I spent much of the day at Nextbook’s Jews and Power: New York Festival of Ideas and, though I’m guessing I wasn’t supposed to leave with “soulgasms” on the mind, that’s just what happened.
The second session I attended was Sex, Power, and the Holocaust Film. (By the way, kudos to Nextbook for using the Oxford comma.) You would think there would have been many scandalous, shocking, upsetting, disturbing moments in a panel that examined the intersection of pornography, sex, and the Holocaust. The discussion started off easily enough – we were shown clips from films (Black Book, The Producers (the number “Springtime for Hitler”), and Storytelling), images from Nazi-approved art and post-Holocaust exhibitions, and newspaper and magazine prints. These media snippets were often racy, usually naked, often insulting and derogatory, but, the presenters argued, above all were obscene.
We investigated the meaning of that word: obscene. Dr. Dagmar Herzog argued that the obscenity was the mass murders, not sex or sexuality. She backed up her argument by showing images from a 1960s art exhibit (put together by lefty, socialist, reimmigrants ) that juxtaposed images of the superficially beautiful or sexy Nazism with those of the horrors of the third Reich. Examples included photos of statues of nude men, next to piles of skulls; a photo of naked Jewish women waiting in line for “inspection,” next to a photo of a mass grave. No one seemed to take issue with this definition of obscene, or its application to the Holocaust. Claude Lanzmann, director of Shoah, was quoted as having said that Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List was obscene, for having shown actors in the roles of victims in the Holocaust. The question left unanswered, but as good food for thought, was whether or not it was obscene to just show these images. Possibly also for having removed imagination from the equation of learning about, remembering, and understanding the Holocaust.
We discussed the role of the churches during the lead up to the Holocaust, during the Holocaust, and in the years following. How, at first, they supported the Nazi views of sex and sexuality – but later, after the war, revised their statements. All wrapped up in this were topics of homosexuality, abortion, contraceptives, and pre-martial sex. Not entirely surprisingly, this led to a comparison of the contemporary Christian Right. Herzog took a none too radical view that the religious right presents as moral, but is in fact “hideous:” People are easily manipulated by sex, so it wasn’t difficult for the Right to persuade people to vote and donate based on homophobia, before moving on to blocking HIV prevention in Africa, and then making teens and young women feel bad about their sexuality. According to the religious right, the best sex includes “orgasms, emotional intimacy, and G-d’s presence,” together known as “soulgasms,” which can only be achieved in Christian, heterosexual, married relationships. That these statements aren’t dissimilar to those that the churches adopted in post-war Germany is frightening. In response to an audience member’s question asking her to defend her statements on this topic, Herzog replied, “I will mock people who dangle ‘soulgasms’ when they’re really hurting human beings.”
And so, though I should have learned of power, both cultural and political, the message I will keep with me from today’s three sessions is soulgasms. (Other sessions attended were Culture, Taste, and Power, which was pretty interesting, and Authority and Revolt, which unfortunately felt like a therapy session for the two panelists. All six sessions will be available for viewing/listening in the next week or two over on Nextbook.)
To conclude, soulgasms. (Seriously, someone at the Family Research Council got paid to come up with that. (Do we think they’d hire a feygele?))