Lesson to Unlearn from “Glee” – Season 3, Episode 1

So I’m thinking this will be a weekly feature this season. My sister might do one, too, so keep an eye out.

Lesson: Glee Clubs/Show Choir/Musical Theater/etc. are Always Uncool

Oh, they brought back a favorite of mine for their Season 3 opener – no matter what those Glee Kids do, they’ll always be uncool. Even if they are composed in large part of Cheerios and football players, and girlfriends of football players, they’ll be universally reviled. Yes, even if totally hot Santana and Brittany dance on table tops at lunch in tiny cheerleader skirts to a classic ’80s pop tune. Also, no one at all will be impressed that you came in TWELFTH out of FIFTY.

The truth: I know that it’s hard to develop a story in which those guys are not actually getting slushied every week (as if people in mullets have any leg to stand on here), but seriously? If there was a group of kids that talented and easy on the eyes, and some of them were cool BEFORE they joined Glee, and they regularly interrupted a boring school day by performing adorable ’80s pop? In tiny skirts? They’d rule the school. Also, twelfth out of fifty is really pretty good and y’all should stop whinging about it.

They did make one improvement. Last year and the year before, we had more than one pep rally scene in which the kids performed awesomely and the school cheered wildly. Then the next day they’d be getting slushied again. At least here, they had the student body react badly immediately following the song, too.

BTW, last night I did not see one second of that Anything Goes/Anything You Can Do mashup done by the pseudo-Kurt-and-Rachels. Why? Because Zoe was shaking a tail feather like there was no tomorrow, singing at the very top of her lungs, and I had to watch that instead.

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Emmys 2011!

It’s that time of year again, when my sister and I feel you need to know what we think of the dresses people wear to awards shows!

Let’s get started:

Kaley Cuoco

Here’s the thing about the Emmys. TV is a pretty niche medium. There are certain shows that it seems like the whole nation is watching (like American Idol, although I personally don’t) but for the most part, there are fan bases that may be millions of people, but they’re not everyone in the country. So I sort of know who Kaley Cuoco is (“Big Bang Theory,” right?) but I don’t care much about her one way or the other. Except that I really like this dress.

Lea Michele

I of course know who she is. My daughter saw her during the pre show and got all excited. “It’s Rachel! It’s Rachel! Rachel is on the TV! Rachel from “Glee”!” This dress? Very elegant, I like the swoopy thing going on in the back, she’s one of the seventeen hundred people who decided to go with a classic, sexy red – only hers is not so sexy and may even be a little old for her. And, yeah, Kate, I get the feeling that when there isn’t a camera in front of her, she just doesn’t know what to do with herself. Then again, she’s been a performer since she was, what, in utero? So that has an effect on a person.

Christina Hendricks

You sexy thing, you. Although, honestly, I’d like it if the base of this dress was a slightly different color. You already are alabaster. But whatever, when I dream, I look like her.

Evan Rachel Wood

I must respectfully disagree, Kate. I thought she looked elegant and lovely, if a little boring. And no, according to Wikipedia, she and Marilyn Manson are not still dating.

Jayma Mays

Yeah, I don’t know what’s up with that. She should get the people who costume her for “Glee” to style her for awards shows.

Ariel Winter

Oh, my goodness, I did not recognize her as the girl from “Modern Family”! Yeah, she’s thirteen! Yeah, that look is a little old for her! Much pearl-clutching going on over here!

Julia Stiles

Well, doesn’t someone look good? Has Julia Stiles been on TV lately? How have I missed this?

Sarah Hyland

I don’t love the dress, not because it’s too old for her, but just because I don’t like it. But she totally looks like Mila Kunis; they should do a movie where they are sisters or something. Because they’re both pretty funny, too. (Note to self: Do not include that idea in blog post. Start writing script.)

Melissa McCarthy

The thing is, I think she has put on some weight. But you’re right, the dress is not working. It doesn’t look very well constructed. Which is why plus-sized ladies need decent fashion designers to work with their bodies.

Elizabeth Moss

Love, love, love. Look at the sleeves. It’s like they just sort of affixed the sparkle right to her skin. Love.

Zooey Deschanel

Love the whole look. She looks like a fashionable cartoon character, as usual. But she came across as an irritating twit in her red carpet interview. I don’t remember her leaving that bad a taste in my mouth when she did a guest appearance on “Top Chef,” so maybe it was just an off night or a reaction to an irritating interviewer or whatever, but it kind of soured me on her. Temporarily, I’m sure.

Christine Baranski

Every inch awesome. Why did I stop watching “The Good Wife”? I really loved it.

Gwyneth Paltrow

You know, I have such mixed feelings about Gwyneth Paltrow all the time. On the one had, she says incredibly irritating and tone-deaf things all the time. On the other hand, she was so charming on “Glee.” Except for that thing where her character hated on Internet commenters being mean or some shit. And when I got my copy of Bon Appetit with her on the cover, I was going, “Ugh, if this is the editorial direction the new guy is taking, I want no part of it.” And then I tried her recipes and they’re kind of great. So I bought her cookbook. Which is also full of irritatingly unaware, snobbish, name-dropping, “of course duck bacon would be perfect in this dish” nonsense but . . . also with many delicious recipes. But we are not here to talk about my feelings about Gwynnie in general, right? Just the . . . ensemble. Which is not only bad but kind of dated, like something a low-level celebrity might have thought of wearing in, say, 1999. Which is a year I – and many – liked Gwynnie unreservedly. So maybe that’s what she’s going for here.

Sofia Vergara

See, I’m fine with her playing up her hot-and-spicy, check-out-my-curves, Latina-ness any time she wants to. I think she wins the prize for va-va-voom red tonight, like, with her around, was there any real competition?

Heidi Klum

When I worked at Aveda, I had to wear make-up every day. We were supposed to be selling customers on the idea that you should wear eye shadow that highlights your eyes (usually by contrasting with them). But I remember saying to one of my co-workers, “Look, I have blue eyes every day of my life. I don’t need to highlight them every single day.” I think maybe Heidi Klum feels this way. Like, she has a hot body every day of her life, but sometimes, she doesn’t want to wear clothes that highlight that! Sometimes, she wants to wear dresses that hang off of her like a dying parade float, okay? God, stop giving her so much shit about it.

