Thursday, October 30, 2008

Who Wants to be a Sexy Doughnut?

The slutty Halloween costume has become so de rigueur that girls as young as 8 parade around, begging strangers for candy in outfits reminiscent of princesses, cheerleaders and devils with bare midriffs and nascent cleavage on display. But to those of us in our 20s and 30s, the concept of using Halloween as an opportunity to dress as scandalously as possible is as trite as the cultural archetypes the costumes represent.

Plenty of pundits and morning talk show hosts have opined on the oversexualization of school and teen age girls in the past decade and I'm not going to try to top them here. What I will bring to this ghoulish party are my laments about being a more zaftig girl on this holiday that celebrates excessive candy consumption but only after squeezing into a revealing get-up.

Though I am sure both Tony Bourdain and Duff Goldman would find a doughnut costume incredibly erotic, it might pale in comparison next to my 115-pound friend dressed as a sexy nun. At a Halloween party last weekend, a similarly voluptuous friend complained that she had to put a layer on underneath her store-bought costume because she just doesn't go out in spaghetti-straped mini dresses that stop several inches above the knee.

To Party City's credit, the curvaceous among us can select from more than 20 costumes that are cute but significantly more modest than the standard adult female offerings. Gals with great gams can cover up more on top and the well-endowed can sport the girls while covering up elsewhere. But being a chubby, slutty witch still leaves something to be desired in the creativity department.

Maybe I was spoiled by my family's extensive costume trunk, but I pride myself on never wearing a store-bought costume. I much prefer to piece together everyday clothes with thrift store finds, hand-me-down accessories and maybe a purchased prop. Somehow, I believe that trying on a new identity for a night means I should have to put in a little effort.

Sporting outfits like last year's eponymous Shtetl Fabulous costume (that look inspired my blog's banner) or this year's undead 50s housewife generally guarantees I will never end up as one of several pirates or fairies at a party and I get to use a little imagination. It also means I might not get laid after one of these parties... unless he really likes Krispy Kreme.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Zamboni By Any Other Name

Having a common last name certainly has its advantages. People rarely mispronounce Jones or Young. And how many ways can you spell Brown or Jackson? There must be a type of serenity imbued in those who stride through life as Smiths, Rogerses or Hamiltons (or even Levys). Their teachers likely never stumbled on their names when calling roll and they probably got made fun of a lot less.

Of course, the downside of a well-worn last name comes when it's paired with an equally popular first name. I've heard stories of Brian Johnson's within the same university getting someone else's transcripts and such people are incredibly hard to Google. So it should come as no surprise that plenty of parents decide to give their kids rather unusual first names to balance things out.

Perhaps the best example of this phenomenon can be seen in Vice Presidental candidate Sarah Palin's own brood of bizarrely moniked kids. According to the Washington Post, the mother of Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and Trig always wanted another son named Zamboni. Maybe if Obama wins, the governor can go back to Alaska and conceive at the Wasilla ice rink.

But it's not just politicians or celebrities (they're a whole other category). I've seen startling evidence of what I hereby dub the "Kooky McDonald Syndrome" among my spawning peers. The last few months I have encountered an Ender, Jaxon, Finley, Lake, Stratton and Broc (and these are just the boys!).

What is it about human nature that leads to the Kooky McDonald Syndrome? Is it our deep desire to forge a unique idenity - schoolyard taunts be damned? With a one-of-a-kind name perhaps a person has a greater likelihood of making something of him/herself simply because he/she has had to overcome obstacles stemming from the name itself. Or is it because we just love to be the first ones to do something, i.e. the Christopher Columbus Corollary.

Though I have no idea what last name my own kids will have to endure (I'm not cruel enough to force hyphenation on them), I know my mother would disown me if I gave them any vocabulary words as appellations. Besides, with me as a parent I doubt they will need a name like Zamboni to be unique.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Unexpected Break

Looks like I might take an unexpected break from the blogosphere for a few days. I was mid-post last night when my computer crashed. Despite the best efforts of my friend who doubles as an IT troubleshooting guru, my poor Dell decided it was done working for the time being.

Hopefully, another techie friend of mine can make more headway in person and I will triumphantly return to blogging next week about any of the following topics: bizarre first names of non-celebrities, ethics: the next frontier in keeping Kosher, or the mysterious story of human feet washing up on the Vancouver shore.

In the meantime, maybe this is God's way of telling me to take a break or to sit at Barnes and Noble and write long hand all weekend.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Random Observations

I'm headed to the City this evening to spend a few days with my grandparents and to see some friends while I enjoy time off for the Jewish holidays. Since I won't have computer access and since my life is bound to be uber-crazy upon my return, I figured I would just offer a few random observations for your reading pleasure.

