Sunday, June 10, 2007

Relating to religious figures

Am Kshe Oref, in response to a post by Rabbi Maryles (link is in Am Kshe Oref's post), discusses the question of whether biographies of religious figures should portray them as perfect, or whether it should include what might be seen as "negative" information. He explains (which I agree) that if we see the figures as saints (a non-Jewish idea, by the way), we will feel that they were on an unattainable level, where if they dealt with challenges and made mistakes, we can relate to them and therefore strive to be like them.

I think another issue is what the definition of "negative information" is. I don't think the biographies neccesarily need to give actual negative charatcer traits. if the person used to be rude to people and changed for the better, maybe we could learn something from that but I could see leaving it out. However, why would it be negative to say that they had hobbies? That they enjoyed the study of history or math? And it is known that certain publications digitally alter photographs to make the people from previous generations fit a certain image that people have today. Obvously, if the person dressed that way or enjoyed those pursuits, he didn't feel anything was negative about it!

I don't remember the details, but there was a rabbi about a year ago who made a statement that high school rabbis shouldn't play sports with their students because the students will have less respect for them. (Again, I don't remember the exact details...) While there may be specific situations or communities where this would happen, I think the general consensus is that students enjoy the opportunity to see their teachers as human in an appropriate context. We have a good friend who is a successful middle school Judaic Studies teacher. His students and their parents have a lot of respect for him and he has done a lot for spreading a love for Judaism to kids who don't have a strong background. The way he accomplishes this is by being an authority figure in the classroom, but also approachable and "normal". He plays sports with the kids, makes jokes, talks to the kids about his interests...A student in his class can relate to him as a real person, while still having respect for him and, along with that, his Jewish values and practice.

Certainly there can be another extreme. My high school set up the teachers as "friends" and "cool." The few teachers any of us respected dressed nicer, were stricter, didn't share details of their personal life, and didn't gossip about other teachers. And of course, there is the overly negative approach in the entertainment news in which we hear the tiniest thing that any celebrity does wrong. But I don't think this extreme means that a respectfully written book can't share information that is of a non-negative nature, even if it shows that the person was a real person. Especially if it shows them as a real person.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Dream of Californication.....

Today I heard a commericial for a local car dealer featuring Governator jokes that had nothing to do with the ad. This made me think about how everyone is obsessed with California, and I thought it would be a good topic to "just jump in" to blogging again. I started by looking up some songs that immediately come to mind that deal with this issue, and of course the first one I thought of is Californication by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Now, I never understood all of the lyrics when listening to the song so I looked it up and was impressed with how they expressed this idealized idea that many people have about California (by which most people mean Hollywood, and by which most people really mean "the movie industry" because the actual city of Hollywood is really run-down now.) And many people within the L.A. culture end up trying to live up to the fantasy idea.

Here's all the lyrics. And here are some of the lyrics that I thought best illustrated the way that L.A. culture has become this ideal for people in other parts of the country and even the world. And how it't not based on reality. (And, of course, the term Californication - because this idealized lifestyle includes sex, partying with the stars, etc.)

Little girls from Sweden
Dream of silver screen quotations
And if you want these kind of dreams
It's Californication

It's the edge of the world
And all of western civilization
The sun may rise in the East
At least it settles in the final location
It's understood that Hollywood
sells Californication

Movies come out of L.A. so they present a certain culture as the norm, which someone watching a movie in Akron, Ohio thinks is based on reality.

And buy me a star on the boulevard

You can buy celebrity status, you don't have to actually have any talent. Need I specifically mention a certain person
who is famous for being famous and manages to get out of doing jail time because of that status. Everyone believes they can come to L.A. and be discovered. Never mind that almost no one is "discovered" - they were already related to a famous person or they were very wealthy and paid huge amounts to an agent to get them in something.

Space may be the final frontier
But it's made in a Hollywood basement

When you watch Star Wars, you know it's not real. The culture shown on TV and movies is just as fictional -- especially on "reality TV". The term reality just means that it is not professional actors but people think it reflects the culture. (This is a topic for another time...)

And earthquakes are to a girl's guitar
They're just another good vibration
And tidal waves couldn't save the world
From Californication

Never mind that there is absolutely no way you can adequately prepare for earthquakes and floods - and some of the most wealthy people purposely live on cliffs that cause their houses to fall down in mudslides every few years. It's L.A.! The weather! The movie stars! Wow!