Connie Britton

Connie, you look great. You’re an absolute gorgeous woman in a gorgeous dress with hair that should really be given some kind of award for being the Best Hair in America. And you’re a fabulous actress and I want to grow up to be just like your character on “Friday Night Lights,” for serious. So why are you making that face? That face that says, “Well, I guess I have to be here”? That face that says, “What, y’all like this? This? Really? Why? Cut that out.

Dianna Agron

The dress looked like it was cut by a blind five-year-old.  Great color, sure, but you can’t just drape some sating over your star’s boobs and call it a day. Make her a goddamn dress!

Kate Winslet

She looks like she always looks. Classic, glamorous, beautiful, perfect. Just once I’d like to see her switch stylists with Helena Bonham Carter. Just for fun.

Kristin Wiig

How do you not know who she is, Kate? She’s an SNL star who also just made Bridesmaids. Like, she wrote it and stuff, right? Anyway, yeah, she looks good.

Julie Bowen

I think she looks pretty good. Also, congratulations!

Minka Kelly

That’s a weird dress. She’s a very, very pretty girl, though.

Kelly Osbourne

See, I get what you mean about, what does she think she’s done with her life that she can wear something that glamouriffic to the Emmys. On the other hand . . . kind of love it.

Kyle Richards

Yeah, I love how she dresses on her show, but this dress for whatever reason made her look like a linebacker. And she’s not. It’s just the dress. (BTW, Kate, have you been watching the new season? Have you been (gulp) kind of liking Camille maybe a little bit?)

Heather Morris

Fire your stylist.

Amber Riley

I did not love the color but she looked great overall.

Amy Poehler

Yeah, I don’t know what that’s about. Well, I kind of do. Amy Poehler made a name for herself being funny, not being pretty. Which is not to say she’s not pretty, just that she doesn’t think she is, and when you’re in the warped world of celebrity, there are always at least twenty girls standing around who are prettier than you. (BTW, did you get a look at David Boreanz’s wife? My goodness, what an attractive woman. And she held her own in the interview, too.)

Kathryn Joosten

Mrs. Landingham! It’s great to see you!

Jessica Brown Findlay

I do not know who you are. But I sure hope you are on some sort of vampire show.

Cobie Smulders

Don’t know you. But I love the dress.

Anna Faris

You, too. Stop making that face like “Oh, my God, I don’t know what I’m doing here!” Because yes you do and it’s annoying.

I Can’t Quit You, David Brooks

This is an interesting column, or, at least, it’s a column that raises interesting questions. (I don’t want to dole out the praise to David Brooks too vociferously.)

I must begin by questioning the survey, and David Brooks’s quoting of the surveys. For one thing, 230 individuals interviewed is not a huge sample size. It’s not nothing, but David Brooks wants to leap to national trends and the way youth are now, and in that context, 230 isn’t nearly enough. It’s also unclear to me what his source is. Has he read the survey conductors’ book Lost in Transition and is quoting from that? Did he interview one of the authors of the study? Is he, himself, looking over transcribed interviews? Then I need to ask, how representative of the United States are the 230 young adults interviewed? Where did they come from? How were they chosen? David Brooks says they’re “from across America” but that doesn’t really mean anything. I suspect the 230 were chosen from the more interesting or willing of the respondents to the more general surveys that Christian Smith and team were conducting, but I don’t know that and I don’t know if David Brooks knows that. How well were the interviews conducted? Christian Smith is, according to David Brooks, an “eminent sociologist” (and I’m not doubting him on that point; how would I know if he is or isn’t?) but a) David Brooks isn’t, and b) I remember being pissed off at Caitlin Flanagan for not understanding how to ask young teens about their sex lives. Not that she’s an “eminent sociologist.” But I’d just like to know.

Beyond that, the puzzle that David Brooks brings up is troubling. Because on the one hand, I have officially become too old to be a respondent in this study, so I’m more than willing to be all “These kids today with their low morals and disgusting behavior and they should GET OFF my goddam LAWN!” And I’ve already discussed in my somewhat discombobulated post about rape that I think part of the problem there is that our discourse on the subject leaves young men and young women unsure of what even constitutes rape. I think that uncertainty is applicable to other areas of life as well.

On the other hand, I don’t really want anyone but me deciding what the moral code in this country ought to be.

I have been known, on occasion, to tell friends and family what I would do if I were dictator. Maybe I’ll write a post about that soon. And I’m mostly joking about it. But underlying the joke is the idea that, while I would like to be dictator because I know how best to run things, I don’t want to live under a dictator who is not me. Because they’d do it wrong. So if I can’t be dictator, I want, more or less, what I’ve got now – people who have to appease and please the citizenry if they want to lead.

It’s the same issue here. I can clutch my pearls and nod along with David Brooks, “Yeah, yeah, these kids, they need a strong moral code; they need a culture that fosters right thinking and behavior, so that they have the categories and vocabulary to understand moral dilemmas,” but the truth is, I only want that if I get to define morality. Sure, I’d love to be in charge of the moral instruction of America’s youth (and, well, I’m a Hebrew School teacher, so I am in charge of the moral instruction of a very small group of America’s youth for a very short period of time), but I don’t want someone else to be in charge of my moral education or my daughter’s. Unless I agree with them.

And the truth is, if this country right now had some sort of Board in Charge of Deciding Morality, it would be staffed by the same people who think homosexuality is an evil sin and that social programs designed to cushion the blows of poverty are a waste. I really, really, really don’t want those people in charge.

Given that we don’t live in Rickitopia, but instead the epitomatically pluralistic United States of America in 2011, I don’t think the sentiment expressed by some of these respondents and quoted derisively by David Brooks are necessarily bad or amoral positions to hold. He quotes one respondent as saying, “I mean, I guess what makes something right is how I feel about it. But different people feel different ways, so I couldn’t speak on behalf of anyone else as to what’s right and wrong.” Yes, that’s definitely moral relativism. But it’s also non-judgmental and respectful of differences between people. Those ARE moral positions that are, to my liberal way of thinking, ideally suited for a country like ours.

