web analytics
July 6, 2015 / 19 Tammuz, 5775
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post


Home » InDepth » Monitor »

Harmless Humor — Or Insidious Influence?


Media-Monitor-logo

NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” has once again inspired dismay among at least some Jewish viewers who feel the line between simple bad taste and outright anti-Semitism was crossed on the Dec. 17 edition of the long-running show.

The segment that raised hackles was a musical claymation production by veteran SNL writer Robert Smigel, titled “Christmastime for the Jews,” which strained to find humor in the annual phenomenon of non-Jews becoming scarce on city streets on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, leaving Jews sole stewardship of the public square.

Whatever one thinks of Smigel’s take on how Christmas serves to accentuate the differences between Jews and their Christian neighbors, this is hardly the first time “Saturday Night Live” has been accused of at least pushing the envelope in its references to Jews and depiction of Jewish characters.

For example, a skit that aired on Dec. 4, 1999, included a scene in which then-SNL regular Ana Gesteyer and actress Christina Ricci discoursed on such subjects as Jewish control of the country’s banks and the forgiveness Christians have granted Jews “for having killed” Jesus.

In its three decades on the air, SNL — which has always been heavily dependent on Jewish writers and, except for a few years in the early 1980’s, has been run from its inception by Jewish executive producer Lorne Michaels (born Lipowitz) — has routinely turned to Jewish themes, with results that have ranged from the silly to the reprehensible.

A short list would include a parody-automobile commercial of a mohel performing a circumcision in the back seat of a car as it careened wildly through an obstacle course; the late Gilda Radner portraying a gum-popping, vacuous Jewish American Princess; a “dating video” sketch starring former series regular Gary Kroeger as a geeky, perverted dentist named Ira Needleman; a home-shopping program featuring Tom Hanks as an underhanded Israeli electronics salesman; the endlessly recurring segments involving the Linda Richman “Coffee Talk” yenta; and an infamous skit involving a Passover seder, a boorish Jewish family, and guest host Jerry Seinfeld as Elijah the Prophet.

Speaking of Seinfeld, his NBC sitcom may have been one of the most successful in TV history, but it had a definite Jewish problem of its own as the “Seinfeld” writers went to near-ridiculous lengths to blur the ethnicity of their main characters — all of whom possessed the sensibilities of typical young New York Jews but who, with the exception of Jerry Seinfeld himself, had by the end of the series been identified in one way or another as non-Jewish.

Even worse was what happened whenever the show attempted to deal with Jewish subjects. As Entertainment Weekly’s Lisa Schwarzbaum observed, “The episodes with the blabby, buffoonish rabbi are uncomfortable and notably unfunny. And the story about a bris is as painful as the procedure.” Schwarzbaum also noted that in an episode where “Jerry was dating a girl who kept kosher, [Jerry’s friend] George meanly tricks her into eating trayf.”

Little wonder that TV critic Tom Shales wrote, as the show neared the end of its run in 1998, that “Seinfeld is Jewish but the Seinfeld he played on the show, a comic patterned after himself, of course, showed no respect for Jewish traditions or heritage, ever.”

The debate over how much, if any, of an effect Jewish comedians and comedy writers have on influencing public perceptions of Jews and Judaism is an old one, and is certain to continue for many years. It’s a real concern, though — one touched on by Sig Altman in the introduction to his 1971 study The Comic Image of the Jew. Describing an incident on a television talk show in the late sixties, Altman wrote that

An interviewee, in the course of a totally serious discussion, made the quite serious remark, “I looked it up in the Jewish Encyclopedia.” There immediately followed a burst of laughter from the studio audience, which obviously sensed a joke about to materialize, or perhaps saw one already born. The laughter rather suddenly subsided, however, as the collective realization apparently dawned that no joke was in fact intended. Nevertheless, the comic quality of the word “Jewish” in the public consciousness had been perfectly demonstrated.

About the Author: Jason Maoz is the Senior Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at jmaoz@jewishpress.com.


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Harmless Humor — Or Insidious Influence?”

Comments are closed.

Current Top Story
Future guard? Arab child with Hamas headband aims toy rifle on the Temple Mount after prayers in the Al Aqsa mosque.
CNN Promotes Old City on Verge of Extinction Due to ‘Political Tension’
Latest Indepth Stories
Obama was all smiles for Israel's Ambassador Oren when they met in the White House.

US Jews prefer to be like their non-Jewish liberal friends complaining about “settlements” and Bibi

New Israel Fund and the UN

New Israel Fund & its supporters must be countered; Israel’s in the midst of an unprecedented storm

An ISIS Gaza rocket launcher.

PM Netanyahu this week identified ISIS and Iran as Israel’s primary threat. It is a planetary threat that carries the promise of peace.

U.S. postage stamp honoring Haym Solomon.

Haym Solomon, overlooked hero of the Revolutionary War, was America’s “Funding Father.”

Latvia, July 4, 1941 they forced many Jews in the shul putting it on fire; everyone was burned alive

There’s blood on the reporters’ hands AND New Israel Fund for funding groups feeding lies to the UN

Respect & appreciation for our country is not only a civic value but an essential Jewish one as well

When words lose meaning, the world becomes an Orwellian dystopia; a veritable Tower of Babel

Israel, like the non-radical Islamic world. will be happy see the ISIS beheaded for once.

Kids shouldn’t have “uninstructed” Internet access, better to train them how to use it responsibly

What if years from now, IS were to control substantial territory? What world havoc would that wreak?

Rambam writes the verse’s double term refers to 2 messiahs: first King David; 2nd the final Mashiach

The Gaza flotilla has been rightfully and legally blocked by Israel’s Navy, with greetings from Bibi

The president described the attack as “an act that drew on a long history of bombs and arson and shots fired at churches, not random, but as a means of control, a way to terrorize and oppress…”

“The only [candidate] that’s going to give real support to Israel is me,” said the 69-year-old Trump.

More Articles from Jason Maoz
Zechariah Schwarzberg, z”l

Though intimately acquainted with mankind’s darkest side, he never lost his faith&love in God or man

Front-Page-051515

Some of the president’s defenders took to arguing that the overwhelming majority of German military personnel interred in Bitburg were regular Wehrmacht soldiers who died on the battlefield and likely were not involved in atrocities against civilians.

Note also the response to the speech by the top Democrats in the House and Senate, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, both of whom have been outspoken in their criticism of Netanyahu’s upcoming visit.

The New York State comptroller manages the state’s $180.7 billion pension fund, audits the spending practices of all state agencies and local governments, oversees the New York State and Local Retirement System, reviews the New York State and City budgets, and approves billions in State contracts and spending.

While not all criticism of Israel stemmed from anti-Semitism, Podhoretz contends the level of animosity towards Israel rises exponentially the farther left one moved along the spectrum.

When you grow up in a home where your parents went through what my parents went through, you realize that life has to be meaningful. You have to be there for other people.

“It’s a lousy column and a dishonest one,” Halberstam wrote. “So close it. Or you will end up just as shabby as Safire.”

Wye would be seen to have set the groundwork for the creation of a Palestinian state

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/media-monitor/harmless-humor-or-insidious-influence/2006/01/04/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: