“So, what are you watching?”
Most of us can answer this immediately, and probably have answered it at least once in the past thirty days. We cheerfully divulge to any listeners our current entertainment addictions, whether it’s binging over 10 seasons of Criminal Minds in less than a month, or restraining yourself to only one episode of Queer Eye a day, or frustratedly waiting for a new The Bold Type each week…or all of the above, in my case.
It’s an innocuous question; we ask it of everyone. Whether it’s the topic of a corporate icebreaker or a check-in with an old friend, we use what we’re watching or reading as a way to gauge the person in front of us. The ubiquity of the question hints at just how impactful media is in our culture today. We were consuming a lot of media before COVID-19, and the quarantine has only exacerbated our desire for fresh content – be it television shows, books, movies, podcasts, TikTok videos, Instagram poems – the list goes on. Everyone consumes media, which makes it so universal, but everyone consumes different media. For a seemingly innocent inquiry, what someone’s watching or reading reveals a lot.
The media we consume doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Sure, we might watch a television show or read a book alone, but then we go and talk about it. There are online forums dedicated to pulling apart plot points in sci-fi novels, watch parties for The Bachelor to discuss the favorite (or, more likely, least favorite) contestants, and entire Bumble bios composed of quotes from The Office. When it comes to thinking about media today, there’s two main aspects to consider: consumption and connection. In other words, what are we watching, and how are we talking about it?
They say you are what you eat; the same goes for the media we consume. That’s why we’re able to deduce a good deal about a person just from their favorite sources of entertainment. What someone chooses to watch (or read, or hear) reflects values, interests, hobbies, fantasies, and passions. Basically, we consume particular media because we like it. Successful media grabs our attention, pulls us out of our lives, and inserts us into a story. The more invested we feel, the more enjoyable the media.
Then we take the media we consume and share it with the world. We form connections with people around a common interest. I’ve developed friendships with people simply because we read the same genre of books. Despite never reading the same book at the same time, our mutual respect and appreciation for the genre kindled the foundation of a friendship. If media reflects our personalities and experiences, then it makes sense that talking about it opens up an avenue for real human connection.
If we consume media because we like it, and we talk about media to connect with people similar to us, then it makes sense for Jews to want to consume Jewish media. We see ourselves in it and it creates a commonality to connect with other Jews. Any story about a Jew, or by a Jew, or involving Jewish practices, is a Jewish story. With the proliferation of entertainment in the past decade, there are tons of Jewish stories out there that we might not immediately think of as Jewish because it’s not religiously infused or historically based. But that’s a narrow view of what makes a story Jewish, and these modern representations and characters are just as instrumental to our Jewish identity as the classics – because it’s what we’re consuming.
If it’s not obvious yet, I’m someone who loves television and books – and really any form of performative entertainment. I’m also a young Jewish woman in D.C. who has never felt Jewish enough. Joining youth groups or attending Shabbat services in college always made me feel insecure, because it seemed like everyone else knew so much more than me about Judaism. But Judaism, and living a Jewish life, isn’t just about the texts, prayers, or rituals. It’s about connecting with other Jews in whatever way we can.
Media helped me understand that. Seeing characters who wore their Judaism in a range of ways taught me there wasn’t a singular nor correct way to be Jewish. It also gave me exposure to Jewish characters and stories that weren’t defined by their religion. I saw stories where Judaism was woven into characters’ lives and not just as something they did on the weekends.
I’m excited to talk about these stories with you – the ones we might not even call Jewish stories because they’re not about Judaism. It’s vital that we consume a diverse selection of Jewish stories to broaden our horizons and that we talk about these stories to strengthen our bonds as strangers, friends, families, and Jews. In the coming weeks, I’ll be discussing a popular television show, book, or movie on GatherDC’s blog and exploring what makes it a Jewish story. I’m hoping you’ll see that any story with Jews can become a Jewish story with the right perspective.
Keep checking back on GatherDC.org/blog for the latest!
About the author: Ariel Kravitz lives in Arlington, Virginia, where she works in product management and finance. In her free time, you can catch her lounging in her bean bag and attempting the daily crossword. She tweets from @arielkrav.
The views and opinions expressed in this blog and on this website are solely those of the original authors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the organization GatherDC, the GatherDC staff, the GatherDC board, and/or any/all contributors to this site.