‘Gidget,’ John Hughes, and the Whitewashing of Jewishness in Pop Culture

Photo by Netflix
Photo by Netflix

This whitewashing of Jewishness out of pop culture is an old, old story, and it isn’t specific to camp movies; it’s true of plenty of other Hollywood representations of American teens, too. The Czech Jew who wrote the novel that was the basis for Gidget (1959) was inspired by his own surfing daughter, Kathy Kohner, who went on to marry a scholar of Yiddish literature—but that didn’t make it into the sequels. One could even argue that a substantial element of John Hughes’ magic was to take places and performers that could be read as specifically Jewish—Skokie, Illinois, in Sixteen Candles, say, or Matthew Broderick, who not long before becoming Ferris Bueller played Eugene Morris Jerome in Neil Simon’s Brighton Beach Memoirs—and render them approachably all-American, neither too WASPy nor Jewish per se.

Josh Lambert writing for Tablet Magazine about Wet Hot American Summer and its recent Netflix revival. According to Lambert, unwhitewashed Jewishness and its humor remain at the heart of both versions of Wet Hot American Summer.

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‘Who Cares about Your Jetpack?’ On the Lack of Women Futurists

futurism (cc0)

When we think about futurism, more often than not it’s robots and hoverboards that spring into our minds. Writing for the Atlantic, Rose Eveleth wonders if our limited vision of the future is a result of white, male geeks dominating the field. What questions would futurism ask were it to become more inclusive?

There are all sorts of firms and companies working to build robotic servants. Chrome butlers, chefs, and housekeepers. But the fantasy of having an indentured servant is a peculiar one to some. “That whole idea of creating robots that are in service to us has always bothered me,” says Nnedi Okorafor, a science fiction author. “I’ve always sided with the robots. That whole idea of creating these creatures that are human-like and then have them be in servitude to us, that is not my fantasy and I find it highly problematic that it would be anyone’s.”

Or take longevity, for example. The idea that people could, or even should, push to lengthen lifespans as far as possible is popular. The life-extension movement, with Aubrey de Gray as one (very bearded) spokesman, has raised millions of dollars to investigate how to extend the lifespan of humans. But this is arguably only an ideal future if you’re in as a comfortable position as his. “Living forever only works if you’re a rich vampire from an Anne Rice novel, which is to say that you have compound interest,” jokes [futurist Madeline] Ashby.

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The Minds Behind Diversity in Comics: A Reading List

Photo: Andy Ihnatko

Comics inspire me to be brave, to collaborate with my friends, to try new things, to stand up for myself. Maybe that’s trite, but it’s true. Vanity Fair’s profile of Kelly Sue DeConnick (#7) includes statistics about women: they are the fastest-growing demographic interested in comics; they are protagonists of twice the story arcs. Wired says diversity isn’t just good business–it’s honest, truthful storytelling (#1). I want everyone who walks into a comic book store to feel comfortable (#4), to find someone who looks or feels like them (#9) when they open a new issue of their favorite series. The people interviewed and profiled in the following pieces–creators and critics who advocate for diversity and inclusion in pages and on-screen–are the real superheroes.

1. “It’s Time to Get Real About Diversity in Comics.” (Laura Hudson, Wired, July 2015)

Rather than a superficial issue of optics or quotas […] Rather than seeing diversity initiatives as a matter of altruism or avoiding controversy, the most transformational approach advocated by critics and creators alike is the one that views it both as a form of honesty and as a valuable creative investment… Read more…

The World’s Most Lethal Border Crossing

Photo by  Royal Navy Media Archive, Flickr

Europe is “experiencing a maritime refugee crisis of historic proportions,” the United Nations warns. Thousands of refugees escaping conflict in Africa and the Middle East are trying to reach Europe via the Mediterranean Sea. More than 1,900 migrants have lost their lives in its waters so far this year, over twice the amount of people during the same period in 2014, according to the International Organization for Migration. Brad Wieners profiled the millionaire husband-and-wife team trying to save them with their own search-and-rescue operation in his April Bloomberg Business cover story “Dying at Europe’s Doorstep.”

That afternoon, and well into the night, he and Regina discussed what Pope Francis, on his first visit outside the Vatican, had described as “the globalization of indifference” to the plight of refugees at sea. “Papa Francesco said that everyone that could help, should do it, [and] with his own skills,” says Regina, who speaks English as well as her native Italian. “So we start to think, what are our capabilities? We have a good background in helping people in trouble.”

