January 10, 2009

The Ugly Stereotype Of An Ugly Stereotype?



Our grandfathers and great-grandfathers didn’t undergo pogroms and the struggle to evade conscription in the tsar’s army to come to America for their descendants to put on peach-colored pants, spiked Nike shoes and chemises Lacoste to appear on the first tee promptly at 8 a.m. A Jew should be studying, arguing, thinking, working, making money, contemplating why God has put him through so many trials. A phrase like “dogleg to the left” should never pass his lips. — From ‘Uncle Bernie’ And the Jews (Joseph Epstein/Newsweek)

Following The BAG’s boondoggle of a post at the expense of Ehud Olmert on Friday (what one reader described in an email as a self-flogging exercise), I’m thinking now that the interactive caption and photo on today’s Newsweek home page is the material I’d have been better off waiting for.

I mean, what need was there for The BAG to flame the Semitic fires by way of an arbitrary facial gesture (yes, Olmert certainly should have tucked his shirt in before heading off for the Knesset that day) when along comes Newsweek hitting Madoff in profile (“Uncle Bernie” to you, my bubbellahs) right on that big (“because air is free”) nose of his.

I’m sure the picture-and-caption people at Newsweek knew exactly what they were doing, carefully covering their visual selves and rationalizing the racial stereotype as a cute play on Mr. Epstein’s equally cute epistle on the demise of American Jewish culture. What they probably weren’t factoring in, however (at least, I hope they weren’t), was how the indelicate stereotyping of Madoff as a Jew-fleecing Jewish financier opens the associational floodgates to America’s current anger toward money lenders (which was not exactly Uncle Bernie’s line of work) and, as well, might easily draw off some heat from the roiling cauldron of world-wide upset over and toward the Jewish government’s pulverizing of Gaza.

If they had to use Photoshop to do it, still more shame. If the original photo, however, just happened to perfectly align with the arc of that big Hebrew shnozz, all the more fitting. Because the metaphor of “silver lining” is as rich here as Madoff ever was, representing the line of the olfactory organ, as well as the lining of Bernie’s pockets, as well as the under-lining of Mr. Epstein’s point, that American Jews are better off for the beating.

(image: Kelly Willens/AP)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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