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Monday, December 30, 2013

The subtext of pajama boy

by David Atkins

Jay Michaelson has an interesting and incisive take on the right-wing freakout over "pajama boy." Before we get into Michaelson, let's take a look at some of the conservative propaganda out there:

From Pajamas Media:

From the Cornyn v. Stockman primary:

Flyover culture:

Get it? Now, to Michaelson:

The Right went apoplectic, calling Pajama Boy “a metrosexual in a plaid onesie,” “an insufferable man-child,” and various other vaguely sexist and homophobic epithets. Apparently, real men don’t wear pajamas.

Or glasses. What’s interesting about the Right’s freakout about men who don’t measure up to the standards of the 1950s is how Pajama Boy’s obvious Jewishness has been subsumed by these other characteristics.

Yes, Virginia, Pajama Boy is a member of the tribe. Look at him. Pale Ashkenazic skin, Jew-fro’d black curls, Woody Allen specs. Even the smart-ass expression on his face screams of the Wise Son from the Passover Seder.

Parenthetically, the model himself is one Ethan Krupp, an Organizing for America staffer who is, in fact, Jewish. But whether Krupp himself is circumcised or not, Pajama Boy is semiotically Jewish, even stereotypically so.

In fact, Pajama Boy stands at a centuries-old nexus of anti-Semitism and misogyny. As scholars including Sander Gilman and Daniel Boyarin have shown, Jewish men have been accused of being unmanly for hundreds of years – including by other Jews, such as the early Zionists, whose muscular Judaism was a direct response to diaspora Jewish emasculation. This is an old, old motif.

The Jew is the Other is the Effeminate is the Liberal. He is the urbanite, the parasite, the usurer, the lawyer. His effeminacy corrupts the Volk or the Heartland or the real American values. He wouldn’t know how to drive a pick-up truck if it was on cruise control. And he definitely votes for Obama.

Really, what’s “metrosexual” about Pajama Boy, anyway? The fact that he’s wearing pajamas? Drinking a hot beverage? No – it’s the way in which he so perfectly fits the Right’s image of the liberal Jewish girly-man. There’s a real “masculinity,” and then there’s whatever it is that Pajama Boy is embodying. (For the record, I have no idea whether Krupp is gay or straight. Neither do his haters.)

Needless to say, in this brave new world of Eric Cantor and the Republican Jewish Coalition (whose executive director makes over half a mil – must be a real man), the Jewishness of Pajama Boy is conspicuously absent from the vitriol. But as soon as you see it, you can’t un-see it. Which makes you wonder what the Review’s Charles Cooke – in another line conspicuously omitted by the discussions of this issue – meant when he said “the advertising machine behind the Obama administration seems not to really know what normal human beings are like.”

Normal human beings are gentiles. They spit or smoke tobacco, they speak plainly, and they are manly men who don’t wear pajamas, don’t raise their eyebrows, don’t support affordable healthcare, and definitely don’t flay their arms around like Woody Allen. Or Shylock. Real men. Not Jews.

Whether or not the Pajama-Boy bashers are unconsciously anti-Semitic or not, I don’t know. Consciously, they are against everything “Judaism” stands for, at least as construed by its enemies: outsiderness, cosmopolitanism, liberalism, a progressive rather than nativist agenda, an opposition to the notion that there is one kind of “normal” person, a sympathy for the underdog and the immigrant as opposed to the successful and the privileged, and, yes, a rejection of a certain gendered, masculinist understanding of justice wherein the strong survive and the weak are trampled underfoot like the untermenschen they are.

That fascistic outlook has long been a part of far-right conservatism – whether in revisionist Zionism, contemporary French/Hungarian/Greek nationalism, American Republicanism, or German fascism. Real men are strong, and the weak don’t deserve our pity. Let them get sick for lack of healthcare; they probably deserve it. And as for women, and the parasitic “Jewish” men who resemble them? They are to be suppressed and domesticated, not empowered. Patriarchy is good. Sexism is natural. Get out of your onesies, America. And put on your jackboots.

Conservative activist Ali Akbar groused on twitter yesterday that people really don't like conservatives, and are "taught to hate them." Given the politics and tactics of the American Right that statement is a little rich. But insofar as it has a kernel of truth, it's this: starting in the late 1940s the world realized that setting up a culture war between Christian nativist conservative gun-loving Anglo-Saxon child-bride-marrying testosterone factories on one side, and minorities, independent women, and cosmopolitan, liberal secular "outsiders" on the other might not be such a good idea. We've seen that movie before, and our reaction was to say "never again."

But with conservatives, the old saying is apt: Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose.