How I Found a Book I Didn’t Know I Was Looking For

When I was younger, around 13 maybe, my mom handed me a book. She gave it to me because the protagonist was a Jewish teenage girl, and it is not easy for a young Jewish girl to find books where she can see herself in the protagonist. It may have been a very good book, but I don’t know. I never read it.

Instead, I took one look at the back cover copy, put it on the shelf, glared at it, and never looked at it again. It was historical fiction, which one strike against it–I read enough historical fiction in school, and I didn’t want to read about what my grandmother’s life had been like. I wanted to read fantasy, or science fiction, or even realistic fiction–but set in the present, not the past.

It also mentioned the Holocaust. When I was little, I had owned several distinctly Jewish children’s books, but as I got older, books like that got harder to find, and what I did find was almost always about the Holocaust. By that age, most everything I heard about my people–on tv, in books, at school, everywhere that wasn’t at synagogue (a place I couldn’t go as much as I wanted), all I heard about was how terrible it was to be Jewish. How much everyone hated us. How we were victims who had to get rescued by other people. My parents spent my childhood trying to find me stories that didn’t put girls in that position, I didn’t want to be shoved into it now because of my ethnicity.

So I put the book away, and I never read it. And it was a long time before I found the book I was looking for, or even figured out exactly what it was. The complaints listed above I had not yet figured out how to put into words, I only knew that I didn’t want to read the book I’d been given, and that, for whatever reason, it made me feel very very angry.

Recently I met a woman named Shira Glassman. I learned that she was writing a series which might be exactly what I was looking for. Not only were the main characters Jewish, one of them was a lesbian. And also there was a dragon. I was very excited about the dragon. I quickly placed both the first book, The Second Mango, and its sequel, Climbing the Date Palm, near the top of my To Read list. In the next few weeks I’ll be reviewing these books, which have quickly become some of my favorites.

Why I Won’t be Watching Exodus: Gods and Kings

You’ve probably heard of the movie Exodus: Gods and Kings, which comes out on Friday.

I will not be reviewing this movie. I will not be watching this movie. I don’t need to do either of those things because the promotional photos and casting announcements tell me everything I need to know: The way the movie was made is fundamentally racist and erases both POC and Jews (and specifically Jews of color).

exodus

Image Description: A small figure stands in front of a giant wave. “From the director of Gladiator/Exodus/Gods and Kings” is written across the top in all caps. “December 12” is written at the bottom, much smaller, also in all caps. Image from IMDB.com

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Things That Are Actually Satire: Dinosaurs

Series: Things That Are Actually Satire

Spoiler Warning: Dinosaurs (Hurling Day (S1), What Sexual Harris Meant (S2), Nuts to War (S2), Swamp Music (S3), Changing Nature (S4), Working Girl (S4, unaired))

Note: If you want to watch this series, it’s available on DVD and Netflix. Both place the unaired episodes after the finale, Changing Nature, so it might be a good idea to skip the finale and watch it after you’ve finished the rest of the series.

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Image Description: A grinning green dinosaur puppet  (“Earl”) holds a (much smaller, pink) baby dinosaur puppet (“The Baby”) on its shoulders. “Dinosaurs” is written in all caps across the bottom of the image, with the ‘o’ replaced by a dinosaur egg. Image is from IMDB.com.

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Things That Aren’t Actually Satire (And Why it Maybe Doesn’t Matter, Anyway)

I have always been a fan of satire. For quite a while in high school Gulliver’s Travels was one of my favorite books, despite the horrid third section that people sometimes pretend doesn’t exist (this may be because the first time I read it all the way through I was reading Asimov’s annotation, and the fact that he spent most of that section making snarky comments in the margins made the whole thing much more bearable). I also grew up watching Dinosaurs, a television show from the nineties that I only recently realized is actually a fantastic example of modern satire.

There is a trend, however, whether recent or not I don’t know, for people to make offensive jokes and perpetuate stereotypes under the guise of being satirical. There are a few problems with this.

First, what they are doing is often not actually satire.

Second, if it is satire, then that doesn’t make it less offensive or harmful. Satire is used as a criticism; if what you are criticizing is marginalized groups, it can still technically be satire, but that doesn’t make your criticism valid. Calling your hatred satire also doesn’t make it criticism. If you are targeting marginalized groups, calling your hate (or your hate-infused “criticism”) “satire” doesn’t make you anti-establishment or anti-majority (and of course, you can be anti-establishment without being particularly progressive). South Park is maybe one of the strongest examples of “satire” being used to excuse bigotry, in my opinion. A recent episode targeted trans individuals. I will admit I did not watch it, but I do know that it resulted in a lot of anxiety and an increase in bullying for some trans people I know.

Similarly, people will often excuse slurs and other types of speech attacking marginalized groups with phrases like “not bowing to political correctness”. The idea is the same: that somehow they are the ones defying oppressors, that they are being somehow fresh and progressive by regurgitating the same hate speech that people have heard a thousand times before. That they are opposing an oppressive status quo, when in fact they are supporting the oppressive systems that are in place. But the part in Gulliver’s Travels where Gulliver visits Japan isn’t magically better because Swift was writing a satire, and no matter how many times you say that you are being satirical or fighting censorship, your bigotry is still bigotry, and it is still hurting people. If you want an example of this phenomenon, go read just about any comments section–it’ll come up eventually. Over, and over, and over again.

Satire is a useful tool for political and societal criticism. But it is only satire if it is actually criticizing something, and being criticism does not somehow protect something from being wrong or offensive.

So, with all of this in mind, on December 8th I will be posting “Things that Are Actually Satire: Dinosaurs”.