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Worldwide Ace » Stereophonic Ethnicity

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Stereophonic Ethnicity

20 November, 2009 (14:36) | Religion, Social Commentary


“Does anyone have a buck I can borrow?”

“Sure, I do,” I said, reaching for my wallet.

“Don’t do it, man,” Harold interjected. “He’ll ask for a pound of flesh in return.”

Jew jokes are my bread and butter. Generally people know I’m a Jew within the first hour they know me, and they know I don’t take my Judaism seriously.

On money:
“I’m only half Jewish, so I love money, but I’m terrible with it.”

On sex:
“Did you know it’s a double mitzvah (double good deed) to have sex on the sabbath? Unless she cums, cause that’s work.”

On drinking:
“Passover has a four drink minimum.”

It doesn’t take much knowledge of Judaism to get most of my Jew jokes. A lot of it is based around well-known stereotypes, classic literary references, and even Western religion in general rather than anything specific about Jews. To me, they seem innocuous and often lead to a real dialog about Judaism, but I’ve found it doesn’t always end up that way.

“You’re just perpetuating the stereotypes rather than breaking them down,” Ironman lectured, the sun streaming through the windshield.

“Normally, because you’re a sociologist, I’d probably take your word for it,” I replied, “but this time, I know you’re wrong.”

“When was the last time you actually talked about religion after you made a joke?”

“I don’t know,” I snapped defensively.

“Uh huh,” he sarcastically murmured nodding a knowing nod. “You use those jokes around people you’ve just met to break the ice. I’ve watched you. You don’t discuss it afterward, and while you may have progressive views, you’re hardly helping by spreading the jokes you know.”

As many a child does, I learned early on that humor is the quickest way to diffuse a bad situation. Either that or the quickest way to get my head kicked in. Whichever result, the situation was over faster than if I hadn’t made a joke, and I was all the happier for it.

I played the class clown, slacking off for humorous effect as much as due to my lazy demeanor. My freshman year of high school, moving to a school with no one I knew, I introduced myself  by saying, “Hi, I’m Ben. Name an object and I can make it seem disgusting with only the words.” And I could too.

But something strange happened along the way. I became more studious and quieter. I saved my quips and jokes for company I was comfortable with or situations that warranted them. I’m still as fierce as ever among good friends, but the few times my humor’s backfired has taught me that caution is often more apt.

“You totally jewed me!” Harold sneered, harshly emphasizing his use of Jew as a verb with a sinister growl.

“Not cool,” I uttered above his maniacal laughter. “That’s not even a joke.”

“It’s hilarious,” he replied, his grin glowing wickedly in my eyes.

“No. It’s really not. There’s no joke there. It’s like calling someone a whore or an asshole. Except instead of possibly being a term of endearment for a friend, you’re insulting an entire people.”

“It’s not a big deal,” he huffed. I didn’t respond. I suddenly wasn’t sure if I was even in position to criticize.

Maybe I do encourage it. Not purposefully, but it’s possible that my use of Jew jokes and stereotypes somehow makes it okay in other people’s eyes. Perhaps being a Jew only means I can differentiate between the harmless and the truly offensive.

My boss at the bookstore was a stereotypical lesbian. She had short hair, wore flannels, and was typically butch. Her partner was clearly femme, as she was very well kempt and typically girly in manner. They were both very nice, lovely people.

For Christmas the first year I worked there, my boss got everyone in our department Christmas mugs filled with goodies, including hot chocolate mix, some small candies, a gift certificate and a Christmas ornament.

“What am I going to do? Hang this on my Hanukkah bush?” I remarked with a smile.

She looked at me blankly for a minute as the question set in. It came tepidly at first, the giggles crawling across her face.

“But seriously, though, thanks,” I said, as much for the laughter as for the gift.

My boss was much friendlier after that. I like to think it’s because I was a good employee and a good person, but the joke probably had more to do with it than I like to admit.

A few months later, she cracked a Jew joke that actually offended me. I don’t remember what it was at this point, but I knew she didn’t mean anything by it, so I didn’t comment. It was then that I realized I had already made Jew jokes okay in our dialog. I had set a precedent I wasn’t necessarily happy with.

“Did you hear about the Norwegian who loved his wife so much he almost told her?” Devin quipped.

“Heh,” I laughed, not really getting it.

“Yeah, in the Minnesota region all the Scandinavians make jokes about each other.”

“You know, it’s weird,” I replied. “I’d never think to make fun of anyone else. I mean, why pick on other ethnicities? The best material is right here.”

In many ways, Jewish humor is now American humor, ingrained societally at such a base level that they’re indistinguishable. The one way in which Jewish humor remains different is our obsession with the Jews. It’s an element of narcissism which doesn’t seem present in any other ethnic group. Sure, the Irish tell Irish jokes, the British tell British jokes, and everyone tells German jokes (thanks Nazi party!), but there’s rarely a joke popular in Jewish circles that isn’t somehow about Jews.

To be a Jew and not be able to tell at least one Jew joke is like not being a Jew at all.

I’m not going to stop telling Jew jokes. It’s simply not possible. It’s as much part of my identity as anything else. If I am truly setting a precedent by doing so, something must change. I simply don’t know what.

Then again, if Heeb magazine is any indication, I’m not the only Jew in this conundrum.

Ah, Evan Dorkin. How I love thee.