Like I’ve been saying, the big trend of 2015, following the anti-Semitic massacres by Muslims in Europe, is that the group that dominates the contemporary mindset, ethnocentric liberal Jews, are starting to feel the pressure on the obvious logical contradictions between their sensible is-it-good-for-the-Jews ethnocentrism and their public avowals of diversity uber alles.
Today in The New Republic, there’s an article by Phoebe Maltz Bovy that is both tendentious and insightful about the Crisis of the Moment: comedy.
Anti-Jewish Jokes Don’t Get a Pass Anymore
Trevor Noah and Lena Dunham learned that lesson the hard way
By Phoebe Maltz Bovy @tweetertation
Just as the furor over Lena Dunham’s “Dog or Jewish Boyfriend?” jokes was winding down, a new controversy over Jewish jokes has begun. Trevor Noah, the newly announced replacement for “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart turns out to have tweeted some not nice things about various groups, Jews among them:
Trevor Noah ✔ @Trevornoah
Behind every successful Rap Billionaire is a double as rich Jewish man. #BeatsByDreidel
The background behind Noah’s amusing #BeatsByDreidel hashtag is that NWA rapper Dr. Dre and record executive Jimmy Iovine sold their Beats by Dre headphones company to Apple, with Iovine getting the larger share of the loot. The factual problem with what Noah tweeted, however, is that I can’t find any evidence that Iovine is anything other than Italian Catholic. But, hey, it’s a tweet, not a monograph. On the other hand, it’s “controversial” not because it’s factually mistaken, but because everybody knows that, even without Iovine, Jewish music executives played an outsized role in the gangsta rap that persuaded so many impressionable young black idiots to become crack dealers. If Iovine were actually Jewish, Noah’s joke wouldn’t be better, it would be worse.
Trevor Noah ✔ @Trevornoah
Almost bumped a Jewish kid crossing the road. He didn’t look b4 crossing but I still would hav felt so bad in my german car!
Jewish comedians have been joking about their people’s mania for expensive German cars at least since the 1970s when, in my recollection, the Mercedes-Benz 450 SL convertible was the pre-eminent car in Beverly Hills. But how Jewish is Trevor Noah? Is he ethnically privileged enough to joke about Jews and German cars or not?
Whether the newly (and not so newly) uncovered tweets lean more sexist than anti-Semitic is an open question, though these are not mutually exclusive categories. Did you hear the one about how Jewish women won’t perform oral sex?
Trevor Noah ✔ @Trevornoah
Messi gets the ball and the real players try foul him, but Messi doesn’t go down easy, just like jewish chicks. #ElClasico
Noah’s joke here is that soccer legend Lionel Messi doesn’t flop as much as other players, who fall down a lot hoping to draw the ref’s whistle. Messi is admired for preferring to stay on his feet despite defensive contact and just keep playing. Why comparing Jewish women’s apparent respect for their virtue to the world’s greatest soccer player’s respect for competition rather than for fakery is supposed to be anti-Semitic is unexplained. But that’s not the point, the point is that you aren’t supposed to joke about Jews if you aren’t officially Jewish.
What surprised me wasn’t that a comedian had made anti-Jewish jokes. It was that it’s become common for Jews—and non-Jews—to express outrage over them.
In my response to the latest Dunhamgate, I connected the response to her New Yorker [set of jokes] to a growing sense that anti-Semitism is on the rise. Jeffrey Salkin had a similar take:
The heyday of Jewish comedians coincided with a sense that the Jews had, in fact, arrived. Jews felt safe. But this new wave of anti-Semitism has left Jewish nerves raw and frayed. Call us tribal, if you want—but there is something unnerving about seeing all of those silly Jewish stereotypes on display in the venerable pages of The New Yorker.
There was a time, in the not-so-distant past, when Jewish humor mocked the older generation’s preoccupation with anti-Semitism. In a 1996 “Seinfeld” episode, Jerry’s Uncle Leo believes everyone who’s ever slighted him, including a chef who’s overcooked his burger, is an anti-Semite. It could, at that time, be presented as hilarious and anachronistic that a Jew would see anti-Semitism as a genuine threat. But that was nearly 20 years before Jeffrey Goldberg’s recent article in The Atlantic about the new anti-Semitism. The burden of proof now falls on those wishing to demonstrate that anti-Semitism isn’t a big deal.
But how exactly does one call out casual anti-Semitism in comedy? It can be tough to sort out, in part because it’s often unclear—even to a Jewish audience attuned to such things—if the joke-teller is Jewish. Lena Dunham’s half-Jewish heritage was not immediately obvious to all; that Noah is a quarter Jewish has gone largely unnoticed. Because Jews are only a quasi-visible minority, if that, it’s largely at the artist’s discretion if she is going to self-present as a Jewish performer. Humor that might not seem offensive coming from one comedian of Jewish background might seem so from another—especially if that comedian is a mixed-race South African.
It’s not clear, however, that if Noah pointed out more often that he has a Jewish grandparent that it would be okay for him to make the occasional Jewish joke. Commenter Justin suggested on iSteve:
Seems like as the number of mischlings increases, the full-Jews feel the need to crack down on them, so gentiles don’t get the idea that Jews are fair game for comedy.
