Monday, January 5, 2015

1993 Yeshiva University Promo Video Is Glorious And So Deliciously 80s/90s (And Jewish)

It has been a long while since I've last blogged here, but for mostly good reasons. I've been traveling for the gymnastics book. And then writing said book. But I had to briefly emerge from blogging hiatus to post this just surfaced video, the promo video that Yeshiva University produced in 1993 to recruit new students.

The video is A-MAZING. Nothing I can write will adequately prepare you for the fashion and the music and nasally narration. Nonetheless, I jotted some minute to minute reactions to the best college promo ever made:

:35: What's with this music? It sounds like a mashup of every Holocaust movie soundtrack ever and early Israeli folk tunes?

:46: "Yeshiva is the only place where you get a cross section of every single type of Jewish person around." Every kind? Even the kind that have never heard the word "yeshiva," which is probably the majority of them in the United States? Oh--by "every single type of Jewish person" you mean the very Orthodox to the moderately Orthodox. If American Jewry is a Baskin Robbins, that's not thirty one flavors. That's like two flavors.

1:16: I know it's supposed to take place in the 90s so why does the fashion look so 80s? It reminds of that line from How I Met Your Mother. When the gang first see the "Robin Sparkles" video from Robin's time as a Canadian Tiffany-like pop star, they wondered why the fashion was so 80s even though Robin Sparkles was a hit in the 90s. To which she replied, "The 80s didn't come to Canada til like 93." I guess the same could be said of the Yeshivish community.

1:27: To the girl who could've gone to an Ivy League school and studied Judaic studies there but "didn't feel I would be getting the range of types of personalities of views, of people who had been studying their entire life": so you thought you would encounter more diverse views by attending a school that is not only made strictly of your coreligionists, but of people who practice almost identically to you and have been studying these texts for their entire lives. I guess that what passes as "diversity" at YU.

1:42: "It was important to me that I got it from a traditional perspective." So you weren't looking for a range--you wanted just one perspective, the traditional one. Finally, the truth comes out! Doesn't that feel better?

1:46: Flashing back to when I thought it was so cool to wear my hair in a half pony and then weave it into a braid. I'm glad that not many pictures from my childhood have survived.

1:55: That accent is so Brooklyn before Brooklyn meant something about hipsters and artisans.

1:55: After acknowledging that maybe Jews on secular campuses are able to forge community and identity, she then claims that she doesn't think that those poor, unfortunate souls can develop the same relationships "with professors and rabbis as we are able to obtain here." I'm kind of with her on the latter--I didn't develop deep bonds with rabbis at Penn because there weren't a lot of them to befriend. Point: YU

2:02: Music change to something with a little more "oy yoyoy" cause we have arrived at...THE BEIS MIDRASH! Keep your shirts on ladies because things are about to get holy. And sexy. Nothing is hotter than a guy rocking back and forth in a chair like he's got a nervous twitch.

2:05: "It is rare to find a beis midrash where a guy is sitting in one corner with a jeans and a t-shirt and a guy is sitting in the next corner with a black hat." Ordinarily, these guys are enemies. Like the Bloods and the Crips except instead of red and blue they've got denim and wool. But YU unites people who more or less observe Judaism in the same way but make different sartorial choices.

2:37: Does one eat "night cheese" at "night seder"?

3:45: "Certain secular courses are taught by professors who are committed to Torah." I'm guessing that in literature classes taught by those professors, the "homoerotic subtext" topic is raised less frequently. There goes the majority of English papers I wrote in college.

"One of the advantages of taking their classes is that they're able to bring Torah into those seculars courses to make it a bit more interesting." Yes, Torah naturally makes everything more interesting. In fact, Torah is the Hebrew word for "interesting."

4:09: Lady scientists!

4:14: "Now that they Sy Syms School of Business one can further his..." This was being narrated by a woman with female students onscreen and yet she chooses the male possessive. That's Orthodox Judaism for you in a nutshell.

4:43: Art class! Yet our student-narrator is talking about law school and all of the hours of classes she takes--7-8 classes a semester vs. 4-5 you would take at the heathen schools.

5:44: A Talmudic quandary: "Both are in need of respirator. There's one ventilator, one respirator available when they enter the emergency room. Who gets the ventilator?" THAT'S HEALTHCARE RATIONING YOU FASCIST, FREEDOM HATING COMMIE!

