Every six months or so, I get to revisit the ideas I was working on in Nothing Sacred. Each time I do, they are approached as less controversial and more accepted. In turn, I take that as an invitation to explore a bit more deeply, out loud.
This interview in New Zionist is unique mainly for the candid explanation of an effort called Reboot that I launched a couple of years ago. There’s also a nice little thread about the similarities between media literacy and Judaism:
NZ: Is there a relationship between the two subjects of your books: media/pop culture and American Jewry?
DR: Well, I don’t draw hard distinctions around these subject areas. To me, I’ve been writing about the same thing all along: whether or not we’re ready to become truly literate – and by that, I don’t mean just reading books, but understanding our media, our culture, and our very world as its potential creators.
To me, Judaism is a product of media literacy. Hieroglyphs were “priestly writing,” and limited to the priest and royal classes. The invention of the 22-letter Hebrew alphabet turned the greater population into readers and writers. So when God says to Abraham ‘you will be a nation of priests,’ he may as well be saying ‘you will be a nation who can read and write.’ Imagine that! A whole nation of people who have attained literacy. What would that mean?
It would mean a people who no longer simply react to the whims of their gods, but instead write their own laws, record their own history, and who take the very controversial stand that human action makes a difference. You have to realize, in pre-Israelite times, to say that human beings made a difference was blasphemy – heretical. For the Israelites to run off to the desert after desecrating Egypt’s highest gods (sacrificing a calf was illegal, particularly on April New Year’s Day when he was being revered) and then create a legal and spiritual system based on life – that was revolutionary. Lechaim is a naughty thing to say in a society based on death cults.
So Playing the Future is about how kids see themselves not just as passive recipients of media, but as its potential creators. Media Virus is about how the mediaspace is not impervious to our intervention. Coercion is about learning how to break free from mental slavery, and Nothing Sacred is about how literacy promotes the kind of iconoclasm that allows people to become what I’d consider to be “real” Jews – those who can see through idolatrous beliefs and engage with the core creativity of a path based in an ongoing, evolving relationship with Torah.