Thursday, November 02, 2006

This Just In: Sex Sells

Sex sells, but do we want it to? Below, a conversation about Judaism, marketing, and the content of Jewish youth culture.

Annie: Let’s talk about the preponderance of sex in Jewish magazines. Jewcy, for one: it has two articles on porn and Zeek's food issue had erotic poetry AND erotic food photos.

Harley: That's a lot of articles on porn. Sex sells.

Annie: But re: Judaism, what do we want to be "selling?" And shouldn't the ideals stand up by themselves?

Harley: That's an excellent question: what is the purpose of this proliferation of magazines?

Annie: I don't think that a Judaism that needs to be marketed is a Judaism worth practicing.

Harley: Simply because they're labeled "Jewish" and they use the right terminology, are they actually contributing to the conversation or adding to the culture?

Annie: If the magazines are an example of cultural production, then hooray, but if their purpose is to get more Jews to affiliate, then I am super-uncomfortable.

Harley: Because it's false advertising? Or advertising falsely?

Annie: No, but really that is not the issue. It is that if you need to sell it with sex it a) cheapens the ideology, and b) distracts from the actual views.

Harley: B/c it's representing Judaism as a product, instead of reflecting the actual reality.

Annie: We don't do evangelism; not even within Judaism, or we shouldn't.

Harley: Using sex to attract people, however shallowly or perfunctorily to the door of Judaism.

Annie: I think that there should be more opportunities for people to experience their Judaism, and that is what we should fund, but not for the sake of "drawing them in" because then what are they giving us? Sex?

Harley: Maybe they're making Judaism sexy to bring people to the door.

Annie: But why do we need to bring people to the door

Harley: Maybe they see [Judaism] as worthwhile.

Annie: Judaism? Yeah. But so?

Harley: They may think along the lines of, "If only people would access Judaism (however that is), then they would love it.” If I go to a So Called concert, for example, and it speaks to me, it resonates with me and that becomes my entry point to Jewish engagement, then that event has been worthwhile Jewishly. The question is if it has been worthwhile only if it then leads to engagement with real content. I think that's what Beery may have been attempting to argue in his Jerusalem Post article.

Annie: But we shouldn't fund the concert in those hopes. We should fund the concert because So Called is creating Jewish content for its own sake and that good content will cause people to be really interested, which may or may not lead to affiliation; they are engaging.

Harley: As well, [So Called] contributes to Jewish content. It's circular: cultural events enhance Jewish content, Jewish content enhances culture, and everyone parties like it's shtetl 1855. But we've left your initial point, which is that there's a distinction between a So Called concert and Jewcy's porn articles? I think that the distinction isn’t just between the concert and the articles. It is the marketing factor; it's about honesty.

Annie: Are they producing Jewish culture with Jewcy, or are they trying to promote a lifestyle?

Harley: The issue is production. So Called produces Jewish culture, but not necessarily with the intention: I'm producing Jewish culture; but Jewcy produces culture with the intent of production.

Annie: So Called is conscious of producing Jewish culture.

Harley: The fact that he's producing Jewish culture comes after the fact. He produces something organically.

Annie: He sets out to produce content, which is informed by his Judaism, rather than specifically Jewish content.

Harley: Exactly, so his production of Jewish culture is incidental. He's aware afterwards, but he does not produce music with the intention of producing Jewish culture; he's not USING his music or trying to sell Judaism through his music, whereas Jewcy is explicitly producing culture and attempting to sell Judaism through that production.

Annie: But what about people like UJA who are?

Harley: Exactly what we discussed at that conference. We should fund cultural producers who are already extant and not attempt to produce culture.

Annie: I think that to some extent Jewcy does that. It is the marketing that bothers me, which can also be applied to So Called. The desire to USE something to GET people to affiliate. At the base of it, I think that people should be interested in the ideas. And if they, then aren't marketing won't help

Harley: Why can the marketing criticism be applied to So Called?

Annie: Because the UJA funds Jdub, in part, and markets So Called’s music/concerts so that unaffiliated Jews will come, love Judaism, and have Jewish babies.