1. If I haven't said it already - The Great Schlep is the single funniest and most clever thing to come out of this interminable election cycle. See, I needed to add on that "clever" lest you try to say that Sarah Palin's incessant winking and general cougarism is funnier. Anyway, The Great Schlep recruits young Jewish adults to Florida to visit their grandparents (and other people's grandparents) and talk with them about voting for Obama. It includes a hilarious video from Sarah Silverman and proves the incredible power of the Internet to galvanize people around a cause.

2. I watched the new Rolling Stones documentary, "Shine a Light" the other night and was incredibly bored. The movie is essentially a Rolling Stones concert featuring an entirely-too-old Mick and Keith belting out their tunes one more time for the sheer profit it provides. Guest appearances from Jack White and Christina Aguilera were the highlights, the rest just seemed a little sad. The movie did demonstrate however, that Scorsese is the most nebbishy Italian ever.

3. Not that there's anything wrong with it, but I have noticed lately that my single friends are an endangered species. Every week, at least 5 friends of mine celebrate some milestone and I have evidence on Facebook. Two friends had babies on Thursday, a college buddy got married on Friday and Sunday featured no less than one set of engagement photos, one set of wedding photos and one set of pregnant photos.
To my remaining single friends - please keep mentioning bad dates in your status updates and posting pictures of drunken cavorting. It balances everything out.

Hope these little vignettes satisfy your Shtetl Fabulous jones (if you had one in the first place) for the next few days. In the meantime, chag sameakh and enjoy Simchat Torah - the other Jewish St. Patrick's Day!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Proof of My College Minor

Whoever said getting a minor in film would be totally useless? Here's my second movie-related posts in a row; my U of A Media Arts professors would be so proud.

Earlier this week, I saw the newest teen dramedy that’s OK for Gen X adults to like too, “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.” Based on a novel written by a guy from Short Hills, New Jersey and his gal-pal, N&N is about two jilted teens who find each other and a shared love of music over the course of one very long night in New York City. My company for the film was great and I enjoyed the witty sarcasm that has become the acting trademark of both Michael Cera and Kat Dennings. If you haven't seen it yet, read the NY Times review here.

Ostensibly, “Nick and Norah” aims to capture what it means to be a teenager at this precise moment in time. Like so many teen movies of the past, “American Graffiti” and “Can’t Hardly Wait” instantly come to mind, music plays an integral role in the lives of the characters as they ramble from one adventure to another, forging nascent sexual identities and testing the limits of their alcohol tolerance.

Where N&N takes a major departure from its genre is in its unabashed portrayal of one character’s Jewish identity. (Coincidentally played by Dennings who is Jewish and whose real name is Katherine Litwack. Sorry girls, Cera, who played Jewish characters in both Juno and Superbad, is of Quebecois/Sicilian extraction.) Back in the 1980s, Brat Packers were categorically WASPy and devoid of overt religious or ethnic markers. In the 90s, teen movies acquiesced to the burgeoning diversity of American high schools by adding the token black or Asian character who generally remained in the background and certainly never got the guy/girl.

Now as the first decade of the 21st Century is winding down, we increasingly see explicit representations of minority cultures in our films and television shows... at least for the Jews. Orthodox rabbi cum author cum radio personality Shmuley Boteach had a brief program on TLC called "Shalom in the Home" wherein he counseled families on overcoming problems. He also calls himself America's Rabbi, this when Jews are only 2 percent of the population. VH1 featured a documentary called "So Jewtastic" back in 2005, an entire episode of "Entourage" centered on Yom Kippur observance and a new book called, Cool Jew is billed as the Preppy Handbook for the Semitic set.

So it should have come as no surprise when Norah of Nick and Norah began expounding on her interpretation of tikkun olam (Hebrew for repairing the world) to her non-Jewish paramour. Who knew an 18th Century mystic and the cornerstone of every Jewish youth group would come together in film so post-modern that the hetero male lead is a member of a queercore band and everyone is in love with a band that borders on Howard Hughesian reclusiveness?

In the movie, people replace the pieces in the broken vessels central to the notion of tikkun olam. Therefore, romantic encounters in effect help to repair the world by bringing more love into it (even if that love is for a band named Where's Fluffy). Double mitzvah indeed!

"Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist" may do little more for the Heebs than the Wailing Wall as blanket scene in "Garden State," but it's still a sweet film. And if it makes one Jewish kid in the audience feel a bit better about being a member of the Tribe, all the schmaltz seems worthwhile.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

When Climbing Out the Window Just Won't Do

You know her and you've seen her in action. From Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly in Breakfast at Tiffany's to Kate Hudson's ethereal groupie Penny Lane in Almost Famous and Natalie Portman's character in Garden State, she is there with her zany outfits, upbeat personality and irresistible cuteness. She's the Manic Pixie Dream Girl and film critic Nathan Rabin recently coined the term to describe this particular subgenre of cinematic female who is adorable, giggly and apparently loved by brooding men. In an interview on NPR he said of the MPDG, "they don't live lives, they don't have careers. They just frolick and have fun."

Rabin goes on further to assert that these young women (yes, they are always young and always women) primarily exist to enliven the protagonist, inspire him to action and help him along with a wink and smile rather than persuing her own interests. She is the classic muse, free of complication or depth. Generally, the viewer either falls head-over-heels in love with the girl or spends the remainder of the film plotting her demise.

My first reaction to hearing the NPR story was relief - finally there was a name for my extreme dislike of every character Kirsten Dunst has played. Then, I began to think about if and how the Manic Pixie Dream Girls might really function in the world. Sooner or later, cuteness fades and government cheese is simply lousy for your complexion. Eventually even the white knight wants someone to take care of him and my guess is that MPDGs can't cook.

There are some variations on the theme. There's the MPDG with deep flaws like Parker Posey's alcoholic in Party Girl or Drew Barrymore's entire career (on screen and off). We have the reluctant MPDG such as Winona Ryder in Reality Bites who inspires two men and doesn't know what to do with herself. There may be a Manic Pixie Dream Guy like Duckie from Pretty in Pink or Jason Schwartzman's Max Fischer in Rushmore.

As someone who would rarely be described as flighty, bubbly or fragile, I scoured my DVD collection and my Netflix queue for evidence of a counterpoint to the MPDG and I think I found her. She's Annie Savoy in Bull Durham. She's Barbara Bel Geddes as Midge in Vertigo. She's Frances McDormand or Janeane Garofalo in just about anything. She may not always get the guy or inspire a sonnet, but she frequently gets the last line. She is disarmingly real, multifaceted, unafraid of her own intelligence and confidence in her sexuality as a woman not a girl. At the end of the day, she doesn't even need an epithet to describe her. It's just not her style.

Though they sometimes irritate us, they inherently exist to endear us, which makes the MPDG incredibly hard to resist. Maybe it's because I relate more to the film's lead male who is a fellow writer, but I really enjoy watching Kate Hudson in Almost Famous. Not necessarily my all-time fave, but also never annoying. So who gets your vote for favorite Manic Pixie Dream Girl?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Just Say Ohm

Forced by economics and scheduling to skip my beloved West African dance class for a few months, I grappled with how to fill the void in my fitness regime. I'd already been dabbling with yoga in the comforts of my living room and after a little research I settled on a yoga special - 10 classes in five weeks - at a nearby studio.

Images of a svelter, super toned me swirled in my head as I drove to my first class. Having really only done "power" or vinyasa yoga, I figured this stint would replace a few cardio sessions, including the dance class. Much to my surprise, this studio specialized in Iyengar yoga, a style differentiated by its copious use of props in poses, meticulous attention to pose detail and its non-flow style. I instantly experienced buyers' remorse and mentally ran through my calendar as I tried to figure out if I could fit in cardio at my regular gym and hour-long yoga classes. Sure, it was the absolute antithesis to yogic principles like mind-body harmony, but what can I say, I'm a little Type A and I wouldn't mind losing a few pounds.

Throughout that first class, I felt awkward folding Mexican blankets to a new degree of precision, threading my body around a folding chair, holding a foam block between my thighs and stretching out over ropes. I yearned for the intense sweat sessions my dance class provided and I agonized as to how I would burn the remaining calories.

As the weeks went by, I Outlooked my yoga classes and made them work with time at the gym or hitting the pavement. I also let go of my apprehensions and threw myself into a totally different way of exercising my body. Did you know twists improve digestion and have the same effect as ab work? Did you know inversions improve circulation and get your heart beating fast, just like cardio?

Besides these factoids and a bit of Hindi, I learned all kinds of new tricks (like putting my palms together behind my back with the pinky fingers on my spine and the backs of my hands cupped by my shoulder blades). I improved my flexibility, balance and posture and even saw a bit more muscle tone in my calves, stomach and upper arms.

While I don't know if I will ever be able to sit and meditate for hours on end, I did acheive sufficient inner peace to write this post without deviating into satire and I found the unending depth of yoga to be incredibly comforting. Everyone has his/her place in every pose and every pose has the infinite capacity to challenge you. Just as I reveled in mastering shoulder stand, my teacher introduced a new variation that rocked my world. Namaste indeed.