From the Mind of Mikel

A University of Worcester Film Studies Blog

Jewsploitation: Self-Stereotyping and Discursive Jewish Representation in The Hebrew Hammer

The Hebrew Hammer 6

Jewsploitation: Self-Stereotyping and Discursive Jewish Representation in The Hebrew Hammer

Jonathan Kesselman’s 2003 comedy, The Hebrew Hammer, advertised itself as the first “Jewsploitation” movie. The film follows the adventures of Mordechai Jefferson Carver (Adam Goldberg) – the titular “Hebrew Hammer” – who tries to stop Santa’s evil son, Damien (Andy Dick), from destroying Chanukah. While the film is a parody of the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s, its exploding of classic Jewish stereotypes enables discussion about Jewish representations and the nature of Jewish identities.

images (1)What is “Jewsploitation”? Obviously, it’s a semantic parody of Blaxploitation, but if that’s all it was, the word wouldn’t resonate as much as it does. Blaxploitation was the name given to the cycle of Black-oriented American genre films produced in the first half of the 1970s (roughly 1971-1975). Films like Shaft, Superfly, The Mack, Black Ceasar, Foxy Brown all featured predominantly African-American casts, many using African-American screenwriters and directors, and made stars out of actors like Fred Williamson, Pam Grier and Richard Roundtree. The “exploitation” element of Blaxploitation did not refer to the exploitation of a Black work-force on these films; it referred to the marketing strategy these B-movies used to exploit contemporary social issues. They exploited an audience’s desire to see something different while still working within vernacular cinematic genres, like gangster movies, horror movies, action movies, etc. The draw for an audience was seeing African-American characters living like everyday African-Americans and dealing with social issues the Black community faced on a regular basis – drugs, sex industry, institutional racism, etc. Blaxploitation was about seeing Black people leading Black lives, but within a vernacular (exploitation) cinema context – that is, movies everyday people want to go and see.

Does this work for “Jewsploitation”? What kind of film would Jewish filmmakers produce for Jewish audiences?  Actually, the YidlYiddish-language cinema produced by Joseph Green (in Poland) and Joseph Seiden (in the US) throughout the 1930s fit the bill nicely – they were unique, low-budget, genre pictures (mostly melodramas or musicals), for a niche audience that either experienced or was experiencing similar social issues and changes. The difference between the Yiddish-language cinema of the 1930s and Blaxploitation of the 1970s is largely generational: the appeal of the Yiddish movies tended to be to an older audience, while Blaxploitation appealed to a younger demographic.  In this regard, The Hebrew Hammer is more of the latter than the former; more youth-oriented films, than films produced for an older audience – as are a number of the films I’ll be discussing in this talk.

The generational division is a significant one; interest in bubbe-movies (if I can coin the term) by younger generations of Jews appeal out of nostalgia, not contemporaneity. Nostalgia for old world Jewishness is popular, but it is almost always backwards looking. Judah Cohen noted the recent emergence of a generation of North American Jews which embody this idea of ironic Jewish exploitation – Jewsploitation:

The ‘new’ Jewish culture aimed specifically at instilling a sense of Judaism where such expression had traditionally been absent … Often using the term ‘radical’ to describe their activities … projected images, attitudes and sounds that simultaneously celebrated and subverted popular Jewish stereotypes. Urban-dwelling Jews in their twenties and thirties served as the main target: those seen to base less of their identity on the Holocaust, who married later in life, and who portrayed a sense of alienation from both denominational life and the existing Jewish infrastructure (Cohen 2009: 2).

For a number of North American Jews of a particular generation, myself included, who have trouble identifying with either the two key identity markers in “Received Judaism” – the Holocaust & Israel – there has been an ontological crisis of how one defines oneself as Jewish in the modern world. Cohen sees this generation’s actions as “youthful reactions to what they perceived as an ossified, even self-effacing Jewish identity” (2009: 3).  Such reactions include the creation of a kind of “American Jewish ‘hipster’ culture … [which is heavily] associated with blackness (African-American culture)” (2009:3). This generation of “American Jewish hipsters”, according to Cohen,

… also evidence deeper aspects of cultural activity attributed specifically to the Jewish experience: most notably a publically negotiated, bipolar sense of Jewish masculinity, as well as an often overt agenda aimed at transforming perceptions of Jewish tradition in order to preserve them (2009: 3).

