Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Jewno: Generational Divide

First watch this:


I thought this was laugh out loud funny. My mother thought it was funny but it made her "squirm." Humor is an important aspect of Jewish tradition and helped save us from some of the worst aspects of our history. However, where do we draw the line between "insider baseball" and what we share with the public?

Looking back on history, the majority of our humorists (like a majority of all of Jewish art) was enjoyed by Jews. Dating back to pre-modern Europe and as recently as Summering in Catskills, most of our jokes were delivered to our people. However as the Jewish community has been invited into the mainstream in the United States, the beacon of pop for the entire world, Jewish humor and entertainment has taken a more central and public role in modern culture.

Jews created Hollywood and the business side of Show Biz for no other reason than they were permitted into the industry. In the beginning, movies were looked down upon as low level and dirty entertainment. So a group of guys took the opportunity to make a few dollars and a lot of very pro-establishment, pro-American (pro-White Anglo Saxon Protestant) movies. Not until the 1970s did we start to see movies, TV shows or anything else for that matter with very much diversity on the screen.

The change came about due to the change in the concept of the American dream. We once saw the United States as the "Great Melting Pot." Yet with the rise of cultural-nationalism, minority pride and the other social movements of the 1960s and 1970s this all changed; we became more of a mixed salad: all parts important and bringing a distinctive taste to the bowl.

I grew up in a time (and in places) where it was fine to be Jewish and to express one's Jewish-ness. While there still is anti-Semitism, it isn't a daily problem for the vast majority of the American Jewish community. We are the second best educated, wealthiest minority group in the United States, and have been for my entire life. While it isn't perfect for Jews here in the USofA, it is pretty darn close.

So it only makes sense that due to our success, we would share our culture with others. However for thousands of years, our culture - including our food, literature, music and humor - has been for US, not THEM.

Now the Luftmenchen say let THEM figure it out; art is art and we should let it speak for itself. Others, like those in my parents' generation, will say we should be careful how we present ourselves to the rest of the world; THEY still hate us you know. As with most issues facing the Jewish community, there isn't a black and white answer to this problem.

Borat came out in theaters more than a year ago and cause a HUGE ruckus. I got the DVD (because it was on mega clearance - how can you pass up such a deal?) and started watching it. I found it to be boring. I had heard the jokes, didn't think they were all that funny, but not for their offensive nature (which they are) but because that is an old bit. The Ali G Show was funny, Borat, Ali G and Bruno are all funny characters. The Ali G movie was not funny and so I wasn't surprised when I found Borat to be similarly lackluster.

However, people like my mother rejected the movie out right because it did nothing good. "It puts nothing positive into the universe," she said. I would happen to agree, but that is because the movie was bad. This generational divide, as my mom coined in our conversation about Jewno, is at the core of this conversation.

Does art and humor educate people or does it simply enforce stereotypes? In its purest form, art elevates our human existence and according to Walter Benjamin it all started as a way to give praise in religious life. Is our art pure in our time? I do not think so. However Jewish humor has influenced thousands of comedians and has made THEM laugh for a very long time - and not always at US.

This is something that will change over time. Just like the trends change with the season and are influenced by the ones that came before, our humor - and understanding of it appropriate display - will change. And a little squirming (for everyone) can be a good thing.

3 comments:

DK said...

"We are the second best educated, wealthiest minority group in the United States"

Can't wade through that site you linked to. Just tell me, who is the first?

Liberal Jew said...

Hindus, according to Pew.

DK said...

Hmmph.