Vulcan Benediction
October 30, 2015 2:20 PM   Subscribe

 
This is why it's the horns all the way nerds \m/
posted by octobersurprise at 2:46 PM on October 30, 2015 [10 favorites]


All of this gets more complicated when copyright protections for 'traditional cultural expression' are being considered.
posted by zarq at 2:47 PM on October 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


TIL another way to avoid thoughtless appropriation. Thanks, jillithd!
posted by zebra at 2:57 PM on October 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


If by "complicated" you mean "extraordinarily lucrative for intellectual property lawyers."
posted by octobersurprise at 2:58 PM on October 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


I like this piece.

My own opinion is that the hand sign isn't itself cultural appropriation as it was introduced and defined by a member of that culture in such a way that the meaning is translated between the religious and the secular. Most aren't even aware that the Vulcan sign is derived from anything other than Star Trek, so I don't believe that the sign itself serves to reinforce any particular power differential.
posted by truex at 2:58 PM on October 30, 2015 [26 favorites]


from zarq's link:
At the beginning of the ritual, the hands of the Kohanim are washed by the descendants of the tribe of Levi, the Levi’im. The Kohanim then remove their shoes and stand up in front of the congregation. They cover their heads with their prayer shawls, turn towards the congregation, and raise their hands (underneath the shawls) in what is now popularly referred to as the Vulcan salute. With the fingers and thumbs spread in this manner, each hand looks like the Hebrew letter shin, which is the first letter of the word “Shaddai,” a name for God. The Kohanim then recite the words of the priestly blessing set forth in the book of Numbers: “May the Lord bless you and guard you; may the Lord make His face shed light upon you and be gracious to you; may the Lord lift up His face to you and give you peace.” (If the words sound familiar, that’s because the song “Sabbath Prayer” in Fiddler on the Roof is based on them.)
Oh, I'm familiar with that quote, though not because of Fiddler. also, when I read it, I always think of it as read by Leonard Nimoy, though not because it's the reading that goes with the gesture he made in Star Trek.

"it is entirely seemly for the young man killed in battle to lie mangled by the bronze spear..."
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:59 PM on October 30, 2015 [12 favorites]


This is why it's the horns all the way nerds \m/

Umm...
posted by sparklemotion at 2:59 PM on October 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


How about the Hunger Games salute?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:02 PM on October 30, 2015


How about the Hunger Games salute?

You mean the Ukrainian Tryzub salute?
posted by dazed_one at 3:11 PM on October 30, 2015 [5 favorites]


Nanu nanu.
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:13 PM on October 30, 2015 [4 favorites]


Yeah, I did this.
So you're standing up in front of the congregation with 4 or 5 other cohanim, can't see a thing because your tallis is wrapped around your face, your hands are in the air (in the canonical pose) and you recite the three blessings, and hear the response (keyn yhi ratzon--may it be his will) and I found this touching incident that brought a tear to this atheist priest's eyes:
On February 28, 2015, following the death of beloved Star Trek TOS Spock actor, Leonard Nimoy, astronaut Terry W. Virts tweeted an image from the International Space Station of his Vulcan Cohanim-inspired salute (which had been improvised by the late actor when he was asked to portray an alien life form's desire that others live long and prosper) as a sign of reverence as the ISS flew over Boston, the city of Nimoy's birth.[32]
because we live in wonderous times.
posted by hexatron at 3:14 PM on October 30, 2015 [31 favorites]


This is why I keep my pockets full of confetti ala Rip Taylor.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 3:14 PM on October 30, 2015 [22 favorites]


I've always loved the salute specifically because it came from Jewish traditions. It was popularized by a Jewish man - maybe in part as a way of subtly flashing his Jewishness - and for me it feels like something I can be proud of, that it's something from my heritage. My father and I used to bond over little aspects of being culturally Jewish (although we never used the term "jew-fro," preferring "hebro" instead). To me, this has always been one of them, as much a part of my love of Star Trek as anything else.

