By ELLEN LEVITTPublished: OCTOBER 12, 2015 06:21Advertisement
This weekend, New York City offered a few strong but very different choices in culture and entertainment: there was a half marathon in Brooklyn and another in Staten Island, for the athletically minded. There was OHNY, Open House New York, for those who love architecture and design. And then there was New York Comic Con. All these events received media attention, but by far the star was Comic Con.In the past I partook of OHNY, checking out a few historic buildings. But this year I attended Comic Con, for the very first time. Why? Well, I had been slightly interested last year, and this year my younger daughter pleaded with me to go...and there was the added nicety of $5 tickets for children 12 and under. This child was born on New Year's Eve, so even though she is taller than most kids her age (and now taller than I am) she is one of the youngest in her school grade, and qualified for the cheapo ticket. I also paid for my $50 ticket and figured, let me check this out.Briefly, for those who don't know what Comic Con is (and there are Comic Conventions in California and elsewhere) it is big festival devoted to those who enjoy science fiction, fantasy, cartooning and comics, especially anime and manga, video game culture, and other related things. Many, and I really mean many, people come to Comic Con dressed as characters; this is known as "cosplay." It reminded me of Purim, without the Megillah reading. Scheduled events included panel discussions, hundreds of vendors selling items related to these things, art displays, parades, photograph opportunities and crowds.I admit that I felt somewhat the outsider. I'm not greatly interested in most of these things (although I do like a few superhero comics such as Spiderman). But I thought it would be an interesting pop culture experience. Now, how will I relate this to the Jewish experience and particularly the New York Jewish experience? Listen up.First, there was a significant number of attendees who identified as Jewish. There were several dozen boys and men who wore kipot (often along with their wacky, colorful costumes) and some women who wore skirts and even a few with sheytels. And in general, this was an undeniably democratic and diverse crowd, thousands large, with people who were Asian, Latino, Black and White. There were infants and kids, teens and young adults, middle agers and some older folk. While I suspect there were more men than women, I do think the breakdown was close to 50/50.Second, there is a history of Jews working in the fields of cartooning and sci-fi literature. Superman was created by Jewish guys. Will Eisner, who created the cartoon character the Spirit and also wrote several compelling graphic novels (some on Jewish topics) was Jewish. And so on.But I was also grappling with Comic Con in a certain religious-philosophical way. On one level I said to myself, enjoy it for what it is-- escapism, creativity, imagination, weirdness, socializing (believe me, so many strangers chose to snap photos of themselves with each other, including my daughter, because they admired the panoply of costumes, makeup and props). But on another level, I could imagine some Jews, especially highly observant ones, turning up their noses in disgust at Comic Con, declaring it to be "nairshkeit," foolishness. And in many ways, this stuff is or at least borders on silliness infused with a great deal of consumerism. You could show up and Comic Con and blow hundreds of dollars on toys, clothes, artwork, posters, who knows what. (Note: I didn't buy a thing except for a tuna salad sandwich and a bottle of iced tea.)I don't have the space here nor the where-with-all to analyze deeply the themes, both overt and covert, that are present at Comic Con. Suffice it to say, it is a complex gathering that functions in different ways for different people. I suppose you could say the same thing for religion. Don't get angry at me for noting this. But there are many people, particularly young ones but even some who are older, for whom organized religion and faith are not as compelling as the world of fantasy. Yet for other people, both interests do co-exist within.And this all happened in New York City, always a busy place full of contradictions. By the way, I was also interested to travel by subway train to the newest station in our transit system. The new station, called Hudson Yards, is located at West 34th Street and 11th Avenue, very close to the Javits Center, the convention center that played host to Comic Con. Oh, and please note that the Javits Center is named for the late Jacob ("Jack") Javits, a Jewish man who had been a well-regarded United States Senator for New York.
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