February 27, 2013
At a time of fiscal crisis in Washington and rising unrest in the West Bank, a cartoon bear has managed to take control of the Jewish conversation.
During Sunday’s Oscars broadcast, host Seth MacFarlane performed a sketch as Ted, the CGI bear from his recent movie of the same name. “Ted” suggests that, as one sober news report put it, “Jews controlled Hollywood and that fealty to the religion was required to work in the industry.” The Anti-Defamation League complained that the bit “only reinforces stereotypes which legitimize anti-Semitism.”
MacFarlane makes his living as an “equal opportunity offender” — attacks on various minorities, and especially women, are the stock in trade of his hit series Family Guy. He gets away with it in part because the joke is apparently not on blacks, Jews, or women, but on the boors and bigots who hold such views. Call it the “Archie Bunker Defense.”
Why, then, was the Oscars bit especially galling? It’s one thing to joke about the indisputable prominence of Jews in the movie industry when you’re talking to insiders and an American audience. However, the ADL suggests, given the ceremony’s massive worldwide audience, the joke would reach places where the “Jews control Hollywood” myth “might be accepted as fact.”
There is something to that concern — although the world’s anti-Semites don’t need any help from a talking bear. But there is another way the joke failed: It wasn’t particularly funny. “Ted” makes his point, and then keeps grinding away at it (another MacFarlane trademark). ADL called the bit “offensive and not remotely funny.” They certainly got the second part right.