I’m having lunch at Jinky’s on Los Angeles’s Sunset Boulevard, trying to explain to a deeply dimpled waitress that our funny holiday when I can’t eat bread is finally over and, yes, please, I’d like the garlic toast with my veggie chili today — when I notice an odd pair of smiles staring at me. From above, and up on high.
Across the street, looking down over Sunset, is an odd billboard, scarcely noticeable amid all the glitz. It’s an ad for JDate, the online dating Web site catering to Jewish singles and the relatives who force them to try it out.
The billboard is at Sunset and Alta Loma Road, drop dead in the center of West Hollywood. A wave in a sea of billboards — one in a succession of ads with nearly nudes pushing Gap bikinis and Gucci bags and Tiffany silver and Vivid Video porn — but one that manages to stand out, by simple virtue of not fitting in.
Sex is what sells on Sunset. Sometimes literally, but for the most part in smoldering, chesty billboards. Washboard abs and pouty lips and sweat-soaked hair: These are the tools used to peddle Los Angeles’s current obsessions to tourists willing to brave afternoon traffic.
Except now, thanks to JDate, among all these high breasts and acute jaw lines comes this fascinatingly, well… Jewy couple. A guy and a girl. Dark hair, dark eyes, original noses. Unapologetically cliché. Wholesomely posing together as a widely smiling success story of online JDating.
Of course they’re an attractive couple. He kind of looks like Mark Feuerstein — if you left him in the dryer too long. She looks like the pretty girl you asked out at Camp Ramah who said she’d think about it, went and talked to her girlfriends, then came back and told you no.
They wouldn’t look at all out of place in Manhattan, but in L.A., faces like theirs stand out. (Hell, in L.A., Jews look like Tori Spelling, who you can see showing off her no-longer-Semitic good looks on a billboard just a few blocks off.) Together they are the polar opposite of, say, the small-featured wood nymphs lounging for Emporio Armani above nearby Roxbury Drive.
As a creative advertisement, it rates pretty low, relying too heavily on flat design, a B-grade pun (“Why is this site different from all other sites?”) and a pair that clings more like siblings than like lovers. It’s the preposterous placement that makes it notable.
This is hardly the Yidfest of Fairfax. West Hollywood is a community of underpaid assistants, the happily gay and the Russian mob. And Sunset Boulevard is where culture comes to pop — the Times Square of L.A. And I mean the old Times Square, back when it was seedy and proudly smutty.
Yet in the middle of it all floats this staunch pronouncement: Here, in the very hot heart of the mainstream, a subculture is attempting to perpetuate itself.
And there’s a lot to fight against if you’re a single Jew in L.A. With all these ads for insanely ideal women, a guy who drives past the sizzling-hipped Guess girl one too many times might start to think he actually can get a girl like that. She probably lives here. And if she’s spending her time in West Hollywood, she’s probably short on straight guys.
The strange reality of Los Angeles is that… it’s not impossible. A guy who looks like Mark Feuerstein left in the dryer could get a girl like that if he got invited to the right party.
Now here comes our big Jewy JDate sign, screaming its obvious message: “C’mon, guys — we know this is a town full of hot shiksa tail. But don’t forget, you might still like a girl who looks like this!”
No surprise then that our girl is pictured clutching her catch as if protecting her nice Jewish boy from YMI Jeanswear’s blazing blonde just hovering over her shoulder.
At the same time, this offers a rare bit of hope for the girls. As if to say, “Look, we know you want a guy like Mr. Abercrombie, but he’s really gay. Plus, sleeping with coworkers didn’t work out so great last time. But you know what? There are still good guys out there. They look like this guy. So you may as well date a Jew like your mom wants. Now just pay your $26.99 a month for the premium package and take your pick.”
Yes, it’s just an ad for a product — and a mockable product at that. But JDate’s billboard comes as the Jewish equivalent of a church’s cross warmly aglow across the street from a strip club, offering those who are about to stray a better option. Or at least one their moms would approve of.
Michael Green is a screenwriter living in Santa Monica, Calif.