On the other hand, David Brooks doesn’t think, and I don’t think, that these respondents are necessarily staking a claim to a certain moral position, like “I respect all values systems,” or “I rely on my own inner goodness to find the Truth.” David Brooks and I suspect that they’re more accurately saying, “Uh . . . I dunno.”

If, for whatever reason, you’re not clicking the link to his actual column, here’s his last, “back in my day” paragraph:

In most times and in most places, the group was seen to be the essential moral unit. A shared religion defined rules and practices. Cultures structured people’s imaginations and imposed moral disciplines. But now more people are led to assume that the free-floating individual is the essential moral unit. Morality was once revealed, inherited and shared, but now it’s thought of as something that emerges in the privacy of your own heart.

He’s more or less right about that. Back in the day (back in some day), a person’s world was smaller and more defined by the community in which they lived, which was in turn more often than not defined by a specific religion. Ah, the good old days. Just ask Nathaniel Hawthorne about them. (Seriously, ask. He’d probably cross over from the world beyond just to hate on Puritans some more, don’t you think?)

This “old” way of doing things (which is older than David Brooks is making out; it started eroding for Western culture with the Romantics, who were the ones saying “Morality should emerge from the privacy of your own heart!”) is really, truly fantastic in a lot of ways. A sense of place in the world, a connection to a group of people, a purpose – all great things. But they can come with a load of shit that American artists have been depicting for centuries now. And even as I long for the good stuff that comes with that kind of community, that load of shit is a load I’d personally like to do without, as it includes hatred for outsiders, judgmental attitudes, small-mindedness, pettiness, and hypocrisy. Not to mention phoniness.

But given the kind of America most people live in now, those flaws are killers. Moral relativity does seem like the only way to get along in an ever-more pluralistic society.

This is not to say that I think all moral judgment should come from one’s heart. I am, after all, a Hebrew School teacher. And here’s where I get a little religious on your asses. The Book of Judges (which, for those of you who really don’t know, is one of the books of the TaNaKh. It’s the second book after the Torah ends.) is a propaganda piece (by which I merely mean it has a point it’s trying to make in its relating of the stories) in favor of the notion that Israel should have a king. To that end it portrays the pre-having-a-king Israel as a place of chaos and violence. And the phrase that crops up over and over again is that people “did what was right in their own eyes.” That’s when you know a storm of shit is about to happen in the Book of Judges – some person or group of persons decides to do “what is right in their own eyes.” That’s how you end up with raped and dismembered young women and a really bloody civil war that nearly wipes out one whole tribe – people doing what’s right in their own eyes.

I think David Brooks and I agree that it’s sad (if it’s really true) that young people cannot express themselves on moral issues, lack the categories and vocabulary to understand moral issues, and lack any sort of moral conviction or even an understanding that to have morals is a good thing. Where we differ is that, for David Brooks, the ideal (I think) is that young people should be able to say, “This is right, and that is wrong, and I’m sure because I have the values instilled in my by age-old religion, culture, community, etc.” I want young people to say, “I have thought this out, using factors such as religion and community, but also what is in my heart and what I see in the world and what I can discern from that, and I’m pretty sure this is right and that is wrong, but I’m open to changing my mind about that if new information does not fit my schematic. And in the meantime I’m going to try really hard not to hurt anyone.”

So that should be easy-peasy, right?

Lessons to Unlearn From Glee

I have heard rumors that “Glee” has actually gone ahead and hired some writers. As depressing as it is to think that you can have the kind of phenomenal success “Glee” has had without a writing staff, it’s not like the lack didn’t show in the episodes, and it’s nice that there’s an acknowledgement of that and an effort to improve things.

Still, we’ve had the last two seasons in which to learn terrible things from “Glee” about the way the world works and the way that people work. And before you get all, “It’s a TV show! It’s not supposed to be teaching us anything!” let me say a) it doesn’t matter if it’s supposed to be or not; stories do get into your brain, and b) it’s been fairly explicit about wanting to teach lessons.

So what lessons should we erase from our collective subconscious?

1. You’re either a Star or a Loser. If you’re not a Star, it’s because everyone unfairly maligns you and is evil and needs to be taught to see you as a Star.

This is a theme that plays out in the show over and over again. Rachel deserves for everyone to love her because of her talent; those who don’t are mean. Quinn deserves to be captain of the cheer squad even though her pregnancy might actually make some cheerleader stuff dangerous for her, for the fetus, and for the squad.

Santana, Quinn, and Lauren all deserve to be prom queen because if they’re not then their entire high school career is one of oppression and invalidation and nastiness. Yeah, Santana actually says that. Santana, one of the most popular girls in school, thinks if she doesn’t get elected Prom Queen, it means the whole school hates her because they know she’s secretly a lesbian, and getting elected Prom Queen is the only way to know, in her heart, that she’s an acceptable person.

And what’s more, not WINNING at Nationals, when you were still writing songs THE DAY BEFORE, but merely coming in TWELFTH out of FIFTY, means that your whole year was a waste of time and you are horribly misunderstood and maligned LOSERS and also it was all the fault of Finn for kissing Rachel. Not the fact that you wrote your songs yesterday.

The Truth: Logically, it cannot be that not being elected Prom Queen automatically makes you the most hated and loser-y person in the school. Because only one person gets to be Prom Queen. And on this show, that one person was the biggest Loser of all that week, because the whole school voted him Prom Queen in order to shame him for being gay. Or something. (Yeah, that didn’t make much sense to me, either. But that’s why #5, you need writers!) But even if, say, Quinn had been voted Prom Queen, that wouldn’t mean that Santana and Lauren were the ultimate in Loser-ness, because there are two of them. Both of them can’t be the ultimate. And there are hundreds of other students who didn’t even run. They can’t all be the ultimate in Loser-ness.

Just about everyone in the world is neither a Star or a Loser but in fact a totally Acceptable Person. And just about everyone in the world at least sometimes thinks or fears that s/he might be a Loser. Even Stars. Because Stars know that there are always bigger Stars, and most Stars don’t get to be Stars for their whole lives, anyway. Acknowledging the existence of Acceptable Persons, and acknowledging your membership in their ranks, is possibly the entire key to happiness in this day and age.

