First up, a few pieces by some of our favorite Revealers
First, something feel-good, our current post-doctoral fellow, Simran Jeet Singh and his mom went viral: Sikh professor’s mom hilariously shuts down her son’s racist Twitter trolls
These early cases of gun violence belong to a history of settler-colonialism and ethnic cleansing. As the writer and historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz argues in her brilliant new book, Loaded: A Disarming History of the Second Amendment, America’s obsession with guns has roots in a long, bloody legacy of racist vigilantism, militarism, and white nationalism. This past, Dunbar-Ortiz persuasively argues, undergirds both the landscape of gun violence to this day and our partisan debates about guns. Her analysis, erudite and unrelenting, exposes blind spots not just among conservatives, but, crucially, among liberals as well.
The massacre at Sandy Hook and the killing of Trayvon Martin are two sides of the same coin. Mainstream American ideology tells us that children are innocence embodied, that they represent precious human potential. But as with so many sentiments that aspire to the universal, the reality is much less lovely. Only some children get to be innocent and full of potential; others never even get to be children at all. The same discourse that anoints the twenty child victims at Sandy Hook “angels” also contains the impulse to label a teen like Martin a “thug,” to scour his school record and pronounce him no angel at all. That the victims in Sandy Hook, in one of the nation’s most wealthy zip codes, were almost all white cannot be understated in explaining the symbolic traction of their deaths. The contempt heaped upon Martin by so many conservative voices is equally racialized—transparently, unequivocally, and unforgivably so.
And we’ve really enjoyed having Juan Pablo Meneses with us at the Center for Religion and Media as he works on his latest project which you can learn more about in Buying God: A Conversation with Juan Pablo Meneses and Bernardito García at The Los Angeles Review of Books
Cash journalism transforms the act of buying into a new narrative tool. The author buys what he wants to write about. I’m interested in using consumerism as a literary strategy to tell a story. For this trilogy, first I bought a cow, then I bought a soccer player boy to sell him to the clubs in Europe, and now I’m in the process of buying a god and building a church for him here, in the United States. The Bible says that we were created in a trilogy: body, spirit, and soul. To recreate this, I first bought an animal, then a human being, and now a divinity. I’ve decided to go shopping to understand better this market world that I have to live in.
Like any gospel song at any spirit-filled church the pace is set by Spirit, and Spirit alone: two spirits: man and woman spirit: two spirits which, in concert, become Spirit. A stomp dance is all night long; an individual dance, five minutes — or twenty. An individual dance can mourn lost warriors or it can — merrily, cockily — sing about cock: what does cock do in the world? cock finds its place. A stomp dance is a holy place: at the Tvlahasse Green Corn stomp dance danced in early July — when the first green corn has borne its first silky strands — the dancers haven’t tasted corn all year; alcohol has not passed their lips for four days previous and won’t for four days following. A stomp dance is a holy thing a stomp dance is a joyful thing: songs lifting up the hunt, the battle, the dead, the future, the place of a man and the place of a woman: call, and response: shells shaking, shaking, shaking: ch-chiiih, ch-chiiih, ch-chiiih. Man, woman; man, woman; man, woman: call and response, shells. As Sage transitioned, where would she — a former warrior — fit?
We don’t know Laurie Penny personally, but we sure are happy when we see her byline. This month, she gave us Witch Kids of Instagram: Taking the measure of the boom in online occultism for The Baffler
Today, witchcraft is back in vogue, a heady brew of nineties nostalgia, goth revivalism and plain, arcane fun sloshing around social media. Days after Donald Trump won the U.S. election, videos of women “hexing” Trump went viral around the world, encouraging budding magical practitioners to burn images of the president-elect to bring his works to ruin. Meanwhile, an entire explosive industry of witch-paraphernalia is boiling out of the cauldron of digital consumer culture. You can buy your crocheted bat-bunting and your broomstick-decals on Etsy, while a couple of clicks away anonymous web artisans peddle laptop stickers declaring the owner, with more or less accuracy, a daughter of the witches they weren’t able to burn.
Commodification is usually a poisoned apple for movements like this, but there’s a proud legacy of repurposing the witch-aesthetic for radical ends.
Which (pun intended) we’ll be sticking on a syllabus right alongside How witches took over Tumblr in 2017 by Kaitlyn Tiffany very soon.
Tumblr content insights manager Amanda Brennan offered some speculation, telling The Verge in a phone call, “As people are dealing with the political climate and watching the world feel like it’s falling apart, a lot of them are drawn to finding this deeper connection with the physical world, and this idea of magic being something that exists outside of them, but that they can have a little bit of control or influence over.”
