By E.J. Kessler

Published October 15, 2004, issue of October 15, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In an unprecedented effort to boost young Jewish voter turnout, a Jewish Democratic group is circulating an edgy, animated Internet video that relies on biting humor and, critics say, unfair anti-Republican stereotypes.

Ira Forman, executive director of the National Jewish Democratic Council, says his group commissioned the satirical cartoon, “Bubbie Versus the GOP,” in order to reach the “Generation Y” crowd that tunes into politics through such humor-laden vehicles as Jon Stewart’s cable-news satire “The Daily Show” and the Web site “JibJab,” which shows animated political parodies set to folksongs.

However, the video, which features a Jewish grandmother cartoon “superhero” wielding an oversized purse, socking it to a council of nefarious-looking caricatures of GOP figures wearing monk-like garb, is provoking howls from Republicans and others, who claim that it crosses the line separating legitimate parody and hateful stereotyping.

The video arrives in a banner year for political invective.

Some Democrats have hailed Michael Moore’s documentary, “Fahrenheit 9/11,” which suggests that President Bush’s main motivations for launching wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were to protect the Saudi royal family and to increase oil company profits.

Meanwhile, Republicans at the highest levels have been lobbing what Democrats and some pundits feel are offensive, disrespectful comments designed to de-legitimize the Democratic presidential nominee. President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and others have suggested repeatedly that some criticisms of the Iraq war voiced by John Kerry lend aid and comfort to the enemy. High-ranking Bush backers have suggested that terrorists are working to get Kerry elected, and argued that the Democrat will leave the country vulnerable to future attacks. The Republican National Committee has acknowledged sending a mailing to voters in West Virginia and Arkansas literature, charging that “liberals” want to ban the Bible.

The new Democratic video drew sharp criticism in some circles.

The Jewish outreach coordinator for the Bush-Cheney campaign, Tennessee businessman Michael Lebovitz, called the video “disrespectful,” “disgusting” and full of “name-calling.” Asked to identify which parts of the video struck him as offensive, Lebovitz cited the short film in its entirety.

The video was also slammed by Matt Brooks, executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition.

“Nothing is as vile, awful and disgusting, and hateful as the NJDC piece,” Brooks said. “The NJDC regretfully has taken politics to a new and disturbing new low.”

The Republicans gained an ally in Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman, who said the video “crosses the line of sensitivity” and “pits Jews against Christians” by presenting the GOP as a “star chamber court in religious garb.” He said he was “saddened and disappointed” that the NJDC had used “stereotypic forms” and “conspiracy theories” to appeal to the Jewish community. “We, who have suffered from conspiracy theories, should be against it,” he said.

Forman said the video’s critics should “lighten up.”

“This is why they have no ability to speak to the 18 to 30 crowd. This is political satire. This is humor,” he said.

Forman said that since launching the video, the first in a planned series of four, on Monday, his Web site’s traffic has exploded and he’s gotten many comments from people saying the video is “hysterically funny.”

In the video, which visually quotes from a pastiche of popular cartoon series such as “South Park” and “The Powerpuff Girls,” the Bubbie character breaks into a Transylvanian castlelike “GOP headquarters” to do battle with a host of Bush administration officials over issues such as Medicare, the Iraq war, Saudi support for terrorism and the Bush tax cuts. The piece’s portrayal of administration figures is not, shall we say, flattering. Presiding over a council of GOP elders is the hooded top political adviser, Karl Rove, who, while speaking at a lectern marked with a cross, declares in a sinister voice that “tomorrow we will declare victory over Iraq, the economy, health care, old people and the poor.”

Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice answer Bubbie’s questions about issues in ways that make them appear as ridiculous, craven buffoons. Senator Zell Miller, the Georgia Democrat who charged that Kerry would leave the U.S. military armed only with “spitballs,” is portrayed as the fire-breathing “Godzella.”

The video portrays Republican policy toward Israel as being beholden to evangelical Christians: A poster on the castle wall says, “Visit Israel After the Rapture!” It also uses the Republicans’ own remarks against them in withering ways. Cheney tries to stop Bubbie with the same expletive he used recently on the Senate floor to dismiss the questions of Senator Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, while Bush family confidant and political adviser James Baker is seen enunciating a famous anti-Jewish profanity attributed to him while he was secretary of state during the first Bush administration. (Baker denies making the comment.)

Especially offensive to critics was this profanity and a scene where Cheney’s head rolls off, showing him to be a robot.

Echoing the popular caricature of the president, the video depicts Bush as an idiotic, childlike figure in boxer shorts who reads the book “My Pet Goat” as the action goes on around him.

Kicked by Bubbie’s bag back to Crawford, Texas, Bush exclaims: “Man, what does she have in that bag anyway?” Bubbie pulls out a voter registration card, yelling the video’s final word: “Vote!”

Republican critics of the video, including Lebovitz, declined to comment on controversial Republican attacks on Kerry launched by Bush and other high-ranking GOP officials. Lebovitz, the Bush-Cheney campaign’s Jewish outreach coordinator, said he had not seen the RNC pieces warning that liberals would ban the Bible.

Independent political analyst Stuart Rothenberg panned the video as sophomoric, describing it as “a caricature of a caricature” pitched at “the 11-year-old crowd.”

“It strikes me as a junior-high-school attempt to get attention,” he said. “I don’t think stuff like that energizes or moves voters.”

But a public relations executive who specializes in appealing to young voters, Eric Schmeltzer, said he thought the video would end up being circulated on the Internet. “The Republicans being ‘shocked, shocked’ that Jews can be funny are like cow towns being offended by the Mel Brooks movie ‘Blazing Saddles,’” Schmeltzer said.

Find us on Facebook!
  • Why "Be fruitful and multiply" isn't as simple as it seems:
  • William Schabas may be the least of Israel's problems.
  • You've heard of the #IceBucketChallenge, but Forward publisher Sam Norich has something better: a #SoupBucketChallenge (complete with matzo balls!) Jon Stewart, Sarah Silverman & David Remnick, you have 24 hours!
  • Did Hamas just take credit for kidnapping the three Israeli teens?
  • "We know what it means to be in the headlines. We know what it feels like when the world sits idly by and watches the news from the luxury of their living room couches. We know the pain of silence. We know the agony of inaction."
  • When YA romance becomes "Hasidsploitation":
  • "I am wrapping up the summer with a beach vacation with my non-Jewish in-laws. They’re good people and real leftists who try to live the values they preach. This was a quality I admired, until the latest war in Gaza. Now they are adamant that American Jews need to take more responsibility for the deaths in Gaza. They are educated people who understand the political complexity, but I don’t think they get the emotional complexity of being an American Jew who is capable of criticizing Israel but still feels a deep connection to it. How can I get this across to them?"
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.