Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Familiar Strangers

Speaking of sensual [post below], here is an amazing little film clip from the 1940s:
Frida Kahlo Kisses Diego Rivera,
from the Tate Modern's 2005 Kahlo exhibit.
(If the film doesn't show up, as half the time it didn't for me in Safari, try it in Firefox.)

And speaking of famous Jews [ditto], for an examination of whether or not Kahlo was of Jewish descent (turns out, maybe not), read The Un-Chosen Artist from The Jewish Press.

The author, Menachem Wecker, quotes a phrase calling Kahlo a "multiply hyphenated artist."
Too right! She is one of those people in whom it is easy to see what you want to see.
I mean, what other foreign Communist could end up on a US postage stamp?

Wecker also writes about a sociological phenomenon called "familiar strangers."
This phrase is new to me, but catches something I've long noticed: our desire to claim someone--like Kahlo, or Shatner, or the person next to us at the coffee shop--as "one of our own," whatever our "own" happens to be (or, conversely, to claim an identity for ulterior motives--like Kahlo claiming Jewish ancestry perhaps primarily to align herself with anti-Nazism):
"In a 1972 study, Stanley Milgram found that “familiar strangers” who share a repeated experience (like riding the same bus every day) are likelier to communicate when cast into an unfamiliar setting, than are two strangers with no such shared experience.
Apparently, Milgram found, strangers recognize some form of “real” relationship in chance encounters, in which they do not communicate or even know each other’s name.

Perhaps Jews who seek to claim celebrities like Chagall hope to share a similarly “familiar” religious experience with him.
Many artists who are claimed as Jewish do not identify as such, like non-Jewish painters Paul Klee and Max Ernst, whom the Nazis denounced as Jewish “degenerate” artists.

Klee and Ernst would have preferred that Hitler not identify them as Jews, but Mexican-born painter Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) happily celebrated her “perceived” Jewish lineage...."

7 comments:

Rudyinparis said...

I'm fascinated by photo and film images of Frida Kahlo (the question of how constructed her public identity is doesn't really matter to me--I'm fascinated regardless)--and at the recent Kahlo show at the Walker I gave a cursory look at the paintings and then found myself spending the evening in the room that had the photographs. I stared at each one for so long!

fresca said...

She is truly riveting, isn't she?
I think we are only able to construct multiple identities for her (and she for herself) because she was so complex and multiplicitous.

I mean, we just can't construct much complexity around Pamela Anderson and such modern TV personalities (meaning no disrespect to them as a real people).

Rudyinparis said...

It's interesting you mention Pamela Anderson in that context... I have here at my desk an envelope to go out to you that has an article I photocopied from the most recent issue of Bitch in it... on female Star Trek fandom... so I thought you would be interested... but in that very same issue there's a smaller article about the uproar that a recent photo of Anderson, in a bikini (of course) raised--not because of the bikini, but because it showed her reading the book "Unmarketable: brandalism, copyfighting, mocketing and the erosion of integrity." And it really pissed off a lot of people (men) in the blogosphere--how dare she read such a thing? Doesn't she know she's a sex symbol? How dare she stretch our perception of her? So--yes--we are certainly unable to construct much complexity around our current media personalities! Maybe I'll throw that article in the envelope, too..

fresca said...

Whew! Am I ever glad I added that parenthetical comment about Pamela Anderson being a real person, or I would really be skewered by her reading choices!!!

I just sent you an e-mail pondering what identity is, anyway.
If Nazi Germany had taken Mexico in WWII and executed Kahlo as a Jew, say, rather than as a Communist, what difference would that make?
(I mean, it would make a difference, because these things matter, but in what way?)

It all gets back to that fun question:
"What's real, anyway?"
And as you asked in your last blog post, "How the heck do we know it?"

I'm always saying that everything relates back to our species' evolution on the savannah. In this case,
I see that we humans have fun stretching our concepts of reality, when we feel safe;
but on a survival level, we want/need to know, is that animal coming toward us a lion or a zebra?

So, I suggest that to some people, it doesn't feel safe to have Pamela Anderson turn out to be a predator (intelligent, fast, with teeth) when they had her marked as prey.
If you see what I mean...

Rudyinparis said...

Ha! You are very generous. Both to Pamela Anderson and the morons who can't bear to have her confound their notions... By generous I mean you are probably one of the few people I can think of that I would know would defend Pamela Anderson's humanity... Bulky sentence, but maybe you know what I mean. Truthfully, you wouldn't even have had to add a parenthetical about her as a person, separate from her public persona...

I didn't get an email by the way--but, hmmm, what the difference is between Kahlo being executed for being a Communist vs. a Jew... I will need to chew on this... That's one heck of a hypothetical...

ddip said...

That explains part of the appeal of Marilyn Monroe, I suppose. SJG and I went to a Marilyn Monroe exhibit in Brooklyn a couple years ago (still photos, film clips, interviews, magazine shots, etc) and I was amazed by the identification by so many different types of people (as committed to print in the exhibit guestbook). International visitors, teens, glbt folk, all different racial groups, you name it, all seemed to feel an immediate identification with her.

I suppose any who suffer will identify with those who appear to suffer in like manner, and Marilyn's anguish and vulnerability were there for all to see.

fresca said...

R: You make me laugh! Thanks so much for engaging in this conversation (I'll have to double check which address I sent the e-mail to.)

D: Yes, and suffering was a huge part of Frida Kahlo's identity too. Since everybody suffers in some way, that draws a huge, huge audience.