She says a lot of the growth in the #witchblr tags can be read as reactionary, particularly when it comes to Tumblr users who are embracing witchcraft as a hobby, rather than a strictly religious practice. “It’s like ‘Uh, I feel like I can’t do anything. I’m calling my senators, and it doesn’t do anything. Let me take some time, focus on what part of the world I can control, and take a little piece of my narrative back through this idea of magic.’”
Speaking of Syllabi, maybe check out a few new ones that some other folks have been gracious enough to put together for us:
Sanctuary Syllabus from Public Books
A Hillbilly Syllabus from Chitucky
Okay, let’s see, what else have people been talking about? We don’t know anyone who isn’t talking about the #MeToo movement. So, here is a selection of the incredible and necessary work that has been published in the last month about sex, assault, harassment, abuse, sexism, gender, patriarchy, misogyny, money, power, labor, and more.
Emily Bazelon, Anita Hill, Soledad O’Brien, Laura Kipnis, Lynn Povich, Amanda Hess, and Danyel Smith do an amazing job at laying out the issues and the stakes for them in The Conversation: Seven Women Discuss Work, Fairness, Sex and Ambition at The New York Times
Laura Kipnis: Here’s a historical and political way of looking at the current moment. There have been, roughly speaking, two divergent tendencies in the struggle for women’s rights that come together in the issue of workplace harassment, which is why I think this all seems so significant. If you look at the history of feminism, going back to the 19th century, you’ve got, on the one hand, the struggle for what I’d call civic rights: the right to employment, the right to vote, to enter politics and public life. On the other side, there’s the struggle for women to have autonomy over our own bodies, meaning access to birth control, activism around rape, outlawing marital rape and the fight for abortion rights. What we’re seeing now is the incomplete successes in both of these areas converging. We’ve never entirely attained civic equality. We’ve never entirely attained autonomy over our bodies. Which is why the right not to be sexually harassed in the workplace is the next important frontier in equality for women.
You can hear more from Kipnis in Kick Against the Pricks for The New York Review of Books
Looking for political analogues, I found myself leafing through my old copy of Antonio Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks, a useful handbook for aspiring revolutionaries. Social upheavals like the current one—chaotic and improvised, yet destined—happen when certain echelons retract their consent to existing conditions and make new demands. Gramsci calls it “war of position.” Toppling power isn’t about storming the Bastille these days, it’s about changing the way people talk and think. If our upheavals come dressed in different garb, creating a crisis of authority for those in power is still how the world changes.
And there was a lot of conversation about Claire Dederer‘s essay What Do We Do with the Art of Monstrous Men? in The Paris Review
Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, William Burroughs, Richard Wagner, Sid Vicious, V. S. Naipaul, John Galliano, Norman Mailer, Ezra Pound, Caravaggio, Floyd Mayweather, though if we start listing athletes we’ll never stop. And what about the women? The list immediately becomes much more difficult and tentative: Anne Sexton? Joan Crawford? Sylvia Plath? Does self-harm count? Okay, well, it’s back to the men I guess: Pablo Picasso, Max Ernst, Lead Belly, Miles Davis, Phil Spector.
They did or said something awful, and made something great. The awful thing disrupts the great work; we can’t watch or listen to or read the great work without remembering the awful thing. Flooded with knowledge of the maker’s monstrousness, we turn away, overcome by disgust. Or … we don’t. We continue watching, separating or trying to separate the artist from the art. Either way: disruption. They are monster geniuses, and I don’t know what to do about them.
Not just monsters, but also: The Predator and the Jokester: Power shows its ugliest tentacles most clearly in the figures of the predator and the jokester by Lauren Berlant in The New Inquiry
You can know something at high speeds; you can learn something at slow ones. The joke might be, as Ralph Ellison wrote, a yoke.3 But there could also be a difference among a disturbance, a tweak, a good surprise, and a harm. Sometimes, like now, a whole set of various “we’s” are tired of being better in the situation than the person or community that fouls us is. Sometimes, like now, revenge is the only efficient justice people feel they have, after all the gossip and HR fails. But reflexive revenge will surely not solve the problem of scaling social jostling, casual play, violence, intimacy: or sex. It’s a time to organize social ways of derailing toxic environments, along with the thrilled aha, scorn, and whatever else continues to see sex as a dirty appetite that other people have.
Then there’s Who We Don’t Talk About When We Talk About Weinstein by Wesley Morris for The New York Times
It’s strange. The country is in the grip of a sexual counterrevolution. Suddenly, stories of abuse and harassment are being believed, abusers and harassers are being toppled. Yet at the same time, one of the top movies in the country right now is “Daddy’s Home 2,” which has a biggish, comedic part for Mel Gibson. He’s the man whose anti-Semitism and racist rants became part of the cultural lore. He’s the man who pleaded no contest to a domestic abuse charge. This past winter, that same guy won a best director Oscar nomination for “Hacksaw Ridge.” “Daddy’s Home” is more than a title. It names a taunting moral perversion.
