Stereotypes, canards, stock figures — the whole sorry business of labeling people wholesale rather than piecemeal — die hard. Just when you think they have gone away, into a historian’s drawer, they resurface, assuming a new lease on life. Neighborhoods come and go, people come and go, governments rise and fall, fashions wax and wane, but stereotypes endure.
I’m given to such gloomy thoughts as a result of watching television or, more to the point, the slew of episodes that constitute the universe of “Princesses: Long Island,” the latest reality show, courtesy of Bravo. This program leaves me sputtering and in a state of high dudgeon — yet I can’t turn away. Apparently, I’m not the only one: If comments on the blogosphere are any indication, these princesses court a very large audience.
“Princesses: Long Island” follows a group of single Jewish women in their late 20s as they fret, pout, strut about in exceedingly high heels and very short dresses, drink like sailors and talk like them, too. Fixated on their bodies, especially their “boobs,” they spend an inordinate amount of time getting dressed and undressed, shopping, texting and worrying about their dwindling marital prospects.
Some of the girls talk of finding a good Jewish man, but that’s as far as it goes. Jewishness as an informed religious, cultural, ethnic or existential posture doesn’t seem to register much with any of them. Jewishness is more of an aesthetic preference, on the order of “tall, dark and handsome.” Some of the girls, most especially she who is known as “Chanel” — I kid you not — like to toss off tired and stale Yiddishisms (“Oy, I’m shvitzing”) and to hold the occasional Sabbath dinner in which copious quantities of Manischewitz (Manischewitz?!) are downed.
Otherwise, being Jewish does not take up much room in their lives. True, each show opens with an obligatory and perfunctory reference to a cutesy Jewish folk saying or proverb, but that conceit is a strategic one, designed to burnish the group’s Jewish credentials. It doesn’t ring true. These girls wouldn’t know a midrash from a bubbe-mayse.
Equally fabulous, in the literal sense of the term, is their economic situation. Now and then, there’s talk of being “entrepreneurish”: Amanda promotes a product of her own devising, which she calls a “drink hanky”: a swath of fabric, usually a leopard print, that wraps around a frosty alcoholic drink in lieu of a napkin.
Joey, Amanda’s bosom buddy, has come up with an equally daft proposition: a combination breath freshener and lip-gloss, which she calls Kissamint. Apart from these two aspiring businesswomen, no one else appears to hold down a steady, let alone a demanding and responsible, job, or to concern herself in the least with finances. They live on air — or, better still, on their parents’ dime.
If you haven’t seen the show or do not know someone who has, you might think I’m making up things as I go along. I wish I could say that I am pulling your leg, but, alas, I’m not. Chanel, Amanda and Joey are no figments of my imagination or simulacra of the Jewish American Princess, the so-called JAP of yesteryear.