Before you get frothy, the title is not mine. It belongs to Haaretz. The writer is one Josh Lambert.
The subtitle: “Brilliant actors like Larry David and Sarah Silverman are challenging America’s powerful religious, family-friendly culture and asserting their Jewishness by glorifying obscenity.”
Now I know there are many Jewish readers here, and that they run more on the Torah-believing side than the secular. I’d like to ask their opinion about Lambert’s piece.
Is it, as the subtitle declares, as asservation of secular Judaism to “glorify” obscenity? We can take it as read that it is not a claim to orthodox or conservative religious Judaism.
Before answering, let’s look deeper into the piece.
“In a tidy coincidence, two separate videos went viral last week, demonstrating that American Jews’ love affair with obscenity is still going strong. Sarah Silverman talks about being visited by Jesus Christ, who asks her to spread a message about women’s reproductive rights…” By “reproductive” Silverman means, of course, non-reproductive.
Lambert is claiming that “American Jews” have a “love affair with obscenity”. Is that so? Again, I take it he must mean Jews as a culture or race and not religion.
As far as I know, only Silverman has publicly called herself a “dirty Jew,” purring the words alluringly in her 2005 performance film “Jesus Is Magic,” but David’s gleeful, exuberant and inimitable spewing of obscenities suggests he might not exactly mind being thought of as a dirty Jew, either.
In my recently published book, “Unclean Lips: Obscenity, Jews, and American Culture,” I explain why, beginning in the late 19th century, American Jews have found the explicit representation of sex, and four-letter words, so very useful. The answers vary: Some Jews use obscenity to fight anti-Semitism, while others use it to rewrite traditional Jewish stories in a contemporary idiom.
How obscenity can “fight” and not cause “anti-Semitism” is anybody’s guess, but rewriting traditional stories in an obscene way can only be seen as blasphemous. No?
“If you watch cable television and listen to podcasts, you might think that there’s no longer any regulation of obscenity”, yet Lambert goes on to lament that there are still anti-obscenity laws on the books, particularly in broadcasting.
Lambert is unhappy that Democratic Senator James Exon of Nebraska, a Christian, sponsored the Communications Decency Act, which attempted to control obscenity on line. Lambert fails to tell readers the act was neutered by the ACLU.
What Lambert does remember is that “the senator introduced into the Congressional Record letters of support for his proposal from Evangelical groups like the Christian Coalition and the Family Research Council.” Well, and so he did. That organizations against smut should have something to say on the subject shouldn’t be surprising.
The contemporary Christian right has a much more complex and self-aware relationship with American Jews [now]…Today’s anti-porn organizations, even if funded by Christians, often seek out Jews to sit on their boards — though mostly they attract only very marginal rabbis and other Jewish crackpots.
I can’t tell if he means “marginal rabbis” or only those Jews against porn are “crackpots”. Can you?
Somehow Lambert isn’t pleased with deceased Justice Antonin Scalia, because Scalia said “small-town broadcasters…[with their] down-home local guests probably employ vulgarity less than big-city folks [and the] foul-mouthed glitterati from Hollywood.”
This is, of course, observationally true and known by everybody.
Scalia did not, of course, go so far as to suggest that the one demographic group most insistently associated both with American “big-city” life and with “Hollywood” — Jews — tend to speak more obscenely than other Americans. If he had wanted to, though, he could not have a better illustration of his hypothesis than Larry David and Sarah Silverman.
So Lambert thought he caught a whiff of “anti-Semitism”, but then he substantiated Scalia’s point with prime examples. He then says:
These Christian campaigns against obscenity…may help to explain why, in a media environment in which the representation of sex and the use of taboo language smacks increasingly of banality, brilliant performers like David and Silverman continue not only to assert their Jewishness emphatically, in virtually every one of their performances, but also to glory in and glorify the use of such language.
There it is again. Lambert equates (secular) Jewishness with obscenity. He closes with this.
Especially because the Christian right goes to such great lengths to demonstrate that Jews should not feel excluded from its initiatives — who loves Jews nowadays more than the Christian right, right? — identifying oneself as a “dirty Jew” in 21st-century America is one way to signal your opposition not just to the banalities of the market-driven family-friendly culture, but also to the nation’s most powerful socially, religiously and politically reactionary movement.
Evangelicals, the largest group on the Christian right, go out of their way to include and support Jews. This is true, as most know. But “dirty Jew[s]” rebel—and should, Lambert implies—against the “family-friendly culture” also beloved by Evangelicals.
If he is right, then shouldn’t the Christian right turn its back on secular Jews who on purpose and by design “glorify” in obscenity, blasphemy, porn, and other matters inimical to Christianity? Or would that only bring charges of “anti-Semitism”?