Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Here's The Story: Surviving Marcia Brady and Finding My True Voice by Maureen McCormick

there is a rather large pile of books in every room of my apartment, waiting to be read. i am actively reading 3 of them, and sort of procrastinating reading a handful of the rest with others piling up in the meantime. so it is hard to explain why i decided to read this one over the three day weekend, but i did and i enjoyed it. i don't really know why i read this type of thing. i sort of think it's the same reason i watch julia roberts' movies--i like to keep track of popular narratives of femininity, i'm interested in how they function i guess and also sometimes find them entertaining in their absurdity. it all just seems very unreal and extreme. marcia brady, the character, is one of those creations. this book is interesting, in that it gives the woman behind the role of 'marcia marcia marcia' a voice. it goes through all this self-help-type stuff and there is also some jesus involved, but ultimately it is a story about a woman struggling to navigate a career/life in relation to a frozen feminine ideal that she represents. if you are a brady bunch fan, it's also interesting on that level. not a 'great book' or well written or profound, but still comforting to know that behind these flimsy cardboard-cutout versions of 'the perfect woman' there are real women who are profoundly alienated by the ideal they helped create and what it represents. it made me want to read a book written by one of the spice girls. but, no...there is too much on the shelf for that!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Israel, Palestine, Zionism and Anti-Semitism in the aftermath of WWII

I'm currently reading Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem: a Report on the Banality of Evil. As a German-Jewish, female political theorist, she had a unique perspective on Nazi war crimes during the Holocaust, especially because she was a long-time friend of German philosopher and Nazi Martin Heidegger. Adolf Eichmann was a top Nazi leader who was prosecuted in Israel in 1961 and sentenced to death. His crimes against humanity included the organization of the mass deportation of Jews to concentration camps for extermination between 1940-45. This book was one of the first to look at the concept of evil as an ordinary occurrence. In other words, the genocide of Jews during the Holocaust could not have happened if the atrocities hadn't become a banal part of everyday existence. The Nazi "Final Solution" to exterminate the Jews, as if they were vermin, was systematic, cold-blooded and bureaucratic. Orders were followed without question.

I've read many, many books on the Holocaust and have known Holocaust survivors. I was raised in a traditional Jewish family. I still value my Jewish upbringing, and identify myself culturally as a Jew, but I'm not religious. I've always liked how in Judaism there is an emphasis on social justice and community. I've always been fascinated by the stories of how people survived the Holocaust, perhaps because I know that if my ancestors hadn't immigrated to America around the turn of the 20th century, I might have been sent to a concentration camp. One of the phrases I heard over and over again as a child in regards to the Holocaust was "never again." Never again should something as horrifying and inhumane as the Holocaust occur.

Many Jews escaped to Palestine or moved there upon gaining their freedom from the concentration camps. The formation of the state of Israel in 1948 came about as a way to provide security to the hordes of traumatized Jews. Many countries had turned Jews away during Hitler's regime (including the United States), and so Jews felt they needed a "home" of their own. The demand to create a Jewish homeland had been growing throughout the early 20th century, due to Zionist beliefs. I haven't read a lot on Zionism and only know what I've been told in my family. From what I can gather, Zionism initially was a left-wing labor movement, which grew out of communism and socialism, that advocated for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. It didn't have the racist overtones that it has today. I think the original idea was that Jews and Arabs would share the land peacefully. Many secular Jews were attracted to Zionism because it advocated a collective lifestyle through the kibbutz. Even after Israel had been granted statehood and the Israeli-Arab territorial conflicts intensified, the kibbutz was considered an ideal form of living for many American Jews. I had a hippie cousin who went to live on one in the early '70s, and there were Jewish camps for kids in the U.S. at that time that were based on the labor-Zionist/collectivist model.

What has disturbed me deeply, as I've seen radical Zionist views become more nationalistic and racist (i.e.- pro-Israel = anti-Arab), has been the avoidance of many American Jews in dealing with the plight of Palestinians and Arab Americans. The tunnel vision of many American Jews understandably arose after the Holocaust. I don't think people who haven't experienced the Holocaust first or second hand, or who haven't read a lot about it, can understand how traumatizing it was to the Jewish people. There is such a huge fear of being abandoned, of having no place to call home, because so many governments preferred to see Jews die in the gas chambers than become citizens in their countries. So the state of Israel represents the survival of an entire group of people. Unfortunately, many American Jews think there are many Arab countries who would take Palestinian Arabs in if needed. And that's exactly what disturbs me. Diaspora, or the displacement of a group of people, is never a positive experience.

