Monday, April 17, 2006
Posted by Daniel Greenfield 16 Comments
The regular accusation Jews have to face from the right and occasionally the left is that 'Jews control Hollywood' and that therefore Jews, collectively, are responsible for Hollywood movies. When these criticisms are issued from the Christian religious right, they're usually issued by the same sort of people who argue that Catholics can't be held responsible for the Spanish Inquisition or the Holocaust, but that Jews must take collectively responsibility for the actions of some wealthy Hollywood executives and producers in funding movies by Catholic directors like Martin Scorcese or Kevin Smith that Christians find offensive.
But let's consider how Hollywood actually portrays Jews. First of all Hollywood rarely ever portrays Jews. This is a situation that has held up pretty well from the golden age of cinema right up until today. Those Hollywood figures who are Jewish don't like to be reminded of it or associated with anything Jewish
When Ben Hecht was working to organize a fundraiser to cover the costs of transporting Jews to Israel through the British blockade he asked David Selznick (Producer of King Kong, Gone With the Wind) to sign on as a prominent Jewish figure. Selznick asked Hecht what made him think that he David Selznick was Jewish. Hecht bet him that he could call any three people in Hollywood and ask them if David Selznick was a Jew and get the right response; which he promptly did.
After WW2 when Jews became somewhat more tolerated in America, Jewish figures in the public light became more open about their Jewishness. Today we even have the bizarre spectacle of public figures suddenly rediscovering some Jewish roots in time for a media blitz, as Gwyneth Paltrow did around Oscar time.
This hasn't however changed Hollywood's portrayal of Jews. When counting out the old line comedians, TV tends to portray Jews as nerdy, pushy, annoying and cheap. Jewish men on TV are almost always intermarried. Jewish women on TV, when they appear, are usually more obnoxious than the men. But even they rarely appear because mostly patently Jewish characters played by Jewish actors are transformed into non-Jews on a regular basis. Consider for example that on Seinfeld Kramer, George and Elaine were described as non-Jewish.
Jews rarely appear in movies altogether. When asked to think of a Jewish movie the average person would probably list the grotesque figure of Woody Allen, whose career is dedicated to self-hatred in a way that the Amos and Andy couldn't even being to aspire to or Schindler's List, whose two main characters were Germans and in which Jews appeared only as supporting characters. This is the usual state of affairs. As on TV stories involving Jewish characters are transformed into non-Jewish characters. Max Apple wrote a short story about his reaf life experiences living with his 107 year old grandfather. The movie version transformed the characters from a Jewish family to a Polish family. The very Irish D.B. Sweeney was cast to play the grandson and the director attempted to cast Robert Mitchum to play the the grandfather but finally had to settle for all too Jewish, Peter Falk.
How does a real life Jewish family become a Polish Catholic family on screen. It begins when the Jewish executive producers hire a non-Jewish director and screenwriter to transform Jews into non-Jews. Such incidents are not isolated but common place. Jewish characters have a narrow place in Hollywood in comedy where they are permitted to portray grotesque characters who ridicule Judaism and Jews; but even there the odds aren't so good.
Witness the current state of affairs where in time for Pesach, two movies about Jewish holiday celebrations are being released. First there's 'When Do We Eat,' the portrayal of a household full of thoroughly depraved and dysfynctional characters prepearing for a Passover meal. It goes without saying that Judaism is mocked and that the Jews there are portrayed as disgusting and that the only source of spirtuality there is an African-American woman wearing a cross around her neck.
Then there's 'Keeping Up With the Steins,' a movie about an average Jewish family if the average Jewish family were wealthy socialite Hollywood millionaires. It centers around a Bar Mitzvah, one that is of course devoid of spirtuality or religious significance, and is only a way of keeping score with the neighbors. Of course you'll hear much less about 'Keeping Up With the Steins,' because these Jews may be shallow stereotypes but they are human beings and they do learn and grow. By contrast 'When Do We Eat' is heavily hyped by the usual liberal Jewish publications such as JTA, The Forward and the UJA weeklies because it is exactly the display of nauseating Jewish self-hatred that Hollywood approves of. Much as blacks were limited to jolly displays of tap dancing, Jews are limited to appearing as grotesque neurotics.
The real discrimination in Hollywood is that it is run by liberals who dislike religion and despise and slander any political view but their own. If Jews collectively have any relation to Hollywood it is as victims to a degree that is far more pervasive and unspoken than anyone else.