Recently, Rushkoff's focus has shifted from alien subcultures to a culture perhaps too familiar to him and to me: Judaism. His first notable foray came in his book Coercion: Why We Listen To What 'They" Say; examining, among other topics, the suspicions that Jews wield disproportionate influence over matters of economics, politics and culture, and the history of the infamous Protocols of the Elders of Zion, originally a knockoff of a Napoleon III-era French satire which doesn't even mention Jews. And Rushkoff's recent novel, Exit Strategy , follows a dot.com tyro whose estrangement from his judgmental rabbi-father is only outmatched by his growing qualms about his industry's movement away from true interactivity and empowerment towards focus-group marketing, simmering anti-semitism and idolatry of the ultimate user-friendly program. Beneath that layer, though, the story also serves as an update of the Biblical legend of Joseph. Moreover, Rushkoff posted chapters of the book online as he wrote them and encouraged readers to add footnotes as though they were scholars from 200 years in the future. The end result is a parenthetical secondary text reminiscent of David Foster Wallace: often brilliantly funny, Talmudic, and collaborative in nature and possibly fit for independent appreciation.
If Coercion marked the beginning of Rushkoff's interest in changing perceptions of Judaism and Exit Strategy served as his parable about the current state of its institutions, Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism represents the culmination of his work to this point. For a writer who has spent the majority of his professional life deconstructing the memes being released into the infosphere, it is a graduation of sorts to try his hand at engineering a few himself.
Here's his claim: Judaism, at its best moments, stands for iconoclasm, social justice and abstract monotheism. Yet in the face of still fresh memories of persecution, overwhelming cultural assimilation and modern thought that seems more immediately applicable than any musty old testament, some sects have turned inwards, taking the central texts as literal, historical documents, in attempts to preserve rote ritual while ignoring their place within society.
Other Jewish sects, Rushkoff describes, have adopted marketing tricks and brinkmanship to fill temple coffers and ensure the purity of the 'Jewish bloodline." What was once purely a set of beliefs and traditions, intangible, adaptable and easily reproducible, like MP3s, has been 'burned" into the supposed Jewish race so many have sought to eradicate. The Jewish 'gene" and all other trappings of institutionalized Judaism have become the new Golden Calf.
The Sacred and the Profane
A Conversation with Douglas Rushkoff
Reinventing the Wheel: A Review of Nothing Sacred
They Gonna Crucify Me: A 'Lapsed Jew' Responds to Nothing Sacred
Plus these other attractions:
Meditation and Sensuality
Anything You Want to Be
Josh Graduates High School
Zeek in Print
Spring 03 issue available here