To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle.
--- George Orwell

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Oy! Gwyneth Converts!

Gwyneth Paltrow is converting to Judaism, Page Six reports. From the url I get the sense that the original headline was “Gwyneth Paltrow Is Becoming An Actual Jewish Princess” and that it got changed after a complaint from someone without a sense of newsroom humor. I’m wondering though whether ‘Jews Are The New WASPS,’ or ‘Shiksas Are The New Jews’ would be more fitting.

To anyone with a sense of sociology or history, the former is hardly news, even though current politically correct strictures (Yes, Jewish pc!) make this ascension to WASPdom difficult for anyone to write about in any depth.  Just remember the blowback Phil Weiss endured for his landmark 1996 New York magazine piece in which he said Jews had become the new American social and economic elite but that ethnic victimology discouraged an acknowledgement of this. Someone really should run with the Paltrow conversion news though and mine it for deeper meaning. Time was when American Jews aspiring to enhanced social status would convert to haute Protestantism, or marry into it. Now the trend is running in the opposite direction, with Paltrow only being the latest, and the prettiest, face of that new trend. Where is Nick Lemann, or a successor to the late Digby Baltzell, or any of the other chroniclers of the great American "Episcopacy" when you need them?

In the meantime however,  just a couple of on-the-fly observations:

*It’s reported, not by the Post but by the Times of Israel, that Paltrow’s conversion follows her “conscious uncoupling” from Coldplay’s Chris Martin, who is a Christian. Could the conversion be yet another example of Jewish-gentile goyimhass or just all-too-typical former spousal spite?

*It’s reported that Paltrow, whose acting career is in a bit of a slump, is now 42 years old. This is a very good age for her to try to grab some free publicity--- and to boost the hopes of any number of aging Hollywood executives who might be thinking of her as a “hot property” in their movie projects as much as in the second marriage market. In other words, it's a good career move.

*It’s also reported that Paltrow has long been interested in kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism and spiritual learning associated with celebrities like Madonna, along with certain high profile Jewish feminists. But kabbalah is as much about Madonna as it is Meir Kahane. In Israel, especially among Jewish fundamentalists in the settler movement, kabbalistic rabbis advance a highly tribalized reading of ancient scripture in which gentiles, especially Arabs, are seen in a second class, even dehumanized light as Amalek, the avatar of pure evil. 

At any rate, Paltrow’s past boasting that she comes from a long line of Eastern European rabbis is yet another sign of what I think could be called the "cult of being Jewish." Said cult has always been, I would argue, a big part of Jewish American identity, but is hitting a high water mark right now in the arts, film, publishing and media. The introduction that novelist Jonathan Safran Foer got in March at the 92nd Street Y before his live interview with historian Simon Schama was what originally got me thinking about the recent surge in this collective self regard. Foer, the Y introducer proclaimed to the audience, "had transformed our collective understanding of the modern American novel through the exploration of his Jewish identity."

Like any other form of ethnocentrism and cultural chauvinism, I find this cult both irritating and boorish, bristling with off-putting double standards and a lack of ethnic reciprocity. Given the incredible rise from the ashes that is a big part of the post-WW II Jewish communal story, however, I can understand the reasons behind the celebration. It is without doubt an astonishing comeback. But the collective self-congratualtion is verging on self-parody. I mean, there's a limit. The world in which a good, though still quite young, writer like Jonathan Safran Foer can be exalted like he was that night at the 92nd St Y is a narrow  one---and a narcissistic one too.  

The real problem is that this “cult of being Jewish” has become intertwined with what might be very accurately called "the cult of Israel.” It’s the latter which plays such a large role in the dysfunction in the US-Israel “special relationship”---and in the Zionist denial of basic historical fairness for Palestinians. As Hollywood ramps up to defend Israel from Gaza war crimes tribunals and from BDS, it would not surprise me if Paltrow follows ScarJo's defiant lead in standing up for the Jewish state. Could a remake of Masada be in the works, but with a different, maybe even a happy, ending?    

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