We know many of our readers are academics, so, let’s not leave out: Things That Male Academics Have Said To Me by Susan Harlan in Avidly — read the comments…
“You work almost as hard as a man”
If you’re an academic and have a story to share, this is a good place to start: Sexual Harassment In the Academy: A Crowdsource Survey from The Professor Is In. There are 1,886 entries as of publication.
And Sarah Jaffe‘s very important There Are No Safe Spaces: A series of sexual harassment allegations has vindicated the demands of student activists for The New Republic
When the flood of #MeToo stories, inspired by the work of anti-violence organizer Tarana Burke, hit social media, many professed surprise to see how common such violence was, including those who had spent their valuable column inches decrying students’ desire for places of safety or for the much-mocked “trigger warnings.” Some of them may have been truly unaware of the pervasiveness of sexual violence and harassment—or that it was happening in their places of employment. But it’s worth remembering that the repeated mocking of students as spoiled “snowflakes” underscored the idea that they could not seriously need safety from anything. These articles marshaled fatuous “free speech” claims to defend an oppressive status quo and even defend the rights of white nationalists and misogynists—those with a track record of using their platforms to harass, out, and endanger students.
Lastly, may we all be Brave Enough to Be Angry by Lindy West for The New York Times
Not only are women expected to weather sexual violence, intimate partner violence, workplace discrimination, institutional subordination, the expectation of free domestic labor, the blame for our own victimization, and all the subtler, invisible cuts that undermine us daily, we are not even allowed to be angry about it. Close your eyes and think of America.
We are expected to keep quiet about the men who prey upon us, as though their predation was our choice, not theirs. We are expected to sit quietly as men debate whether or not the state should be allowed to forcibly use our bodies as incubators. We are expected to not complain as we are diminished, degraded and discredited.
In better news, Ceclia Bartoli Just Became the First Woman to Perform in the Sistine Chapel reports James Bennet on WQXR
Which is a good lead in for some recent articles on Christianity.
First, something else to appreciate even if it took a long time: Radical Abolitionist Benjamin Lay Reclaimed by Quakers 279 Years Later by Marcus Rediker for Verso
The recognition represented a profound, heartfelt act of retrospective justice, because Lay had been unjustly disowned in the first place. It was a symbolic rejection of what a previous slave-owning generation of Quakers had done and it was simultaneously an affirmation that Benjamin Lay’s values matter to the Abington and North London communities. I learned during my research that Lay dearly loved his fellow Quakers—at least those who did not own slaves—and that his exclusion was terribly painful to him. It was therefore deeply touching, 279 years later, to know that he has been brought back into the fold. This act would have meant everything to him.
If Freud remains an inadequate explanation for the anal expulsions of an entire epoch, than what accounts for the veritable coprophilia of that age? When both More and Luther could dwell in the sewers, peasants could sing of the reformer’s shit-filled mouth, and wealthy German burghers could wipe their ass with papal polemic? Freud and his student Erikson built one totalizing theory, but yet another Teutonic prophet might provide another. I’m speaking of Marx of course, or at least a variety of Marxian materialist consideration. For it’s all good and easy to talk about feces as a transcendent abstraction, but excrement is not just a symbol. Shit is very much real.
Next, A Mind-Bending Translation of the New Testament: David Bentley Hart’s text recaptures the awkward, multivoiced power of the original by James Parker for The Atlantic
Again and again,” he insists, “I have elected to produce an almost pitilessly literal translation; many of my departures from received practices are simply my efforts to make the original text as visible as possible through the palimpsest of its translation … Where an author has written bad Greek … I have written bad English.” Herein lies the fascination of this thing: its deliberate, one might say defiant, rawness and lowbrow-ness, as produced by a decidedly overcooked highbrow.
Asked whether he and artists like him are engaged in the desecration of sacred books, Laramée countered, “I’m sacrificing them, and like in any true sacrifice, the victim becomes sacred precisely because it is killed.”
“Test of Faith puts us into the midst of vibrant, purposeful people who struggle and sometimes fail, who grapple with doubt and loss and every other affliction that human beings endure, and who forge ahead with creativity, love, and fellow feeling. Their radical worship practices are fascinating and, to someone like me, frightening. But that is only a part of the story Lauren Pond tells in her exploration of their lives. I do not fully understand the world I observe in these pictures, but I cherish its complexity. These are people that I would like to know.
