Episode 30: Seder Masochism - Nina Paley

How might Judaism, atheism, and art blend together into a deep exploration of the meaning of a key Jewish practice today? Celebrated comics artist and animator Nina Paley, creator of the highly regarded animated feature film Sita Sings the Blues and the animated feature film-in-progress Seder Masochism [1],  joins Dan and Lex to discuss a wide variety of issues that have arisen as she has taken on the Passover seder in her current project. This episode is the second in a four-episode series on the role of art and artists in contemporary American Judaism.

Image Credit: www.alchetron.com

Image Credit: www.alchetron.com

(0:01 - 12:17): Paley describes her own Jewish background, growing up with parents who were atheists but who, for one reason or another, still valued the experience of the Passover seder. She identifies herself as a "born-again atheist" and explains the ways in which her recent study of the Book of Exodus has left her uncomfortable. We discuss how her current film project, Seder Masochism, came to be. [2]

(12:18 - 27:04): Paley explains her opposition to copyright and what she terms "permission culture." [3] She then explores what it means for her (and her parents before her) to identify as both Jewish and as an atheist. We discuss Paley's previous feature-length film, Sita Sings the Blues, and consider whether there are relevant similarities between American Hindus and American Jews. [4]

(27:05 - 42:52): We return to the topic of art, exploring the extent to which prohibitions on graven images have had a detrimental effect on the quantity and types of art produced by the Abrahamic religions over time. We also return to the subject of Passover seders, examining their evolution over the course of history and how the Rabbis may have been struggling with the same concerns that Paley is struggling with today in making the film.. 

[1] Though she has not compiled all of her videos into a feature film yet, Paley has shared much of her still-in-progress work on Seder Masochism on her blog.. It is available to view online. Visit this link to view many of the short clips that will become part of Seder Masochism. Click the video link on the left for one particularly provocative clip, entitled "This Land Is Mine" (not advisable for young children).

[2] To view Sita Sings the Blues in its entirety, you can visit this Youtube link (available for free due to Paley's opposition to permission culture). It has been viewed by over 1,000,000 people!

[3] To learn more about Paley's opposition to copyright and permission culture, you can view her TEDx Talk on the subject, entitled "Copyright is Brain Damage" (available by clicking the video directly to the left).

[4] For an interesting article on the similarities between Hindus and Jews, read this piece by Gabe Weinstein in New Voices Magazine