Today’s holidays: Birth of John the Baptist (Christianity); Feast Day of Elizabeth, Mother of the Forerunner (Greek Orthodox Christianity); Feast of the Lesser Mysteries (Thelema); Feast Day of St. Anton LaVey (Church of the SubGenius).
Given that I recently posted a review of the utterly dreadful song “Judas” by the utterly tasteless performer Lady Gaga, one may now assume that anything which I can stand to read or watch without losing my lunch or going insane is now a legitimate target for review and commentary. And so, after six years, I am going to finally publish what may be first and last sermon ever written on Coyote Ugly, here and now. I have chosen this time because the sermon is directly relevant to this week’s Torah portion.
Peace and Shabbath shalom.
I have boasted that I give sermons stranger than anyone else’s, and to this end I will attempt to tie together Qoraḥ, the exoteric and esoteric meanings of Song of Songs, and (of all things) the movie Coyote Ugly. (I know it sounds like a circus stunt, but please, bear with me.)
One evening at a joint CSEB-SER conference in Toronto (28 June 2005), the guy I was sharing a hotel room with decided to watch television, and after flipping through channels, he settled on Coyote Ugly. From what I saw of the movie, it was mainly about conventionally beautiful, immodestly dressed women who dance on top of bars. The point of this is to attract customers to the bar, and these have to purchase alcoholic beverages to stay there. Though there were clear attempts at a plot and character development, my intuition insists these were not the point of this film or why anyone would deliberately see it; indeed, what little I can remember of how it was marketed was “women dancing on bars” and not “the struggles of an aspiring songwriter”.
Being a religious Jew, I naturally was soon mentally contrasting this tasteless movie with something vaguely similar in any respect out of the world of Judaism, namely the exoteric meaning of Song of Songs. Song of Songs on the simple level also deals largely with sexuality, but in a vastly different manner than Coyote Ugly. Sexuality in Song of Songs is all about love between a husband and wife, with the goal being that through appreciation of each other the lovers become closer. This socially functional sexuality is private, shared by them alone and not with other people. In contrast, the sexuality of Coyote Ugly is public and exploitative. It is out there for anyone to see—as long as they are paying customers. Sexuality is turned into a tool to hawk a product, perverting its whole point. Sex evolved as a means for reproduction and was later adapted as a means to keep couples together for their mutual benefit for long periods of time. In contrast with this, in Coyote Ugly men come to the bar, lured by sexuality, but they are never ever allowed to progress past looking. Instead, they are coerced into buying drinks of questionable hygiene and a deleterious effect on judgement, and ultimately they leave alone, cheated of sexuality’s promise. This exploitation occurs on a higher level, too. Men go to see the movie, lured by sexuality, but it is a sham. They see the pretty sights, but two hours later the movie is over. There are no beautiful women—in fact, they never were any, so there is no chance of a relationship, and the movie-goers have to go home with nothing but ticket stubs and $5.50 less in each of their wallets.
The real fun happens when we move from the exoteric to the esoteric. The esoteric meaning of Song of Songs is about the relationship between YHWH and Yisra’el; He loves us, and we love Him. The practice of Judaism is how we express our love for YHWH. If we apply this symbolism to Coyote Ugly, we end up with a situation straight out of the Torah, namely the story of Qoraḥ (Numbers 15:1-17:28). Qoraḥ, like most evil people, depicted himself as righteous. He stood in public for all to see, calling for everyone to gather around him and see how righteous he was; in fact, he claimed to be even more righteous that Mosheh. In the text of the Torah alone he accuses Mosheh of ignoring that all of Yisra’el is holy and instead resorting to nepotism in appointing the priesthood. In midhrash, he argues that Mosheh’s teachings are inconsistent and biased against the most vulnerable people in society. Like sexuality in Coyote Ugly, Qoraḥ’s righteousness is a sham. He puts on a big show, but it has nothing to do with expressing his love for YHWH; he is just trying to exploit people. He promises the great religious concepts of holiness and equality, but he never intends to do anything but grab power and send his followers home no better off than they were previously. In short, Qoraḥ is the esoteric meaning of Coyote Ugly.
I do realize that the connection between Qoraḥ and Coyote Ugly was almost certainly never intended by the creators of the latter, but the phenomenon of exploitative superficiality which underlies both of them has, so far as I know, been common throughout human history, and it is still common today, to the point where we often expect it. In movies, we expect great special effects and sex rather than good plots or believable characters. We expect overblown claims in advertising; if something is labeled “low-fat”, it is high in sugar, and if it is “low-sugar”, it is high in fat—and we expect this. In the domain of religion, there are cults, the whole purpose of which is to let the clergy exploit the laity. In science, there are “junk science” and “creationism/intelligent design”, the point of which is to create doubt where none exists and obscure truths rather than reveal them. In politics, we expect politicians to lie whenever they open their mouths and make promises they never intend to keep, yet we still vote for them. In short, the World is filled with Qoraḥs, and the question before us is whether we will continue to fall for their lies, thereby perpetuating exploitative superficiality.