As I write these words, we are in the month of March 2017. Our political tumult has not settled down. In some moments the entire country seems awakened to the fragile ideals and messy processes of our democracy. In others, subtle voices goad us to mistrust one another, while the din and clatter of unruly actions distract us from the work of hard debate. I remain unsure of how to talk to my fellow citizens. But I am certain that, whatever I say, I must also listen. Test of Faith offers a useful primer in how to begin.”
Now, some stories about “the people of the book”
Let’s start with the easy stuff (there is not easy stuff), Can Robots Be Jewish? by Emma Davis for Tablet
Abramowitz also wondered about the many halakhic commandments requiring a human body. “Are [robots] able to be circumcised? I mean, you wouldn’t just cut the plug off your toaster oven—it would ruin it.”
Okay, well, maybe there’s fun stuff? Jen Doll introduces us to The Bar Mitvah Party Starters for Topic
Most of the motivators I spoke to came to the work almost by accident, responding to casting calls that turned out to be for event companies that planned bar and bat mitzvahs. At their auditions, they danced and performed and ad-libbed and most of all, exuded personality, which is probably the number one key to the job. (Tiffany Haddish and Paul Rudd both worked in the business before they were household names, if that gives a hint as to the charisma required.) Along the way, the motivators got hooked—to the rush, the partying, the strange but lovely experience of being part of someone else’s family for the day, and helping to make that day better. “I don’t think anyone gets into this thinking it will be my career, but you get into it and love it,” says Fischer, who’s booked through 2020. Or, as Harary told me, “You hear a crowd roar, and that will pulsate through you… that thud of unison, everyone clapping on beat. That experience when the bar mitzvah boy feels like he’s the rock star. It’s really special when you realize you’ve done this for a family.”
Or, at least funny stuff? Jeremy Dauber asks Are Jews Funny? for The New York Times
In “Jewish Comedy: A Serious History,” the Columbia professor Jeremy Dauber skates through more than 2,000 years of material without ever settling on one overarching theory. Instead, in the manner of a field biologist, he lays out a detailed taxonomy of Jewish humor: seven categories to cover everything from the Book of Esther to “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” with one chapter devoted to each category. There’s a chapter for humor about anti-Semitism; one for satirical humor; one for highbrow wit and wordplay; another for theological or philosophical humor; and a vaguely defined catchall subgenus, the comedy of disguise, that somehow covers all the work of Franz Kafka, Marcel Proust, the Marx Brothers and Jerry Seinfeld.
And some serious stuff: Why Trump’s decision to declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital hurts both Jews and Palestinians by Oded Na’aman for Quartz
The goal of security and independence for the Jewish people has been demoted; Jewish sovereignty over the land has taken its place. Let it burn, for it is ours and ours alone, seems to be the position of those who want a declaration at the cost of violence.
Quite apart from the clinical picture, there is Israel’s spiritual crisis—though “spiritual” is a word I rarely use and have, in fact, banned from my university classes on India. But I do not know what else to call the abject failure of the imagination and ever greater hardening of the heart on the part of so many. For half a century we Israelis, as a people, have treated Palestinians, both inside and beyond the Green Line, with arrogance, malice, and a coercive selfishness that makes a mockery of our common humanity. It would be good if we could acknowledge even a little of this history, sadly rationalized by the religious right in the name of supposed Jewish themes such as the sanctity of the Land of Israel or the sorry chosen-ness of the Jews or the God-given enmity of our enemies. Someday, I believe, we will be able to see this, but it won’t happen very soon.
And some goopy stuff: The Goopification of Shabbat: Jewish Rituals Are The Hot New Thing In Wellness by Mattie Kahn for Buzzfeed
In cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Miami, a new generation of Jewish millennials who get their meals from Sakara Life and and their aesthetic tastes from the Coveteur are on a quest for spiritual fulfillment. On the Upper West Side, the cult-ish congregation Romemu hosts “Shabbatasana yoga and meditation” before formal services, which include contemplation and ecstatic dance. Om Shalom Yoga, a class that fuses vinyasa movements, Jewish text, and electronica-inflected chants, draws several dozen practitioners in Los Angeles each month.
We’re almost done here, but if you’ve had enough reading and want something to listen to as you travel (or don’t!) for the holidays, we highly recommend the Heaven’s Gate podcast hosted by Glynn Washington.
Thank you for reading along with us this year — it’s been rough, but we’re grateful for everyone we’ve read and everyone who’s read along with us. We look forward to seeing you here again next year!
Happy Holidays & New Year!
-Kali Handelman, Editor, The Revealer
You can find previous “In the News” round-ups here.