I'm not particularly religious, and I wasn't raised that way, so I can appreciate that other people have different opinions than I do. I don't want to offend people, but I would hardly call it mindless appropriation. After all, this is my heritage too. Who dictates the boundaries of propriety for people like me?
posted by teponaztli at 3:15 PM on October 30, 2015 [32 favorites]


She's of course welcome to do what she likes for whatever reasons, but Nimoy pretty much made bank off of "appropriating" the Vulcan gesture, which very few use in reference to anything but secular Star Trek culture. It's an interesting story, but on the outrage scale, this is perhaps veering close to negative land.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 3:16 PM on October 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


As a bit of a Star Trek fanatic and a Jew, I wouldn't call this cultural appropriation at all, but I love this post for talking about where the salute came from. Actually I have, like, infinite feelings on the influence of cultural Jewishness on Trek, and was talking about the subject literally last night with my partner when we were rewatching the episode that introduces Sarek. It's a rich subject, from Nimoy and Shatner to Worf's parents to the Ferengi, oh my God, the Ferengi. It drives me crazy when people talk about the Ferengi as if they're a satire of corporate capitalism. They're not at all, until you get to cousin Gaila, anyway; they're Jewish small-business owners of the Malamud-Assistant variety. My parents are Quark, basically (except for the sexual harassment); they don't hold on to anything if it can be resold and never pay retail. Anybody other than Ira Steven Behr would have made them an offensive caricature but he just gets it.
posted by thetortoise at 3:18 PM on October 30, 2015 [36 favorites]


This is why I sometimes worry about the worry about cultural appropriation.

Culture is created through the remixing of culture. When we start to say that "these cultural [things] are not available for remixing by you, the dominant culture", don't we risk ending up in a situation where the dominant culture continues to just be remixes of what the dominant culture has been doing all along? Don't we want some of the heritage of less-privileged folks to also become part of the culture that we live in?

I get that there are particularly egregious examples of appropriation that are not cool (ceremonial headdresses as stoner-festival-fashion, for example). But I wonder when it comes to things like this (jewish guy turns jewish holy symbol into nerd holy symbol), or even (taking something a little closer to my background) freaking out about white ladies deciding to wear their hair in boxbraids or cornrows as a trend. I mean -- maybe I want my hair to be trendy! As much as it sucks that it has to be a white lady who makes it "acceptable," isn't it a good step towards integration (not assimilation)?

So I wonder about where to draw the line, but I feel like the reflexive "this is based on another culture and therefore off-limits" stance is maybe too strict.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:19 PM on October 30, 2015 [47 favorites]


I think that the Christian analogy would be if, while Dr. Lazarus was intoning, "By Grabthar's hammer, by the suns of Worvan, you shall be avenged!", he made the sign of the cross. As an ex-Catholic, I would just think that it was funny, but I'd also understand why some might be offended or simply choose not to emulate it.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:20 PM on October 30, 2015


As another analogy, I think about the now entirely secular expression "goodbye", with its linguistic roots in the phrase "God be with you". Short of context and tone issues that are separate from the word/gesture itself, I have a hard time thinking about wishing someone "goodbye" as an inappropriate or problematic cultural appropriation, if the person I am saying that to is not religious.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 3:25 PM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think it matters that it was coined by a Jew, and not some gentile who saw the carving and thought "hey, yeah, let's use that."
posted by rmd1023 at 3:30 PM on October 30, 2015 [15 favorites]


There are many Jewish traditions that do not have a role for priests. In all Jewish traditions, the main role of the priesthood ended with the destruction of the Temple, about two millennia ago.

I know "traditions vary wildly," but normalizing this particular flavor of hereditary authority as just something we Jews do sits wrong with me.

The traditions of rabbinical Judaism leave room for a view that is much more, um, Protestant -- where there may be religious leaders (rabbis), but their authority doesn't come from privileged access to God (the idea of priests). (Rather, they are especially learned, wise, etc.)

So taking a symbol of priestly authority and reimagining it as a sign of respect anyone can offer -- is not just an appropriation. It has a kind of meaning within the tradition as well: that we are on equal footing.
posted by grobstein at 3:34 PM on October 30, 2015 [27 favorites]


Umm...

Shit. Guess I gotta stick with "pull my finger ..."
posted by octobersurprise at 3:41 PM on October 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


People use the term appropriation as though it were inherently wrong. As sparklemotion says above and many have said before: Culture IS appropriation.

