Idol Chatter

The highpoint of 1960s Radical Chic has long been marked by a party held at Leonard Bernstein’s Manhattan duplex at which the city’s sparkling social elite gathered to meet members of the Black Panthers. The highpoint of 2000s Radical Chic, or 2006’s, anyway, appears to be, in the words of a Gannett article making the rounds of small-town papers–“Judaism as pop culture is spreading to places where people have been unfamiliar with — even intolerant of –Jews.” Read: America west of the Hudson and east of the Hollywood sign.

The article is more curious than satisfying. Headlined in some markets “Judaism Takes Center Stage in American Pop Culture,” Gannett’s reporter Jessica Wanke cites as evidence the presence of VH1’s show “So Jewtastic!”, Comedy Central’s “Heroes of Jewish Comedy,” the popularity of Matisyahu and Madonna’s embrace of Kabbalah. Judaism may be looking hip these days, but if you remember a time when George Burns, Joey Bishop, Shecky Greene, and, yes, Sammy Davis Junior were once nearly inescapable eminences on TV (if you don’t, tune in to Comedy Central), the current Judification of pop culture barely registers.

Stranger still is that Gannett appends a sidebar tracing the effect of “Black Power” on fashion and entertainment. Okay, Matisyahu is a weird phenomenon, but his rise barely qualifies as a cultural moment akin to the recognition (some would say co-opting) of African-American civil struggle. Look harder and what you’ll see is a Hasidic kid adopting a reggae–black West Indian–sound. Black, it turns out, is the new Jewish.

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