To the Editor:
Many thanks to Susan Silver for an interesting article. More interesting would be her own stories, stories she alludes to but omits: her memories of Lenny Bruce, her memories of her acquaintance with Lenny Bruce’s mother, her memories of Simon Wiesenthal, about whom so little has been written by comediennes and her memories, time permitting, of Joan Rivers, G-d rest her soul.
Unfortunately, Silver writes about some new sitcom.
She makes a minor factual error when she writes, “We comedy people often end a joke with a drum roll[.]” The punchline drum sound is called a rimshot (short), not a drum roll (long).
Silver is too generous when she makes allowances for a sitcom that she makes clear is badly written, badly acted, badly shot and historically wrong.
Silver is too alarmist when she implies that this sitcom, since propagating negative stereotypes of Jews as regurgitated by a former staff writer on Roseanne, is a potential source of meaningful anti-Semitism.
Surely this sitcom can be the source, at most, only of inoculative anti-Semitism. Dull, ignorant writing, acted broadly, appeals to dull, ignorant people. In the history of entertainment, the television sitcom liberated the common man from the tyrannies that had dominated the cinema: from artistic intent, from writing in a tradition of literature, from acting in a tradition of the theater. In their steads came ugly accents and menstruation jokes and, at least in former years, those occasional “very special episodes” with a nice social message that the television writers liked to imagine atoned for their life’s work of making the world a dumber place.
This brings us to what we have termed inoculative anti-Semitism: relatively tame fantasy slanders on Jews for mass consumption. If a sitcom depicts Jews as vulgar and materialistic, then millions of vulgar and materialistic people, Jew and gentile alike, have something to identify with. Indeed, an astonishing thing one will find around the world and even around the United States is that so many people who have never met Jewish people, regular people who don’t open books and prefer their televisions and mobile phones, people who might otherwise believe Jews to be Satanists and demons — many, many such persons like Jews and think they are all, depending on gender, either Fran Drescher or Woody Allen.
That is, as anti-Semitism goes, as folks used to say on Coney Island, “the bestttttttt.”
In conclusion, let us not forget the words of August Bebel, who called anti-Semitism “the socialism of fools.” If there is a cure for anti-Semitism, it is education. And education is to be had by resisting television in general and sitcoms in particular.
Benjamin Letzler Oberursel (Taunus), Germany
This story "Television Is Not How People Should Learn About Jews" was written by Benjamin Letzler.