Sunday, April 26, 2009

Matriarchs and Patriarchs

Jonathan Goldstein as public presence - he's the creator and host of CBC's WireTap - appears to be the quintessential schlemiel. Diffident, slightly self-deprecating, he provided a sly foil to Jian Ghomeshi's flustered opening remarks at the Blue Metropolis event.

Ghomeshi was compelled to make a reference to his unfortunate interview with Angelina Jolie's unmentionable ex. Also, desperate to establish some bizarre Norman Mailer-esque creds, he described Margaret Atwood running her fingers through his luxurious locks (my expression, not his) before and after his 'maiden' Blue Met interview with her in 2007. "Oh," inquired the mild-mannered Goldstein, "that would be her real hand, and not the book-signing automated hand?". A lightly chastened Ghomeshi, thus reminded of who was actually the vedette of the interview, re-calibrated his focus.

Though Goldstein is broadly known for his CBC radio work, he is also a published writer and his latest book generated un frisson of the now-obligatory outrage. Ladies and Gentlemen: The Bible! did not endear him to orthodox Jews nor fundamentalist Christians.

Goldstein skillfully demonstrated his talent for locating humour in the gap between the familiar and the alien. His re-telling of Bible stories is an adult's embellishment of those imaginative flights of fancy inspired by his childhood copy of a Golden Books Illustrated Bible. Goldstein also described, with radio-clip in support, other critical turning-points in his own personal exegesis of this religious text. He did not set out to make fun of a book that is sacred to many; he simply unpacked stories that offered material ripe for comedic expansion.

His mother and his father are the perfect, if not requisite bouncing-boards for launching the spinning of biblical lore. His recollections of Important Moments are remembered quite differently by his parents, and in that gap there is much humour that Goldstein mines.

Ghomeshi appeared unsettled by a recurring motif in the bible stories - many if not most of the male characters are disappointing while the females are resourceful, smart and sensible. Goldstein mostly shrugged, in his wise "Plus ça change plus c'est pareil." way. Cultural archetypes and memes are his stock in trade and he uses them cleverly to great effect.

One of my event-attending companions, a pragmatic matriarch observed that Goldstein reminded her of Woody Allen in his understated schlemiel, perhaps schnook-like demeanour. Indeed. I would hasten to add, though my cultural references are not as expansive and knowledgeable as hers, Goldstein is certainly not an over-compensating nebbish or possessed of a gvaldik ego. Ghomeshi however ...

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