2. In artistic endeavors, “heart” is more important than “work.” 

This is another lesson that comes up repeatedly. Mercedes and Rachel frequently represent “heart” and “work,” respectively, and if it isn’t obvious to you which of these characters the show producers like more, I don’t think you’ve been watching the show.

In the first season, Vocal Adrenaline would sometimes represent “work” while New Directions represented “heart.” Obviously, Vocal Adrenaline were villains and New Directions were misunderstood, unfairly maligned losers. Only you know what? Vocal Adrenaline rocked.

And the justification for the kiss that (did in no way) cost them Nationals? Rachel tells Finn art is all about expressing what you’re feeling, so great.

The truth: Art is not all about expressing what you’re feeling. Your diary is all about expressing what you’re feeling. Art is about taking what you’re feeling and making it something that others can relate to, appreciate, enjoy. And doing that takes WORK. Without work, feelings are meaningless and boring. Furthermore, even outside of art, no one can get by on pure, raw talent. Everything requires work.

3. If you are a young, beloved-by-fans gay male with a killer singing voice and stage presence, everything negative that ever happens to you is a result of homophobia. Even when it’s coming from your very loving father who may not be the most progressive guy on the planet but loves you and just doesn’t want your crush object sleeping in the same bed as you.

The truth: I know gay teens frequently have it hard. I know Kurt specifically has it hard. He gets bullied a lot, sometimes quite violently. He has very little in the way of a gay-friendly support network. He’s only met one other (out) gay teen (who just happens to be dreamy and talented and into Kurt, so that’s lucky).

But his dad has actually been fairly awesome, on the spectrum of how dads might react to gay sons, and yet Kurt freaks out at him all the time. And the show does very little to indicate that maybe he shouldn’t. The most egregious example in my mind is when Kurt goes ballistic on his father because his father quite reasonably states that Kurt’s crush object cannot sleep in the same bed as Kurt. And because nearly everything Kurt says or does on this show is given full approval from the narrative of the show, it seems we’re supposed to take at face value that Kurt’s dad only has a problem with this because he doesn’t understand his unfairly maligned gay son.

Teens, you’re not allowed to have members of the sex to which you are attracted sleep in your bed unless your parents are very liberal about it. Note to Zoe: I’m not. I’m firmly of the belief that teens should have to sneak around if they want to have sex while they’re still in high school. If the backseat of a car or the bathroom with the semi-functional lock at the party you’re attending is not good enough for you, you’re just going to have to wait to have your very own twin long and sleeping roommate before you have sex. Sorry.

(Another note to Zoe: But still please tell me if we need to get you on the Pill, okay?)

4. Bullying is bad. Unless the victim is annoying. Making fun of poor, misunderstood, unfairly maligned gay Kurt? EVIL. Making fun of annoying, overambitious Rachel? Awesome. When Kurt is threatened with violence by another student, he transfers schools and all the other Glee kids rally to protect him and even get him back. When Rachel is threatened with violence by another Glee Club member, it’s hilarious and a well-deserved put-down of her.

The truth: Bullying is bullying. Victims of bullying are frequently less-than-lovable; that’s why they’re being bullied. It doesn’t make it okay. It’s really not okay on the part of the show to portray the bullying of Kurt one way and the bullying of Rachel another way, because in this case, the show’s creators have been explicit about using Kurt’s story to teach teenagers that bullying is wrong. Well, bullying gay boys is wrong. Bullying annoyingly ambitious girls is fine. Because girls who have ambitions beyond being prom queen are just awful, aren’t they? They deserve all the hatred they get.

Listen, I already hate what they’ve done to Rachel’s character. I think in the pilot she had all her flaws in tact – over-ambition, self-centeredness, the whole Tracey Flick kit and caboodle. But she was also sympathetic and relatable. Well, apparently, people didn’t relate, and because this show is responsive to fan feedback to a fault, they turned her into a hateful caricature of herself as quickly as they could.

And it’s not like this show is particularly kind to women to begin with. The characters on this show who most often represent the reasonable, the sympathetic, the port-in-a-storm-of-crazy are all male. Will Schuester, Finn, Kurt, Kurt’s dad, Blaine. The crazy are all female – Rachel, Terri, Sue, Emma, sometimes Mercedes, the various female guest stars.

It’s one thing when other shows do this. Shows that are either explicitly promoting more conservative values or are explicitly not value-laden (even when they implicitly are) are routinely pretty bad for women. But this show is explicitly progressive, especially in terms of being pro-gay. And generally pro-misunderstood-loser. And it’s still shit for women. It’s a common theme, I find, that the most liberal guys are still misogynists, but I don’t have time to get into that now. This is already too long.

5. You can write a hit television show without writers.

The truth: Okay, you can. If you can capture a nascent zeitgeist and bring it to full flower, if the show’s production values are high enough, if the cast is talented and gorgeous enough, and if you do these phenomenal musical numbers that just blow everything else on TV out of the water like wow, your show can be a hit.

But it will still suck.

Anniversary

So it’s the tenth anniversary of September 11 this Sunday. You know, in case you forgot.

I’ve been watching “Sports Night” on Netflix Instant Whatever and it’s a television show from the late ’90s set in New York, so they show the Twin Towers a lot and yeah, it still hurts.

Since part of the purpose of this blog is posterity-oriented (assuming that, after the obviously imminent collapse of civilization, we’ll still be able to access the internet), which is why I do the Zoe posts, I figure I might as well use this space to do a where-was-I-when thing now. So. I was at work. I was in my junior year of college and I was working as a seamstress in the costume shop of Spingold Theater. The radio in the shop was always tuned to NPR. That particular morning, I was the only one in the room in hearing range of the radio, and at first, like so many Americans, I really, really didn’t realize what was happening. JFK, Jr.’s fatal crash was still in the back of my mind; I thought it was a small private plane and a low visibility day in New York. Then the second plane hit and I thought, “Wow, really low visibility day.” I’m a little slow. Then I heard someone scream in the hallway. A grad student whose mother worked in New York. She came running into the room, crying. She turned the radio up. It quickly became more obvious what was happening.

I still went to my Jane Austen: Novels and Films class. So did everyone else in the class. The teacher asked if we really wanted to talk about Jane Austen that day. We all agreed that more than anything, we really wanted to talk about Jane Austen that day.

Later that evening, the theater group I was secretary of was meant to have our first meeting. The president of the club insisted we stick to that plan. We don’t stop life for a terrorist attack, he said. That’s not how they do it in Israel. It’s important to go forward with our day. He was right. Of course, America has had trouble taking his advice. We still like to spend every September 11 moaning and groaning about it. Last year I heard a radio host throw a hissy because some town in South Jersey (I was in NJ for my great-aunt’s funeral) was still holding their annual Pirates and Babies parade or some such thing. “On the anniversary of September 11!” the radio host fumed. “Have they no respect?” Like, how much respect should they have, nine years later, for that day nine years ago when something terrible happened? And what better response to something terrible having happened than a parade celebrating all the awesomeness that can still happen?

Oh, wait, there is a better response. Instead of moaning and gnashing our teeth all weekend, we could do some small thing for someone else who’s had a tragedy more recently than ten years ago. My mother gave me this idea when she was in town last month, that all of this energy should be harnessed for good instead of just permitted to whine and moan and carry on. (My mother is in general not a fan of carrying on.) So today I donated some money to Doctors Without Borders. Why Doctors Without Borders? I dunno. They help people who’ve suffered tragedies. And my stepdad gave money to them a lot; I guess this is sort of in memory of him.

So here’s what I’d like my readers (all eight of you) to do. Donate money or time or something to some organization that helps people in tragic situations. Even if you just get your clothes ready to donate to Goodwill or something, that’d be fine. Then tell me, in the comments section, who you gave to, and where you were when. I know this would be more effective if I had a larger readership, but I don’t, and we shouldn’t let the perfect (or the better) be the enemy of the good, right? Right. Thanks.

Cultural Masochist

[A] gorgeous woman whose boobs are practically falling out of her dress walks into the room. Everyone, including you [and your boyfriend], is staring at her. You:

A. Whack your boyfriend and loudly tell him to put his eyes back in his head.

B. Angrily storm away and give him the silent treatment for the next half-hour.

C. Turn away and start aggressively flirting with the most handsome man in the room.

D. Say to your boyfriend in wide-eyed wonder, “Check out that cleavage! I wonder how much those cost her poor, mammary-obsessed ex-boyfriend.”

from Become Your Own Matchmaker by Patti Stanger with Lisa Johnson Mandell

No, wait, let’s do this again.

There is cleavage (not yours) and your boyfriend in the same room. Because your boyfriend has functioning eyes just like everyone else in the room, you:

A. Be an abusive bitch to him.

B. Be a childish bitch to him.

C. Be a manipulative bitch to him AND the poor schmuck who totally thought he was in there.

D. Be a catty bitch to the woman who’s done nothing to you besides have breasts.

I mean, I guess if those are your only choices, being a bitch to an anonymous woman behind her back is probably better than being a bitch to the man you love. But – I don’t want to shock you, Patti – it is possible to not be a bitch at all.

I’ve been married for seven years now, and I’ve been with the guy I am married to for nearly twelve. A time or two in those years, we have both been in the same room with an impressive rack (other than mine, I mean). You know what I usually said to him if we both notice? “Whoa. Nice rack.”

Now, sometimes, we have gotten into debates about whether the nice rack in question was artificially enhanced. But I wasn’t taking the position that only pathetic losers pay for their gold-digging bitch girlfriends to get boob jobs. Usually my position is, “No, seriously, those are just nice breasts and a good bra.” (Gentlemen of my readership – you’d be surprised what a good bra can do. Ladies of my readership – I’m sure you wouldn’t.)

And my point is, I’m not a unicorn. I’m a normal woman. A woman who thinks any of those answers are the right one is at least a little nuts.

I wasn’t going to blog about this book. I was just reading it for research purposes. But I couldn’t resist commenting on that question. And as long as I couldn’t resist this, I might as well delve, right?

I do watch “The Millionaire Matchmaker” because I am a cultural masochist. In my opinion, Patti Stanger – or at least the character she plays on her reality show – is a crazy bitch. But some of what she revealed in the book made me go, “Oh, that’s why!” It was almost enough that I wanted to maybe give her a break – but look, she positions herself as the Grand High Duchess of Knowing What Love Is and How to Get It, so she needs to be called on her shit.

So Patti Stanger, tall, curvy brunette (and I mean curvy! I’m not using a euphemism for fat!) was adopted by a tiny blonde man magnet, and then also had an (adopted) sister who was a tiny blonde man magnet. And apparently her family placed a lot of importance on being a man magnet. Patti Stanger seems to admire those qualities in her mom and sister, but she also talks about how ungainly she felt as a teenager. And then, I mean, if you’ve seen her show, then you know she’s a raging bitch to women who don’t meet her standards of beauty. And her standards of beauty are so tight, she considers curly and/or red hair to be unacceptable. In the book, she calls fifteen pounds overweight “zaftig.” She refers to the women of L.A. as at once gorgeous and “tits on a stick.” You’ll notice one term is complimentary and the other not so much. At one point, she calls for women to be sisters, but then later, she says the “Denise Richards types will steal your man before you can even approach him.” (She also apparently thinks the gold standard of sexy is Paris Hilton. I guess that’s what comes of living in L.A.)

She talks about growing up in Short Hills, NJ, which she describes as the “Beverly Hills of the East Coast,” where she was “Cher in a sea of Christie Brinkleys” including her mom and sister, and which was “Stepford on steroids.” The ladies lunched, the men worked, and her dark-haired, fashionista self was not appreciated. So she left the shallowness of Short Hills for . . . Los Angeles.

Now I grew up in West Orange, NJ, which is a hop, skip and a jump from Short Hills. Short Hills and its denizens are fairly familiar to me. True, I grew up a decade or so later that Patti (she speaks of the ’70s and ’80s; I was born in ’81), so maybe the Short Hills I knew is different from the one she knew. But I think she exaggerates a smidge. I mean, sure, it’s a wealthy community and with that comes a certain tendency towards shallow, narcissistic materialism. But, you know. It’s not that bad. It’s a slight tendency. It’s also not really the Beverly Hills of the East Coast; I think maybe it’s the Beverly Hills of Essex County, NJ. It’s also a heavily Jewish community; I find it hard to believe that she was the only person who more closely resembled Cher than Christie Brinkley.

Her disdain for the “ladies who lunch” is also kind of laughable. She spends the entire book talking about men who are “providers”; men who are “providers” tend to have wives who lunch. That’s what they’re providing. I know that’s not always the case, but she’s pushing women towards certain kinds of relationships while simultaneously disdaining the ones who had that lifestyle when she was growing up. Can we say “unhealed childhood trauma”?

And also, let us revisit this point, she left shallow, materialistic, looks-obsessed Short Hills, NJ for Los Angeles?

Here’s what I’m seeing. In terms of beauty, she can’t say to herself BOTH “I am jealous and resentful of my mother and my sister for their beauty and ease with men,” AND “I love my sister and my mother.” So she lashes out at beautiful women while telling ugly ones that they are unacceptable and unworthy of a partner until they improve themselves. (Note: I’m not snarking Patti on her looks. To me, she looks perfectly acceptable, though I do question her choices in fashion, make-up, and hair sometimes. It’s just that she has issues with her looks.) She was rejected by the rich and popular; now she seeks to control and manage the even richer and more popular. She doesn’t fit neatly into the rigid gender binary she ascribes to, so she loathes those who do fit it but promotes it at the same time. Her self and her ideals are constantly at war and she can’t escape it. I’d feel sorry for her inability to cast of the shackles imprisoning her mind if she weren’t a raging bitch to those around her. And if that bitchiness was not glossed over as truth, as “straight talk” instead of totally hate-filled speech – hate towards men, towards women, towards everything.

There are so many more things to talk about in this book. For instance, on her show she has said that a man should treat a woman like a “jewel to be adorned.” And when I heard it on TV, I said, “That’s not the word she means. A jewel is an adornment. She means ‘a jewel to be adored.'” But look, it’s reality TV. Malapropisms happen. But then she repeats the line – “adorned,” not “adored” – in the book! (And her “co-writer” didn’t correct it!) And I’m going, “No, no, no, a jewel adorns; a jewel is not adorned! A jewel being adorned is redundant, unless you mean adding more jewels to the original jewel, but that’s – Oh.” Patti does want your man to think of you as a metaphorical jewel to which literal jewels should be added.

Not that she supports gold-digging. No, no, no. Gold-diggers are evil bitches who probably have fake tits. Real women want a man who can support them in luxury even if they decide to stay at home with the kids or quit their jobs to pursue their passions – but they’re going to stick with the man who can do that! They’re not going to leave for the next big wallet! That is the difference! (I swear she says this.)

And then there’s all the times she uses a story to illustrate a point that doesn’t in fact illustrate that point at all. For instance, her constant meme is that men like to be the hunters and will be turned off if women pursue in any way. To illustrate this point, she tells a story of her own dating life, wherein she poked, or messaged, or whatever these crazy kids are doing these days on the Internets with the dating, a man and they went on a date and had a nice time and then at the end he said, “Call me,” and those two words made her so angry she nearly vomited, and then she ran into him at a party and asked why he didn’t call her and he said, “You poked or messaged or something me on the Internets; I figured it was your job to call.” Which, yes, he sounds kind of d-bag-esque, but this story does not illustrate the idea that men are naturally hunters and you have to let them hunt or they won’t like you. Later in the book, she tells the story of another of her friends deciding to dump a man because he wanted her to do the pursuing, which, again, does not illustrate the point that men exclusively want to do the pursuing. On her show, this comes up, too, with her coaching women not to pursue and then telling her shyer, less confident guys that she is determined to make them hunters and pursuers because that’s what women want. But she never catches on to the idea that she wants a man who pursues (because if he doesn’t pursue, she feels inferior to her mom and her sister, not because she is shy or retiring or passive in any way), whereas other people might be different from her and those differences might not fall strictly on gender lines.

Also, I’d say, wait, how does she deal with homosexuality, then, but, if you’ve seen her show, you know how she deals with homosexual male clients. Horribly. “I love the gays!” “Hi, I’m Patti, nice to meet you. So are you a top or a bottom?” Gah.

I really like the meme that carries through the book that the reason you – as a woman -should never have sex before being wholly and monogamously committed (I wouldn’t even want to talk to Patti about the idea that some people are polyamorous and fine with that; I think her head would explode. And I think she’d manage to take me out with a piece of skull shrapnel.) relationship is that women release oxytocin upon orgasm which binds them forever to whichever loser or asshole happened to be around when they had one. So if a woman has sex with the dude before he’s committed to her and before she’s determined if he’s an acceptable mate, she’s going to lose years of her life stuck on this loser because he gave her orgasms. Even if the sex was bad! (I know, my first reaction to this was “How is the sex bad if you have an orgasm?” But then I remembered that I’m off the Pill now and can totally understand how that might happen. I swear, I think the only reason we think men want sex more than women do is because so many women are on the Pill.) But apparently men don’t have oxytocin. Because they are a whole separate species from women. Also, apparently, Patti did not have obsessive crushes as a young teenager, because then she’d know that those kinds of feelings can happen when the object of them barely knows your name. It does not actually require an orgasm, just lack of experience and perspective and/or unfortunate levels of insecurity. Not that I, uh . . . never mind. (Boy, this entire post is a little TMI, isn’t it?)

Also, what is her obsession with celebrities about? I like a gossip rag as much as the next person. I watch reality television on Bravo. I’m not sitting here to say, “Why doesn’t the women turn off her silly idiot box and read The New Yorker instead?” But seriously, she’s obsessed. I guess in one sense they are a common parlance; you might not be able to picture “salt-and-pepper hair, suave, boatloads slightly self-deprecating charm, dashing smile,” but you know who George Clooney is. But she’s overboard, man. Her mother is “Dinah Shore meets the King Sisters.” Her mother’s first husband was a “tall, handsome Richard Gere look-alike”. Her first boyfriend: “Kevin . . was a tall, handsome, Jewish, Keanu Reeves type”. Jake “had the face of Warren Beatty and the body of Dom DeLuise.” “Into my life walked a supersexy, tan, Patrick Dempsey type.” “He was a drop-dead gorgeous, a Christian Bale look-alike.” That’s all in the first chapter, along with the “Cher in a sea of Christie Brinkleys” comment. The whole book is like that.

