September 19, 2018

Smashing Idols in Tinseltown and Beyond

According to the familiar Midrashic legend, Abraham’s father, Terah, was a craftsman and salesman of idols. But Abram (Abraham’s original name) scoffs at the adults who worship idols. Having watched his father make the sausages, so to speak, he can’t worship them.

While Terah is away, Abram smashes all of the idols except the largest one, placing an ax in its hand. When Terah returns, he’s furious. Abram explains that the idols had brawled until one idol emerged victorious. Terah is incredulous: “Idols don’t destroy idols,” he says, “people do.” Abram smiles. “Exactly,” he says. “So, why worship them?” Terah hauls Abram to the royal court of Nimrod, where he is sentenced to death by fire. According to the legend, God saves Abram from the crucible.

Idol smashers are courageous and strong. Many Abrams have emerged from the current cultural crucible. These heroes break false cultural idols. They slay producers like Harvey Weinstein, directors like Brett Ratner and actors like Kevin Spacey. As we overturn boulders, the hideous creatures hiding beneath are scurrying blindly into the sunlight. We’re experiencing a massive cultural revolution — listening to victims of alleged abuse and believing them.

Today’s idol smashers are shaking Hollywood, and its edifice is wobbling. To some, Hollywood is a cesspool of vice run by vile, abusive men. As Hollywood idols are smashed, only debris remains. And the scornful public’s instinct is to discard Hollywood’s art, once beautiful and inspirational.

But there’s a more optimistic view.

Hollywood isn’t monolithic. It’s comprised of more victims of alleged abuse than reputed abusers. For every Hollywood villain, there are many heroes, people who succeed without harming others.

Hollywood also has its superheroes, people trying to change the world.

Gal Gadot is Wonder Woman in the DC Extended Universe. In real life, she stood up to Ratner, who has been repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct. Gadot made it known that she wouldn’t work on a “Wonder Woman” sequel if Ratner were involved as a producer. Warner Bros. responded by dropping Ratner from the film.

Today’s idol smashers are shaking Hollywood, and its edifice is wobbling.

When Jimmy Fallon returned to the “Tonight Show” a week after his mother’s death, he told viewers that his mom “… would squeeze my hand three times, and say, ‘I love you.’ Last week, I was in the hospital, and I grabbed her hand and squeezed. ‘I love you.’”

During the same broadcast, Taylor Swift debuted her song “New Year’s Day,” which happened to include the lyrics, “You squeeze my hand three times in the back of a taxi. … ”

Swift wasn’t a scheduled guest. Producers had invited her to add a special touch to Fallon’s return show, and she agreed without hesitation. When she serendipitously sang “squeeze my hand three times,” there were tears all around. Afterward, the two stars embraced, overwhelmed with emotion. Swift’s brilliant performance and unbridled support for Fallon were heroic.

Drake may be the biggest superhero of all. Performing on Nov. 15 in Sydney, the artist was mid-song when he stopped to chastise a man for reportedly groping women in the audience. Drake’s righteous indignation and public calling-out is the stuff of superheroes.

If you need further reassurance that Hollywood is not a cesspool, see the feature film “Wonder,” a remarkable 100-minute sermon on kindness, acceptance, love and magnanimity. “Wonder” grabs you by the soul and, in the words of Henry Ward Beecher — used beautifully in the film — “carries up the most hearts.” It’s a reminder that no one does inspirational and powerful storytelling better than Hollywood.

One by one, false idols are falling. Morality pundits at Fox News, hypocritical politicians (left and right), Silicon Valley misogynists and Hollywood Neanderthals have been exposed and destroyed.

After Abram smashed the idols, he discovered God, the Creator. Not made of stone, wood or clay, Abram’s God was the maker of stone, wood and clay. Abram partnered with the Creator to teach morality and kindness, and together they changed the world.

We should celebrate the destruction of Hollywood’s false idols, but we should not discard Hollywood and all of its culture. Instead, let’s replace those idols with the Hollywood stars who light up our world with love and kindness.


Eli Fink is a rabbi, writer and managing supervisor at the Jewish Journal.

Neo-Nazis salute ‘Aryan goddess’ Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift may look every bit the all-American girl-next-door, but according to white supremacists, she’s actually a Nazi at heart, feeding her legions of followers racist messages coated in the saccharine lyrics and sick beats of Grammy-winning songs.

The Vice blog Broadly explored the extent and origins of that conspiracy theory in a post Monday, speaking to Andre Anglin, a writer of the white supremacist blog the Daily Stormer, about the blond hair, blue-eyed singer’s fascist appeal.

“Firstly, Taylor Swift is a pure Aryan goddess, like something out of classical Greek poetry. Athena reborn,” Anglin said. “It is also an established fact that Taylor Swift is secretly a Nazi and is simply waiting for the time when Donald Trump makes it safe for her to come out and announce her Aryan agenda to the world.” (He provided no evidence of said “established fact.”)

The reference to Trump connects this peculiar meme to the recent political phenomenon of the “alternative right,” more commonly called the “alt-right,” a vague, amorphous subculture that lives online and is defined by its outspoken racist and ultra-nationalist views — and known for its support of the presumptive Republican nominee for president.

