Sunday, September 10, 2006

Yuk Yuk: Is Anti-Semitism the Next Big Thing?

Comedy often shows us what society really thinks and really worries about. It addresses the concerns and truths that lie just under the surface. But comedy is also very parochial. One person's funny is another's tasteless, politically incorrect, or merely "I don't get it."

And it is also true that taste in comedy (and most other things) spreads, usually from the cultural elites to the rest of us. So if you want to know what children's names will be popular in 10 years from now, look and see what California and Massachusetts university professors are naming their babies today. If you want to see what music will be hot next fall, find the right youth sub culture, and listen to what they are listening to right now.

Based in this approach, I predict that both anti-Semitism and concern about anti-Semitism will both get more mainstream in the coming year. (Of course you could conclude the same thing by reading newspaper accounts about the reactions to the recent Lebanon/Israel war.)

A cases few of where "leading edge" comedy is playing on anti-Semitism for laughs:

  • Spamalot – I went to see this extremely silly and very entertaining musical with my family. To my utter surprise, a play set in Arthurian England, and based on a movie I know half by heart, had one song and one joke about Jews - their supposed power and their fears of anti-Semitism. The audience laughed and applauded particularly loudly, and a bit nervously I thought, at these bits – usually a sign of recognition of a hidden and uncomfortable truth exposed.

    For the song "You Won't Succeed on Broadway", I imagine some in the audience thought the hidden truth revealed was that "the Jews control the media", and the others thought it was "that so many people believe the Jews control the media".

    The joke wherein the page explains that he had hidden his Jewishness from King Arthur, because "Its not an easy thing to admit to a heavily armed Christian, is its sire?" got even louder laughter and applause then the song. I interpret this to mean that most of the audience, in fact, felt uncomfortable with the possible anti-Semitism (as opposed to anti anti-Semitism) of the song, and where relieved to be able to express their own concern that anti-Semitism in the world, and among their peers is rising. I hope I am not being too optimistic here.

  • The Hebrew Hammer II – this upcoming sequel to the silly and tasteless (but I think pretty funny) original Hebrew Hammer (which made fun of Blaxploitation films and of Jews ambivalent feelings about power, rather than any concern about anti-Semitism) opens with a scene wherein "The Hammer" stops Mel Gibson for erratic driving.

    “Hey, copper, you a f—ing Jew?” Gibson asks.

    The Hammer smiles and says: “Well, actually, yes. Yes, I am.” He then pulls out a .45 and blows the actor’s brains out.

    Here the revealed uncomfortable truths are two. Mel Gibson is an anti-Semite (well, perhaps that’s not a revelation any more); and that many Jews are frustrated that there has been so little response to this and other signs of anti-Semitism, and would really like to see his brains blown out.

  • Borat – The Toronto International Film festival screened the world premier of "Borat Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan." (See the trailer here; see a review here ; and see Borat's infamous song "Throw the Jews Down the Well" here.)

    A major running gag of the film is the title character's extreme anti-Semitism. Audiences at the Toronto screening howled in laughter. The audience is made up of movie industry insiders and film aficionados. Precisely the cultural elites who typically lead the way to the next big thing. What is the revealed and uncomfortable truth they are laughing so hard about? IMO, that anti-Semitism is rising – and no one wants to discuss it openly yet.


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