We see this on the show, too. She always starts by asking the millionaire who their celebrity crush is. Then she does two things: 1) chooses the most superficial feature, usually hair color, of that person and decides this is a must-have for the client, and 2) gets irrationally angry at them for liking that celebrity. For instance, this week, there was this totally geeky guy (And by the way, dude, if I weren’t married, I’d be all over you. Just because Patti doesn’t like geeks doesn’t mean we all don’t.) and when asked, he answered “Blake Lively.” Well, Patti went into a snit. “Blake Lively? He couldn’t get Blake Lively! A fat Jessica Simpson, maybe.” Which is really mean to Jessica Simpson, first of all, and all women who allow themselves to weigh over 120 pounds, but also . . . you asked who his celebrity crush is. Don’t be surprised and angry that his answer is a celebrity. Then she proceeded to pick women for him that have long blonde hair. That seems to be the main Blake Lively-ness she’s seeking. What if what he meant was, “I like tall women,” or “I like that WASPy summers-in-Maine thing she has going. but if it comes in brunette, that’s fine”? What if he meant, “I really like “Gossip Girl”, and she’s my favorite character”? I don’t even know who I’d say if was asked who my celebrity crush was, but if I said, say, Puck from “Glee”, would she focus exclusively on getting me guys in faux-hawks? Because it’s not the faux-hawk. And if I said George Clooney, would she shout at me that I could never in a million years get George Clooney? Because I know, but you asked!

And what’s weird is she calls out celebrity gossip as a no-no for dates, among other topics. Because “you’ll give him the impression that you spend too much time on frivolous matters, which you probably do.” Um, none of us could compete with you in that regard, though, could we?

I thought the list of topics you could and couldn’t talk about was interesting. Here’s what you can’t talk about: your own dating adventures (even if they’re seriously funny), your ex, money, religion, and politics (even though she also advises that you “qualify” your man as early as possible, and money, religion, and politics can be major qualifiers), health problems, “negative subjects that depress you,” your children (because you’ll end up just talking about kids and not each other), sex (since you’re not supposed to be having any), your diet (true, and applicable to all conversations, not just dates), celebrities, business (because you should have an awesome career and he should want a woman who has an awesome career, but that doesn’t mean he wants to hear about your work; it’s emasculating), or how many guys want you (also true and applicable to all conversations).

Here’s what you should talk about: sports (which is not all frivolous because it is a thing boys like as opposed to a thing girls like), travel (but not if it’s something you did with an ex or for work), literature (but not depressing literature. Of course this comes from a woman who thinks Eat, Pray, Love is a gender-neutral non-chick lit book), culture (whatever that means), movies (but not depressing or sexy ones and nothing about the people in them), nature, your community (?), music, humor (but not sex jokes), pets (which in no way can take over the conversation the same way children can), the media (?), local and national news (but nothing depressing, political, related to your job, or celebrity-oriented), his interests (like his work, for instance) and of course all the volunteer work you do.

She describes masculine energy with words like “assertive” and “provider” and feminine energy with words like “lazy and weak.” She advises women to “sit still, smell good and shut up”! She tells us to tell men we don’t call them in the beginning because they might have another woman there, because “you’ve stated your vulnerability and your innocence, which is exactly what a man wants.” And she advises that you basically trick your man into doing the stuff you want with lots of passive-aggressive hints and then a ton of praise and reward when gets it right. Like you’d treat a toddler. Or a dog. I don’t know why you’d want a partner you had to treat like a dog or a toddler, or how you’d manage to want and have sex (which you can and should, according to Patti, use as a reward for good behavior) with someone you perceived as dog- or toddler-like. But I’m not Patti’s target demographic.

That’s another thing that makes me feel kind of bad for snarking on this stuff. I’m not single. I haven’t been single since I was eighteen, so I’ve never been single in a situation where her rules are applicable. So what do I know? Maybe she’s right about everything. If she is, though, I really hope that I never have to be single again. I mean, I hope that anyway, obviously, and to the extent that I can control it I intend not to be. P’tuh, p’tuh. (That was me spitting on my hand to ward off the evil eye.)

Actually, I suppose, to some extent, I did follow some of her rules to get him, albeit accidentally. We were introduced by a friend, which Patti says (probably rightly) is the best way to meet someone. (Hey, I never thought of it this way before, but, Leslie, you introduced me to my husband! A blessing on your head!) We didn’t have sex until we were in a committed, monogamous relationship (because we were both virgins). I didn’t move in with him for real until we were engaged and had (more or less) a wedding date. (When we moved in, it was more, “We’ll have a date as soon as we see his dental school calendar,” but the hold-up was logistical, not emotional.) I guess I accidentally “qualified” him in the beginning because by the end of our first conversation, I knew a) he was smart and Jewish (we were at Brandeis; those were almost a gimme), b) he wanted to be a pediatrician (likes kids, wants a stable, family-friendly job), c) he grew up with golden retrievers just like me, and d) he played guitar and used to do so in a Jewish song-leading capacity. Patti talks about how you want a man who will take care of the annoying stuff you don’t want to do, like picking cell phone plans or getting your oil changed in your car; Jason does all that stuff (thank God). He has a job that allows me to stay at home with my kid, although he can’t afford to do that AND buy me honking rocks, so I guess he’s not the absolute Patti Stanger gold standard. (And I very much hope my readership understands that her gold standard is not my gold standard.)

(Cute story. There are apparently man-made diamonds on the market now and they’re a lot cheaper than actual diamonds, plus, you know, blood-free, so he was getting all excited, talking about how I could have a pair of 1-carat diamonds or something for only $200 and wouldn’t I like that? And I was going, well, yes, that’s a very good price for 1-carat diamonds, but it’s still money, and if we have $200 to spend, I really need a new food processor more than diamond earrings. So now I have a new food processor.)