On top of this, there has been an increase in anti-Semitism against Muslims. Anti-Semitism is a term usually meant to signify discrimination against Jews; it has now come to represent racial prejudice against any Semitic group, including Arabs (although this is still debatable - see my comment). I recall one especially upsetting experience - I called the Jewish Anti-Defamation League and B'nai B'rith to ask what I could do to stop the discrimination of Arab Americans after 9/11. In my mind, "never again" applied to all groups of people, not just the Jews. I was shocked when I was told they couldn't help me.

After seeing photos of Arab prisoners tortured in Abu Ghraib, I tried again to see how I could work with these Jewish groups to stop the inhumanity. I saw the photos of Iraqis being tortured and immediately thought of the photos I had seen as a young girl of Jews in Auschwitz. I read the news accounts of the Arab prisoners' experiences - systematic, cold-blooded and bureaucratic. Those who carried out water boarding, abuse and psychological terrorism were just following orders. One woman I spoke to told me these Jewish groups couldn't help because to do so would be to show support to Arabs and that would mean they weren't supporting Israel. I don't see things so black and white. Why does being pro-human rights mean choosing sides in the Middle Eastern conflict? Both groups are supposedly humanitarian and in support of civil rights for all.

In the intervening years, as Israeli terrorism has increased against innocent Palestinian civilians, and more stories of the tortures at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay have come to light, I've been appalled. So I've been spending a lot of time in contemplation around the issues of discrimination and tolerance. Unfortunately, some people think the U.S. is in cahoots with Israeli terrorists and radical Zionist groups, and therefore American Jews must be behind Israeli terrorism and anti-Semitism against Arabs. This seems far-fetched to me, but I can understand the thought process that would make these connections, given all that's transpired since WWII. What's even worse is that anti-Semitism against Jews is on the rise and people are reverting back to old stereotypes of Jews, especially because of the economic downturn (i.e. - "the banking industry is run by Jews", "Jews are greedy capitalists", etc.). So now we have increased anti-Semitism in America against Arabs AND Jews. Who does that benefit? Are we just doing as we're told or are we thinking for ourselves?

Below are videos showing different points of views on the current Middle East situation and Zionism by two contemporary philosophers, Bernard-Henri Lévy and Slavoj Žižek.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

more vampire nonsense

if you've been following what i've been reading, then you'll remember i read the first two twilight books awhile back...i didn't like the second book as much as the first, which i enjoyed reading but didn't think was actually good...so i didn't buy the next one as it's STILL not out in paperback yet...it took about 9 months to get them from the library...so i just read the last two books and while i enjoyed reading them, i now feel my brain is full of ketchup rather than blood. i needed to read crap for awhile i guess. i'm gonna try to get back on track. i'm reading a bunch of non-fiction really slowly...and am about to try and blast through a research project on the IWW so it might be awhile before i have anything to report. i'm also really immersed in the greenwood histories of modern nations series (currently reading about the history of spain and el salvador) as well as the "a very short introduction" books. i picked one up on post-colonialism that is excellent. also been slowly reading chick flicks (thanks kanako) and need to get back to feminism and war, i've only ready about four chapters in that one. the vampire books really messed my brain up. i was sidetracked. i'm gonna go read some virginia woolf to cleanse.

Friday, May 8, 2009

I'm writing something about band logos, specifically in punk and hardcore. (I'd appreciate any suggestions...) This is what I've been reading:

This Ain't the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk - Steven Waksman

Still working on this but it has great and detailed sections on the Runaways, Black Flag, the SST label vibe/the move from Damaged to My War, Iggy & the Stooges... It does get a little ridiculously analytical in places - even for me - and I have a pretty high tolerance for such.

Radio Silence: A Selected Visual History of American Hardcore Music
by Nathan Nederostek and Anthony Pappalardo

Lots of great pictures and examples of graphic design, but most of the text is about the music and music scene and not as zeroed-in on visual style as I'd hoped. But there's a great little essay
in here about the Minor Threat "Salad Days" 45 pointing out how the band photos on the back portray the members involved in the culture of being in a DIY hardcore band rather than the spectacle... ie laying out a record cover, practicing in the basement, talking to people at shows...

"Crypto Logo Jihad: Black Metal and the Aesthetics of Evil" - Daniel van der Velden
Article about the unreadability of death metal band logos.
PDF here

Also, a while ago I also read this amazing article, "Jews, punk and the Holocaust: from the Velvet Underground to the Ramones – the Jewish-American story" by Jon Stratton which ties the nihilism in early punk and proto-punk (Velvet Underground, Stooges, Ramones, etc) to this generation - Jews and non-Jews - dealing with the Holocaust. "today your love - tommorrow the world..." (Popular Music, 2005, 24)