Larry David on Some Jewish Stereotypes

In looking around for inspiration on Larry David, I came across this in an article by Gilad Atzmon (whom I admire):

David spits on everything: you name it, he spits on it. It was David who exposes the Jewish fetish with body organs long before we all started to discuss Israeli organ harvesting. David ridicules the Shoa obsession, the Jewish and anti Wagner fetish [here’s the Wagner video]. David spits on every possible American value one can think of. He mocks the celebrity culture, materialism and greed. He exposes Jewish supremacy, ignorance and arrogance. Yet, he is doing it all by putting himself in the line of fire. He doesn’t just bring to light to Jewish ugliness, he often embodies this ugliness himself.

I can’t say that I have seen many episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, but I happened to see the premier for the new season, and it definitely stepped on Jewish sensibilities. (But, as Atmon says, David offends everyone—here giving instructions to a teenage girl on how to insert a tampon. Probably a sign that he is a sociopath at heart.)

The main plot revolves around the fact that the divorce lawyer hired by David turns out not to be Jewish, but Swedish and Christian. David assumed that with a name like Berg and with Jewish religious paraphernalia ostentatiously decorating his office, that he must be Jewish. Berg also talks with a Jewish accent and liberally drops Yiddish words into his conversation. It turns out that he even hosts Hanukkah parties. David exclaims,  “I get a Swede lawyer. She’s going to get everything…. I got Sweded”—obviously a play on “Jewed” which plays on the stereotype of Jews engaging in sharp business practices/fraud.

(Another stereotype—which I think goes a long way toward explaining the attraction of Jewish men to non-Jewish women: the aggressive Jewish woman. While dining, a Jewish character casually says that if he ever gets divorced, he will be very equitable with the assets. His Jewish wife explodes with a torrent of hostility to the effect that if we ever get divorced, she will take him for every penny he has and nail his balls to the wall, etc. It’s like an earthquake. Everyone at the table sits in stunned silent for a while. Then it passes and things move on smoothly. We later see husband and wife very happy together.)

So David fires Berg and hires Irv Katz who verbally assures him that he is a Jew.

Then it turns out that Berg had negotiated a great deal, but Katz gave away the store, so David has to move out of his house.

Two points: The episode highlights Jewish preference for doing business with other Jews (ethnic networking), but also for the stereotype that Jewish lawyers (and Jews in other common Jewish professions) are superior. The stereotype is portrayed as also held by non-Jews. Here the fictitious owner of the LA Dodgers named O’Donnell is portrayed as changing his divorce attorney after David tells him that Berg is not a Jew—with the result that he loses the Dodgers to his ex-wife. (This is a parody of the current divorce trial  of Frank and Jamie McCourt, where the ownership of the Dodgers is at issue.)

Secondly, there is the pathetic portrayal of Berg as a “crypto-non-Jew”—someone who portrays himself as a Jew in order to get a foothold in a Jewish-dominated profession. Even though Berg is very competent, he feels the need to pretend to be Jewish in order to do well as a divorce attorney in Southern California.

This reminds me of John Graham’s blog on Rachel Weisz discussing Jewish control of another important arena—Hollywood, although with the opposite suggestion. (Weisz was advised to change her name to something non-Jewish because some Jewish producers see acting as not appropriate for Jews, presumably because movies have to appeal to the goyim and obvious Jewish names might be a drawback.) David’s episode suggests that non-Jews wanting to get ahead in Hollywood (at least on the production and writing side, if not acting) would also portray themselves as Jews, which brings to mind Footnote 40 from Chapter 2 of Separation and Its Discontents:

As indicated above, another major theme of anti-Semitism has been Jewish exclusionary practices in economic activities. [William] Cash [“Kings of the deal.” The Spectator (29 October):14–16, 1994.] provides anecdotal evidence that Jews exclude [non-Jews] from influence on the media, including individuals who disguised themselves as Jews (crypto-gentiles?) in their attempt to become accepted in the industry [as I recall, by, for example, wearing Stars of David; I can’t find the article online]. Seemingly acknowledging Jewish exclusionary practices, [Neal] Gabler states that Cash’s article “is another example of how powerless elitists have always dealt with exclusion. Barred from one form of Establishment, they end up spewing anti-Semitic bile.” [This is an amazing comment. People who are excluded by Jews shouldn’t be angry at Jews?]

Related to this, Medved (1996, 39) suggests that “it’s possible that industry leaders instinctively feel more comfortable working with people who share their own outlook, values, and background.” As an illustration of this phenomenon, a young screenwriter, Adam Kulakow (1996, 43), notes that “recently I had a meeting with a young executive to discuss a possible script assignment. Our conversation began with a discussion of the Eastern European origins of my surname and segued from there to talk of my grandparents’ arrival in America, my parents’ decision to settle in the Maryland suburbs, and mine to attend the University of Michigan. It wasn’t long before we were playing ‘Jewish geography.’ By the time we got around to the business of the meeting, we had achieved a comfort level based on our common ground.” Nevertheless, while agreeing that being Jewish is an advantage, Kulakow cites anecdotal accounts of individuals who deny that Jewish identity is important.

In a reply appended to the Gabler article, Cash stated that there is a double standard in which Jewish writers like Gabler are able to refer to a “Jewish cabal” while his own use of the phrase is described as anti-Semitic. He also notes that while movies regularly portray negative stereotypes of other ethnic groups, Cash’s description of Jews as “fiercely competitive” is regarded as anti-Semitic. Recently Marlon Brando repeated statements originally made in 1979 on a nationally televised interview program to the effect that “Hollywood is run by Jews. It’s owned by Jews.” The focus of the complaint was that Hollywood regularly portrays negative stereotypes of other ethnic groups but not of Jews. Brando’s remarks were viewed as anti-Semitic by the ADL and the Jewish Defense League (Los Angeles Times, April 9, 1996, F4).

Both Cash and Brando have apologized for their remarks and, as part of their apologies, visited the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles (Forward, April 26, 1996). (Cash’s apology occurred some two years after publication of his remarks.) The Forward article suggests that Cash has had trouble publishing his work in the wake of the incident. Moreover, the same issue of Forward reported that the publisher of Cash’s comments, Dominic Lawson, editor of the London Spectator, was prevented from publishing an article on the birth of his Down Syndrome daughter in The New Republic when Martin Peretz, the owner, and Leon Wieseltier, the literary editor, complained about Lawson’s publishing Cash’s article. Goldberg (1996, 299) describes Peretz’s strong Jewish identification and his unabashed policy of slanting his journal toward positions favorable to Israel.

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