The presentation given discussed the article by Marsha Woodbury, Jewish Images that Injure, how it relates to Judaism in popular culture and the creation and development of the Jewish stereotype. To exemplify a Jewish stereotype, a video containing excerpts from an episode of the TV series South Park was shown. In the clip, a character is visited by his Jewish cousin, whose characteristics are unmistakably and stereotypically Jewish and used for comic effect. At the end of the presentation, the audience was encouraged to contemplate the motivation and justification of that particular portrayal, after being given further context surrounding the issue.
Woodbury’s attitude is summarised by this statement in her article regarding the pigeon-holing of Judaism and Jewish individuals:
“The goal is to heighten awareness of the unconscious assumptions we may hold about Jewish people and to learn where these inner images clash with reality.”
Several key points discussed were used to demonstrate and explain the nature of the Jewish image:
• An explanation of Woodbury’s account of the persistence of the Jewish stereotype through history, and reasons for the particular stereotype’s existence.
• The effect that the nation of Israel has had on the perception of Judaism, particularly the consequences of the media’s portrayal of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.
• Popular Jews in the media today, how they’re portrayed, and how they deal with their ‘Jewishness’.
According to Woodbury, the situation in Israel, and the media’s subsequent coverage, has led to the stigmatisation of individual Jews around the globe. There is evidence that this has resulted in a violent reaction against Jewish targets such as synagogues, even in traditionally tolerant societies.
The presentation given offered context and suggested a contemplation of the use of the typically ‘Jewish’ character. Other Jewish actors and characters in the media industry, such as Lenny Bruce, Jon Stewart and Larry David all gave themselves particularly non-Jewish sounding stage names. This would suggest that they have found it simply easier to not be perceived as Jewish.
The conclusion that was reached in the presentation is that Woodbury’s discussion is pertinent to the Jewish situation, and while many other forms of intolerance and racism exist, the historical and modern context surrounding Judaism indicates that the issue is particularly ubiquitous and relevant in the modern world.
Woodbury M, 2003, ‘Jewish Images that Injure’, in PM Lester and EE Dennis, Eds., Images that Injure: Pictorial Stereotypes in the Media, 2nd edition, Praeger, London.