Pop Culture


(Caveat! Those who are rhetorically minded will detect a paradox here early on.)

A few years ago I was at a park playing with my children when a man approached me and said kindly, “Are you a Jehovah’s Witness?” Not sure whether I should be proud or frightened, I said, “No.  Um.  Why do you ask?” “I don’t know,” he said. “Just the way you are dressed.  And you look very happy.” I do think I followed it up with what any good Christian-raised boy would do, a bit of gospel clarity to hopefully not entirely waste such an odd opportunity. Clearly, though, we Christians are not the only ones who appear different.

The scent of “difference” and religiosity is not always a direct trail to the most important sacrifice that ever occurred on the cross at Golgotha. As fallen humans our senses can easily fall prey to the appearance of things. This is not to say that we will not “be known by our fruit.” We will (hopefully are) but it sure looks like there’s some pretty ripe—organic even!—fruit being grown in unsown fields. Thus, those who kindly peddle heterodoxy have a kind of magnetic charm to them.

So I was not very surprised to find out later that Brandon Flowers, lead singer of the band  The Killers, is a Mormon. I know because I watched his “And I’m a Mormon” video.  There is something oddly interesting about the fellow. Maybe it’s the music he writes; maybe it’s the post-U2 style that fills a void for any graduate of the post-modern era of the 80s and 90s that leaves us wondering just what in the world we are supposed to listen to; or maybe it’s the fact that he has bird feathers glued to his leather jacket, and it actually kind of makes you think he’s cool, even as you want to punch him, a similar response that one may have to Rivers Cuomo from Weezer. (You’re almost sure he was that guy next to you in Geometry.) Maybe, it’s authenticity. BF’s a rock star. He knows it, and he’s okay with it. (Oh, and he’s also a Mormon.)

Then, there are the Jews.  Moment magazine (to which we will often refer on this site as a barometer of modern Jewish culture) constantly has Jewish leaders claiming boldly and proudly, “We are Jews!  We are Jews!” As we have noted, this often allows them to claim  whatever they believe, even if it’s false (and some writers don’t even care whether what they claim is true or not) on the basis of such a strong cultural identity. We are Jews. This is chutzpah. I have a hard time envisioning believers boldly claiming anything on the basis of “We are Christians.” Jews, in response to being mistreated forever, are plucky, spirited, brave, and sure of who they are—even if that only means they are sure “We are Jews!”

Are we Christians sure of who we are? We have more reason than any other—the Mormons, the Jews, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Brandon Flowers—to be, but our “contemporary worship” looks more like we are pretending we are someone else rather than ourselves. Our confidence looks little like Paul on Mars Hill. With tails between legs, we run from our connection to the source of confidence, Jesus Christ, in search of looking more like BF, or some other cultural icon sure to finally pull in the younger set and give us the numbers and confidence we long for. We run from the positions that have made us so unpopular to a world that claims (like so many modern and secular Jews) that you can believe whatever you want and it’s all the same. Maybe even, we run from ourselves. A visit to any Christian bookstore will provide a dizzying number of books about what Christians are “supposed” to be like. Men are not sensitive enough, or rugged enough. Children are too worldly, or not worldly enough. Women are not liberated enough, or not as submissive as they should be. From these titles, it seems pretty clear that there is a crisis of authenticity here. So be it. We are to be in the world and not of the world, and this is never easy or static, but I do long for the day when a person may scorn me for being a Christian: not because I am trying to act like someone else, not because I have quick answers for everything, not because I am feigning happiness, but because my life and words and actions seem to reflect the propositional claims of Christ so clearly that the choice is clear: God or mammon. If this happens, bring it on, and I pray for the grace to glue some feathers to my shoulders and make it look they’ve always been there.



Jerry Seinfeld, Ross Geller from Friends, Dr. Joel Fleischman from Northern Exposure, and even Krusty the Clown:  It’s worth noting that American Judaism has become a staple of the American cinematic experience, and in most cases, these characters are largely self-deprecating.  The recent series, The Goldbergs, provides yet another example of a Jewish family featured in a TV series.  Each of these (and the hundreds of other examples) provides an opportunity to reflect on how the Jewish experience in America is viewed—by both Jew and Gentile alike.  

