Obamacare 'Pajama Boy' Controversy Wrapped in Anti-Semitism

Right Wing Anger at 'Jewish' Star of Viral Health Care Ad

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By Jay Michaelson

Published December 28, 2013.
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Surely the silliest kerfluffle of a political year that contained much silliness was the recent conservative hand-wringing over “Pajama Boy.”

Pajama Boy, you will be forgiven for not knowing, was the star of a recent ad — one among many — by “Organizing for Action” (formerly Obama for America) designed to get people to register for health insurance. This particular ad, part of the ‘Healthcare for the Holidays’ campaign was aimed at the twenty-something demographic, and advised said demographic to “Wear pajamas. Drink hot chocolate. Talk about getting health insurance.”

Interestingly — and seemingly overlooked in the ensuing media hubbub — the ad campaign’s actual purpose was to get those millennials to talk to their families about healthcare. The assumption being that twenty-somethings are more plugged-in than their parents to the details of the Affordable Care Act. Which they probably are.

But I digress. How could such a milquetoast political campaign attract so much vitriol? Well, demonstrating the three action-items of the campaign was a photograph of a young man, wearing pajamas, mug in hand, eyebrows raised, presumably ready to talk about health insurance.

The Right went apoplectic, calling Pajama Boy “a metrosexual in a plaid onesie,” “an insufferable man-child,” and various other vaguely sexist and homophobic epithets. Apparently, real men don’t wear pajamas.

Or glasses. What’s interesting about the Right’s freakout about men who don’t measure up to the standards of the 1950s is how Pajama Boy’s obvious Jewishness has been subsumed by these other characteristics.

Yes, Virginia, Pajama Boy is a member of the tribe. Look at him. Pale Ashkenazic skin, Jew-fro’d black curls, Woody Allen specs. Even the smart-ass expression on his face screams of the Wise Son from the Passover Seder.

Parenthetically, the model himself is one Ethan Krupp, an Organizing for America staffer who is, in fact, Jewish. But whether Krupp himself is circumcised or not, Pajama Boy is semiotically Jewish, even stereotypically so.

In fact, Pajama Boy stands at a centuries-old nexus of anti-Semitism and misogyny. As many scholars, including Sander Gilman, David Biale, Paula Hyman, Matti Bunzl, John Efron, and Daniel Boyarin have shown, Jewish men have been accused of being unmanly for hundreds of years – including by other Jews, such as the early Zionists, whose muscular Judaism was a direct response to diaspora Jewish emasculation. This is an old, old motif.

The Jew is the Other is the Effeminate is the Liberal. He is the urbanite, the parasite, the usurer, the lawyer. His effeminacy corrupts the Volk or the Heartland or the real American values. He wouldn’t know how to drive a pick-up truck if it was on cruise control. And he definitely votes for Obama.

Really, what’s “metrosexual” about Pajama Boy, anyway? The fact that he’s wearing pajamas? Drinking a hot beverage? No – it’s the way in which he so perfectly fits the Right’s image of the liberal Jewish girly-man. There’s a real “masculinity,” and then there’s whatever it is that Pajama Boy is embodying. (For the record, I have no idea whether Krupp is gay or straight. Neither do his haters.)

Needless to say, in this brave new world of Eric Cantor and the Republican Jewish Coalition (whose executive director makes over half a mil – must be a real man), the Jewishness of Pajama Boy is conspicuously absent from the vitriol. But as soon as you see it, you can’t un-see it. Which makes you wonder what the Review’s Charles Cooke – in another line conspicuously omitted by the discussions of this issue – meant when he said “the advertising machine behind the Obama administration seems not to really know what normal human beings are like.”

Normal human beings are gentiles. They spit or smoke tobacco, they speak plainly, and they are manly men who don’t wear pajamas, don’t raise their eyebrows, don’t support affordable healthcare, and definitely don’t flay their arms around like Woody Allen. Or Shylock. Real men. Not Jews.

Whether or not the Pajama-Boy bashers are unconsciously anti-Semitic or not, I don’t know. Consciously, they are against everything “Judaism” stands for, at least as construed by its enemies: outsiderness, cosmopolitanism, liberalism, a progressive rather than nativist agenda, an opposition to the notion that there is one kind of “normal” person, a sympathy for the underdog and the immigrant as opposed to the successful and the privileged, and, yes, a rejection of a certain gendered, masculinist understanding of justice wherein the strong survive and the weak are trampled underfoot like the untermenschen they are.

That fascistic outlook has long been a part of far-right conservatism – whether in revisionist Zionism, contemporary French/Hungarian/Greek nationalism, American Republicanism, or German fascism. Real men are strong, and the weak don’t deserve our pity. Let them get sick for lack of healthcare; they probably deserve it. And as for women, and the parasitic “Jewish” men who resemble them? They are to be suppressed and domesticated, not empowered. Patriarchy is good. Sexism is natural. Get out of your onesies, America. And put on your jackboots.


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