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Idol Chatter

I’ve been really amazed by how prevalent Jewish expression seems to be in popular culture these days. Of course, I live in New York so Jewish visibility is likely to be high. I was slightly incredulous when that Gap ad featuring a Star-of-David wearing Jeremy Piven showed up, but the new American Apparel billboard advertisement has me more surprised.

American Apparel is known for their provocative ads, almost as much as they’re known for adhering to vertically-integrated marketing and a sweatshop-free approach to clothing manufacturing. Some previous ads have featured the usual combination of tight clothes and bedheaded boys and girls cavorting in suggestive poses. But this billboard on Allen Street, arguably the center of old school Jewish New York, features Gotham’s patron saint (to mix metaphors), Woody Allen, dressed in stereotypical Hasidic garb (an image that became iconic during a classic fantasy sequence in Annie Hall).

The ad has really gotten this Jewish girl (who happens to be wearing an AA tank top today) thinking. With a title in Yiddish (it reads “the holy Rebbe”), at whom is this billboard aimed? Because Jewish kids these days aren’t as into Allen as they are into Sasha Baron Cohen and Matisyahu, and because Yiddish programs at universities are not oversubscribed, one can only assume that this ad isn’t really aimed at Woody fans nor at Jews who speak Yiddish.

Maybe it really targets New York’s hipsters, the ones who reclaimed the Lower East Side from their immigrant ancestors, transforming it into the newest address for swanky lounges and music and comedy venues that don’t value haute couture as much as come-as-you-are fashion.

AA’s target customers are probably too young to really know Woody Allen. But in New York, where everyone’s a film expert and a vaguely Jewish neurosis seems to permeate daily life, Woody Allen may in fact be a spiritual leader of sorts. He elevates New York City as some sort of cinematic heaven, illuminating the life in different neighborhoods (most notably the Upper East Side). He shocks us with comedic human truths in his films and with scandalous behavior in his personal life. And even if we’re appalled, we accept it because that’s his particular genius. He’s our Woody, and we laugh even if we wince, because we love him even if we hate him.

By invoking the Woodman, AA’s message may be that it doesn’t matter how other people see you. Just be who you are.

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