08 May 2006

Discover Your Inner Racist

The Toronto Jewish Film Festival's theme this year is "Discover your inner Jew." The festival has a number of publicity posters that, for the most part, depict people who don't particularly look Jewish wearing some Jewish paraphenalia, like the South Asian man wearing a kippah and tallit, or a mullet-coiffed guy with a "Beast" t-shirt smiling and wearing a kippah. Cute.

What's not so cute is the depiction of what the organizers must refer to as "afrojew" (based on the filename of the jpeg, to which I will not link). It shows a man of African or Caribbean descent, with a googly-eyed, bojangles-ish grin, wearing a caricature wig with pais (the long side-locks that typify caricatures of Orthodox jews) a shtetl hat, and black horn-rim glasses. What a "great" mashup of two racist stereotypes!

Racism and racist depictions in this day and age - and especially in this city - are shameful. It is not merely inappropriate, it should be considered as socially stigmatizing as spitting on the street, blowing cigarette smoke into someone's face, being a loud and obnoxious drunk in someone's home, or [you can fill in your own vision of distasteful, offensive, and objectionable behaviour].

To those who would advise me to get a sense a humour, I would remind them that the process of dehumanizing, and then demonizing, begins with ridicule. It is precisely the wrongly assumed acceptability of this debasing form of humour that landed former Mayor Mel Lastman in hot water, so to speak. To those who would cry "freedom of speech" I would respond that, of course the Toronto Jewish Film Festival is free to participate in this kind of speech, as dubious as it may be. They are also free to demonstrate their insensitivity, and their ignorance of an issue that directly affects the Jewish community (and has done for decades in this city, and hundreds of years throughout the world), both of which they have done stunningly - and shamefully - well.

I am very much in touch with both my inner and outer Jew. And both are mightily offended.
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9 comments:

JA Firebrand said...

Hot!!! your commentary re: this ad campaign[which ran last year as well]is H.O.T . Yah, there's something highly unsettling about the black kid in the ad...a pal of mine called me ranting about it, articulating what I felt the 1st few seconds I saw it myself. Hmmm, I I may have to write a letter...

Anonymous said...

I have to agree - I spent my entire subway ride staring at this poster in a state of mild confusion, thinking should I be appalled, or should I think it's funny? I eventually decided I should be appalled.

Anonymous said...

I agree, but I still don't get the point of the JFF: isn't Hollywood one big JFF anyway?

Mark said...

Leaving aside Anonymous #2's slightly veiled anti-Jewish comment for a moment, the idea of various ethnic and cultural groups celebrating films by, and about, their members is an important initiative in contemporary society. This is particularly true when the films portray those cultures from the perspective of the various diasporas in which many peoples find themselves today.

Toronto, as one of the most culturally diverse communities in the world, is perhaps the most appropriate venue for us all to enjoy the many celebrations of multiple cultures.

Anonymous said...

How would you communicate a Jewish Film Festival in a manner that would attract attention? The best way to attract someone's attention is with a humouroes, double take-like ad? Do you have any ideas? Perhaps if you have such a strong opinion on this, maybe you'll have a strong concept in-mind as well.

And by the way, the festival has nothing to do with Hollywood. Most documentaries are privatly funded ventures.

Baal Teshuva Benny said...

I'm curious. Are you black? Because, I am. I happen to be one of those rarities in this world; I am a black jew. I thought those posters were hilarious. As for your assertion that the black man in the poster was "googley eyed," I don't know what to say. Would you have been more satisfied if he were bald, tatooed and wearing large ostentacious gold chains?
To prove a point, the creators had to create a partially charachturized version of each race. Otherwise, THE DANG JOKE WOULDN'T HAVE WORKED. It maybe silly, but don't call it racist. I have experienced some real racism. When a woman looks at you in shul and asks: What are you doing here? That's racism. When you constantly have to bite your tounge when your Jewish friends go on and on about "The SHVARTES": THAT'S racism. This poster however, is a joke. I think it's funny. You may disagree; it's your right. But, don't call it racism. It only cheapens the word.

Mark said...

Benny, I do appreciate your take on this, and the fact that you do not experience the poster as racist. I also find it terribly inappropriate that your Jewish friends refer to you as "the shvartse" (which, for those who don't speak Yiddish, literally means "the black one" but tended to be used in a derogatory way, much like the n-word. Personally, I would ask your friends to refrain from using that term if it otherwise causes you to bite your tongue, even if they mean it in jest. Do it with a smile, and perhaps a friendly arm on their shoulder). Nonetheless, for me, this particular poster brought back the "Bojangles" racist caricatures that I saw growing up, and before that, the hate cartoons of Germany in the 1930s and 1940s.

There are so many possibilities for humour and attention-grabbing that we see daily throughout all of advertising for all sorts of events and commodities. The folks behind publicizing the JFF can certainly do better - and should do better, given the long history of so-called humour and caricature being used to promote and encourage anti-semitism.

Zee Hypnotist said...

To be honest, I don't think of this as racism, I think it's simply the human's nural ability to distinguish patterns and similar traits.

Sure, it's a stereotype, but ya gotta remember, stereotypes aren't started by one person, and they aren't pointed out by one person.

bruno vargas said...

"Oh this is offensive!!" yadda yadda yadda...
Why is a joke about a mechanic or a veterinarian a joke, but a joke about a black or jewish person something racist?
They're all jokes! These ads are pretty original Sir. and honestly it's nothing we havent pictured in our minds and giggled about before.
just my two cents!