Cohen continues with the suggestion that this “hipster” culture is a direct counter to the Israeli Sabra image as an embodiment of Jewish masculine virility (2009:4). Parenthetically, the Israeli Sabra image was created specifically as a counter to the “Victim-Jew” image that emerged in the post-Holocaust world.

you_dont_mess_with_the_zohan_ver3In the Adam Sandler comedy, You Don’t Mess with the Zohan (2008), Sandler plays “the Zohan,” a super IDF operative who embodies the virile masculine Sabra. Despite his legendary status in Israel, what Zohan most wants to do is move to New York and become a hair stylist. Zohan is able to achieve this, working in feminizing hair industry while still keeping his virile masculinity intact. Here’s the opening sequence to the film

Zohan is created to be the ultimate Sabra; cool even by Israeli standards. He is self-assured, sexy, equally capable of winning a tug-of-war contest against a bull and barbecuing fish on the beach (naked!). Despite his abdication to New York and the world of women’s hairdressing, that hyper-masculinity remains in place. As enjoyable as Zohan is, as a movie, Sandler is not part of this “New Jew” movement; his Zohan does not directly challenge the image of the Sabra as an embodiment of Jewish masculinity. Zohan may be an exaggeration, but the Israeli roots of that exaggeration are never challenged.  Adam Sandler’s comedy in general, and You Don’t Mess with the Zohan in particular, merely extend the existing ontological paradigms which define Jewish identity.

Discourse Analysis

Discourse analysis emerges as a reaction – within philosophy – to traditional Marxist dichotomies, like truth/falsity, as simplistic and limiting (Purvis & Hunt 1993: 479).  Rather than ideology operating to impose a ‘false consciousness’ on an unaware populace, ideology operates “discursively”. That is,

… discourses impose frameworks which limit what can be experienced or the meaning that experience can encompass, and thereby influence what can be said or be done. Each discourse allows certain things to be said and implies or prevents other things from being said (Purvis & Hunt 1993: 485).

Rather than two binary opposite positions, whereby one either agrees or rejects, a multiplicity of interpretive strategies to make sense of the world exist. However, each of those positions has their own ideological concerns. Far be it from “everyone having their own opinion”, an ascription to a fictional idea of freewill, discourse analysis recognizes that only a finite number of interpretive strategies are ideologically allowed to exist, and each of those have their own ideological rules and obligations. The ontological problem of Jewish identity, of being caught between the Holocaust and Israel, is an ideological one; that those are the only two paradigms possible for Jewish identity to attach. The “New Jew” hipster image is an ideological challenge to those limiting paradigms, despite it having its own ideological problems too (specifically its American-centric, New York-centric assumptions). You Don’t Mess with the Zohan does not challenge those ideological discourses, but is complacent within them.

Discourse analysis recognizes that identities, positions and their attendant ideologies have a tendency to shift. They are not unmoveable or unchanging. To be either in agreement with/or react against any particular position ignores the fluid nature of such positions.

Discourse is constitutive of social relations in that all knowledge, all talk, all argument takes place within a discursive context through which experience comes to have, not only meaning for its participants, but shared and communicable meaning within social relations (Purvis & Hunt 1993: 492)

The question one must engage with, in any discursive process, is to identify and understand the context of that discussion particularly as it impacts on both utterance and reception of those ideas. I may appear more conservative to a left winger than when I have a similar conversation with someone on the right. I may appear more Jewish in my interactions with a non-Jew than I am in a Jewish context (where I probably come off almost Presbyterian). This flow of discursive positioning demonstrates the greater complexity than to (simply) dismiss me (or accept me) as a “left-leaning-Jewish-liberal”.

In Stuart Hall’s “Encoding/Decoding”, he advocates a discursive approach to cultural studies, by which he suggests begins with the realization that media texts do not present reality, but represent discourses about reality. Hall’s example is a typical evening news broadcast. While today we may be cynical about unbiased and factual reportage on Fox News, the same interpretations could be made about the revered BBC.  We depend on our news programmes to offer truthful accounts of what is happening around the world. What we see on the news is “real”. For Hall, rather than a presentation of reality, a news broadcast is a carefully constructed, ideological text. When watching the news, we aren’t given any information about what is happening in the world as much as we are given a series of narratives which tell us what is acceptable to know about what is happening in the world. This is not to level accusations of bias against the BBC (although such accusations are definitely possible), because no news broadcast can avoid all biases. The news does not present “truth” but representations of truth.  The repercussions of Hall’s approach can be applied to any and all communication – face-to-face or mass mediated.

The same discursive approach holds true for racial and ethnic images in film and on TV. The “sociological communication” model, which was popular in late 1970s tended to see racial & ethnic representations in overly simplistic binary paradigms: a representation was either racist or not.  To say a film is racist, or avails itself to racist stereotyping, is to fall into this analytical trap. Hall’s advocacy of a discursive approach – the so-called “Cultural Studies” model – recognizes the importance of context and constructedness of these representations. A film – whether fictional or factual – is not presentation of reality, but construction of discourses about reality.

Borat-Movie-Wallpaper-001Consider the Sasha Baron Cohen film, Borat. Here is a film which puts a fictional character into the “real world” with the intention of demonstrating specific discourses about American culture.  To what extent are these sequences contrived? Were there many problems with consent for using private citizens’ images in a commercial film? Were they paid? Was there a poor production assistant who ran after people to get their signature on a release form after Borat had done something to them? To what extent are people playing to the camera? What Borat represents is an erasure of that assumed line between fiction and factual. To say this sequence is real but that sequence is contrived is a meaningless game to play with the film. What can we say about the film’s representation of reality, of a ‘real America’? Each sequence of the film opens the discursive possibilities for public debate.

In the “Running of the Jew” sequence in Borat, we see Borat’s feature for Kazakhstan National Television’s coverage of what is purported to be an annual folk festivity. Clearly this is an anti-Semitic sketch. And yet it is still funny (I find it funny, anyway). Part of the discursive analysis of the sequence is recognition that Baron Cohen is a practicing Jew; so the anti-Semitism is unlikely to be actual. And yet it is there. To see the sequence as a commentary on anti-Semitism, specifically playing with Eastern European/Balkan stereotypes of peasant anti-Semitism, is to open the film up for discussion. The comedy is exaggerated to the point of absurdity – Mrs. Jew laying her Jew Egg, which the children need to crush before the Jew-Chick hatches – opening up a commentary on cultural ignorance in Eastern and Balkan European countries. But that commentary is extended to demonstrate, later in the film, how ignorant Americans are of the world to be taken in by Baron Cohen’s character.

Jewsploitation as Discourse

Jewish humour as self-deprecating (and potentially reflecting self-hatred and masochism) comes from Sigmund Freud’s Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious written in 1905. This is not the place to outline extensively the Orthodox Freudian theories of joke-telling, but what interests me is the seemingly ubiquitous acceptance of his theories on humour. Jews tell Jewish jokes due to a profound sense of shame and hatred that they are Jews. There is also a sense that Jewish humour beats the anti-Semite to the punch, by denigrating oneself before the anti-Semite denigrates the Jew further. Nor is this the place to outline the problems, fallacies and sheer errors in these assumptions.  If Freud (and others) were right, then the “Running of the Jew” sequence in Borat reflects a profound self-hatred in Baron Cohen; that the grotesque exaggerated Jews in the festivity are how he sees himself unconsciously. And when we laugh at that sequence, we are recognizing its truth for us too.

The criticism of Freud and others I do want to focus on, however, is the assumption of a unified and coherent “Jewish character” or “Jewish Mind” which can be understood as applying to most, if not all Jews. Such an existence is of course absurd. But contextualized within discourse analysis we can see the fallacy in assuming a single meaning or character to Jewish humour: the joke either is anti-Semitic and self-deprecating or it is somehow psychologically liberating. That there are only those two options which are generalized across all Jewish experiences is nonsensical. Discourse analysis, however, enables a more nuanced and complicated response to sequences like the “Running of the Jew”.

Jewsploitation then is the self-conscious reclamation of the stereotypes and exploding them to absurd levels. Rather than simply evidence of Jewish self-hatred, quite the contrary, these films celebrate the grotesquery of the stereotypes in order to frame them as stereotypes. The “grotesque realism,” to appropriate Bakhtin’s phrase, of the “Running with the Jew” is its exaggeration.  The exaggeration is funny because of its construction as stereotype. And it is through the stereotype that the discursive dimension opens; the image lacks any direct referent in reality other than other grotesque stereotypes. The stereotype becomes as empty as the papier-mâché “Jew-heads”. In a later sequence, Borat and his producer Azamat stay over in a B&B which they didn’t realise was run by Jews.

