Monday, November 9, 2009

People Like Me in Entertainment Media

There aren’t any.

All of the characters on TV, in movies, in the books I read, are all different than me. There were never any characters that I could truly identify with, someone that looked and sounded like I did. I suppose that is what it means to be part of a minority.

Except that there are Jewish characters all over the place. It seems like every third TV character is Jewish. Whether this is a result of the American tendency to erroneously hold up Judaism as one of the great (demographically) world religions, or Jewish writers creating characters that are coreligionists, I don’t know. But even these characters weren’t people I could identify with. They are mostly “informed Jews” – they look and act just like everyone else, and only reveal that they’re Jewish in December each year so that Chanukah can be shoehorned into the Christmas episode. If they have any Jewish characteristics, they’ll be highly stereotypical ones, like eating bagels. If they are at all religious, they’ll be on the extreme left wing of the Reform movement – a rabbi will officiate at their wedding, but that’s about it. The few depictions of Orthodox Jews are always of Chassidim. After all, a character in a long black coat, a fur hat, and long curly payos is much more interesting than a guy in a business suit with a fedora or a yarmulke on his head. (The only exception I can remember ever seeing was in “It Could Happen To You” in which a yeshivish-looking guy in a white shirt and yarmulke is seen mailing a letter.)

I identified with none of these characters. As much as TV and movies are a fantasy, for me there was an added layer of distance from reality. None of the people depicted were even close to “real” because none of them resembled anyone I knew.

I think this underlines the cultural isolation of the Orthodox world. While some liberal Chareidim and the Modern Orthodox partake of what the general culture has to offer, we aren’t really a part of it. There is nothing in it with which we can identify. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing depends on your point of view.

1 comment:

  1. "I think this underlines the cultural isolation of the Orthodox world......There is nothing in it with which we can identify."


    that's the point. It shows the frummies are doing their job right. If you isolate people from the outside world culturally, then they are all the less to find comfort in it, and all the less likely to apostatize to it