Gossip Girl recap: High Infidelity

In further proof that Gossip Girl has well and truly departed the realm of the possible for the realm of 21-year-olds running major media companies and untrained socialites designing entire fashion lines, Nelly Yuki returned to Gossip Girl this, week.

Once Blair’s whipping girl, the intellectual but social inept nerd pushed around by Waldorf and her minions, two years at Yale have apparently secured her enough experience and gravitas to spar with the best of them. Supposedly now a reporter for the prestigious Women’s Wear Daily, she is assigned to cover Blair’s new clothing designs.

Only it turns out it’s part of a piece about fashionistas turned uber-designers, with Blair being put up against ponzi-scheming socialite Poppy Lifton, who helpfully reminds us that she was driven out of New York by the Constance girls.

And of course, Poppy’s designs are basically Blair’s; same fabric, same look. Cue minions – useless, comedy minions – being despatched on a mission of sabotage that comes back to haunt Blair only moments later. But at least it’s Blair, back to her old trips, and we are pleasantly free from the character lobotomy that pervaded last series.

In Serena land, the new romance with Mr man of the minute is going sour, after she and Nate spot him, gasp, with another woman, Not kissing her, nothing inappropriate. Just in the company of. It’s enough to send both Serena and Nate on a spiral of anger and heartbreak, until they discover that their respective paramours are actually father and daughter.

I eagerly anticipate the scene in which Sage – a season six version of a spiteful Little J – learns that her boy toy and her possible stepmother were shtupping not too long ago.

For Chuck, his mission to destroy Bart hits on a hiccup (something to do with Bart, an illicit weekend and a shedload of money). Yawn. I’m all for the return of Bad Bass – no dog walking and soul-searching this series – but if he’s going to go heavy on the surreptitious and underhand methods, I’d rather it be with a worthy rival. Georgina, perhaps.

Georgina, of course, is busy managing Dan’s bright future (of defamation suits and social pariah-ness, if his book is anything to go by). With a serialisation deal with Nate on the go – how handy when your best mate runs a magazine, eh) it looks like the scandalous shit is about to hit the fan.

Although what he could possibly be revealing that hasn’t already been covered by Gossip Girl, I don’t know. She is the omniscient chronicler of the madness and mayhem of the Upper East Side. Humphrey, surely, is just a pretender.

My week in writing

This week I reported on the upcoming tour of the UK by the youth ensemble of the Batsheva Dance Company. In the wake of protests by anti-Israel activist, the Brighton Dome has cancelled one of two performances by the dancers, much to the regret of ticket-holders who will now be unable to go.

I also covered some fairly unpleasant comments made on Facebook by a woman who is an active member of George Galloway’s Respect Party. Although a spokesman for Mr Galloway did condemn what the woman said, it is clear that she will remain in the party anyway.

As I wrote in September, this time last year the JC covered the scandal of the Jewish burial organisations that refused to reveal where stillborn and miscarried babies were buried. Although the organisations covered in the original reporting have since changed their procedures, one synagogue authority has not done so. Contacted by a woman from the Adath with a heartbreaking story, I was shocked at the refusal to answer either my questions or hers. There seems to be no reason for blocking her request to find out what happened to her son, and certainly no religious prohibition, which leaves me to wonder why they won’t help.

Elsewhere, I covered the decision by Israeli leaders Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman to run at the next election on a joint ticket – something that could, perhaps, spur the Israeli centre and left into action – and looked at the chances of the man hoping to be the first Orthodox rabbi elected to the US congress. I also reported on the tragedy of a 97-year-old man, who was a hugely influential figure in the history of religious Zionism in the UK, who died last week after being hit by a car in Jerusalem. A very sad story to work on.

In Optima Magazine I discussed how technology is changing the shopping experience, and whether it is for better or worse.

Gossip Girl recap: Gone maybe Gone

And so begins the sixth and final series of Gossip Girl. Back to the beginning; Serena unhinged, in a downward spiral, felled by the inevitable concoction of drugs, disappointment and Dan Humphrey.

Well, sort of. As it turns out, Serena – or Sabrina, her perky Vassar-educated alter-ego – is apparently living the life, clean and loved up with another faceless victim. She’s so OK, she’s at a party – clearly a sign that she is a fully-functioning member of society. But before we find this out, it’s an old-school Gossip Girl race against time, as Team Dan-Georgina attempt to beat Team Blair-Nate-Chuck to find the supposedly distressed damsel.

Who knows whether this will eb a lasting change, but Blair was back on form in the opener, all cutting barbs toward Georgina and feisty passive aggressive behaviour toward everyone else. Apparently, the Powers That Be have decided that while she and Chuck are back in luurve (Monte Carlo will do that to a rich kid) they can’t actually be together. So the rest of the series will probably play out with them squabbling and scheming against the other (goodie) until the obvious finale smooch.

Meanwhile, Nate is still playing at being a Very Important Journalist. “That was my favourite class,” he tells a wide-eyed intern / likely new love interest. As if he took classes. Or went to college. Or is in any way a proper journalist, rather than a rich kid with pots of cash and a sort of vague interest in doing something productive with his life.

Chuck is on the hunt to get revenge on back-from-the-dead-Bart, in a plot line that appears to hinge on nefarious dealings in the Middle East and a woman from Dubai who he will invariably soon woo, bed and discard in a minor distraction from La Waldorf. I rather wish that Emily Thorne was there to help him.