But the ones I followed I followed unconsciously and I certainly haven’t followed many more. And honestly, if I ever were to be single again (p’tuh, p’tuh), I’d like to think that I’d rather, if these were my two choices, go without a man than to act as if love were this carefully calibrated game in which you have to obsess over who has the power, and carefully chart the nice things you do for him and the number of times you call him so that he doesn’t think you’re a needy, desperate doormat just because you might like him a little, etc. Not call and then passive-aggressively be all “I didn’t know if you had another girl over”? This is not for me. I couldn’t behave like this in the first place and I wouldn’t want the man I could get by doing so.

Thank You, David Brooks

This is going to be a little half-baked; forgive me.

I know I said some bad things about him before, but sometimes David Brooks hits the nail on the head so perfectly I’ve got to give thanks. Not just for the fact that this column was good, but for the fact that this column encapsulates stuff I’ve wanted to say, stuff I’ve been trying to say for years. Stuff I’ve been thinking ever since I read this at fifteen, which permanently altered the course of my thinking forever even if I don’t 100% agree with it now and if you want a book that says a lot of the same things but with more, how you say, research, try this.

But in any event, thanks, David Brooks, because now I know how to say the thing I want to say, which is “haimish.” For those of you who for some reason don’t want to click the link to David Brooks’s column, which you should, because it’s a really good one, “haimish” is a Yiddish concept (Of course it is. Yiddish has all the good words.) of homeyness, of “unpretentious conviviality.” (Even when I disagree with him, the man can write.) David Brooks writes about how we often trade “haimish” for, well, wealth. He starts the essay by comparing camps in which he and his family stayed in Kenya and Tanzania, some of which were not so full of the modern amenities but very haimish, and some which were more modern but also less haimish, and then goes on to talk about how that’s frequently a trade-off we make – more privacy, more luxuries, more shiny things, but less haimish-ness. I think it’s not just as individuals that we do this, and it’s not even just as Americans. I think the whole of civilization is a move towards less haimish surroundings but more stuff-oriented ones. And we think we’ll be happier with the more stuff but we’re not.

I went to visit a friend at the sleep away camp where she was working recently. Afterwards I observed that the kids at this camp were, largely, from fairly privileged backgrounds. They weren’t necessarily the richest of the rich – although some were – but they were all kids who were accustomed to things like their own bedroom, delicious and/or nutritious food for every meal, air conditioning, etc. I mean, they are the kids whose parents can afford to send them to a private sleep away camp, well into their teens. They come to camp and they sleep 20 to an un-air-conditioned room on scrawny mattresses, use a bathroom that they have to go outside to get to and which they share with dozens of other kids, in which the water pressure and quality leave something to be desired. And the food is marginally acceptable at best at most sleep away camps. And these kids, who are accustomed to every kind of privilege in regular life, could not possibly be happier than when they are at this camp. They are thrilled to death to leave behind their iGadgets and their mall trips and their private homes to come here. But I, a child of privilege myself, am not surprised. I went to sleep away camp, I went to NFTY events, I went to a small liberal arts college. I remember why I loved them. Because they were haimish.

I think the increasing loss of haimish-ness is what makes something like Facebook or Twitter so successful. It’s not the real deal, exactly. But when I can know that a person who I knew fifteen years ago just had a baby, or my sister’s friend had salmon for dinner last night, it makes the world feel a little smaller. Which is nice.

In some ways, it’s the whole of the internet that’s like that. You go for years thinking you’re the only person who likes to embroider important scenes from Star Trek: The Original series, with the characters replaced with wide-eyed panda bears, onto table runners, and it turns out there are thousands of you spread throughout the world, and suddenly you have a community. Or you read a David Brooks column, and instead of just turning to your spouse, who does not care, and fuming about/praising the column, you can e-mail it to your closest friends and family, tweet it, “like” it on Facebook, and write a blog post about it which as many as fifteen people might read. It’s a whole new thing. It’s haimish-ish.

The problem is, it’s illusory. We don’t just like haimish, we need haimish badly, and we don’t have enough. I live in a neighborhood that is nice, yes, and people here are reasonably friendly and there are at least five houses within a few yards of mine where I can go and ask for an egg if I’m one short while I’m trying to make super-fudgy brownies AND custard-based ice cream at the same time (not that that’s happened). But the local elementary school is about a mile away, and the kids have to take the bus, because there aren’t sidewalks between here and there. If there were sidewalks, they’d probably still have to take the bus, because people are so scared of “predators” that we’ve lost all reason. As if nothing bad ever happens to kids on a school bus. But there aren’t even sidewalks, so you can’t even really make the “choice” to have your kids walk to school. Kids walking to school is haimish. Also, this elementary school is one of three pre-high school schools Zoe will attend. It’s the third- and fourth-grade elementary school. There’s a K-2 and a 5-8. Separating these is, in my opinion, also not haimish. Haimish is when kids of a wide variety of ages figure out how to play and learn together. That’s why people pay out the nose for Montessori and Waldorf schools. Because they’re haimish.

Driving cars is not haimish; walking and biking and public transportation are. But we designed all our suburbs to be driven in, not walked or biked or with lots of bus routes. Single-family homes on large lots are less haimish than apartment or condo complexes with shared public space, but we think the former are better than the latter (and I’m not being superior here; I live in a single-family home on a large lot). I know small towns are classically haimish, but also cities are more haimish than suburbs. A work or school environment that focuses on collaboration over competition is more haimish but we think softer and less likely to produce “results,” because we ignore over and over that the best “result” we could possibly get is haimishness.

And again, there are psychological studies I’m too lazy to look up (though I will link you to this, and just looking for that link has cost me at least 20 hours of productivity; thanks, internet), but it seems that what we need most of all is haimishness. Happiness depends much more on having a community in which you feel comfortable and happy than on anything else – including the next iPad. Swear.

I don’t really have a conclusion here. What I have is a new paradigm I’ll be quoting ad nauseam any time anything remotely related comes up. So on behalf of my friends and family, thanks a lot, David Brooks!