But the connection between Swift and Hitler pre-dates the rise of Trump, according to Milo Yiannopoulos, a columnist for the right-wing website Breitbart. Its possible origin is a satirical photo series started in 2013 by teenage Pinterest user Emily Pattinson, who overlaid photos of Swift with Hitler quotes attributed to the singer.

Swift’s lawyers were not amused, demanding Pinterest remove the posts and stating, “The association of Ms. Swift with Adolf Hitler undisputedly is ‘harmful,’ ‘abusive,’ ‘ethnically offensive,’ ‘humiliating to other people,’ ‘libelous,’ and no doubt ‘otherwise objectionable.'”

But neo-Nazis embraced the idea, writing about Swift regularly on the Daily Stormer with the unabashed enthusiasm of high school fanboys, calling her the “Nazi avatar of the white European people,” and fretting that she might “succumb to the Merchant” — meaning give in to the Jews.

There is also a “Taylor Swift for Fascist Europe” Facebook page with nearly 20,000 followers. A recent post read, “Thank you for the continued support. Taylor will Make the Reich Great Again.”

That group is registered as a “comedian” page, which nods to the possible tongue-in-cheek nature of the meme, at least to some. Yiannopoulos acknowledges this point. “Like the alt-right itself, the far-right internet’s love affair with this pop star is predominantly sincere but with a heady whiff of satire and troublemaking,” he wrote.

Then again, when contacted by Broadly, the page’s community manager, who remained anonymous, wrote in an email that while he does not think Swift is sending  covert messages through pop songs, he does think she “embodies the Aryan ‘spirit.'”

“To be Aryan in spirit is what completes the fascist,” the community manager wrote, pointing out that Kim Kardashian and Miley Cyrus, for example, do not have the Aryan spirit. In Swift’s case, that “spirit” may refer to the fact that, as Broadly put it, “she comes across as a born conservative but also keeps politics out of her public identity.”

“[Swift] is the anti-Miley,” the Daily Stormer’s Anglin told Broadly. “While Miley is out having gang-bangs with colored gentlemen, she is at home with her cat reading Jane Austen.”

Whether it’s a pop star or a politician, the alt-right clearly knows how to find personalities to amplify their bigotry.

Nearly 25 million U.S. viewers watched Grammy awards

Nearly 25 million U.S. viewers tuned in to watch Taylor Swift, Ed Sheeran and Bruno Mars take home the top honors at the annual Grammy Awards ceremony this year, CBS Corp said on Tuesday.

The network, citing figures from Nielsen, said the show, which included numerous performances by music's biggest names, had the largest audience for any entertainment program this season.

The overall number dipped from last year's 25.3 million viewers, which was the smallest TV audience for music's biggest night since 2009's 19.1 million viewers. 

CBS's figures do not count the Super Bowl, a sporting event, which drew nearly 112 million viewers on Feb. 7, the most-watched show on U.S. television. 

The Grammys come ahead of the annual Oscars ceremony later this month, Hollywood's biggest night and typically the most-watched entertainment event, drawing more than 36 million U.S. viewers last year. Walt Disney's ABC television network will broadcast this year's Academy Awards. 

On social media, the Grammys dominated the conversation on Monday night, with 17.2 million tweets mentioning the show, Twitter said. Sheeran's win for song of the year was the most-tweeted moment, followed by rapper Kendrick Lamar's socially charged performance.

On Facebook, 21 million people posted about the show, and Lady Gaga's colorful tribute to late singer David Bowie was the most talked-about moment. 

On Instagram, 15 million people discussed the Grammys, and Swift's photo of herself posing with singer Selena Gomez earned the most 'likes' from 2.1 million fans.

Jewish group condemns feminist writer for calling Taylor Swift a ‘Nazi Barbie’

An Australian Jewish group has criticized author Camille Paglia for referring to Taylor Swift as an “obnoxious Nazi Barbie.”

The chairman of the Australian B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission called Paglia’s comments, which she published in an article for the Hollywood Reporter on Thursday, “obscene.”

“While Paglia is entitled to her views about Taylor Swift’s music and performance, her absurd and offensive comparison of Swift to the Nazis, whose genocidal policies and actions resulted in the systematic persecution and slaughter of six million Jews and millions of others in the Holocaust, betrays an ignorance of what really happened in Hitler’s Third Reich,” said Dvir Abramovich, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Heraldon Saturday. “Such obscene and insensitive equations have no place in our cultural discourse and only serve to demean and trivialize the memory and suffering of the victims.”

Abramovich called on the Hollywood Reporter to “repudiate” the article and issue a public apology.

Paglia, an eminent feminist academic and social critic, made headlines last week with her polarizing essay about Swift, who is among the best-selling American musicians of all time.

“Swift herself should retire that obnoxious Barbie routine of wheeling out friends and celebrities as performance props,” Paglia wrote.

Paglia’s argument focused on Swift’s “girl squads” and the way she often surrounds herself with celebrity friends on and off stage.

“Writing about Swift is a horrific ordeal for me because her twinkly persona is such a scary flashback to the fascist blondes who ruled the social scene during my youth,” she said.