Originally published on Jewschool.
Last February, I shared a link right here on Jewschool to a Craigslist ad advertising for models for a “Naughty Jewish Boys” calendar. I was so tickled by the idea when I saw it on my friend Duncan Pflaster‘s Facebook page, I didn’t even realize that he had posted the ad – or that the Jewschool post would bring it widespread Jewish media attention. Fast forward five months, and the calendar is a real thing that exists in the world in two versions: the regular and extra-naughty editions. I sat down with Duncan this week to chat about his adventures in putting these calendars together.
Naturally, the first thing I wanted to know about was what kind of controversy the calendar had generated. Duncan’s run-ins with the creator of the Nice Jewish Guys calendar have been well documented elsewhere, but I had to know: were religious people offended at the images of nearly-naked men with ritual objects? Were liberals offended at a non-Jewish photographer eroticizing or even fetishizing Jewish men? Nope. “Most everybody has thought it’s been a fantastic idea,” he told me, “Especially the Jewish press.” While he did have a couple of people get upset over eroticizing Judaism, the more common response has been from women saying “it’s incredible. Thank you so much for doing this.”
While Duncan isn’t himself Jewish, he’s not entirely disconnected from the community. “I grew up in South Florida,” he explained. “I live in NY now, so I’m steeped in Jewish culture. I write plays, and a lot of my plays have Jewish characters, so I’ve done a lot of research that way, and I know a lot of Jewish actors. My great-great-grandfather was Jewish – he came to America during the unpleasantness with Nazi Germany, but came to America and hid it and married a shiksa… So I have some Jewish blood but no claim to matrilineal descent.”
Duncan is familiar with some of the scholarship on Jewish masculinity, but the origins of this project were a little more mundane. “It all started out with joking around on Facebook after I had been to B&H and saw a particularly attractive cashier,” Duncan said, referring to the New York City photography store staffed almost entirely by Orthodox Jews. “I posted the Craigslist ad just to see if any models might possibly be interested in doing this – that’s what went viral immediately, and that’s what caused people to say they wanted to come be a part of it. Just the idea went viral, I didn’t have the chance to change my mind.”
I tried to push him on whether he, as someone outside the Jewish community, had the right or the standing to craft a project like this, but Duncan’s modesty about the project was entirely disarming. You get the sense that his interest is as much about representing an underrepresented population as it is about his personal desire for Jewish men.
Although he didn’t post a flyer in the staff lounge at B&H, Duncan did seek models on Model Mayhem and Backstage in addition to Craigslist and found himself with more applicants than months in the year. So what were the selection criteria?
“They had to be over 18, they had to be Jewish, mainly they had to live in NY, although a few people came from different states because they happened to have business in NY. We had one guy from Texas, one from Rhode Island, one from Boston… We had some interest in a couple guys from California, but they ended up not being in. We had so many more people apply than we could actually use,” Duncan explained. “The other qualification was how naked they wanted to get. If they wanted to be in the extra-naughty calendar, they had to at least show something. I gave them the option – do they want to go shirtless, underwear, show your butt, go full frontal.”
Despite the title of the project, a couple of models got cold feet at the last minute. “One guy was just completely shocked that naked pictures of them were going to be in the calendar, even though in an email he said he was fine with rear nudity, even though he signed the release,” Duncan said. “He’s still in there under an alias. Another guy backed out of the extra-naughty calendar but is still in the regular calendar. I could have used them anyway, they signed a release, but I didn’t.”
While Duncan himself doesn’t appear in the calendar, he did just about everything else to bring this project to life, from photography to design, to marketing. “I attempted to contact actual calendar makers to see if they’d be interested in taking this on for me,” he said, “but it turns out that most people coming to them with an idea in 2014 wouldn’t have a calendar until 2016 – it takes them that long to process, so I decided to do it myself.”
While I had thought of this as a gay project from the get-go, the reality is more complex. The models are mostly (but not entirely) straight, and there’s been significant interest from straight women in the final product. “I think that everybody likes to see attractive men with their clothes off, and we’re selling to anybody who would like to see that,” Duncan said. “I think women have been conditioned not to express that kind of desire in public, but I get a lot of whispers from women saying this is such a great idea, thank you for doing this. Gay men are much more blatant about it. I post the Naughty Jewish Boy of the week on Twitter and Facebook, and I get men who always say ‘this is great.’ I find the hefty, hairier men are the ones the men tend to be into, and the slimmer guys tend to elicit responses from the women. There’s something for everyone.”
Learn more and purchase calendars at www.naughtyjewishboys.com/.