Over at Tablet, Columbia prof Jeremy Tauber weighs in on Glee‘s recent Jewish story line (studly, mohawk-wearing Noah “Puck” Puckerman hooks up with fellow “hot Jew” Rachel). Dauber posits that the show added a Jewish storyline in keeping with its “misfit” theme, and this:
The show’s bones are in Broadway; and— in a truth espoused by William Goldman in his backstage classic The Season 40 years ago and more recently and pungently in Eric Idle’s score for Spamalot—you won’t succeed on Broadway if you don’t have any Jews. Jews are as much a part of the DNA of American musical theater—and, as such, of Glee—as, well, gay men.
Yeah, maybe. But the Jewish stuff also seemed a little lazy. The frequency with which Hollywood injects Jews into plots — where they are inevitably short-hand for misfits or intellectuals – suggests a lack of imagination and real guts, if you ask me. Going Jewish is an easy way to make your show look ethnic or “exotic” and, let’s face it, doesn’t run the risk of offending studio bosses for obvious ethnic reasons. (For the same reason, Jewish characters tend to be the same kinds of Jews you find in Hollywood offices: secular, ethnic, assimilated, and often confused about and/or mocking of Jewish ritual.)
If you’re a writer and want to push the envelope slightly more (an envelope that has already been torn to shreds, by the way), then you add a gay character to your checklist. (Again, not likely to offend a significiant portion of the entertainment world.) So Glee doe just that, and also in the safest possible way: Kurt is femme-y and flamey and, get this, loves fashion and musical theater! (Imagine if Finn, the quarterback, was gay, or if Kurt wasn’t gay but transgendered – now that would challenge stereotypes, not reinforce them.)
Glee wants to be a celebration of outsiders, but its misfits are the 2009 version of the platoon from a World War II movie. Instead of Moscowitz and Roselli and O’Leary and Smith, you have the Jew and the gay and the Asian-American and the overwight black girl and the disabled kid.
But if you want real “misfits,” I can imagine a few un-lazy and un-safe choices the writers could make. How about a Muslim character (Aliens in America, to which I’ve compared Glee before, did this to great and daring effect — it was essentially a mainstream sitcom that accepted the Third World’s critique of suburban American culture, to subtle and devastating effect). Or a deeply religious kid — Jewish, Christian, Mormon – who isn’t a prude or a hypocrite. Or an Asberger’s kid who genuinely tries the patience of his peers, and isn’t precious in the Rain Man mode.
But I can’t get excited about another deracinated Jewish charcter who eats pork on Simchat Torah while watching Schindler’s List. Enough already.