I saw Barton Fink a long time ago, before I had any sense of things Jewish, so Andy Nowicki’s fascinating TOO article
was a real eye-opener. I was intrigued enough to take another look. What sticks in my mind are the characters of Jack Lipnick and Ben Geisler as prototypical Hollywood figures of the period. Lipnick’s aggression, his massive ego, and his brutal treatment of everyone around are a sight to behold. As Nowicki notes, Lipnick is “a brash, loud, frightening and hysterically tyrannical man, who proudly declares himself to be ‘bigger and meaner than any other kike in this town.’”
There’s an amazing scene where Fink tells Lipnick that he doesn’t feel comfortable talking about his screenplay before it’s finished. Lipnick nods to his underling, Lou Breeze. Breeze has to figure out what his boss wants, so he berates Fink for daring to defy Lipnick by not giving him an account of his screenplay. But he guessed wrong. Lipnick verbally assaults Breeze and demands that he kiss Fink’s feet in apology on pain of losing his job. Breeze finally walks out without kissing Fink’s feet, but we see him later in the film, indicating that everything was patched up even after his humiliation. Working for Lipnick must have been an ulcer waiting to happen.
Michael Lerner as Jack Lipnick
Geisler has the same personality. But without the same level of power, he has to suck up to Lipnick, doubtlessly waiting for his chance to stab him in the back. Lipnick talks about the “sharks” surrounding him in Hollywood.
Tony Shaloub as Ben Geisler
Both of these characters feed into the stereotype of Jewish aggression. Any group with a significant number of people like Lipnick and Geisler (they are also portrayed as fast talking and intelligent) is going to be successful in whatever field they are in—whether in other types of business, the legal profession, or influencing the political process—especially when combined with high levels of ethnic networking. It is likely an important influence on Israel’s aggressive behavior toward friend and foe alike. Anecdotal reports of aggression as a feature of Israeli life are common.
Jewish aggressiveness should be given more attention as a key aspect of Jewish success. I discuss it here
(p. 26ff), but only briefly, emphasizing the contrast between the aggression of diaspora Jews toward the people and cultures they live in versus the behavior of the overseas Chinese. As sociologist Edward A. Ross commented in the early 20th century, “No other immigrants are so noisy, pushing and disdainful of the rights of others as the Hebrews”—pretty much a description of Jack Lipnick.
Unfortunately, there are few good psychological studies on the subject. This makes Barton Fink
all the more valuable.
The character of Barton Fink is a quite different Jewish stereotype of the period: the leftist intellectual radical. Fink seems rather subdued and unaggressive, his intensity apparent only when he suddenly bursts into monologues on the plight of “the common man” and the need for artistic integrity. He is intensely intellectual with a strong sense of intellectual and and artistic superiority. This was a theme of the discussion of Jewish radicals in Chapter 3 of The Culture of Critique
. The following is a relevant passage:
Some gentile intellectuals found the movement attractive because of its Jewish dominance, but for the most part the essentially Jewish milieu was a barrier (Liebman 1979, 530ff). The Jewish commitment of these radicals, their desire to remain within a Jewish milieu, and their negative attitudes toward Christian gentile culture prevented them from being effective recruiters among the gentile working class. As David Horowitz’s communist father wrote while on a trip through Colorado in the 1930s, “I have feelings . . . that I’m in a foreign land. And it strikes me that unless we learn the people of this country so thoroughly so that we won’t feel that way, we won’t get anywhere. I’m afraid that most of us aren’t really ‘patriotic,’ I mean at bottom deeply fond of the country and people.” Similarly, former communist Sidney Hook (1987, 188) noted, “it was as if they had no roots in, or knowledge of, the American society they wanted to transform.” [In other words, like the Barton Fink character, they didn’t listen and felt superior to the people they were ostensibly trying to help.] A similar situation occurred in Poland, where the efforts of even the most “de-ethnicized” Jewish communists were inhibited by the traditional Jewish attitudes of superiority toward and estrangement from traditional Polish culture (Schatz 1991, 119).
And once in the party, many non-Jews were repelled by its highly intellectual atmosphere and dropped out. As expected on the basis of social identity theory on the hypothesis that radicalism was fundamentally a form of secular Judaism, there are indications of an anti-gentile atmosphere within these organizations: “There was also present among Jewish intellectuals and leftists a mixture of hostility and superiority toward Gentiles” (Liebman 1979, 534).
There was also an ethnic divide between Jewish and Black Communist Party workers resulting at least partly from “a missionary and patronizing attitude” of the Jewish organizers (Lyons 1982, 80).
Encounters between Blacks and Jews always seemed to involve Jews reaching out and “helping” Blacks, “teaching” them, “guiding” them. Many Black intellectuals ended their flirtation with the Communist Party bitter not only at the communists but at Jews they felt had treated them condescendingly. “How can the average public school Negro be expected to understand the exigencies of the capitalist system as it applies to both Jew and Gentile in America . . . since both groups act strangely like Hitlerian Aryans . . . when it comes to colored folks?” asked Langston Hughes, bitter after a feud with Jewish communists. (Kaufman 1997, 110)
This sense of condescending superiority of Jewish radicals in the civil rights movement has been identified as a source of the current upsurge of anti-Semitism among African Americans.
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