily Bart and her constant submission to the male gaze. 

Men were always looking at her, observing her beauty as a way to determine her worth.  It's strange-- this idea of a gaze happens not only amongst the rich (or those trying to seem rich, in Lily's case) that seek to categorize each other, but also in the poor observing the rich.  And, I suppose, in the case of the Corey family judging the Lapham's dress and architectural style, the old rich observing the new rich.  And in Beans of Egypt, Maine, the middle-class observing the poor. 

There seems to be this running theme of the gaze in these novels, in a real fixation on details of dress and style-- to determine wealth, or even to try to discern character.  It comes into an interesting contrast with our similar theme of social immobility, that no matter how well you dress, you can't assimilate into the mannerisms and cultural understandings of the upper class.

Regardless, it lends a really interesting backstory to Ms. Pomerantz herself, though.  From shoe-shiner to novelist?  Just a rags-to-riches story in herself.

Colby vs. Langdon Hall

Ever since struggling my way through Schooled, I feel like I've become a little... unhealthily obsessed, so to speak, with Ms. Anisha, our author in question.  I've spent a good chunk of hours just perusing her site, gagging at her self-important, self-glorifying style.  As is my usual response to something I strongly, strongly dislike, I took to the internet to try to find someone that agreed with me on the matter.  What I was a little surprised (ok, absolutely shocked) to find was that most people seem to support her novel.  Most reviews from newspapers and magazines are positive, extolling the virtues of her work. 

I'm wondering if we, as Colby students, are just simply the wrong audience for her work.  I feel like Colby students that have attended private school would reject her overly negative depiction of the private school world, and those who haven't would be just outright disgusted at what she describes, the unbelievable wealth portrayed in such young kids.

Anyways, as I was thinking about how Colby tied to this novel, I came across this article.  It was similarly positive towards Lakhani, and offered this interesting tidbit from her: “I discovered that later—you can’t help but become interested in shoes when you tutor a sixth grader with 400 pairs.”

Ok, I have trouble with this.  I can't help but consider Colby when analyzing the ridiculous nature of her statement.  We have professors here that seem to exist in a constant state of L.L. Bean flannel, whose jeans have been too short for about 20 years now and who wear things that just don't quite scream "catwalk".  Now, please don't get me wrong-- I adore our professors, and I'm not trying to apply this "lack of fashion sense" theorem to all faculty (read: Sandy's bowties).  I adore that they are down-to-earth and levelheaded and value knowledge and hard work above the seasons latest styles at J. Crew.  To counter Ms. Lakhani's shoes statement, I'd just like to observe that we have a great many professors here that are surrounded by wealth and high fashion, and yet somehow manage to still feel fine about their socks that don't match.

I'd say you can help yourself in that environment.  Sure, coming to Colby has been a culture shock for me, and I've definitely picked up a few style tips, but do I feel compelled to run out and pick up a pair of designer pumps every time I spot something pretty?  Hell no.  Lakhani seems to spend a whole lot of time blaming her enviornment for her corruption, but I seriously doubt that it all hinges on her surroundings.