I attended a comedy show at a Brewery downtown Denver. Being a woman myself, I was extremely enthusiastic about supporting these up-and-coming female comedians by paying the entry fee and being present, offering laughter where warranted. The first girl on stage wore a shirt that said “Satan” in bold text, using her supposedly Jewish heritage to make some joke about yellow mustard and how her ancestors “would turn in their graves” if she ever ate mustard other than the spicy brown kind. Being of Jewish descent myself, I did not find this humorous and began to question why she thought it was a valid joke to tell onstage. In my mind, her frivolous use of a Jewish cultural stereotype perpetuates a perception of the Jewish people that contributes to the greater misunderstanding and undermining of their roles in the various cultures that they inhabit.
Laughter is a universal language, spoken in every culture and understood by every person. The history of comedy is one that goes back ages, from the satirical plays of Sophocles and Shakespeare up to the present-day stand-up comedians and comedy on television. The history of comedy is one filled with lighthearted silliness as well as the exposition of darker truths, and many of the funniest jokes are undeniably the darkest ones. A question that I would like to ask is that of anti-Semitism in the comedies viewed by my generation, and how it has affected the way that my peers have taken sides in present-day issues.
Growing up in a Christian household only to discover my family’s predominant Jewish heritage, I was encouraged to think for myself in addition to the teachings of the Bible and Torah. The morals taught as a child hold sway in my perception of self and the world around me.
Being a 23-year-old Jewish American in the modern day is complicated. In my middle school and high school years, comedic TV shows such as South Park and Family Guy taught my friends how to treat me. The blatantly anti-Semitic jokes made in these shows were repeated to me by my peers until, eventually, I learned to overlook them and even laugh with them.
In my adult life, such matters are not so humorous, and I do not tolerate the same discrimination nearly as passively. Many acquaintances in recent years could have been considered friends, had they not displayed such unfiltered anti-Semitic humor in our otherwise enjoyable conversation. One particular coworker from Ukraine was courteous to me until discovering my Jewish background, after which he could not help but expressing explicit hatred for the Jews in many following conversations. Being made aware of such extreme opinions from someone who was not from the US has given me insight into how things might become in America if this thought pattern is perpetuated among the younger generations.
Shows like Seinfeld and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel include Jewish characters in a way that they are a source of comedy without adhering to the more offensive stereotypes that are typical in American television. The characters are both ridiculous and lovable, and the viewer can empathize with them in their commonplace difficulties and struggles.
Shows such as South Park and Family Guy are known for displaying crude and often controversial humor, and the Jewish people are not by any means exempt from the offensive jokes made throughout. It is the distortion of truths, the juxtaposition of stereotypes, and the intentionally demeaning depictions of Jews that have influenced (and continues to inform) so much of my generation’s opinion of the Jewish people.
Additionally, the growth in young people’s engagement in Middle Eastern affairs has been alarming throughout the course of my lifetime. Many of us were very young when the twin towers fell, and time has a way of smoothing the traumas of the past. At the very same comedy show that I mentioned earlier, another woman made a joke about 911, which got very few laughs — an illustration of how young people look upon the events in history with a lighthearted ignorance. Knowing nothing of domestic violence beyond the random shootings of the schools, theatres and malls of America, there can be little understanding of the extremity of events in many Middle Eastern nations.
The violence surrounding the land of Israel and plaguing the history of the Jewish people is dimmed by the call for Social-Justice fighters to defend the supposedly oppressed Palestinian people. My generation makes up a large number of these fighters, who feel that their fight is in defense of people who require their help.
I would argue, against many popular opinions, that the Boycott Divestment Sanction (BDS) movement, being a movement against the Jewish people inhabiting the land, is an anti-Semitic movement led mainly by people who do not even live in the nation. Students on college campuses across the US charge the State of Israel with occupation and the oppression of the Palestinian population when, in reality, the population of this state is comprised of both Arab and Israeli citizens with equal rights under the Israeli government.
Considering the reality of the situation, one must ask how my generation is so quick to buy into the propaganda against the Israeli government, military and people. In this age of social media and bottomless access to information through internet sources, it is much too easy to find inaccurate information and fake news in vast quantities of Facebook videos, online periodicals and other digital databases. People want to believe in something, to fight for something, and to represent a cause greater than themselves. The cause for the Palestinian people is an example of how young people in America have chosen to act heroically.
The only problem in this is the Jewish people become the enemy. By representing the one side, the other must be thrown under the bus. I believe that my generation’s passionate stance against the State of Israel is primarily due to the indoctrination within American media, and in particular, comedy, which has taught them how to think of the Jewish people. Instead of considering the reality of Jewish people’s oppression and persecution throughout history.
Instead of considering the constant barrage of attacks made on Israel by the surrounding nations, the emphasis is on acts of “Jewish terrorism” and Palestinian oppression. In America, so far removed from the culture of the Middle East, how citizens make an educated decision on which side to choose in a conflict that is not their own?
In my estimation, being taught by the entertainment industry and social media to laugh at the Jews’ misfortunes and see the term “Jew” as a blatant insult, siding against them in issues of the present day comes as second nature. These subconscious instructions on how to think in a seemingly harmless fashion have shaped the minds of many, especially since comedy plays such a prominent role in my generation’s culture. Generations and cultures before us have allowed the gradual seeping of misinformation to affect their biases, and the modern-day Arab-Israeli conflict is not the first example in which the majority sides against the Jewish people. And so, history can repeat.
-Written by Christina J Moore