Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Everyone, say it with me...

OY VEY!!!!

This time, I'm not referring to any Louisiana hijinks (that's one maaajor oy vey iz mir in itself). I speak of a few things, one of them being the comments of our family friends Justin, and his wife, Justine, on their recent trip through Hungary and parts of the former Yugoslavia. Among all the other souvenirs they returned with was an album of Yiddish and klezmer music, none of it performed by Jews. Nothing wrong with that in itself...but hey, the music ain't being played in a vacuum, people.

To paraphrase Justin, though there aren't many Jewish people around in many parts of Germany and eastern Europe, there seems to be a certain revival of Jewish cultural remnants in their absence. Maybe it's a mark of collective guilt for the part these countries played in the near-eradication of Jews sixty-plus years ago. Maybe it is a certain kind of pandering to folks like Justin, who come to concentration camp sites, gravesites, synagogues/museums, and former family homes to find their past, and spend money in the process (some of the original "disaster tourism"). Maybe it is a nostalgia of some of the worst kind: we've lost the Jews, and prosperity went with them. Or a nostalgia of the "best" kind: we've lost the Jews, and a vital part of our culture went with them. (Actually, the nostalgia crap might be highly simplistic thinking on everyone's part.)

"Ugh," I said. "It sounds almost like a wish to ossify an imagined past. Many of the current elders in these countries and their elders were involved in one way or another in turning away from the horrors of the Shoah or delivering victims to the camps. And now, here they are finding a way of plausible deniability through profiting off the descendants of those who have suffered or died. 'I might have been bad then, but I'm not now!' "

Man, was I a cynic. Still am when it concerns this.

Then I was emailed this Times article through my Queens synagogue's listserve:

Sometime in the 1970s, as a generation born under Communism came of age, people began to look back with longing to the days when Poland was less gray, less monocultural. They found inspiration in the period between the world wars, which was the Poland of the Jews.

“You cannot have genocide and then have people live as if everything is normal,” said Konstanty Gebert, founder of a Polish-Jewish monthly, Midrasz. “It’s like when you lose a limb. Poland is suffering from Jewish phantom pain.”

Interest in Jewish culture became an identifying factor for people unhappy with the status quo and looking for ways to rebel, whether against the government or their parents. “The word ‘Jew’ still cuts conversation at the dinner table,” Mr. Gebert said. “People freeze.”

The revival of Jewish culture is, in its way, a progressive counterpoint to a conservative nationalist strain in Polish politics that still espouses anti-Semitic views. Some people see it as a generation’s effort to rise above the country’s dark past in order to convincingly condemn it.

Another instance of coincidental convergence concerns the book Faking It: The Quest For Authenticity In Popular Music, which I just recently finished reading. Authors Yuval Taylor and Hugh Barker also have a good blog with similar concerns - consider it an ongoing expansion of the book. I read this stuff about Ry Cooder, the man behind the Buena Vista Social Club and the more recent (but not most recent) Chavez Ravine, and the synapses got to snapping:

In the end, perhaps Cooder is still just trying to find out where he belongs. If he is looking for roots in Chavez Ravine, at least he is looking in the right place - his own backyard. He has gone around the world without being entirely satisfied by what he found. Now he has come home to continue the search. however he has once again idealized the past by failing to recognize that things weren't always so good in the good old days; and he has once again preferred to present a numbed version of that past instead of finally making contact with the reality of the present.

It may be that the quest for cultural authenticity in popular music is always a search for something that seems more profound than the reality of our own lives. In the exotic, the nostalgic, the foreign, or the primitive, we can hope to perceive eternal truths that seem lacking in the confusion of modern life. But hunting for authenticity in other cultures or past times is unlikely to cure a perceived lack of authenticity at home. Because wherever you go, you take your own self with you.

Daaaamn right. Take note, gentile Europe.

I'm happy they want to buck homogeneity. They simply need to be fully cognizant of what they are doing when they are selling menorahs on the streets, playing klezmer in nightclubs, and staging Jewish heritage fairs. Otherwise, they might well end up perceiving it all as some kinda Shangri-La

Ry CooderPoor Man's Shangri-La

Oh, and folks, check Michael Homan's latest. Great picture of his kid at the wet protest in front of the Cabildo Monday morning. If Europeans are looking to buck the homogeneity, take some cues from some New Orleanians and take to the streets a little more. The next generation will learn some important lessons...


jeffrey said...

Regarding "authenticity" and pop culture, might I suggest Tom Frank's The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture, and the Rise of Hip Consumerism

Also.. man this place looks different! A bit.. airier maybe?

Leigh C. said...

Oooh, more reading material! I'll put it next to my copy of "Hip: A History" once I'm done with it. Kinda like a point/counterpoint.

And yep, I went for the ol' blog remodel. I couldn't fit the darned RTII image in the old sidebar, so I went for something airier. So long as it doesn't make me an airhead in the process, I'm totally fine with it.