The stereotypes expressed by Borat and Azamat in reference to Jews are juxtaposed by the lovely and generous elderly Jewish couple who run the B&B. Discursively, the anti-Semitism expressed by Borat and Azamet are less reflections of reality and more commentaries on, not just their reality, but also anti-Semitism in the larger world; racist perceptions of Jews, the film discursively suggests, are equally absurd.

Harold_And_Kumar_Go_To_White_Castle__001Another area of Jewsploitation can be found in the “Harold & Kumar” movies: Harold and Kumar are a Korean and Indian “odd couple” friends who mostly of smoke dope and eat at the White Castle brand of hamburger restaurants. All three of the “Harold & Kumar” films are written by the team of Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Scholssberg, and feature two secondary characters Rosenberg and Goldstein (Eddie Kay Thomas and David Krumholtz, respectively), who are likely based on the writers themselves. Rosenberg & Goldstein are slacker figures who also smoke a substantial amount of weed.  When we first meet them in Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle (2004), the apartment they share features some intriguing Judaica.

For the American Jewish ‘hipster’ that Judah Cohen discussed, Rosenberg and Goldstein subvert the normal stereotypes of Jewish characters: they’re dope smoking, sex obsessed, slackers. But it is the inclusion of the ‘girly’ mezuzah and shofar modified into a dope pipe that is particularly noteworthy. Both items (presumably manufactured for the film) subvert the norms of both artefacts. And Harold & Kumar 2yet, both the shofar and the mezuzah are at home in this Jewish household. The mezuzah in particular has retained its traditional/religious usage, despite being made profane with the naked woman.  The holiness of the shofar too is likewise subverted. And yet, both men’s heads remain covered. Seeing Rosenberg & Harold & Kumar 1Goldstein as discourse (including the intentional echoes of Shakespeare’s Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern from Hamlet) is to recognize traditional Judaism subverted potentially for greater relevance to those contemporary Jews who find it difficult to engage with the traditional “Jewish infrastructure”.

In the second “Harold and Kumar” movie, Harold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay (2008), our titular heroes are arrested as terrorists en route to Amsterdam. Rosenberg & Goldstein are brought in to be interrogated by Homeland Security due to their friendship with Harold and Kumar.

The folklorist William Hugh Jansen coined what he called “the esoteric/exoteric factor”. Esoteric, as most of us know, refers to insider knowledge; what a member of a particular group knows about that group. Exoteric, on the other hand, is a bit more slippery; it refers to what insiders think outsiders know about that group. This is not say exoteric is what outsiders actually know, but what insiders think outsiders know. Everyone with me on that? In the clip from Guantanamo Bay, NSA agent Ron Fox (Rob Corddry) thinks Jews are going to be easily interrogated if you throw loose change on the table. This is a Jewish perception (due to the screenwriters) of what (certain) American Jews think non-Jews think about Jews; this is an exoteric belief. It’s also such an obvious one as to be fairly uninteresting. Goldstein and Rosenberg’s collecting up the change at the scene’s conclusion is one of the key moments of cinematic discourse here; it opens the text up to question whether or not the film is holding up cultural stereotypes even as they’re being critiqued, or are they just being pragmatic, claiming Fox’s change, in partial recompense for the racist insult?

So far so obvious. There is another level to the sequence, however; a more subtle one which complicates both the film and its racial discourses. The fourth man in the room is Dr. Beecher (Roger Bart), a consultant working for the NSA who, throughout the film, is continually embarrassed by agent Fox’s behaviour. We can read this sequence (and the entire film) as American fears that the rest of the world views the US as if it were a nation of agent Foxes. Such is one of the film’s larger exoteric fears. Dr. Beecher’s presence in the scene seems to be a subtle recognition of an esoteric American view suggesting equal embarrassment by Fox. There may also be a not-so-subtle swipe at Fox News involved here too. Throughout the three “Harold & Kumar” movies, despite the slacker-stoner comedy façade, actually has quite a bit to say about race in contemporary America.  They are much more clever films in this regard than might be gleaned at first appearance.

In the third “Harold & Kumar” film, A Very Special Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas (2011), Harold and Kumar meet up with Goldstein and Rosenberg in a New York White Castle.

