Wendy and Woody: Generational and Geographic Joking and Jesting

05/22/2014 01:44 pm ET Updated Jul 22, 2014

When training to be a professor of religious studies, many of my mentors, editors, and teachers reminded me that, whether I were writing an essay or a book, and most especially giving a talk, knowing the audience was essential. Simply stated, the right essay (book/talk) for the wrong audience spells disaster. Graduate students on the job market are notorious for overindulging their own jargon "jones" and methodological mania in job-talks. The job-talk audience likely includes corralled undergraduates and bygone senior faculty who are not in the know about, or no longer interested in, all of that exclusive insider-language.

In this connection, the tremendous popularity of Wendy Doniger speaks volumes about the demographics of her devotees and her commendable ability to simultaneously entertain and educate. Reading and listening to Doniger, one expects that the bemused audience is privy to all of her clever inside-jokes, double-entendres, allusions to popular culture, Freud, self-deprecating humor, and references to Great Books, Great Thinkers, and Great Ideas. Reading Doniger is, in fact, even better when one hears her "live." I imagine that being mesmerized by her diction is an experience not unlike hearing bards who chanted the Mahabharata, the Odyssey, and other epics that she so deeply loves.

And the same people who are bhaktas (devotees) of Wendy usually are also bhaktas of Woody Allen...

There is common ground here, intellectual, of course, but also generational and geographic: New York, 1960s, self-reflexivity, reform and revolution. Fans of Woody must be familiar with and enamored of his particular and peculiar references, witticisms, self-deprecation, and especially his psychoanalytic concerns (sound familiar Wendy-ites?).

Like Woody, Wendy has a target audience in mind and it definitely is not Dina Nath Batra or any other right-wing Hindu.

And you do not see many Woody Allen movies in India (not much of a rival to Bollywood films I suppose). In fact, Woody withdrew his latest movie, a veritable blue film, Blue Jasmine, when he refused to follow the Indian guidelines depicting smoking on the silver screen. The privileged community who rued his cinemus interuptus could, of course obtain pirated copies or DVDs when they became available...

Does this remind you of anything?

Like Woody, Wendy's ideal liberal and intellectual audience understands her Freudian references, her sexual innuendos and foci, her Common Core comments and commentaries, and revels in her turning their gaze both inwards and outwards. Like Woody, Wendy has a small but fiercely devoted fan base of virtuoso readers-who adore her inside jokes and references, interspersed with Indological and Hindu data (of, course, she is now known more than a billion -- the price of being famous, or infamous -- in India).

But what happens when a person does not understand the references? the joking? the jesting? When one is not a virtuoso reader of Wendy Doniger? It becomes easy for that person to imagine that s/he is the butt of the jest/joke, as has Dina Nath Batra and his devotees. And this is made even easier when one places Doniger's work in a post-colonial context and hermeneutic, where there is no benefit in giving Doniger the benefit of the doubt.

So, maybe...

Wendy should learn from Woody and consider liber reservatus instead...

... and perhaps Dina Nath Batra and others should grab a slice and watch Annie Hall before reading her book!