It can be problematic when we take something that has high value of another culture and treat it casually or disrespectfully, and perhaps most importantly, conspicuously. Wearing feather head-dresses to a rave and treating them as disposable fashion ephemera is very different from a Jewish actor using a hand sign that has meaning to his history and culture and using it as a representation of a respectful, honorable greeting with meaning to his character's history and culture.

The vulcan hand sign isn't appropriation in its commonly-used negative sense. This is an honest and, if you've ever heard Nimoy talk about it, very respectful adaptation of something culturally valuable to represent something else culturally valuable.
posted by chimaera at 3:51 PM on October 30, 2015 [33 favorites]


As a genuine Jewish priest, I will remark on our place. To my non-jewish bible-believing pals--try reading the book Leviticus (Va'yikra), the third book of the bible, from the beginning. Come back when you're done--it shouldn't take long to be bored to tears.

Wow! Is that ever dull! Endless detailed descriptions of sacrifices that no one has made for 2K years. What the f is going on?

Simply put--my tribe (Levi) were the butchers of ancient Israel. G-d owns the animals--if you kill an animal, it is plainly a sin and an affront to G-d (I use the accepted dodge for writing his name--this stuff is close to the edge). Only we can mitigate it.

The priests were the only permitted butchers, and their acts was circumscribed. Other butchers were simple sinners. And still are. And in the future, will likely be explicitly illegal, as I and many vegetarians believe they should be. The Old Testament restictions were basically moral compromises with the obvious cruelty of slaughter.

Do Xtians ever wonder why the bible spends chapters on this stuff, and only a verse or two on their favorite prohibited creepy sexual practices? Do they really believe they reflect the mind of G-d? Evidently, not.
posted by hexatron at 3:58 PM on October 30, 2015 [14 favorites]


The vulcan hand sign isn't appropriation in its commonly-used negative sense. This is an honest and, if you've ever heard Nimoy talk about it, very respectful adaptation of something culturally valuable to represent something else culturally valuable.

Yes, that's how it's used by Nimoy. But then my shiksa ass goes around using it to say hello to people at Star Trek conventions. I have a friend who calls it "the Spocker." Are we still being respectful? Is it still culturally valuable?
posted by sparklemotion at 4:01 PM on October 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Maybe we'd be better off if everyone made less of claim over owning everything.

The inclination to protect that which we feel we deserve to control is usually what starts the truly evil things of the world. It can be land, a piece of personal property, or just a thought. I'm not suggesting some communal living or communist playground, I'm just suggesting that perhaps we should default a little less towards controlling things.

All of culture is appropriated. Name any aspect of culture and someone can trace it back to another culture. It's just social evolution.
posted by Muddler at 4:18 PM on October 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


Simply put--my tribe (Levi) were the butchers of ancient Israel. G-d owns the animals--if you kill an animal, it is plainly a sin and an affront to G-d (I use the accepted dodge for writing his name--this stuff is close to the edge). Only we can mitigate it.

The priests were the only permitted butchers, and their acts was circumscribed. Other butchers were simple sinners. And still are. And in the future, will likely be explicitly illegal, as I and many vegetarians believe they should be. The Old Testament restictions were basically moral compromises with the obvious cruelty of slaughter.


Coming from a person with a formal Jewish education descended from a lengthy line of shochtim (Jewish ritual butchers), that's certainly a... uh... unique take on animal sacrifice in the tanakh.
posted by Itaxpica at 4:30 PM on October 30, 2015 [17 favorites]


Itaxpica:
Not to drive this into the mystic universe, where we are talking to the .001% of metafiltrists, but:

I got this in yeshiva: Meat was, in biblical times, morally important, rarely available, and always at least somewhat ceremonial. Certainly, our ancient ancestors recognized a major moral delination between eating a cow and a carrot. It is not clear that shochtim (slaughterers) existed as an occupation in the BCE times--I was taught that likely they were not--it was ritual slaughter, share (as per Leviticus) with the priests and G-d, and the donor got the major share of usable meat. I do not believe that shochet was an occupation at the time (though I will note that my father, (obviously also a Cohen) was, in 19-teens Poland, an apprentice shochet to his uncle) He hated the job, and became a welder in the USA.

I will admit to being an atheist from the age of 5 (earliest memory (at 2-prayed fervently to G-d to not be punished for painting handprints all over my parent's bedroom mirror [note--was not punished -- prayers worked fine!]) At 5, did NOT believe in G-d, did NOT screw with friend (age 4) Mickey, who believed in Santa (which I knew to be--false) also Mickey had learned to count to ten, and believed ten was the last number. I already knew there was no greatest integer (yeah, I am a math pest) but did not even consider disabusing him. Mickey was a great friend, on E46St in Brooklyn in 1947. We certainly need more of him and less of me.
posted by hexatron at 4:57 PM on October 30, 2015 [8 favorites]


The priests were the only permitted butchers, and their acts was circumscribed.

As opposed to the mohelim, whose acts were circumcised.
posted by dr_dank at 5:20 PM on October 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


Maybe we'd be better off if everyone made less of claim over owning everything.

Ehh.... no. It's not about ownership, it's about respect. When aspects of a culture are taken out of their context and thrown around as something that just looks or sounds cool, it can be disrespectful to the fact that these things mean something to someone. I mean, no one is raised without some set of cultural values and symbols; some things are more significant than others to each of us, and different groups will place emphasis on different things. Being mindful about appropriation isn't about ownership, but about respecting the values and symbols that other people have grown up with.

It's especially important for minority ethnic groups, because these symbols help communicate cultural values within that community and give a sense of belonging in the face of external pressures. I would say they have a right to be hurt or offended when they see that being ignored - because it means their feelings and their backgrounds effectively don't matter. Yes, aspects of culture change all the time, but I don't know why that would mean there's no need for sensitivity and respect.

I don't necessarily agree with this article, but I know where she's coming from, and it's certainly worth consideration. This gesture is a symbol that means quite a lot to people, including myself - it's just that I interpret its value differently from other people who share my cultural and ethnic backgrounds. And it matters to Star Trek fans, too - it's just a question of whether or not that value does a disservice to where the gesture originally came from. It can be hard to please everyone, but we should certainly not ignore it when we run the risk of causing harm or offense to someone.
posted by teponaztli at 5:28 PM on October 30, 2015 [15 favorites]


Also, I have a raging migraine, once again, so I'm having trouble articulating this.
posted by teponaztli at 5:35 PM on October 30, 2015


[I will preemptively note that getting too deep in the weeds about Jewish butchers is a derail - please avoid. Thanks.]
posted by restless_nomad (staff) at 5:35 PM on October 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


Kelsey on Tumblr: Cultural appropriation is rarely, if ever, a good word for why something is bad. Many of the things discussed under the umbrella of cultural appropriation are in fact bad, but it is more useful to talk about how they are bad and mostly useless to debate whether they are cultural appropriation.

In the OP, Geek Mom says she doesn't begrudge anyone else using the gesture, but that she wouldn't do so herself. I doubt she'd say there's a duty on anyone else not to, or that she'd be right if she did say that.

Kelsey goes on: "Some people (especially people with a respect/authority moral foundation?) have a very strong aesthetic distaste for these and related behaviors even when they don’t harm anyone. It’s reasonable for them to decide they don’t want to hang out with you. It is wrong for them to call you evil, unless you’re harming someone." (The bit about moral foundations is a reference to this, I think, so I think that means Kelsey's morality is largely about care/harm, as is mine).
posted by pw201 at 5:49 PM on October 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


She's of course welcome to do what she likes for whatever reasons, but Nimoy pretty much made bank off of "appropriating" the Vulcan gesture, which very few use in reference to anything but secular Star Trek culture.

So you're saying someone made a large amount of money off a minority cultural product and it became so popular that this use began to supplant the original use in the public's imagination.

yeah that definitely doesn't sound like appropriation to me either
posted by threeants at 5:56 PM on October 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


So leaving aside my digression on Jewish slaughter and dragging back to the topic at hand: I'm not personally a Kohen, but my maternal grandfather was (tribe is patrilineal, so I'm not) and the hand gesture in question is on his headstone. I also grew up watching classic Star Trek with my family, and growing up among Jews the fact that the Vulcan salute was the Kohen salute was open knowledge. In my experience it was always talked about with a sense of serious pride - the idea that people all over the world knew and used an esoteric Jewish symbol was seen as, just, the coolest thing. It was never, as far as I can recall, viewed at all negatively.

That being said I grew up in a staunchly Conservative background, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if more frum people viewed this totally differently.
posted by Itaxpica at 6:11 PM on October 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yeah, I was thinking that the biggest objections might come from more frum people. Which isn't to write them off, of course. But definitely my family, and the friends I know who grew up Jewish, all loved that it was a Jewish thing.
posted by teponaztli at 6:12 PM on October 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


Star Trek fans in the Boston area probably want to pay a visit to the Vilna Shul (now a museum and cultural center rather than an active synagogue) to see the ark with the carvings of hands in a particular familiar pose. The shul was a world away from the West End where Nimoy grew up (which in Boston means it's on the other side of Cambridge Street), but he certainly visited it. In this video, he talks about turn-of-the-century Jewish life and the Vilna Shul. Around 5:50, you get a look at the hands on the ark (look at the center of the ark just above the lions).
posted by adamg at 6:48 PM on October 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


octobersurprise: "This is why it's the horns all the way nerds \m/"

Not sure why, but the horns have become sort of my go to happy gesture. Someone asks "Are you okay?" Horns. My boss asks me if I can get something done at work? Horns.

What does this say about me? I don't know.
posted by Samizdata at 7:12 PM on October 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Live long and ... you're so thin - eat something already !
posted by AGameOfMoans at 7:16 PM on October 30, 2015 [3 favorites]


"he made the sign of the cross. As an ex-Catholic, I would just think that it was funny, but I'd also understand why some might be offended or simply choose not to emulate it."

Personally I would consider it tacky and vulgar, but its hard to say "appropriation" about a symbol deliberately exported to a billion people. This is also why I don't get very upset at Catholicism used as a literary bad guy ... it's just THERE for people to borrow. Hard to complain about.

I'm not thrilled when people wear rosaries as fashion accessories, but I also recognize it's popular with a billion people so its chances of being misused increase exponentially. Some of those uses are outright offensive, but I realize 99% of offensive uses are inadvertent.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:31 PM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Eyebrows, when you're in the cultural majority the way Christians are, appropriation is far less of an issue. It doesn't represent the theft and possible eradication of your tradition(s) to the same degree that a minority might feel, when the culture of your nation is in part quite clearly yours. It's a luxury of privilege to be unconcerned about whether appropriation is deliberate or inadvertent.
posted by zarq at 7:56 PM on October 30, 2015 [13 favorites]


"Eyebrows, when you're in the cultural majority the way Christians are, appropriation is far less of an issue"

TOOOOOOOOOOTALLY.

Only responding because it came up. The part where its A BILLION PEOPLE matters. (My internet is out because of utility work so mobile only internet may be rendering me too brief for clarity, sorry.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:27 PM on October 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Eh, I don't think you can lump "Catholic" in with Protestant denominations when talking about culture. It's like talking about France and Greece as part of one culture because they are both European.
posted by Justinian at 9:05 PM on October 30, 2015 [1 favorite]


Ironically, Leonard Nimoy read this quote from Numbers in Civilization IV when you discover Priesthood, which is the only reason I knew it.
posted by TypographicalError at 9:34 PM on October 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


One day I managed to get my fingers in position, and proudly showed my mother. I was shocked when she said, “Stop that right now! That’s for the Kohanim to do, and them only!”

Is that only because she was a female, and not a man, as Kohanim are required to be (at least that is my understanding?)
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 10:18 PM on October 30, 2015


So, if I'm reading this thread right, it's totes okay for non-Jews to do this thing without any knowledge of or regard to the religious meaning, because hey, a Jew started it. Because us Jews are like, monolithic, or something, and Leonard Nimoy clearly spoke for all of us.

For the record, I think it's lovely how Nimoy incorporated this bit of himself into the show. And I think it's lovely when fans know and appreciate the meaning behind the gesture. But when the gesture becomes associated more with Spock than with Judaism, yeah that's appropriating.

This is happening when there is still an active thread in MeTa about cultural appropriation. The cognitive dissonance, it burns.

I wouldn't let my Goth/emo daughter buy cross jewelry for fashion, and I explained to her that this is a symbol that is deeply meaningful to many people, therefore it's not okay to wear it as a trend. Divorcing a thing from its symbolism and meaning to a particular group is appropriation, and not cool.
posted by Ruki at 10:19 PM on October 30, 2015 [2 favorites]


Leonard Nimoy was, by the end of his life, a staunch Reform Jew. Maybe he didn't really care for the privileges of the kohanim?
posted by jb at 10:29 PM on October 30, 2015 [6 favorites]


So, if I'm reading this thread right, it's totes okay for non-Jews to do this thing without any knowledge of or regard to the religious meaning, because hey, a Jew started it. Because us Jews are like, monolithic, or something, and Leonard Nimoy clearly spoke for all of us.

Who has been saying Jews are monolithic? If anything it's the total opposite: there's a wide range of stakeholders in Jewish cultural symbols, from people with a Jewish cultural and ethnic background, to people for whom practiced Judaism is a crucial part of their daily lives. Speaking for myself, if there's any one thing that I see in this, it's that I can't simply proclaim that this is OK or not OK for everyone else, because my experience of Jewish heritage is bound to be significantly different from other peoples'.

This gesture has value for many non-Jews because it was intentionally shared with them by a member of the community. He shared it because it came to mind as a gesture of goodwill, but in so doing he removed it from its original context. So for probably millions of people, it was never a Jewish symbol to begin with, but rather something attached to a work of fiction. Do we still call that appropriation if it was a Jew himself who divorced it of its original meaning? Did his affiliation with that symbol, and the personal meaning it had for him, grant him an authority to recontextualize it like that? And then because it was shared with a wider audience in this way, do we consider the members of that audience who don't know the original context to be committing an act of disrespect - and if so, does that come back to Nimoy for removing that context in the first place?

These are all questions I can't answer simply, but that's why I think this is a really interesting case. I mean, I have my own personal leanings on this, but I couldn't claim to have the final word by any means. This is something that is at once very personal to me, and at the same time something I can't claim to own in any sense. I suspect there are varying degrees of engagement and identification for everyone with Jewish heritage, and that might very well influence how we all see this.

I study appropriation from other peoples' cultures all the time, and this is giving me some perspective on what happens when my own heritage is at stake. It's unfair to people to say this conversation is just evidence of awful cognitive dissonance, because some of us may genuinely feel that this is a different situation entirely, or may not agree on the proper response. I don't think it's so black and white as to condemn people for seeing it one way over another.
posted by teponaztli at 10:58 PM on October 30, 2015 [7 favorites]


Nimoy didn't use the sign of the Cohanim; he adapted it. The actual gesture is two hands put together and held above the head. His is one hand held to the side.

This is not, by the way, a forbidden gesture in Judaism, or one that nobody but the Cohanim may attempt. When Cohens do it, it's at a specific time or place, but anybody else can do it just to show what it looks like. Even non-Jews. Despite this author's mother's claim, there is no prohibition against people other than Cohanim doing it.

That being said, if a Jewish person expresses discomfort about someone doing the gesture, don't do it around them. Nobody needs to toss out live long and prospers at every moment, and if someone finds it disrespectful, it is doubly so when you continue to do so in front of the person who asked you not to.
posted by maxsparber at 11:51 PM on October 30, 2015 [18 favorites]


Really I thought it was V for Vulcan and also an adaptation of the 'peace' hand gesture.
posted by adept256 at 12:10 AM on October 31, 2015


[A couple of comments deleted; let's skip the jokiness about not being able to make X common gesture / any gestures at all for fear of causing possible offense, which tend to read as "any discussion of this is silly," even if not meant that way.]
posted by taz (staff) at 1:13 AM on October 31, 2015


How about the Hunger Games salute?

You mean the Ukrainian Tryzub salute?
posted by dazed_one at 3:11 PM on October 30


I think you mean the one used by Scouting.
posted by mikurski at 1:37 AM on October 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


I think it's always valuable to reflect on whether we're doing the right thing.

The USA is a very, very Christian country, and Jewish culture in the media is almost always presented and interpreted through that lens. I respect Nimoy's use of that sign, because he slid an unequivocally Jewish symbol into popular culture without dumbing it down or making it comprehensible or palatable for non-Jewish Americans.

Nimoy's use of a Jewish symbol is especially meaningful because he was portraying a Vulcan - a "race" that is part of the Federation, whose members are individually valued, but whose apparent influence on the Earth-centered Federation is close to nil. Star Trek's characterisation of Vulcans (which Nimoy obviously helped develop) is that they're highly-intellectual aliens, somewhat clannish, with a rich culture that can be almost totally ignored. They keep to themselves, and intermarriage with humans is rare, shocking, and the sort of thing that "isn't talked about" but actually comes up all the time. Every now and then Vulcans need to take time off work for cultural reasons. It's highly inconvenient, but best not to ask too many questions. In other words, Vulcans are Jews and Nimoy's use of the sign is, IMO, a nod and a wink to other Jews.

I'm not crazy about the subsequent commercialisation, but once the door is opened the door is opened. Star Trek's use of the sign is, unequivocally, an act of appropriation. I think we should take the good with the bad in this case, because talking about it helps us recognise the general subordination of non-WASP culture in popular media.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:49 AM on October 31, 2015 [19 favorites]


On NPR's Science Friday recently (at about the 60m mark), David J. Peterson, the linguist who developed Dothraki and Valyrian for Game of Thrones, was asked by Ira Flato if he had ever considered attempting to reappropriate/preserve an existing dying language by inserting it into a show/popular culture. I thought Peterson's response was very thoughtful about his moral responsibilities as a language inventor. One of the things he says is if he uses a living language as a basis for a language in a TV show and needs to express a new idea that doesn't already exist in that language, he would have to invent it. He argues that he has no right to extend that culture/language as a non-member of that culture.

It seems like a really good idea to consider the moral implications of large-scale cultural reappropriation for pop culture/commercial use. And borrowing an entire language or set of rituals for a TV show probably would indeed be a misappropriation.

But to suggest that using a single gesture, partly inspired by part of a single ritual, constitutes misappropriation of an entire culture seems kind of far-fetched, particularly when the symbol was incorporated as a sign of a respect.
posted by tempestuoso at 7:09 AM on October 31, 2015 [4 favorites]


Is that only because she was a female, and not a man, as Kohanim are required to be (at least that is my understanding?)

That's a complicated question. Fuzzing it is that Kohen means two things: a job (the job of being a priest, specifically, which is 100% moot in modern Judaism except for this one blessing once a year), and the one of the twelve tribes of Israel which held that job and passed it down hereditarily. In Judaism, religion is matrilineal (hence the whole 'children of a Jewish mother are Jewish' thing), but tribe affiliation is patrilineal. That being said, we've lost track of ten of the twelve tribes, so only Kohenim and Leviim (Levites, who assisted the Kohenim in temple rites) identify as such; everyone else is considered to be from the tribe of Yisroyel, which is basically a catch-all.

All this is background to the answer that while women can't hold the job of Kohen, they can be members of the tribe of Kohen if their father is a Kohen. They thus fall in to a category called bat-kohen, or "daughter of a kohen", which involves assorted spiritual rights and responsibilities which are entirely meaningless today.
posted by Itaxpica at 8:56 AM on October 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


I feel like we are still struggling to work out when an element from a particular culture has been appropriated, and when it has been shared.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 4:36 AM on November 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


I'm the author of the piece, and I greatly enjoyed this thread.
posted by avrahani at 8:40 PM on November 1, 2015 [11 favorites]


I enjoyed the article, and I respect your position even though on balance I'm glad Spock adopted it.
posted by Joe in Australia at 9:40 PM on November 1, 2015


Welcome to MetaFilter, avrahani. Come for the fracas, stay for the discussion.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 11:32 PM on November 1, 2015


To be clear, I love Spock. I love Leonard Nimoy - I actually cried when he died. And I love, for the most part, that he gave something of ours to the world. But I feel that if the world knew how meaningful the source is (to him as well as me; note that I do not claim to speak for millions of my co-religionists) it would feel like it was being shared instead of having lost some of the meaning.
posted by avrahani at 6:47 AM on November 2, 2015 [6 favorites]


The USA is a very, very Christian country

Indeed, we live in a society where the dominant religion is itself based on a massive act of cultural appropriation.
posted by snottydick at 12:29 PM on November 2, 2015 [1 favorite]


avrahani: "I'm the author of the piece, and I greatly enjoyed this thread."

Howdydo. This is a pretty awesome place, and I suspect you will like it here.
posted by Samizdata at 3:04 AM on November 9, 2015


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