Through Goldstein’s conversion to Christianity, screenwriters Hurwitz and Schlossberg are able to further play with the exoteric comedy in Jewish perceptions of how Christians respond to Jews. The exoteric factor is illuminating in an assumed refraction of cultural traits. Goldstein’s litany of Jewish attributes he is now free from as a result of baptism – Jewish neurosis, self-hatred – is a suggestive index of contemporary Jewish discourses. Suddenly, as a Christian, Goldstein can now go hunting, fishing and sailing, nor is he worried about bad investments. The gag that Goldstein still wants the 87cents for the bill, while a cheap shot, has a larger repercussion of whether or not it’s possible to erase one’s birth culture.  And like the two previous “Harold & Kumar” movies, Goldstein (and Rosenberg) still have their heads covered.


The Hebrew Hammer

Now we finally get to our feature attraction, Jonathan Kesselman’s 2003 film, The Hebrew Hammer. As I noted at the outset, the film is parody of the Blaxploitation films which were part of the American exploitation landscape in the early 1970s. Kesselman assembles a crazy quilt of Blaxploitation clichés and then replaces “Black” with “Jew” – hence the initial meaning of Jewsploitation. Here is how the film opens:

The first thing I want to draw your attention to are the words which first appear on the screen: “This film is dedicated to all the Jewish brothers and sisters who had enough of the gentile”. The message is a direct parody of the opening of Melvin Van Peebles pioneering film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadassss Song (1971), which read “This film is dedicated to all the Brother and Sisters who had enough of the Man”.


“The Man” in the context of early 1970s vernacular cultures, was the hegemonic forces which dictated racial and cultural inequality across the United States. In The Hebrew Hammer, “the Man” is replaced by “the gentile”, but that one gag is more discursive than first appearances might suggest. In a similar relationship to African-American resistance to white hegemony trying to “keep the black man down,” is the Jewish resistance to “the gentile” trying to “keep the Jew-man down”. From its very first moments, The Hebrew Hammer is opening up the discursive possibilities of “New Jew” cultural politics.

tumblr_md3h5lhT4b1qb9ambo1_1280In the flashback sequence to the nightmarish “Hanukkah Past”, well-meaning gentile teachers crudely mispronounce Jewish names and the Jew is made to feel like a complete outcast amongst his or her peers. I would imagine most North American Jews who grew up under gentile hegemony can relate to this sequence. This certainly could have described my memories of my own school days. Of course, when we think back as adults, most of our teachers (at least this was true for me) went to a great deal of effort for inclusion of all races, religions and cultures. And most of my friends from primary school were a racially mixed lot. So this sequence does not reflect a kind of historic reality to growing up Jewish in North America. What it does reflect is a strong emotional memory; of what it felt like to be culturally different and excluded from celebrating Christmas with one’s friends. From a more historical materialist perspective, of course any Jewish child dressed in Chassidic garb would have been going to a Jewish school to begin with; little Mordechai’s costume is more a reflection of how we felt others viewed us (the esoteric/exoteric factor).

The image of Santa stomping on the plastic dreidel (and I think I had that dreidel as a child) and flipping little Mordechai the bird as a segue into the “Hebrew Hammer” theme is a defiant rejection of victimization. Mordechai, as The Hebrew Hammer, becomes the protector of the Jewish community, almost like a golem.  Of course, the song itself is a parody of Isaac Hayes’ Oscar-winning theme song from Shaft. The song and opening credits function to illustrate the nature of the parody the film is developing.

In the film, Mordechai is brought in by the Jewish Justice League in order to prevent Santa’s evil son, Damien, from destroying Hanukkah. In this next clip, we are introduced to the Jewish Justice League.

In much the same way that Borat reclaimed Jewish stereotypes  and by exaggerating them rendered them relatively harmless, this sequence directly confronts another cache of Jewish stereotypes: Jewish media conspiracies, Holocaust documentaries to create good will towards Jews, overly sensitive to denigration, an absent “coalition of Jewish athletes,” Steven Spielberg, etc. Jewish actor Peter Coyote (and I’ll confess to a little Jewissance when I discovered he was a member of the Tribe) sports the Moshe Dayan eye-patch and tends to talk with a mouthful of cream cheese. By directly confronting these stereotypes, Kesselman is able to expose them as absurd despite the occasional kernel of truth. These stereotypes resist the simplistic lies/truth dichotomy.