6:12: YU doesn't want to produce students who "can do really well in Gemara but they can't pick up a chumash," presumably cause the name of God burns their flesh because they're vampires. But in all seriousness, it is a widely known fact that in the yeshivish world, Talmudic education is emphasized amongst the men and the women learn more "Tanach," which is the Old Testament, Prophets, and the Other Writings. Talmud is manly like hunting and acquiring your wife as per your ketubah. Cooking, child rearing, and learning biblical stories is lady stuff. Like tampons.

6:19: As the student-narrator talks about "well-rounded students" the camera pans in a circular motion. I see what you did there.

6:31: A wrestling match. Otherwise known YU's sex education course.

6:38: A girl playing volleyball. Of course, she's only shown from the waist up so we can't see her legs (presumably in pants!) Still, we got a glimpse of sexy elbow--did you see that flaky, dry skin--action so it's enough for me and my weird elbow fetish.

6:39: Jewish men in speedos. When is their "Nice Jewish Boys Calendar" coming out?

7:55: NYC, the mecca of kosher food. So many different places to gain the Freshman 15 while also observing the esoteric laws of kashrut.

8:12: Cue the shuttle van, loaded up with boys from YU's Washington Heights campus arriving at Brookdale, the girls' dorm in midtown. Sexy time are ahead.

8:18: Or just a guy and a girl standing an arm's distance apart outside Brookdale Hall since she is not allowed to take him upstairs. I guess she'll have to give him a hand job under the table at one of those many kosher date spots nearby.

8:21: Another couple respecting each other's personal space while "Midnight Hour" plays. It's not midnight. It's the middle of the afternoon.

8:33: The risque part is over. We're back to separate sexes. The boys are in their study cubbies. And in their hot tub.


8:48: Dad jeans, walking.


(UPDATE: She claims it is not her.)

9:34: Why is this dude on a scale? Did the camera man accidentally stumble into a Weight Watchers meeting? Or is he trying to slim down for shidduch dating season so he can find a good match? Please, can someone explain this to me? And why did they have a much shorter, skinnier guy get on after and smile creepily into the camera?

10:04: I am not buying that basketball slam dunk. It must be a Zionist conspiracy, especially since an Israeli flag is in the frame.

10:25: Time for some bondage wear, I mean, phylacteries. I mean tefillin, which is just as an incomprehensible as phylacteries.

10:35: "You know the people around you have the same values you do, the same priorities. Whether or not they're exactly on the same wavelength religiously, you have a lot you can identify with." There's that big range they were rhapsodizing about earlier--same value, same priorities, just very small differences in observance and dress. It's a big tent. Like the Republican party.

10:52: Though we may have different politics, these women are my kindred hair spirits. Wear it big, wear it proud ladies.

After watching this video, I wonder if I should've listened to my principal and my high school teachers who encouraged me to apply to Stern. I clearly missed out diversity of people, thought, and frizz.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

The Emergence of Great Britain Made Euros Feel Competitive Again

The results at the European Championships used to be a good indication of how things would play out at the upcoming World Championships or Olympic Games. Tatiana Gutsu won the all-around in 1992 and went onto repeat that feat at the Olympic Games. Ditto for Lilia Podkopayeva.

And the competition itself was frequently fierce--with strong squads from Russia and Romanian bumping up against comers from the Ukraine and other individuals from less powerful gymnastics countries. (Remember when Belarus had medal contenders?)

But over the years, it seems like the significance of the Europeans have waned. With the emergence of China and the U.S.A. as major team powers, half of the strongest competition in the world could be found elsewhere. And then there is the the virtual disappearance of the Ukrainian gymnasts and the lack of depth from both the Russian and Romanian squads. It made the competition feel like a game of musical chairs where you never pulled away a chair. Everyone got a seat, er, medal. Needless to say, the European Championships had lost some of their luster.

This is why the rise of the British women in both the junior and senior ranks is a good thing for, not just the fortune of GB gymnastics, but the European Championship as a whole. This year I was actually excited to watch and see the competition unfold and was anxious/nervous about the outcome.  (I was rooting so hard for Team GB to take the title but I was thrilled to see them get silver.) But with the strength they've exhibited on both the junior and senior levels (especially with that talented batch of juniors). These teams seem like they have staying power.

But you might say--"Hey! The Italians have been in the mix, occupying the podium in the past decade too." While this is true and their progress as a gymnastics nation should certainly be applauded, I never got the sense when watching the Italians that they were primed to break out in a significant way at the worlds or the Olympics. They performed very well in the European theater but it never appeared that they had the depth and difficulty to contend against the other powers and make it onto a team podium at the World Championships. Also, much of their success is due to Vanessa Ferrari, who can't compete forever. (Or maybe she can...) Team GB (and to a somewhat lesser extent, Canada) seem like they have the goods to break out at the World or Olympics or both during this quad especially once some of their promising juniors are able to compete at the senior level. Their impressive medal haul at the Euros is not just an accomplishment unto itself but created momentum and is perhaps a sign of things to come for the program.

And if nothing else, Team GB made Euros competitive again. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Why is Catherine Lyons' floor exercise so good?

Over the weekend, Catherine Lyons, the British gymnast that the entire gymternet seems to have an enormous crush on, made all of our dreams come true by winning the floor gold in the junior portion of the European Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Here's her winning routine from event finals:

Unlike most of the other gymnasts in the world--elite and NCAA--her music is not heavily percussive, which opens up new choreographic possibilities for her. Most of her dance moves are in the contemporary/lyrical vein in the routine. (And the music should be familiar to any millennial who listened to the Romeo + Juliet soundtrack on repeat--it's Desiree's "Kissing You.") Unlike the "strike a pose" school of floor routine choreography, all of Lyons' movements flow one into the next. She doesn't even stop to prepare a turn. She just does it as though it's part of the dance. Also, the dance parts seemed to have been specifically selected for the music. None of the parts in this floor routine are interchangeable with one another. And there is no way she could use the same dance moves for another floor routine (as Aliya Mustafina seems to do--different music, same dance). Lyons' routine is truly special and I can't wait to see how she develops.

And yet I worry about the future of Lyons' floor exercise. 5.2 is a bit low when it comes to D-score. Even though her execution is quite lovely and she has been successful at the junior level, will she be able to increase her difficulty to be competitive at the senior level without sacrificing the innovative choreography that made us all fall in love with her in the first place? Will she be able to amass a high enough D-score without adding a fourth pass?

Personally, I've never been a big fan of four pass routines. Usually, at least one of the four passes are what I refer to as "filler" passes--far less difficult than the other three. I'd rather not watch that low difficulty pass and just go with three. I've had my fill of double pikes/double tuck dismounts from gymnasts who can tumble double doubles. I'd rather see difficulty increase in absolute terms--with fantastically hard, original skills--than watch gymnasts throw a lot of mid level skills into a routine in order to rack up the tenths. Give me three hard passes and a lot of choreography over four mediocre passes and uninspired dance.

And if you're Catherine Lyons, I'll take three average tumbling passes so long as you keep dancing like you're trying to win So You Think You Can Dance

Do I have a future writing romance books?

I know that I'm Ms. Gymnastics at the moment but I think I might have a future writing romance novels. A couple of weeks ago, News Corp announced that it would be acquiring Harlequin, the publisher of seemingly every Fabio-inspired book, I was inspired to come up with some titles that would meld the values of both entities. Such as "Foxy News" or "Missionary Positions." Because as Jack Donaghy famously said, "Synergy!"

Here are the titles and book ideas I came up with for the folks over at Elle. Feel free to suggest other, funnier titles. 

Done Being Niche

Gymnastics is not a niche sport. There, I said it.

Since I started writing about gymnastics, I've routinely fielded questions from folks about whether you can make a career out of writing about gymnastics. (You cannot but that is just as much about how you can't make a career about writing about a single subject. It's more of a testament about the writing profession in general.) I've heard a lot about how great it is that I've managed to corner this niche and sell a book. While I get their overall point, there's a patronizing perspective at work here, that my subject matter is small or uninteresting (allegedly) to a mass audience and that my success is due to climbing to the top of a very small mountain. It seems to have little to do with the quality of my work or analysis. None of this is intentional, of course, but it grates nonetheless.

Part of me has to wonder if gender plays a role in this line of questioning. Though men and women compete in gymnastics, it's more closely associated with women. The global superstars have largely been female. And I have to wonder if that plays a role in its marginalized status? Are sports that are more closely associated with females routinely considered "niche" even if participation and competition attendance numbers would indicate otherwise? After all, Utah routinely beat every other women's college sport in attendance this year--and that includes the basketball team. Yet I doubt that anyone would ask fans or followers of women's college basketball about their "niche" interest because basketball has strong masculine (and therefore athletic) associations.

This is not to say that I think that gymnastics receives widespread, mainstream attention at the same level of the major sports such as basketball and football. We all know that it does not. But the sort of attention that is heaped (or isn't heaped) on gymnastics isn't necessarily indicative of actual interest in it. We know that participation is high and that NCAA gymnasts often achieve celebrity status on some campuses. It's a year round sport, not some sort of oddity that is trotted out at the Olympics.

You can call the sport subjective. You can say it doesn't get a lot of media attention. But how about we stop calling it niche.