the spiritual and the superficial

I make no claims to be other than someone who has spent hours of classroom time, both in my pedagogical practices and in seminar discussions, trying to find ways to work America’s Next Top Model into the conversation

“Guys? Don’t you think that the leveling impetus of the horizontally-configured nation state is a bit like Tyra and Co. trying to teach water-polo playing Ann from cycle three about looking appropriately ‘model-ly?’ Because it’s all about homogeneity and the rhematic process of standardization? Just me, then?”

The anthropology of religion and spirituality, or its contemporary counterpart, secularism, is something I only know a bit about. I’m certainly interested in the ideas of performing ‘sincerity’ or ‘belief’ as ideologically motivated practices, but I merely dabble.  Same with popular works on the topic. My mother once lent me a copy of Anne Lamott’s Traveling Mercies : Some Thoughts on Faith, and I hurled it across the room after about thirty-odd pages. Not that she can’t write, but because the whole subject matter made me feel dirty and twitchy and profoundly uncomfortable. Certainty must be a nice thing (Pascal said as much), but it’s not something I share.

I’ve been thinking about the religious impulse again courtesy of two very different women: Kelly Cutrone (PR whiz, admirer of predatory pack mentality, and a caustic verbal squeegee to the torrent of unrelenting vapid bullshit of shows like The Hills and The City) and Elizabeth Gilbert, whose memoir Eat, Pray, Love was recommended to me by my mother, and at least half a dozen other people.

Both are good reads, and address the whole issue of belief, understood rather loosely in Cutrone’s case, in the modern, secular, and psychically fragmented modern world. Gilbert’s book is a three-parter, with a extended stay in an Indian ashram bracketed on both sides by her narrative of feasting in Italy and falling in love in Bali. Cutrone’s is more of a memior-cum-guide-for-young-professional women, and it’s more all over the place, structurally, to boot. Either one would make a nice addition to your summer reading list, if you don’t horribly disdain popular culture. (Which, for the record, I don’t).

I particularly love Cutrone’s book because she talk about cultivating detachment, a vital lesson from Buddhist teaching, and applies her particular take on it to doling out savvy career advice. I would read this a million times over rather than suffer through even one time-waste of a Glamour column on “How to get ahead in the workplace.” Plus, she definitely knowingly slags off bland boring blonde bobbed girls (i.e. most of the cast of the two MTV shows she’s been on*), and declares things like —

“Most women by the time they’re thirty-eight get their hair frosted and wear running sneakers and signify to to world that they’re hunkering down for the next forty years of misery.”

“So many mothers say they want their daughters to be independent, but what they really hope is that they’ll find a well-compensated banker or lawyer and settle down between the ages of twenty-five and twenty-eight in Greenwich, Darien, or That Town, U.S.A, to raise babies, do the grocery shopping, and work out in relative comfort for the rest of their lives. I know this because I employ their daughters.”

Love her. A return to the ancient feminine strikes me as a good a way as any to cope with the endless grind of insecurity brought about by our ever-splintering modern world and the chattering of our monkey minds. If I had teenage daughters or nieces, they would so be getting a copy of this.

*Can I just tack on that I think The City far outpaced The Hills as a show when it stopped focusing so much on the girls’ incredibly boring love lives (Jay? Freddy? Ugh.) and became much more about the cutthroat world of twenty-somethings in the fledgling stages of their creative careers. Because it’s much much much more interesting than the endless middle-distance-back-and-forthing of “Really? What did you say? And then what did he say?” Ugh.

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2 responses to “the spiritual and the superficial

  1. Your parenthetical (“caustic verbal squeegee…”) is so choice, Erin, I repeated it to, basically, anyone in earshot. I want to have written that sentence myself. Meanwhile, on the subject of _Eat, Pray, Love_ and its “priv-lit” ilk, you should check out the most recent issue of _Bitch_. Reading this post made me miss the hell out of you, hon. xo A