Halfway through Date Night, the married couple played by Steve Carell and Tina Fey enter the stunning apartment of a private securities guy named Holbrook (Mark Wahlberg), seeking his help in evading the thugs that are chasing them. A gorgeous woman walks down the stairs, who Holbrooke says is Israeli and doesn’t speak much English. They speak to each other in Hebrew, and as she returns upstairs he explains, “I met her in Tel Aviv doing some consulting for the Mossad.”
This accentuation of Israeli culture is a strong trend. It is not only reinforced via Fox News, CNN and other right wing media conglomerates, but now also through film and television.
Why not afford equal attention to different cultures, ones that are classically overlooked by Hollywood? Specifically, when was the last time you saw a film that portrayed Arabs as having the same hopes and fears as the rest of us? There are some, but in the social consciousness, they’re buried under heaps and heaps of films where Arabs are portrayed as irascible, incompetent terrorists. Think of True Lies, and think of countless other films where the implications are subtle but evident.
In Season 6 of HBO’s overwhelmingly popular and critically acclaimed TV series Entourage, Vince’s house gets broken into. Who does his agent, Ari Gold, suggest he call? An ex-Mossad agent who specializes in security. What better way to propagate the notion that the Mossad cares not about aggressive measures, but preventive ones? Offered to the impressionable minds of the North American public – and anywhere else the show extends to – is the idea that Israel is on its heels in defense.
In another scene, a woman tells her cheating husband that she’d rather “f— Hamas” than f— him again. Of all the comparisons she could make, she chooses the democratically elected leaders of Palestinians in Gaza to insult. Of course, the Hollywood script is an inflexible one: While Israelis are adaptable to any climate and will do what they can to protect good upstanding citizens, Arab culture is archaic and recreant.
To Entourage’s credit, the script deviates a little from the norm. Turtle and Drama complain that the Israelis manning Vince’s home are out early in the morning making lots of noise. And one scene shows the Israelis telling a crude joke about a Palestinian girl. Not exactly the most flattering depiction of ex-Mossad agents.
In Season 7, we’re politely reminded that Lenny Kravitz is Jewish. When he takes Ari’s call, he is in between speaking Hebrew to someone, and tells Ari that he has to plan for his niece’s Bat Mitzvah. At this point, the product placement loses its subtlety and becomes oversaturation. Why isn’t Lenny Kravitz relaxing on a beach, working in the studio or doing anything else a rock star might do? Why must the writers enforce the notion that Lenny is Jewish?
Further, any film by Judd Apatow is sure to be saturated with Jewish references. Funny People, while a solid script offering plenty of laughs, is not for the average American viewer; it’s for the average American Jewish viewer. Same goes for Apatow’s previous efforts, almost all of which were comedic winners. He’s knows a good script when he sees one, but does he have to browbeat us with his religious identity in every film?
Imposing Jewishness on viewers is by no means a new practice, but it’s becoming more and more intense as Israel combats international criticism for what many consider to be Apartheid policies towards non-Jewish inhabitants of the land. It is precisely through forced identification with Jews that people will interpret Israeli war crimes as justified. After all, Jews are just like us, and those Arabs, well, they’re something else.
Unfortunately, we are afraid to criticize Zionism because all too often we’re accused of anti-Semitism (a type of racism so severe, the word “racism” is apparently insufficient). I recall after watching Knocked Up, I lamented to a friend that it was filled with so many references to Judaism that it made me wonder if there were political motivations behind it. He called me a “racist.” Though Eli Roth can proudly announce that “Jews run Hollywood,” and no one cries afoul.
It’s this ostensibly harmless injection of the Jewish identity in film and television that’s the most dangerous. Curb Your Enthusiasm is actually about Jews living in California. It focuses on the hilarious antics of Larry David, and the situational humour is widely understood to have Jewish roots – the same type of comedy one would find in Seinfeld, the series that Larry David created. But Curb Your Enthusiasm does not have any secondary motives of rousing people to support Zionism.
Entourage and Apatow, on the other hand, like to lace their scripts with examples of Jews being Western. It’s when films and television make covert appeals to see the Jew as Western and the Arab as the “Other,” the terrorist, that political motivations are the most effective.
And unless we see it for what it is, we’re going to be swept up in the propaganda before we have time to halt the momentum.