Harley: UJA may fund Jdub and desire to use So Called to attract unaffiliated Jews, BUT So Called does not create his music for that purpose.

Annie: I don’t know if it matters what his intention is.

Harley: I think it does in terms of marketing and organics.

Annie: Like when an author writes a book and then a particular critical version becomes supreme and symbols start to "mean something."

Harley: I don't mean to give into the intentional fallacy, but if Jewcy's intent is to "be sexy" and "get Jews," then they are not necessarily contributing to the Jewish culture because it's not arising organically, it's not organic culture because its purpose is marketing, instead of art.

Annie: I am not sure about the content itself though.

Harley: whereas so called creates music for its own sake.

Annie: We think.

Harley: Didn't we start with the issue being content? So, the issue you have with sex and Jewcy is... sex is not Jewish? It's purpose is dishonest?

Annie: That they are using sex to 'sell" Judaism and make it seem cool. If you have to sell the idea, then the issue is with the idea.

Harley: That's why I invoked So Called as a counter example.

Annie: He isn't trying to sell anything.

Harley: That’s my point: he doesn't seem to be trying to sell Judaism, he appropriates it for his music because he thinks its cool.

Annie: My issue is twofold, the trying to sell, and what they are using to sell.

Harley: Ok, I was conflating those issues because it's a problem both that they're trying to sell and the way they're selling.

Annie: And on some level, I think that So Called is complicit in the sale of Judaism because he is getting money from UJA, whose goal is clearly to sell Judaism, so he is engaging in the activity

Harley: What, he should starve?

Annie: No, but he didn't have to sign with jdub. There are other Jewish companies that are for-profit and not tools of the OJC (Organized Jewish Community).

Harley: So he shouldn't have signed with Jdub, but with a for-profit organization.

Annie: Possibly. Ironically because of the ideals involved

Harley: Regardless, I think we can agree that his "transgression" in working with Jdub is vastly different than Jewcy and Heeb's “transgression” in selling Judaism using sex.

Annie: Yes, well, different in degree.

Harley: But then again, is it overly cynical to think that they are consciously using sex to sell Judaism?

Annie: NO: they are trying to be hip and all that [jazz].

Harley: Maybe this is why people have such beef with Heeb and Jewcy—because it feels forced.

Annie: Yes, too self-conscious.

Harley: Not naturally or inherently Jewish.

Annie: It is ALL ironic.


Anonymous said...

First of all, Heeb is using Judaism to sell sex, not the other way around. And many of the Heeb haters are, well, you know, Conservadox. Cause they hate sex. Down with sex, up with gender. This is their world.

Now as for So-Called, as a child of a family of musicians (but not their days jobs) I have to disagree on blaming So-Called for accepting a good gig. Good gig = money and audience.

Blame the organization, not the artist. It is very hard for artists to support themselves.

Etan said...

I have to agree with David. The core of this conversation seems to be a naive notion that Annie has that Jews should come to Judaism because they are in love with Shatnez or Niddah. While that may be the case for the BT movement, Aish, or even Chabad, it is most certainly not the case for the 'rest of us.'

What is wrong with sex? If we define Jewish culture within the daled amot of the right-wing Orthodox community then it ends at women's-only concerts and shomer negiah dates to the Central Park Zoo. Jewish culture for the rest of the American Jewish community is going to reflect who Jews are in the real world, and sex is a major part of that.

Having not seen the issues of those magazines that are being discussed all I can say is that the Jews I know discuss sex as much, if not more, than they discuss religion, politics, or food. Why shouldn't our cultural publications reflect that reality?

AnnieGetYour said...

DK- fair point, he does have to make a living.

Etan- you assume that when I say the "ideology" of Judaism, that I am referring only to ritual. I'm not. I think that Judaism has more to offer, in terms of worldview, values, and ethics than the narrow frame of observance. If someone is not attracted to these ideals, then I don't think that "repackaging" them will help, nor do I think that using sex to sell them is a good idea.

Esther Kustanowitz said...

Actually, I am in love with Shatnez.

And we don't care what the rest of the world thinks.

Seriously? Interesting conversation...