In the next clip, Mordechai attends a meeting at the Jewish Justice League, but as security precautions, he must undergo various trials to prove he is truly Jewish.

The stages of these trials, both literally and symbolically, create a discourse about Jewish identity: he must have a Hebrew name, be able to list all the elements on a Seder plate, demonstrate musical aptitude, be circumcised and be able to whine better than both a Buddhist and “the Dying”. While, again, these are all crude stereotypes, as an aggregate they suggest a definition of Jewish identity. But such a definition is not unproblematic; nor does it conform to the rules of Halakhah. Jewish law is here the unspoken template to which The Hebrew Hammer is playing with by suggesting a more experiential and vernacular discourse on Jewish identity.

The final clip I want to show you is probably my favourite sequence of the film.

The sequence in Duke’s underlines the fantasy of the parody, being able to walk into a bar, order a Manichewitz (Black Label), and with a “Shabbat Shalom, Motherfuckers” teach a gang of neo-Nazis to respect the Jew. And where can I get a pair of those Magen David spurs? But the central aspect of this sequence in the film is the elderly African American man Hammer speaks with outside the bar. It is Melvin Van Peebles, the writer-director and star of Sweetback, and his line “they bled your mamma, they bled your papa, but they won’t bleed you” is the poetic refrain of defiance from the film. Elsewhere in the film, Hammer teams up with Muhammad Ali Paula Abdul Rahim of the Kwanza Liberation Front, played by Mario Van Peebles (Melvin’s son and a director in his own right). To have both Van Peebles appear in a low-budget, independent film with a niche market at best, speaks to the film’s credibility.

What makes The Hebrew Hammer such a significant film is the cultural legitimacy is its parody of Blaxploitation on the one hand, but more importantly the discursive analysis which opens up about Jewish identity and Jewishness.   


Jewsploitation, beyond the marketing hook for The Hebrew Hammer, are contemporary Jewish comedies aimed at American Jewish ‘hipster’ audiences. These are not movies for our bubbes. They open the discursive possibilities, or reflect those discourses already being heard from the Jewish margins, about Jewish identity. While the crude stereotypes may overwhelm some with their vulgarity, Jewsploitation is a recolonizing of those discourses about Jewishness. The vulgarities of the representations are to explode the truth claim by making them, and their presentation, absurd and therefore harmless.  They may be stereotypes, but now they are our stereotypes; we own them and we can play with their meanings.

For those of us uncomfortable with “Received Judaism” and the cultural associations that accompany those labels, Jewsploitation is an ontological playground where we can test our identities. It is worth noting, at least in passing, that following on from Judah Cohen’s work on Jewish hip hop artists, that the Jewsploitation discourses are gender biased – there’s not a lot of evidence for women’s voices here. I don’t believe women are excluded, but more scholarship needs to be produced celebrating women’s roles within Jewsploitation. If, as Cohen noted, Jewsploitation enables new masculinities to be celebrated, so to do new Jewish femininities need to be encouraged. I don’t know what form that will take, but that is because it is not my place to define what those will be. I’m excited to see their emergence.

Discourse analysis, despite its advantages over traditional Marxist dichotomies, still reflects ideological struggles. Hegemony only allows certain voices (and in part, this may be why there is a gender imbalance in the scholarship).  Jewishness as discursive process has an advantage over traditional paradigms insofar as it embodies the potential for a multiplicity of voices to be heard. Those marginal voices may have to struggle and resist aspects of Jewish hegemony, but those absences and ruptures, resistances and defiance need to be accounted for.  No cultural text can reproduce reality; it can (and does) represent commentary on/about our cultural categories of “the real”.

A few years ago, I edited a special issue of the journal Shofar (25.4, 2007) called “Cool Jewz: Contemporary Jewish Identity in Popular Culture”. At the time, I saw Jewish popular culture shifting and the essays in that issue reflected aspects of those changes. Now, six years later, I think I finally understand this phenomenon. The Jewish legacy many of us inherited made (some of) us feel awkward and uncomfortable. Our identities were pre-decided and we were never consulted. “Oh, you’re Jewish. You must be this kind of person or that kind of person”.  As our generation ascended (and I have no doubt that the various phenomena I’m discussing is largely generational) and we began to make our own platforms, developing our own voices and our own complexities. Would that I could be so confident in my identity to define what a Jew is.  For me, and I don’t think I’m alone with this, the fact that our identities are discursive, prone to shifting, is actually liberating. We can communicate with one another in an almost endless diversity of expressions. And Jewsploitation is part of these discourses.


