Like most Iranians, I didn’t watch the Oscars and I haven’t seen the winner of Best Picture, Argo. And like the attendees of a recent conference in Tehran on “Hollywoodism”, I share the view that the American film industry exerts political influence — it is not just part of the entertainment business.
A New York Times report on the conference quoted Nader Talebzadeh, an Iranian-American filmmaker:
To Mr. Talebzadeh, it was clear that “Argo” was part of a larger plan by the American entertainment industry to remind a younger generation of the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis. “It’s the only example of aggression they have against Iran,” he said. “ ‘Argo’ just tears open the wounds in order to prepare the minds. This movie is no coincidence. Timing matters.”
Ben Affleck probably didn’t set out to demonize Iran and I don’t think Hollywood is quite as ideologically organized as Talebzadeh suggests. Even so, Argo’s producers could hardly have been oblivious to the fact that at a time when Iran is being demonized, it would not be hard to find support for a thriller in which Iranian revolutionaries threaten American lives. And it would not be unreasonable to expect that such support would come from, among others, Zionists. And yet there remain strong taboos around raising the topic of Jews and Hollywood as this year’s Academy Awards ceremony host, Seth MacFarlane, found out.
Seth MacFarlane found himself at the centre of more scandal on Monday in the wake of his controversial hosting of the Oscars.
The Family Guy comedian caused outrage among viewers when his Ted alter-ego took to the stage at Sunday night’s ceremony with Mark Wahlberg, and told his co-star that if he ‘wants to work in this town’ he’s got to be Jewish.
MacFarlane’s Ted then added to Wahlberg: ‘I was born Theodore Shapiro and I would like to donate to Israel and continue to work in Hollywood forever.’
But the gags, which came as the pair presented the award for Best Sound Mixing and Best Sound Editing, weren’t received well by many Jewish rights groups, with the comedian labelled ‘offensive, unfunny and inappropriate’.
Abraham Foxman, National Director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement: ‘While we have come to expect inappropriate “Jews control Hollywood” jokes from Seth MacFarlane, what he did at the Oscars was offensive and not remotely funny.
‘It only reinforces stereotypes which legitimize anti-Semitism. It is sad and disheartening that the Oscars awards show sought to use anti-Jewish stereotypes for laughs.’
The League’s Founder and Dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier, added: ‘The Oscars are transmitted to every corner of the globe, even to such places where such hateful myths are believed as fact.
‘Every comedian is entitled to wide latitude, but no one should get a free pass for helping to promote anti-Semitism.’
Mira Sucharov writes:
The old anti-Semitic canards about Jews controlling Hollywood, cavorting in secret cabals and beset by dual loyalties are so shopworn as to no longer be funny. And the jokes are all the more risky coming from someone who isn’t himself part of the given community…
But J.J. Goldberg points out:
[O]bjecting to the myth that Jews control Hollywood raises serious questions of definition. If anybody can genuinely be said to control Tinseltown, it’s probably the 25 people who run the 12 main film studios — that is, the chairman (in one case, two co-chairmen) and president of each. Of those 25, 21 are Jewish, or 84%. That’s simple math. You could define “control” differently — throw in the top agents and producers, leading directors, most bankable stars and so on — and the proportion of Jews would drop, but it probably wouldn’t get down anywhere near the 50% mark.
Philip Weiss says:
The issue in my mind is whether we’re all grownup enough to talk about these things without having pogroms, and I think we are. I’ve written here before that Jewish kinship networks are important professionally; most of my work in journalism has come from Jews with whom I share culture and language (very much the way Jodi Kantor got her job at the New York Times). People have a right to discuss these matters in a critical manner: in the ’60s sociologist E. Digby Baltzell, himself a WASP, helped break down Protestant discrimination against Jews in board rooms and back rooms with a book bewailing discrimination called The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy and Caste in America. Nick Lemann also ascribed a religious character to that former establishment when he called it “the Episcopacy” in his book on the meritocracy. So — what’s good for the goose… Lately Ron Unz, a Jewish meritocrat himself, published a study, The Myth of the American Meritocracy, saying that the Ivy Leagues, which he calls “the funnel” for the ruling elite, have student bodies that are 25 percent Jewish in some large part because Jews in the college admissions are looking for people like themselves. When he spoke at Yale in January, and a Southern Baptist in the audience questioned him, Unz established that there were two Southern Baptists in the audience, and said they ought to be better represented in the Ivy’s. He believes Jews are empowered and secure enough in a diverse liberal society to have this conversation. So do I.
Did MacFarlane stoke controversy just for alluding to the fact that Jews control Hollywood, or was the line he crossed one that is laid down specifically for gentiles? If as Weiss says, Jews are ready to have this conversation, is this supposed to be a conversation among Jews or can anyone join in?
Ironically, if people like Abe Foxman had a little more humor and sophistication and a lot less appetite to gag their critics, they would have seized on the fact that MacFarlane was free to make his joke — proof, arguably, that Jews don’t control Hollywood.