Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Breaking News Alert: Judd Apatow is Jewish

An interesting review of the latest Apatow-gang film, here at Zeek.
Although religion is rarely evoked, it is nonetheless clear to anyone who is educated on the subject that their male protagonists are at least culturally Jewish. Indeed, Apatow’s camp has been called a “Jew Tang Clan,” playing off the name of the Wu-Tang Clan, a highly productive Staten Island hip-hip collective. By itself, this emphasis on identity might not seem particularly noteworthy. It’s not as if Hollywood has avoided Jewish humor in recent decades. What distinguishes the representation of Jewishness in films like Get Him to the Greek is that it exaggerates the schlub in its boyish men to the point where they veer perilously to negative stereotype.

These aren’t “stealth” Jews, getting to have their ethnic heritage and transcend its historical burden. Even when their romantic exploits succeed, against daunting odds, they remain marked by their deviation from the urbane, polished and post-ethnic masculinity of conventional male leads. Apatow projects may be Cinderella stories, but the magic wand doesn’t redress the superficial imbalance between their male protagonists and the love interests they improbably win over. They are both “everymen,” devoid of the special traits that stardom normally demands, and decidedlyJewishmen.
The character of Aldous Snow (in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, at least - I've yet to see this one), by being British and named Snow, is an exaggeration of whiteness every bit as much as these schlubs are exaggerations of Jewishness. Unfortunately, most audiences, reviewers, and critics just ignore the Jewish elements of the Jew-Tang Clan.
Unless, that is, members of the audience fail to recognize them as ethnic at all. One of the signal developments in postwar American Jewish history is a gradual decrease in visibility. While it might seem obvious that the protagonists featured in films from the Apatow camp are Jewish, there are plenty of moviegoers in the United States who lack the knowledge and experience to reach that conclusion. Although some of these pictures’ popularity may be a function of this ignorance – would Middle America respond to them as favorably if they were understood as ethnic films? – the degree of integration it indicates is still largely salutary.
Salutory? That's fair, as long as it is recognized that's not always the most important question. It's pretty clear from Apatow's films and a host of other places -- indeed, from the creation of Zeek, itself, founded with the recognition that Jews in journalism tend to hide their Jewishness -- that there's been a need to find new ways to express Jewishness. To be Out. That word appears in Michaelson's editorial and also in Jon Stratton's Coming Out Jewish. It's a word I like to describe a dilemma of contemporary Jewihsness.

This isn't always the most important question, either, but it's one I find interesting because it points to the relationship between Jews and the Left: Would feminists respond as critically if the ethnic character of these films, which the filmmakers strive to exaggerate, weren't so thoroughly erased? Such criticisms are right, so far as they go (in that they're not the only audiences erasing Jewishness), but it sure is frustrating.

No comments: