Friday, August 31, 2007

Harry Potter and the Very Hot Jews

"Cheeky Blog’s Jewish Obsession Strikes a Funny Bone of Contention."

When we read the title of that article, we thought for sure they meant us! Cheeky? Check! Blog? Check! Jewish Obsession? Pass the Paxil!

Turns out the blog in question is Gawker, which made some not very funny Jew jokes while hashing out a recent controversy. Then, when called on it, the blog made more Jew jokes, in that defensively "ironic" way that clues you in on the author's vague understanding of what irony might be. So, Jewish Daily Forward: The next time you're looking for a cheeky blog with a Jewish obsession you'll do a little better, no?

Oh, the aforementioned controversy? It's about Israeli booksellers breaking the sabbath in order to put the final installment of Harry Potter into the country's hot little Hebraic hands the very nanosecond it was released. Apparently, certain among the Orthodox made a big-ass mountain out of what seems to us a tiny little shmidge of breakin' da law of God. I mean, it isn't like the youth of Israel were indulging in murder or mishandling holy scrolls or surgically reconstructing their foreskins. But we, like, don't really get the Orthodox thing anyway, so who are we to say?

Well, duh, we're us, so we're gonna say lots.

First of all, the fact that Harry Potter is responsible for more tsunamis than that fucking butterfly in China with its insistence on flapping its wings cannot be denied. Oh, the endless issues people take with poor rich happy blonde J.K. Rowling — for not being literary enough, for not making kids read other books besides her own, for spreading the word of Satan, for spitting on the Sabbath. We at VHJ disapprove of her excessive use of the adverb, but otherwise have found her work charming and benign.

Until recently. Recently, those fanciful books have become an interesting study in perceived-anti-Semitism sensitivity. As in: If enough people tell you that something is anti-Semitic, can you avoid seeing the hate yourself?

The verdict: not entirely. It bears mentioning that we have no idea how J.K. really feels about Jews. We've never met her. We concede that this could be a case of widespread misunderstanding. All we really know for sure is that she thinks goblins are very culturally different from magicians.

And yet, reading Harry Potter has come to feel eerily reminiscent of college Women's Studies classes. By the end of a good lecture, every billboard in town seems to be screaming sexism, sexism, sexism. Every magazine is exploitative. Every miniskirt is a lightning rod. So too with The Noses Of Harry Potter.

I (Sera) have a dear friend, a hip and secular tribesmember, who insists that Harry Potter is deeply anti-Semitic. He believes the goblins described therein are based on caricaturized Jewish moneylenders, and equates Rowling with Mel Gibson in her obvious hatred of our peeps. Here is a quote from the email he sent me in response to the above-mentioned article:

HOWever, lost in this gerbil-in-a-wheel argument is the true problem with the harry potter books. it's not when they go on sale, young sera, but what's inside...

Believe me when i tell you, the harry potter books are so stereotypically and virulently jew hating as to be dickensian in scope.

the bankers, sera. they're small, grunting, hunchbacked little men with big noses and crooked teeth who care about nothing but money. sound familiar?

I initially scoffed at his assertion. "In your head!" I cried. "Paranoid! Lay off the wacky tobacky!" I exclaimed.

Until I cracked open the last tome and got to this description of possible-bad-guy Severus Snape wherein Rowling calls Mr. Evil (Or At Least Gross) Dude "hooknosed."

Something in me bristled. "Oh REALLY?" I thought. "Is that the shorthand for untrustworthy? Gosh, it's been a while since I've read that word. Probably because people avoid it because it seems, how you say, not very cool in light of the long history of anti-Jewish propaganda featuring evil noses that hook?"

Having been sensitized to the possibility of anti-Semitism, I zeroed in on that, my stomach turned ... and I didn't really enjoy the rest of the book as much as a wanted to. Those banker goblins pissed me the fuck off. I tried to let it go. I mean, I really like the Harry Potter books, and I've been looking forward to the finale for eons. I tried to decide it was nothing. But, in the end, my sudden fear that all you non-Jewish folk hate the shit out of the Jews won. Bad for reading pleasure — but, hey! Good for blogging!

My imagination, all this? I dunno. All I do know is, I'm leading a by and large sheltered, Jew-friendly existence here in LA-LA land. I interact with lots of secular Hebes, my social circle is a multi-culti gaystravaganza, and nary a spraypainted swastika confronts me on my daily dogwalks. I'm able to pretty well convince myself that anti-Semitism is way '06, that it's just not of the now, that it's o-vah, babycakes. And then someone points out a perceived, subtle prejudice, and when I behold it ... well, at the very least I understand a little better what it must be like to walk around being all foreign or not white or lesbionic. Casual jabs coming at you from all sorts of unexpected places, like bland TV or children's books.

(Okay, so this Amber chick — from Cameras-In-A-Locked-Whorehouse reality show "Big Brother 8"— is a raging fucktard, but still, it's the obvious bland-TV example of anti-Semitism. I found this girl's words shocking. And it hurt my feelings, Amber. I think you should apologize. Or henceforth wear a t shirt that clearly warns viewing audiences that you're an uneducated bigot with bad hair. Oh, wait, everyone already sees that last part.)

Here's what AIN'T my imagination. The people that commented on the article linked at the start of this here entry? Some of those bitches need schooling. Look at this:

Bill said:

Perhaps if Jews were not the 'average New York media professional', and some other ethnicities were allowed to amass in any real numbers in media professions; they would be ridiculed as well. But we'll never know, will we? I guess Jews will have to be satisfied with world domination, and work on mind control in their free time (if they wish).

Thu. Jul 26, 2007

I'm not here to get all indignant. I hear it speeds up wrinkles, and I'm too vain for that shit. But, um, allowed to amass? Excuse me? Now, I know I happen to be a Jew working in a media profession. But I nevertheless must call not only foul but also asshole on young Bill, if that is in fact his real name.

Bill, my darling? If there were some kind of Jewish media mafia holding deserving goyische pros — like, I assume, yourself — down? In order to hoist less-deserving Jewlicious pros like Simon and myself up, up, up? Then God knows the VHJ would have gotten some kind of phone call by now, inviting us to come, like, control the media. And I promise you, had we gotten such a call, we'd have blogged about it by now. We're nothing if not blabbermouths. Forget invited - I'd gatecrash, if only I'd heard of such a thing, which I haven't for some reason that I assure you is unrelated to my hardy Hebrew heritage. Perhaps I should call some of my most intelligent friends to ask them to explain it to me. Oh, wait — they're struggling Jewish media professionals. It's been hard for them to break in. That's odd. You'd think they'd get in quick on that Chosen Folk Fast-track. Oh well.

At least we've got our world domination to fall back on.


vikkitikkitavi said...

Finally! A reason (other than my general misanthropic tendencies, and my knee-jerk condemnation of anything stupendously popular) to hate Harry Potter. Whew! Thank you.

Daniel said...

I sent this as an email to the authors, the non-writing-this one of whom asked me to post, so here it is but I'm not gonna stop backpedaling till I'm writing backwards:

My problem here is the "generalizing" fallacy - that, given a broad negative characterization, it's very easy to fit things into it. There’s plenty of "dirty jewish banker" imagery that has some overlap with the way the goblins are characterized in this book. Does that mean that the goblins are proto-jews, or some kind of stand-in? I rather suspect that jews, and the bavarian illuminati with which they and the goblins are commonly mutually confounded, all share the same negative stereotyping despite themselves. In my view, that doesn’t make any of them analogues for the others, in and of itself. They're just materialistic and have poor posture.

If the goblins showed other hebraic traits - a blood libel would do nicely, but arcane spiritual rites or physical weakness or lustfulness might stand in - I'd think the argument had some legs. As it stands, Rowling would have to have described the bankers at GoblinBank as inherently different than bankers have ever been depicted elsewhere in literature for them to have escaped jewtaint. (Harry Potter and the Escape from JewTaint! Live the Choadventure, you might as well!) However, Rowling – despite her amazing imagination – demonstrates very little literary inventiveness. She didn’t really go out of her way to challenge any of our received ideas, and she didn’t go out of her way to make her bankers jewey. Seems to me, she didn't go out of her way to make them jewish, so they're just bankers.

And the use of "hooknosed" for a man described as having a long, bent nose doesn't sway me either. Was there anything about Snape that was mishpocheh, other than the nose? You could say that his behavior conformed to negative stereotypes, but they're not really stereotypes that are associated with jewishness - more like the typical spotty english git. What about Voldemort - what was his jewish thread? An anti-Semite wouldn’t miss the chance to turn the novel’s chief antagonist into a swarthy, shifty, conniving hebe, and V is none of that. Hell, there’s “saint”s all through the book, but I didn’t notice a single magen david, septilabra or tzitzum - even cast as an aspersion. Then there are the Dursleys, pink and blonde and roundly execrated. If the author had wanted to persuade me of the chosen race’s inferiority, I have to say she did a fairly obtuse job of it.

If you don't like HP, dislike it for clumsy writing, creative shortcuts, incomplete storytelling, and forest destruction. But anti-semitic? No more than it's anti-black for its description of giants, or anthro-centric for unflattering descriptions of centaurs. I've got a much bigger problem with the gender stereotyping, anyway. Plus, the satanism. And the thing with the stuff. Yeah, that stuff.

Alana said...

Hi Sera,

Thank you for expressing your concerns regarding Anti-Semitism in the Harry Potter stories. Kiddo is a HP fan and has read all the books. Thanks to your post here, the kiddo and I had a lengthy conversation regarding stereotypes, including Jewish stereotypes, in literature and went back as far as Shakespeare. I mentioned Merchant of Venice, for example.

I was honest with him, Sera, and said your assertion here had caught me off guard, and in fact, I've been thinking about it over a week. Is Harry Potter Anti-Semitic?

Remember the controversy surrounding The Lion King? And also the Teletubbies? I'm sure if I wanted I could unearth stereotypes in just about everything on TV and in books.

Just the other day someone told me Supernatural was satanic, sexist, and homophobic, and how could I let my son watch it?

Mainly because, and I've told you this already, Supernatural has inspired conversations between my son and I. We're not passive couch potatoes. We watch the show together and spend more time talking about it than actually watching the action. :-) We talk about what we see in the show, just as we've talked about what we've seen in Star Wars and Spiderman and Harry Potter. We also talk about the books we read and the music we listen to, the places we go, the people we meet.

Every character in Harry Potter is stereotypical because J.K. Rowling has joined a long line of fantasy writers in which stock characterizations are as old as the tradition. We might accuse Rowling of laziness (not to mention too many adverbs.) However, that this writer went out of her way to create Jewish stereotypes, I don't believe so.

However, we could assert her characterizations are rehashed and repetitive, which could mean she has presented stereotypes created five hundred years ago. Anti-Semitism has been around for thousands of years. Obviously Shakespeare presented Shylock in a way many feel is Anti-Semitic. Does that mean the play should never again be read or produced on stage? Of course not. The fact Shylock is presented the way he is means we should read the play, see it performed, and most definitely consider the implications and talk about them. When bigotry is shoved under the carpet it becomes dangerous and obviously a weapon used by manipulative governments, etc.

Do you agree?

Mollie said...

As a gentile I feel compelled to say that the only stereotypes I have about Jews are:
They are some of the smartest people I know.
They are some of the funniest people I know
and they are some of the best looking people I know.
The reality show anti-semite was so ignorant and offensive that I couldn't finish listening to her.

Simon Glickman and Sera Gamble said...

Mollie, we're blushing right now. But we agree with you.

Tish of many moods said...

Hi, long time reader, first time blogger (still getting used to that word). Just wanted to tell you two I love your blog, it always manages to make me smirk with your quirky antics.

Anyways I think the J.K Rowling is an anti-semite stuff is bullshit. I mean, it 's almost like some people are just LOOKING for reasons to hate something popular, whether it's the creator's personal life or just searching for possible racist innuendo. I'm not religious at all, and I find it appaling when religious people tear down all different media because they find it offensive. "J.K Rowling approves of witchcraft! Burn her literature!" "J.K Rowling is realeasing her book on the Sabbath! She must hate Jewish people!" It truly boggles my mind.

Bottom line, if J. K Rowling is anti-semitic, I don't see it at all in her writing.

On another note, that chick on the show that reminds me of 1984 is an ignoramus who deserves to be bitch-slapped, but I'm vindictive like that.

P.S Sera, I think you're one of the best writers for your show and it excites me to post on your blog. You and Simon have an extremely witty and foingnant blog.