LilaTovCocktail: Ingredients: one part NE Ohio; two parts politics; two parts media, and one part each: culture, family & the Jewish community. Directions: Shake well.

Ethnic identity and entertainment, part 2


Why are we obsessed with finding pop culture's crypto-Jewish subtext?

My friend Margi Herwald Zitelli, city editor of the Cleveland Jewish News, hates it when people feel compelled to demonstrate why something that is clearly ethnicity-neutral is "really Jewish." Examples:

  • Why baseball is really a Jewish sport

  • Why Barbie is really a shiksa (or a JAP)

  • Why Superman really is Jewish

We love to do this, find the crypto-Jewish content of everything, and I'm not sure why. We're not usually so blatantly chauvinist about ourselves (the whole "chosen people" thing aside).

It's easy to succumb. Even I have a pet theory about the secret Jewish content of of 1960s sitcoms, which I will share with you.

The supernatural sitcoms of the '60s were really about Hollywood producers married to gentile trophy wives.

  • "Bewitched" is really all about :"I married a blonde shiksa. For her, life is golden, effortless, whereas I have to struggle like the schmuck I am."

  • "I Dream of Jeanie" is really all about: "I thought I would enslave this dumb shiksa with my superior intellect. But in fact she has enslaved me. And all my friends like her better than me."

Bewitched was created by Sol Saks and based on a satirical short story in Harper's written by a young Norman Mailer titled The Witch of Westport.

Sidney Sheldon (né Sidney Schechtel) created, produced and wrote nearly every single episode of I Dream of Jeannie.

So my theory is plausible -- but is it meaningful? Not especially, not beyond that slight thrill of discovering crypto-Jewish content buried in America's best-loved cultural icons.

Jew or not a Jew?

The fascination with the crypto-Jewish roots of pop culture is what drives a number of websites containing lists of Jewish and nearly-Jewish actors, musicians, politicians, sports figures, and writers.

People are so fascinated by this that the Cleveland Jewish News bowed to populist tastes andpicked up Nate Bloom's popular syndicated column, Jewish Stars. The description of Bloom's feature: "Catching up with Members of the Tribe who are lighting up the entertainment world. Names of Jewish stars are in boldface."

The real payoff of this column is not reading about known Jewish celebrities, but discovering near-Jewish celebrities, those who are part Jewish, have married Jews or have played Jewish characters. For example, This week's Jewish Stars contains a section called "Jews-by-choice: real, fictional, and possible":

Kristen Davis, who played Charlotte, a convert to Judaism, in “Sex and the City,” visited Jerusalem’s Old City last week to promote Israel’s Ahava cosmetics. (snip) She refused to answer questions about whether she has a real-life affinity for Jewish men. However, in the past, she had very public romances with Jewish actors Liev Schreiber and Jeff Goldblum.

Appearing again in election news items is Cameron Kerry, 57, the brother of Sen. John Kerry (snip). Cameron converted to Judaism in 1983 (shortly before he wed his Jewish wife). In 2004, Cameron said he was “stunned” when a Boston Globe researcher uncovered that his paternal grandparents were Czech Jews who hid their Jewish origins after coming to America.

Jean Sarkozy, 21, the son of French President Nicholas Sarkozy, has just become engaged to his high-school sweetheart, Jessica Sebaoun-Darty, an heiress whose Jewish family controls one of the largest consumer electronics companies in France. (snip) The European Jewish Press website reports that the couple visited Israel earlier this month to “learn more about Jewish culture.” The French president, a practicing Catholic, has one Jewish grandparent -- his paternal grandfather was a Greek Jewish doctor who settled in France. (my italics)

We're happy to a cast a wide net when it comes to claiming celebrities as Members of the Tribe. If you're marrying a Jewish heiress or representing an Israeli cosmetics firm, you're Jewish enough -- at least enough to get into Jewish Stars (albeit without the boldface).

We're not always equally enamored of full-blooded practicing Jewish celebrities. Take the case of "Kosher porn queen Joanna Angel" and porn legend Ron Jeremy.

Jewtastic reported last year on an interview in which Angel "revealed more of her frum upbringing and how she is the most observant of Jewish porn performers around."

“I grew up religious, like didn’t use electricity on Saturdays, went to temple almost every week,” she told the Mr Skin website.

“I don’t eat bread on all the eight days of Passover. It sounds like a bold statement, but I would venture to say I am the most observant Jewish porn star.”

On the subject of fellow Semite, Ron Jeremy, Angel revealed she once had to judge a porn competition with him and found the whole thing very unappealing.

She says: “Ron Jeremy and I were both the judges of The Great American Squirt Off 2. It’s unfair that the only famous Jewish porn star is so unattractive.”

I guess Angel doesn't want to be a member of any club that would have her as a member.

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1 comments: July 11, 2008 at 11:03 AM  

Thanks for portraying me so accurately in blog!

I actually think you may be on to something with your Bewitched and Jeannie theories. I reviewed a book once called The Jews of Prime Time, which tracked Jewish characters on sitcoms and TV dramas from Molly Goldberg to Jerry Seinfeld. I was really amazed how many gazillions of Jewish male actors (or Jewish-seeming male actors standing in for Jewish writers) there were through the decades playing guys who were either explicitly or implicitly Jewish married to total shiksa trophy wives. What’s so great about shiksas? Honestly? (Says the woman who married a swarthy Italian-Polish practicing Catholic ... But only because he was funny and nice to me!)

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