Dan is writing an expose of the Upper East Side (wasn’t that what he did last time) guided by the Machiavellian hand of Georgina Sparks, whose entire function on the show is now the comedy villain, complete with sardonic put-downs and double-entendres.

And Lily, who after a summer of honeymooning with BFTDB, is suddenly filled with remorse over having not even considered the fate of her eldest daughter over that period. But not remorseful enough to apologise to Rufus, who has traded in one blonde bitch for a younger model – a younger model who is apparently in cahoots with Lily’s niece. Ah, functional family life.

A good set up, then, for the remainder of the series. Long may it continue, especially after the tragedy that was season five.

My week in writing

My Schoolgate piece appeared on the homepage of The Times

The chief rabbi spoke in a Lords debate this week – a relatively rare occurrence – which prompted a follow-up story on his comments about single parents and the reaction to them.

I also wrote a piece about a fascinating project at Warwick University that is hoping to translate a huge catalogue of papers and documents written in Yiddish. The researchers there are convinced that the material will shed light on the history of the immigrant Jewish community, particularly to London’s East End at the turn of the last century. The only problem? They don’t speak Yiddish.

Within hours of the paper coming out, I had already been contacted by several Yiddish speakers asking for more information as to how they can help with the project. I hope they do so, and I look forward to learning what the material actually says.

In an unusual; showbiz interlude for me, I spent a morning at St Paul’s Cathedral for a memorial to renowned hairdresser Vidal Sassoon. Although I found the choice of venue surprising for a man who remained tied to his Jewish roots throughout his life, the service was a fitting tribute to someone who made his mark on fashion and culture. As expected, it was an immensely glamorous affair, with some gravity-defying hairstyles on display.

In less serious news, I wrote about a new Jewish dating app that takes a similar approach to Grindr, and reported on Gilad Shalit’s first interview, a year to the day after he was freed from being a Hamas captive.

In Arts, I wrote about the newest US television sensation to hit Britain; Lena Dunham’s series Girls, posing the question of whether she is a female, 21st century answer to Woody Allen? My review of Jake Simons’s Mosaad thriller Pure – conclusion, “making the character an ideologue is a step too far into unreality” – was published as well.

And outside of the JC, I wrote for Schoolgate on The Times website, arguing that art should not be marginalised as a “soft subject” by schools, universities and education ministers.

Ruby Sparks and manic pixie dream girls

Why are women on screen so hopelessly unrealistic? Not always, of course, but I’ve lost count of the number of films and television programmes purporting to show a “real” female character – that is, not  a rom com creation or a fanboy’s pneumatic fantasy – that have gone horribly wrong.

Usually, this involves the women in indie films, where the male characters have been written precisely to go beyond stereotype, yet the women are one dimensional cartoons. Case in point; Zooey Deschanel on New Girl.

As the blogosphere has labelled her, this woman, who is a foil to the agonising male, is a “manic pixie dream girl” (there is even a Wikipedia page dedicated to this). Invariably, this woman is quirky, spontaneous, emotional but adorable; intelligent yet impractical; delightful yet different to everyone else.

She wears oddly-matched clothes, has flowing wavy hair, a small nose and just enough angles on her face to not be conventionally beautiful (but she is attractive nonetheless). She is clumsy, yet endearingly so. She likes obscure music and art, and is outspoken yet accurate in her descriptions. And I’ve never met her in real life.

So it was enjoyable to watch a film that picked up on the failure of male writers to script their dream women in a convincing way. Ruby Sparks, in which a male wunderkind writer (Paul Dano) writes about his dream woman (Zoe Kazan), only for her to morph from mirage to living, breathing girlfriend, features a character that conforms to most of the above specifications.

Of course, she isn’t real; she’s just a composite of what a man thinks he wants and thinks a woman can be. And as the romantic miracle starts to go awry, this becomes clear to the writer and the audience. Written by Kazan herself, the main message of the film is about the possibility or impossibility of changing someone, but the sense that she is challenging the indie film staple – the quirky dream girl – is there too. As is said in the film: “The quirky, messy women whose problems make them appealing are not real.”

My week in writing

With a show at the Tate this year, the Pre-Raphaelite painters are enjoying something of a renaissance. After being alerted to a lecture that was taking place in London revealing that William Holman Hunt – one of the movement’s founders – had lived in Jerusalem for several years and painted there, I decided to investigate further.

As I discovered, Holman Hunt built a home and a life in the Middle East; a daring feat that none of his fellow Pre-Raphaelites attempted. Not only that, but a look back in times revealed him to be on a par with Theodor Herzl in his passion for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the region. His letter on the subject, in which he offered to pay some money to3ward such a scheme, made for fascinating reading.

This week, I also followed up on the ongoing dispute over Jewish education at Calderwood Lodge in Glasgow, and received reassurances from several venues set to host Israeli dance company Batsheva next month that the tour would go ahead, despite the efforts of boycott supporters. And in another look back at the past, I learnt about the refugees from Nazi Europe who were able to stay in Britain by working as servants.

In Comment I discussed whether the British Jewish community should drop the tradition of observing two days of the festivals, and published two thought-provoking pieces on Ed Miliband and the disturbing trend of “Price Tag” attacks by extremists in the West Bank.

Away from the JC, I wrote for the Independent’s “Independent Voices” section on the embarrassing Jewish Mum of the Year programme on Channel 4, questioning the purpose of such television. In Optima magazine I discussed the growth in the use of sleeping pills and other remedies for insomnia.