Do you remember that, when Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ was about to be released, liberals attacked it preemptively on the grounds that it would stir up anti-Semitic passions amongst its primitive viewers? Of course, nothing of the sort happened. Movie goers did not see the movie as an indictment of modern Jews, nor did they take it as license to go on an orgy of synagogue burning.
Something different is happening now, and it’s happening under the radar. You’ve probably heard about Sacha Cohen, whose movie Borat is doing fabulously well at the box office. Even Michael Medved said it was funny, although he acknowledged that the movie is often crude and mean-spirited. I never find crude and mean-spirited amusing (and yes, I sound like and am a prig in that regard), so I’m not chafing at the bit to see it. The previews I’ve seen have been predictable, which doesn’t recommend the movie to me.
My husband, though, thought the previews very funny, and he started hunting down Cohen’s appearances in clips available on the internet. That’s how he found a sketch from the Ali G show, in which Cohen, in Borat mode, goes to a bar in Alabama, and sings a completely anti-Semitic song entitled “Throw the Jew Down the Well.” The “joke” is that the bar’s redneck denizens happily join in, singing along and miming little horns on their heads at appropriate moments in the song. Their instant ability to pick up on the horn reference and mime it makes me believe the whole thing is a set-up, but what do I know?
What I do know is that the whole sketch seems to have become something of a license to be anti-Semitic. On the website I linked to above, you can read this disclaimer: “Again warnings are made that this may be quite offensive to some, but Sacha (Borat) is of course himself Jewish.” I found the language fascinating. It’s not just offensive,” it only “may” be offensive “to some.” I assume the author means that either people with Cohen’s sophisticated sense of humor or out and out anti-Semites, will find it inoffensive. I was equally fascinated by the excuse for the song’s message: Cohen is Jewish. That doesn’t excuse anything in my mind. Some of the worst anti-Semites are Jewish. Karl Marx, whose family underwent a strictly nonreligious conversion in order to advance materially, is a stunning example. Noam Chomskey is another.
Aside from core problems I have with the sketch, what I find really disturbing the traction it has gained. Go onto YouTube and you’ll find a significant number of videos celebrating the song’s message (“ Borat encouraging us all to throw transport and jews down a well to free his country!”) as well as a growing number of “do it yourself” videos in which people gleefully sing “Throw the Jew Down the Well.”
Maybe it’s just my priggish side showing here, but I find this unfunny. I also find disturbing that, because this song is presented in the context of a hip comedy show, and is performed by someone Jewish, it’s totally okay to make it part of modern intellectual/pop culture currency.