As with the U.S.-Mexico border, immigration is a perennial, intractable problem for the coastal states of Southern Europe, but it’s become a full-on humanitarian crisis in the four years since the Arab Spring. In 2014, 218,000 irregular migrants (the inelegant term of art for refugees and those traveling without documentation) tried to reach Europe by crossing the Mediterranean, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR). That’s more than five times the number that tried in 2010. Some are from poor nations in sub-Saharan Africa, simply seeking a better life. Most have fled civil wars and lawlessness in Syria, Eritrea, and Somalia. Last year at least 3,419 died in the attempt, making the Mediterranean the world’s most lethal border crossing.

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The ship’s first rescue was on Aug. 30, 2014, about 30 nautical miles from Libya. “You had several boats, including one filled with children that was getting ready to capsize,” says Catrambone. “You had the water coming up—the boat was filling up, the children were screaming and crying, many of them didn’t know how to swim.” Before it was over, more than 100 people were in the drink, floating with the aid of MOAS’s plastic orange life jackets. Once the crew had everyone aboard, they almost ran out of infant formula. “On that day, it went from zero to 358 immediately. And it was no holds barred for the next 20 hours.”

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Bad Brains Mixed Punk with a Positive Mental Attitude

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Marking their progression was 1983’s Rock for Light, the band’s second album, produced by Cars frontman Rick Ocasek. “He used to listen to the ROIR cassette on tour to hide himself up to go out and play,” muses [Bad Brains bassist Darryl] Jenifer. “You would never think that this cat would listen to the ROIR cassette to get energy going so he could go out and play some pop!” Nevertheless, Ocasek took a shine to the group, buying them gear, giving me the amps, and taking them into the studio to record their follow-up to their explosive debut.

“When we first came out, [punk] was kind of on some vulgar shit,” recalls Jenifer. “We started kicking PMA in our music, and the message was different than the regular punk rock. You know, a punk rocker can write a song about hate─I hate my mom or some shit, you know? We wasn’t on no shit like that. Some kids who wanted to see some regular shit saw us, and every kid’s heart and mind was opened. It’s like you’re just going to see some regular reggae music, and Bob Marley is playing. You might walk away from that and go, ‘Damn, that’s some consciousness in this music.’ When we would play, you see, [sings] ‘I got that PMA,’ and there was a whole mode of consciousness that was coming through it.”

Jon Kirby writing in Wax Poetics about seminal rock group Bad Brains, a band of rastas who mixed punk rock with reggae and sent a message of love. Kirby’s piece ran in 2008.

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Sailing Across the Atlantic in 30 Days—With Two Toddlers

Photo: Roberto De Nigris

When her youngest son was just a few months old, experienced sailor Janis Couvreux and her family determined to sail across the Atlantic Ocean–from a port city in Senegal to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. This was the 1980s. There was no GPS, no 3G, no iPads. Armed with months’ worth of supplies and her husband’s sextant, they made the journey in 30 days. It was, by all accounts, blissful. Whether you’re lounging on the beach or reading on your lunch break, lose yourself in Couvreux’s adventure on the high seas.

So many questions I have been asked over the years about this part of our trip. How do you cross an ocean with an infant and a 3-year-old? How do you spend 30 days in such a tight space with two small children? How do you keep them from falling overboard? How do you get along with your husband all that time? What do you eat? Don’t you get bored…? Well, getting bored was definitely not an issue. There was no time for that. Living on land with two small children is time consuming in itself. On a boat without modern conveniences, it’s an all day job. Think of life in the old west: no refrigeration; no electricity; having to make one’s own bread; conserving food by canning, salting, drying; washing clothes by hand…It’s actually a “survival” mode lifestyle. However, since that’s all we have to do, and not obliged to rush around in a car running errands, working, paying bills, meeting people for appointments and the like, that’s part of the purpose: taking the time to live.

— Read the rest at Luna Luna Magazine.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

President Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks at the signing of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
President Lyndon B. Johnson, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks at the signing of the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle users, you can also get them as a Readlist.

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‘Every Means of Confession Creates a Kind of Person Who Confesses’

Photo by Wikimedia Commons

Every means of confession creates a kind of person who confesses. You become who you are by saying what you did. The details make a difference. That pronoun, “I,” feels one way when you say it as part of a formula, in the dusk of a confessional, to a priest you cannot see behind the metal grille he blesses you through. Rambling in the well-lit office of a psychiatrist, “I” feels very different.

Moira Weigel, writing for The New Inquiry about FitBit activity trackers and the nature of confession (“Like confession and therapy, activity trackers promise to improve us by confronting us with who we are when we are not paying attention,” writes Weigel).

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