You know “Freeze-Frame.”  You know “Centerfold.”  You may even know some of their older singles, such as “First I Look at the Purse” or “Till the Walls Come Tumblin’ Down.”  But did you know that five members of the six-man J. Geils Band were Jewish?  Indeed, lead singer Peter Wolf, keyboardist Seth Justman, bassist Danny Klein, drummer Stephen Jo Bladd, and harmonica player “Magic Dick” Salwitz were all Jews.  The band’s only Gentile was guitarist and namesake Jay Geils, who passed away last month in Groton, Massachusetts, at age 71.

The “Jewish Rolling Stones,” as they were often called in their heyday, or the “J. Geils Jews Band,” as they jokingly referred to themselves as a parody of their original name, the J. Geils Blues Band, was known for their hard-driving rhythm and blues style, their wild concerts, and their turn to pop with their album Freeze-Frame in 1981, but they also had a knack for feel-good rock n’ roll, both covers and originals.  Lesser-known “Just Can’t Wait” from their 1980 album Love Stinks is one of their originals that features a guitar solo in Geils’ (the guitarist’s) clean, high-energy style.  You’ll notice that the album’s cover art is reminiscent of simpler times as well:



According to Wikipedia, IMDb(The Internet Movie Database) “is an online database of information related to films, television programs and video games.”  According to Wikipedia, similar to Wikipedia, anyone can post or edit IMDb.  The content there can be, therefore, erroneous, creating a somewhat Kafkaesque situation. (Wikipedia says that another site is like itself, and therefore may contain tampered or false facts)

Nevertheless, they have created a list of the top 100 Jewish directors.  Considering that Jews make up just .2 percent of the world’s population, it is incredible how many blockbusters have come from Jewish directors.  Test your film acumen and take our Jewish Directors Quiz.  Then, check out the full lineup:  http://www.imdb.com/list/ls008382443/

Match the movie with the director:

Woody Allen                                                  To Be or Not to Be

Sidney Lumet                                                Casablanca

Stanley Kubrick                                             All About Eve

Michael Curtiz                                               Annie Hall

Milos Forman                                               Saving Private Ryan

Ernst Lubitsch                                              One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Fritz Lang                                                     The Shining

Steven Spielberg                                         M

Joseph L. Mankiewicz                                 12 Angry Men

High interest rates, wide bell bottoms, dyn-o-mite disco—is there much good to say about the 70s?  At least it can be said that out of that decade came the proliferation of the plucky, the bold, the pillowing pillar of hair: the Afro. Moment magazine’s Svetlana Shkolnikova chronicles(January/February 2011) the genesis and exodus of the “Jewfro” in “The Jewfro Grows Up and Out.”  First dubbed (unsuccessfully) the Isro (a mixture of Israel and Afro), the characteristic long, thick, unruly, and curly locks of many Jews came to be known as the “Jewfro.”  Embracers of the “let it be” hair philosophy include Jewish pop culture faves Dylan, Garfunkel, Streisand, and modern comic youths Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill.  Seen in the 60s as a visual symbol of literal liberation that many African-Americans felt, the Afro extended up and out as did the God-given rights and freedoms of its wearers.  Some Jews (many of whom joined blacks in the fight for their civil rights) felt the same about their own hair and freedoms.  Shuly Rubin Schwartz, a professor of Jewish history, says that Jewish women who long sought to curb curls and kink finally began to ask, “Why are we sitting under the hair dryer?”  “Thus,” Schwartz says, “the Jewfro was born.”


Don't know Judith Leiber? Google her and you'll find some really, really expensive handbags. You will also find a woman, who, now in her nineties, looks like she doesn’t quite fit with the culture of fashion and runways in which her handbags have remained a dominant part.

A Hungarian Holocaust survivor, Leiber’s story is quaintly told in this video, where this creative dynamo (her husband and she) is quietly underscored by their love of art, gardening, handbags—and one another.

http://www.leibermuseum.org/  (link to video)