In case anyone was in danger of forgetting my awesome storming style, I made a dramatic exit from my religion in American film class this morning. I know some of you are probably nostalgic for my old antics. Who could forget the semester I walked out of a presentation on gender in Tribal Africa (as gleaned from one film by six, white, American girls) , a scintillating experiment about what it was like to be a tranny in Dorchester (performed by a male student in sad drag), and a play about trafficking women all in one, glorious, semester! I had almost forgotten it was something one could do.
It was the least I could do after a conversation about Edward Norton’s movie Keeping the Faith turned into a full-scale defense of Perfect Rich Jewish New York and the charming race-relations that make the city “so great.”
In the film Ben Stiller and Ed Norton play a charismatic rabbi and priest, “the God Squad,” who are refreshing everyone’s feelings about faith by divorcing it (except not really) from religion. Jenna Elfman plays the female lead. The boys’ friend in childhood, she returns as a high-powered executive who is goofy, smart, and sexy. Both men fall for Elfman and she dates the rabbi, causing problems with his family and congregation. For the priest, Elfman’s character is deployed as a test of faith. In the end everything is resolved when Elfman, fearing her ticking biological clock, converts and the guys open up a Jewish/Catholic senior center in an old gay disco.
I could have said a lot of things. And by that I mean I could have just talked about some Backlash b.s. or I could have brought up the homo-erotic? closeness between the two men and the implications of moving religious seniors into ex-gay space.
I should have known I was in trouble when I mentioned that the romance and comedy obscured the underlying Doctrine of the Normative Family and my classmate said:
“Well, but this is what women want. Everyone wants to get married and have children. Don’t you?” And since I was already involved I had to say, No. And she said, “Well, that’s abnormal. Don’t you think that’s coloring your misinterpretation then?”
Which would have been okay. Stupid, sure. But fine. No, no, no. She has to go on to tell everyone that as a New York Jew she understands this movie better than anyone. That we don’t understand how nice it is to take the train uptown and see black guys playing basketball with rabbis and priests confiding in Muslim-Catholic-Sikh bartenders. The professor productively tried to shift our perspective to wealth, asking us if everyone seemed rich.
Of course She answered: “No, there’s that little Spanish boy. I think he shows that the Jewish community is rich and the Catholic congregation is poor. I mean that’s what they trying to communicate when they put in that off-the-boat kid.”
Really. I’m not joking.
Someone else tries to save it, “There are a lot of bilingual people in the U.S. and that doesn’t mean they’re ‘off-the-boat.'”
She persists. The movie is NOT fucked up, she tells us, because it’s perfectly politically correct. She cites this scene as proof. She argues that this scene is great because it’s just what Chinatown is like. “They go there because it’s cheap!” She explains. (No, I’m not sure how this explains ANYTHING.) I argue with her for a little while before she tells everyone to hold on and then addresses the only Asian student in the class. She asks him if he was “personally offended.” And then says if he wasn’t offended then obviously this is just really funny and also more proof of how charming and close-knit and mixed New York is.
I made one final attempt when she pointed out that at the very end one very minor character comes to an event with a black date, thus proving that this is a film about everyone.
F: That doesn’t prove anything.
S: What you want her to come with a woman?!
Professor: If she came with a woman no one would understand it was a date. Or it would just be in there as titillating.
F: Right, so we should maybe think about why that is. Why it wouldn’t be legible as a date if it were a woman. But that’s not even what I’m talking about. That guy she is with is wearing a sweater vest and khakis.
S: It was a nice event! That’s what you wear!
F: No, that’s what the Jewish guys are wearing! You’ll notice she didn’t come with one of those basketball guys.
S: That’s because it’s a nice event. THAT is what you wear.
F: You can wear other fancy clothes to dress-up. Her date looked like a really palatable, educated, rich, black man.
Several more slurs are thrown. Bilingual-defense guy tries to tell her about how people code language between communities.