Works Cited

Abrams, Nathan. 2012. The New Jew in Film: Exploring Jewishness and Judaism in Contemporary Cinema. London: I. B. Tauris

Bakhtin, Mikhail. 1984. Rabelais and his World. London: John Wiley and Sons.

Ben-Amos, Dan. 1973. The ‘Myth’ of Jewish Humor. Western Folklore 32.2: 112-131.

Cohen, Judah. 2009. Hip-Hop Judaica: the problems of representin’ Heebster heritage. Popular Music 28.1: 1-18.

Freud, Sigmund. 2002. Jokes and their Relation to the Unconscious. London: Penguin Classics.

Hall, Stuart. 2009. Encoding/Decoding. In Meenakshi Gigi Durham & Douglas M. Kellner (eds) Media and Cultural Studies: Keyworks. London: John Wiley and Sons.

Koven, Mikel J (ed.). 2007. Special Issue: Cool Jewz: Contemporary Jewish Identity in Popular Culture. Shofar 25.4.

Koven, Mikel J. 2010. Blaxploitation Films. London: Kamera Books.

Jansen, Wm. Hugh. 1959. The Esoteric-Exoteric Factor in Folklore. Fabula 2.2: 205-211.

Purvis, Trevor & Alan Hunt. 1993. Discourse, Ideology, Discourse, Ideology, Discourse, Ideology … British Journal of Sociology 44.3: 473-499.

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3 thoughts on “Jewsploitation: Self-Stereotyping and Discursive Jewish Representation in The Hebrew Hammer

  1. corinne on said:

    what is the name of the weriter of this post??!!

  2. Actors of fully Jewish background: Logan Lerman, Natalie Portman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Mila Kunis, Bar Refaeli, James Wolk, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Julian Morris, Adam Brody, Esti Ginzburg, Kat Dennings, Gabriel Macht, Erin Heatherton, Odeya Rush, Anton Yelchin, Paul Rudd, Scott Mechlowicz, Lisa Kudrow, Lizzy Caplan, Emmanuelle Chriqui, Gal Gadot, Debra Messing, Robert Kazinsky, Melanie Laurent, Shiri Appleby, Justin Bartha, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Margarita Levieva, Elizabeth Berkley, Halston Sage, Seth Gabel, Corey Stoll, Mia Kirshner, Alden Ehrenreich, Debra Winger, Eric Balfour, Jason Isaacs, Jon Bernthal, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy.

    Andrew Garfield and Aaron Taylor-Johnson are Jewish, too (though I don’t know if both of their parents are).

    Actors with Jewish mothers and non-Jewish fathers: Jake Gyllenhaal, Dave Franco, James Franco, Scarlett Johansson, Daniel Day-Lewis, Daniel Radcliffe, Alison Brie, Eva Green, Joaquin Phoenix, River Phoenix, Emmy Rossum, Rashida Jones, Jennifer Connelly, Sofia Black D’Elia, Nora Arnezeder, Goldie Hawn, Ginnifer Goodwin, Amanda Peet, Eric Dane, Jeremy Jordan, Joel Kinnaman, Ben Barnes, Patricia Arquette, Kyra Sedgwick, Dave Annable, Ryan Potter.

    Actors with Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers, who themselves were either raised as Jews and/or identify as Jews: Ezra Miller, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alexa Davalos, Nat Wolff, Nicola Peltz, James Maslow, Josh Bowman, Winona Ryder, Michael Douglas, Ben Foster, Jamie Lee Curtis, Nikki Reed, Zac Efron, Jonathan Keltz, Paul Newman.

    Oh, and Ansel Elgort’s father is Jewish, though I don’t know how Ansel was raised. Robert Downey, Jr. and Sean Penn were also born to Jewish fathers and non-Jewish mothers. Armie Hammer and Chris Pine are part Jewish.

    Actors with one Jewish-born parent and one parent who converted to Judaism: Dianna Agron, Sara Paxton (whose father converted, not her mother), Alicia Silverstone, Jamie-Lynn Sigler.

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Cinematography & Equipment Hire

The Website for the International Society for Contemporary Legend Research

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