New Jews : Race and American Jewish Identity in 21st-century Film book cover
1st Edition

New Jews
Race and American Jewish Identity in 21st-century Film

ISBN 9781612050720
Published December 30, 2013 by Routledge
208 Pages

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Book Description

"New Jews'?" is the first comprehensive study of American Jewish identity in Hollywood movies of the new millennium. Despite the argument that we live in a "post-racial" society with supposedly "new" Jewish characters emerging on the big screen, this book details how traditional racial stereotypes of American Jews persist in popular films from the first decade of this century. In clear and readable prose, the book offers an innovative and penetrating look at dozens of American Jewish "meddling matriarchs," "neurotic nebbishes," "pampered princesses," and "scheming scumbags" from 21st century film, whether Hollywood blockbusters like Meet the Fockers and Sex and the City or indie favorites like Garden State and Kissing Jessica Stein. Throughout the book, famous American Jewish characters played by the likes of Jim Carrey, Tom Cruise, Anne Hathaway, Kate Hudson, Scarlett Johansson, Sarah Jessica Parker, Adam Sandler, and Ben Stiller are discussed, with the ultimate conclusion that movies today are marked less by the emergence of "new Jews" than by the continued - but dynamic and transformed -- presence of the same old stereotypes.

Table of Contents

Preface 1 Introduction 2 American Jewish Racial Identity Politics Off- and Onscreen 3 Family Dynamics and the Stereotype of the "Meddling Matriarch" 4 Cinematic Portrayals of American Jewish Romance and Sexuality 5 The Myth of "Pampered Princess" Material Consumption 6 American Jewish Political Economy at the Movies 7 Race, Film, and 21st-Century American Jewish Identity Appendix Works Cited Index About the Author

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“Reznik writes this book against the backdrop of contemporary society that supposedly has reached a “post-racial” stage. He claims, however, that this designation is untrue. Jews, as he illustrates, are still heavily stereotyped in contemporary films and allotted an ambiguous position in American society. On the one hand, they represent almost the “model minority,” due to their success in various fields, but on the other they are envisioned to be odd and suspicious.

“The stereotypes he reveals—such as the “meddling matriarchs” and “neurotic nebbishes”—are very traditional but still pervade contemporary cinema. As a result, an anti-Semitic message is conveyed regularly by the film industry. A key irony, according to Reznik, is that many directors and writers are Jewish!

“A key theme of this book, accordingly, is that multiculturalism is a façade. In reality, everyone, including Jews, is expected to assimilate to a core culture. The “melting pot” ideal is thus alive and well in the United States. The problem, however, is that this social imagery contravenes in many ways the real pluralism that is necessary for democracy to thrive and every group to have dignity.

“What Reznik does in this book is debunk systematically the pluralist myth. Most societies, including the United States, have embraced immigrants only conditionally, depending on their willingness to abandon their past. Jews, in this regard, are still demeaned in films, as a way of encouraging assimilation through shame. Reznik’s important contribution is to illustrate how this shaming occurs very subtly and is often mixed with positive traits. In the end, however, Jews are portrayed as strange “others” who should be viewed with suspicion. Many readers, I believe, will find Reznik’s descriptions of this process of subversion to be very informative.”
—John W. Murphy, Professor of Sociology, University of Miami

“‘New Jews?’ is a groundbreaking book, theoretically savvy and thoroughly researched, filled with fascinating insights into the continuing racialization of American Jewish identity. Going against the grain of the argument that the United States today is a supposedly “post-racial” society, through careful analyses of fifty-three Hollywood and independent American films from the first decade of the twenty-first century featuring American Jewish characters, David Reznik convincingly demonstrates the remarkable persistence in American film of the four common Jewish stereotypes: “the meddling matriarch,” “the neurotic nebbish,” “the pampered princess,” and “the scheming scumbag.” Although these representations now show increased diversity in class, age, gender, and sexuality, the racialization nonetheless continues. Finally, Reznik offers historical, economic, and political explanations why such damaging stereotypes survive despite the dominance of American Jews in the making of these films. For classroom convenience, the book includes an appendix concerning theories about race and the methodology for the selection of films and characters for analysis, discussion questions, and suggested additional readings for each chapter, and a bibliography. This book is extremely useful for courses in Jewish studies, sociology of film, race and ethnicity, or film studies, as well as attracting the wide-reading audience interested in questions of American Jewish identity and in contemporary American film.”
—Andrew M. Gordon, Emeritus Professor of English the University of Florida and author of An American Dreamer: A Psychoanalytic Study of the Fiction of Norman Mailer, Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg, and co-author, with Hernán Vera, of Screen Saviors: Hollywood Fictions of Whiteness. He also serves on the editorial board of Studies in American Jewish Literature.