Particularly interesting are Abrams’s discussions of characters who are not explicitly identified as Jews but are nevertheless, in his view, “coded” as Jewish in one way or another. Perhaps the clearest case of this phenomenon comes not from cinema but from television, in the person of “Seinfeld“ ‘s George Costanza, who bears an Italian surname but is impossible to recognize as anything but Jewish (having been based directly on Larry David, the show’s co-creator, who would go on to place his own Jewishness front and center in “Curb Your Enthusiasm”). Do such characters perpetuate old, pernicious stereotypes in more subtle fashion, or simply suggest that in an increasingly multicultural America, specifically “Jewish” traits may be depicted without becoming major issues? (Is Jim, the Jason Biggs character in the American Pie films, Jewish? Maybe, but no big deal.)General readers may be put off by Abrams’s heavy use of postmodern critical jargon, and the book as a whole would have benefited from a more detailed discussion of the life-cycle of stereotypes. In addition, the author could have paid more attention to the broader social context of his subject. The changing treatment of Jews in cinema that Abrams identifies has not occurred in a vacuum. Simultaneously, other minorities – most notably African-Americans, Latinos, and gays – underwent the same kind of evolution in popular culture in general, suggesting that the developments he describes may have been driven more by audiences than by the artists he discusses.
The New Jew in Film: Exploring Jewishness and Judaism in Contemporary Cinema
Nathan Abrams, a film scholar based in Wales, argues that since 1990 cinematic treatment of Jews has undergone a significant change, depicting a more complex and complete range of Jewish characters and characteristics than ever before. Many older stereotypes have been resuscitated (often on steroids) in an ironic but self-accepting way, even as they were joined and challenged by more modern views. In 2005, Steven Spielberg gave us the sober, self-assured, dynamic, and frankly sexual Israeli agents of Munich; four years later, Joel and Ethan Coen gave us A Serious Man, which caricatures a host of suburban Jewish types in a manner that would have triggered widespread protests had its creators not been Jewish.
Bill Brennan is an independent scholar and entertainer based in Las Vegas. Brennan has taught literature and the humanities at Princeton and The University of Chicago. He holds degrees from Yale, Princeton, and Northwestern.
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