As of 2015, there are a lot of Americans who are part-Jewish. It might make pragmatic sense for part-Jews to make use of privileges afforded to self-identifying Jews, such as free Birthright vacations in Israel on Sheldon Adelson’s dime.
But perhaps the great conflict of the future will be between full Jews and part Jews?
Phoebe Maltz Bovy continues:
And what to make of questionable jokes written by Jewish writers but spoken by non-Jewish TV characters? In one “Modern Family” scene, Manny is selling Christmas wrapping paper door-to-door. “Do you love Christmas?” he asks a woman. She tells him she’s Jewish, so Manny—a prepubescent Latino—responds, “Well, then, you must appreciate a good value!” And yet, the show’s co-creator is Jewish. Or consider a recent episode of “The Mindy Project,” in which Mindy Lahiri tells her boyfriend that she wants to raise their kid Jewish, even though neither of them are, “so he can get ahead in life.” Was this not offensive to the many Jews apparently in the writers’ room?
You know, when professional comedy writers feel offended by a joke, they usually try to channel their resentment into topping the other guy’s joke with something even funnier rather than into insisting the other guy shut up and submit. They’re more like Tom Brady v. Peyton Manning than Social Media Justice Warriors v. Jason Richwine or Brendan Eich.
Neither episode caused much of a stir—certainly nothing like the Dunham and Noah flaps—but perhaps they should have, regardless of the background of the writers rehashing these tired stereotypes.
“Tired stereotypes” = obvious stochastic reality.
And who—apart from Jews and their most committed allies, that is—is even going to wonder whether a show’s writers are Jewish? Anti-Semites! And they’re hardly going to object to Jews-and-money humor.
In America, the 97% of the population who aren’t either Jews or anti-Semites are pretty much intellectually disarmed by crimestop. It’s fascinating to try to list members of the 97% who kept their wits when it comes to thinking about Jewish influence in America. Off the top of my head, I can think of the obvious examples of Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Richard Nixon who together in 1969 conjured up neoconservatism by deliberately exploiting the Jewish ethnocentrism revivified by the 1967 Six-Day-War to get more Jewish intellectuals to support America in the Cold War. But in the last 45 years, I can only come up with a handful of names of gentiles who haven’t been intimidated: John Updike (for his good-natured series about the Jewish novelist Bech), and …
That fact that we’re having this debate indicates that anti-Jewish humor no longer gets a pass, that it’s not hypersensitive or paranoid of Jews to complain about anti-Semitism. This, combined with a broader culture of calling out insensitivity online, has made Jews more comfortable speaking out about things that some of us had been noticing all along. There’s a parallel to Dreyfus-era France here; indeed, it’s a pattern in Jewish history.
The difference from Dreyfus-era France, however, is that the people who turned out to be wrong in the Dreyfus case then were stripped of power by the 1905 legislation. In contrast, whenever some SJW case comes a cropper in a formal process of justice, as with Ellen Pao and Haven Monahan last week, we get lectured on how the important thing is that the sins of straight white cisgendered males were exposed.
More generally, comedy is much like sports in that both are important elements of why life is better today than during, say, the Dark Ages. Our natural hostilities and aggressions have found largely non-lethal outlets in sports and comedy.
While every culture tries to control internecine violence, often by trying to lessen animus toward others, Jewish culture found an interesting alternative, as implied by Berkeley historian Yuri Slezkine in his award-winning 2004 book The Jewish Century. Instead of trying, like Christianity to get people to act nicer toward the rest of the world, rabbinical Jews accepted disarmament, preventing feelings of hostility from being terribly fatal within the community. And resentment, such as of Jewish women toward Jewish men, is routed outside of the Jewish community to maintain ethnic unity, thus creating, for example, contemporary feminism.
Moreover, it’s better for everybody to sublimate anger into verbal aggression, especially in the form of humor.
Comedy has thus been an important avenue of the rise to dominance of Jews, rather like how the Victorian Anglo-Saxon genius for sports has reshaped the world in ways favorable to the English-speaking nations.
But what if the gentiles get good at comedy, too? Or, if you believe that gentiles are genetically unable to be funny, what about the proliferating numbers of only vaguely Jewish like this guy Noah?
While Obama is half black and half shy WASP, maybe somebody in the future will come along who is both part black, and thus a member of moral aristocracy of the world, as propounded in the media for generations by liberal ethnocentric Jews as a motte and bailey strategy, and part Jewish, and thus without the debilitating “Goyishe kop,” and really shake things up. Poor Trevor Noah may have unwittingly walked into embodying the greatest fear of ethnocentric liberal Jews: somebody who is both black and Jewish genetically, but isn’t obviously either loyal or frightened.
Is the important thing to compete, rather like how the British are now pretty hapless at winning world championships in the sports they invented?
Or is the important thing to win?
The funny Jews have had a good long run, but the unfunny Jews are now getting extremely concerned that things are getting out of hand, and that the future lies with Speaking Power to Truth.