Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Ideology of Jewish Tea

Zizek offhandedly observed that The Catholic Church's culture of pedophilia was so pervasive that if a straight male became a priest later in life after marriage and children he would still become a pedophile.

As a descendant of Catholics and a UD Flyer xlinebacker I should be offended. Yet there is something about this statement that rings true to me. As a teenager unfamiliar with the culture of Catholicism I enrolled at the University of Dayton (Marianist Catholic) in 1988. The jokes I heard at that time, before the sex scandals broke, indicated that the pedophilia of the priests was simply an accepted shortcoming of the Catholic educational system. For example, my girlfriend came from a devout Catholic family of five children, all of whom attended Catholic school. Their father, who also attended Catholic school, used to tell a joke: "Let me show you some wrestling moves: this is called the half nelson, this is called the full nelson, and this is called the Father Nelson (at which point the victim of the joke, who is already in a full nelson, was bent over and subjected to a few playful pelvic thrusts".

The first time I heard this joke I remember thinking "but as you tell this joke three of your children are in the institutions you're scandalizing, does that mean you don't really believe it?" In any event there is an ideological component to these revelations. Zizek's jokes always make for an entertaining lecture but they also demonstrate the truth of the culture. As he often points out, one can only know for sure that a friend is a true friend if a racial, ethnic or religious stereotype is allowed. If your friend is black and you are white and you can call him a "nigger" and he doesn't get mad then he is a true friend.

I was hoping Zizek was not planning to try this theory out on Dr. West when they met recently. But this brings me back to Father Nelson. I don't think Rita's dad would have told me that joke had I been black, or Arab, or even Mexican. Because I was a white Flyer linebacker he could safely assume that I was "one of us" and it was OK to tell me this wildly inappropriate anecdote.

In the Soviet Union, as in Yugoslavia according to Zizek, ethnic stereotyping was widely accepted. My wife was Armenian and she laughingly told me that Armenians were liars, Georgians were womanizers, Ukrainians could not think straight after lunch when all the blood rushed from their brain to their stomach, and Jews were penny pinchers. As Americans we had grown up in the 70's and 80's in a culture that was not so open about these things. My wife used to love to tell the story of the American Jewish girl who was morbidly offended at he term "Jewish Tea".

We love to drink our tea in Russia. It is the catalyst for conversation much like beer is in midwestern America. When Russians make tea they put loose leaves in a small teapot and then put boiling water in and allow it to steep. The very strong tea is then diluted with hot water and this way each person makes her tea to the strength she prefers. When the little pot runs out a second pot can be made by either putting more hot water in the existing leaves (this is called 'Jewish method'/'po-evrayski') or the teapot can be cleaned out and restocked with fresh leaves.

Logistically it's much easier to do it po-evrayski and if a lively converstaion is going then the host might ask "po-evrayski?" which means 'Ok if I don't make a whole new pot right now and just pour more water in the old stuff'? So like all good Jews we knew the word 'evrayski' and this girl overheard my wife say it and began questioning her about it: "what does it mean Jewish tea? Why is that Jewish? Are you saying we're cheap?"

My wife started laughing and this was too much for the Jewish girl who 'made a scandal', as they say in Russia, and left in a huff. I was left, as the lone American now present, to explain her actions. I began with the basic difference in Russian and American cultures as regards ethnicities. Using my personal experience I said that I had an Irish uncle who used to call my Dad a 'dumb Polack' and it always made me angry. My French girlfriend told me later that she couldn't understand the 'dumb Polack' stereotype because in Europe Poles are considered highly intelligent what with Copernicus, Chopin, Joseph Conrad and Marie Curie.

Growing up American we were infected with the American ethnic stereotypes about Poles: big, strong, dumb, and virile. As we came later in the European migration pattern than the Irish, English, German and Dutch we were in the working class jobs longer. Malcolm X even noted in his autobiography that he and his friends used to walk over the bridge to "fuck the Polish chicks". So the stereotyping of the Poles in America was economic as much as ethnic. My Irish uncle was a lawyer and no doubt looked down on his lowly Polish brother in law who was a mere military officer.

We were crazy smart in my family, my dad had majored in math and business and we had a very intellectual culture at home. My mom was an English teacher so proper speech was required when discussing politics, religion, aviation and cars around the nightly dinner table. My dad was a 'lapsed Catholic'. We went to whatever Protestant service the base chaplain held and it varied widely. In Germany the chaplain was a Mormon until he got called back to Salt Lake City for bangin' his secretary and his replacement was a Methodist or Presbytarian.

Our ideology was diluted by real life, Poles were dumb but we were smart, Mormons were super uptight except for our pastor. Our baby sitters were Mormon, black American, old, white and German so we escaped our childhood with few stereotypes. Thus Rita's dad viewed me as a Polish Catholic when in fact I knew almost nothing about either culture.

My imagined Polish Catholicism privileged me to an inside look at the Catholic culture I'd never known. I still marvel to this day that the Catholics were telling jokes about Father Nelson long before the outside world knew he even existed. In Zizek's ideology the Christians are the atheists and the Atheists are the believers. The Catholic priests who were charged with the care of the children were openly acknowledged by their parents to be pedophiles. Did parents really believe this to be true when they decided to put their children in Catholic schools and how do Zizekian theories of ideology play into this?

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