The Tyranny of Humorless People
I’m going all-in on defending Yitta Halbertsam’s non-troversial piece “Purim and the Tyranny of Ugly Girls” (or something like that), which has been under attack by all sorts of anti-fun Reverend of Bomont– like folks who balk at the idea of humor.
Some background: Halberstam wrote a brilliant satire on the yeshivish shidduch “crisis” in which she casts herself as potential monster-in-law who expects potential suitors for her son to undergo breast enlargement before dating him (or something like that- it’s hard to read these things on my ipod).
The piece is brilliant from beginning (“I know I’m going to be crucified” -comparing herself to Yoshka in The Jewish Press!) to “It is no crime for a young woman in shidduchim to enhance her appearance; in fact, it is probably an imperative… though she may not save the Jewish people from genocide” (as in, “Who knows, maybe she can!”).
So let’s start with idea #1 that she presents for solving the shidduch-crisis: Speed dates with young single girls and yeshiva boys’…mothers. In this system, instead of girls dating boys, girls date potential mothers-in law. Forget the awkwardness of trying to make conversation about gemara and football, we’re all girls here! Imagine the fun! Just like the “Joy Luck Club”! My only criticism here is that Halberstam stops short and does not flush out this idea to its full potential: Videoing it and turning it into a reality show. (Possible titles: “How I Met Your Mother?” “The Mother in Law-ette?” “The Shvigger Factor?”)
She then moves on to Idea #2 for solving the shidduch crisis: Girls should wear more makeup. Ok, no big chiddush here. But Halberstam takes the proverbial safflower and makes rouge, by completely putting concealer on the story of Megillas Esther. In her character’s reading, the heroine of the story is not Esther who, offered all the latest in Persian beauty treatments “asked for nothing” (Esther 2:15), rather the floozies in the harem who underwent a beauty treatment of “six months with oil of myrrh, and six months with sweet perfumes, and with other ointments for women (Esther 2:12),” as Halberstam’s character asks “The women of the kingdom who vied for the Queen’s throne were given twelve months to prepare for the beauty pageant – why hadn’t some of the girls at the shidduch event taken a mere half hour?” (I believe there is now a fifteenth unanswerable question).
Here Halberstam brings her master stroke. No, not name-checking Georgie of Heide and Mendi fame. Rather coming up with the best faux- holocaust story ever. This story, which satirizes this overused genre by telling a story in which a toothless girl who saved the Rebbe’s life is rewarded with a pair of dentures and lives happilyeverafter would be brilliant enough even if Halberstam herself did not literally write the book on feel-good holocaust stories. Not since Eddie Murphy in “Bowfinger” did an artist mock themselves so ruthlessly in their own work.
After all this, Idea #3, that parents take out loans to “invest” in a “panoply of cosmetic and surgical procedures “ may be the tamest idea put out there. At least it feels a bit worn on the heels of the recent Groggers scandal. But people with no sense of humor have no sense of humor, and have been wringing their ringless hands over this cuts-too-close-to-the-bone suggestion.
A message to all you puritanical prigs: Satire is best done subtlety. Being able to pen a piece in which the reader is not sure if the author is at all serious or not is what separates mediocre writers from great ones.