The thing about youth web culture is that kids of every background will appropriate trends to fit their own lifestyles. It’s not so easy for fashion, music or even food. But a social media meme? It’ll tear across the Internet, equally amusing to young netizens regardless of gender, race or class. And if Internet access is allowed in the home, it will even find its way to the Orthodox.
Consider the animated GIF. It’s a retro image file type from way back in the early days of blogs — a low-resolution, quick burst of video. Though the technology was popular circa 1998, it’s making a comeback 15 years later. GIFs are usually used to comedic effect. The most popular sort is the “reaction GIF,” in which one posts a video snippet of a funny facial expression (usually a pop-culture reference) to convey an exaggerated form of one’s emotional response to news. The reaction GIF trend snowballed into a series of Tumblr “microblogs” that detail the joys, disappointments and idiosyncrasies of various youth sub-cultures and lifestyles: law school, fraternities, raves, summer camps and so on.
After seven seasons, “30 Rock” ends tonight on NBC. During its tenure, the show dropped Jewish references like mad, ranging from a crack about Monica Lewinsky joining JDate to contract negotiations that include “a 15% raise, a two-pic guarantee from Universal and time off for every Jewish holiday, no matter how ridiculous.” And of course, a Werewolf Bar Mitzvah.
But as a woman of a certain age, I always found myself drawn to the thoroughly modern and heroic character of Liz Lemon — and, because I have what some might consider entirely too much Jewish education, when I look at Liz, I can’t help but think of the concept of an “Eshet Chayil” or woman of valor, as described in the Hebrew poem of the same name.
I have always felt challenged by the “Eshet Chayil” poem, which was originally penned by King Solomon and which continues to be read in traditional homes by husbands to their wives before Shabbat dinner in praise for their good works. As a single woman, the references to a husband (“Her husband is known at the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land”) don’t define me. I don’t have children (“her children rise and praise her”), and I’ve never crafted and sold my own clothing (“she makes a cloak and sells it, and she delivers aprons to the merchant”). The tropes of what makes a valorous woman in Solomonic times, do not resonate with me today. I faced two obvious choices — abandon the poem, or reinterpret three non-consecutive quotes through a more contemporary, Liz Lemon lens. And so without further ado…