So what’d you figure out? They’re mother and son. They’re driving across country together. Their relationship is a bit strained. And they’re Jewish. Yes, although it is never explicitly stated in the clip, there is no doubt in your mind that the characters being played by Rogen and Streisand are definitely Jews.
(Before you continue reading this article, it might comfort you to know that I myself am Jewish… although, as I intend to point out, that really shouldn’t make a difference in how you feel about the claims I’m about to make. So don’t start kvetching at me just yet.)
A college professor of mine once invoked a conversation about stereotypes. He introduced the lesson by proclaiming, without a stake in either the suppression or the advancement of any specific ideas about any given race, ethnicity or culture, that all stereotypes come from somewhere. They are all rooted in at least a microcosm of reality. The example he gave: “Somewhere out there, there is at least one black person who likes fried chicken.” What followed was some nervous laughter, and a general essence of tense discomfort among the racially diverse classroom. At least that’s how the white people felt.
Once the discussion had begun again, one black student raised her hand and remarked on how many of her Caucasian peers looked to her for approval before themselves laughing at the joke. If she thought it was funny, then it’d be okay for everyone else to think it was funny — that was the mentality. Of course, not all stereotypes earn this sort of dogmatic reverence.
Were my professor to take a jab at British propriety, German humorlessness, or pretty much anything about Canadians, nobody would have reserved their laughter. Certain targets are considered fair game, no matter how much more or less offensive the accusation in question is than something like would illicit the response my professor’s aforementioned comment did. For whatever reasons — there are doubtlessly many different arguments that you could come up with — our society has an inconsistent attitude about stereotypes. Some are funny, harmless, acceptable, and others are not.
Many prevalent stereotypes facing Jewish-Americans fall into the former category. Frugality, nasality, Woody Allan-ity: all jokes that can be made without incurring much of a look-around-the-classroom-for-laughter-approval response. In fact, the Jewish population (at least the showcased Jewish population) seems to embrace a good amount of these stereotypes as identities of its culture. Actors and actresses in film and television play up some of these elements when delivering a Jewish character. It approaches a point where a bloodline of Judaism need not even be vocally acknowledged in the presence of certain noteworthy characteristics. In short, you can often tell when an actor is playing Jewish. This might seem like an inherently backward, regressive means of thinking, but it falls among the lot of “acceptable” stereotypes in our culture.
Watching the below clip for The Guilt Trip, there should be no doubt in the minds of the viewer that stars Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand are playing Jewish characters, even without knowledge of either actor’s upbringing. Although there is no mention of Judaism in the clip, you know that the culture plays a strong component in the creation of these characters and their relationship. The ever-strained mother-son rapport is a highly recognizable facet of stereotypical Jewish family life. Streisand’s overbearing nature, providing an unintentional torture of her neurotic son (Rogen), is easily identifiable as the stuff of the tribe.
But even the more benign of stereotypes can become offensive when one refuses to accept their conditionality. Of course plenty of British people are carefree; many Germans are hilarious; a ton of Canadians are not all that stuff that people always say Canadians are. And not all Jews are like Seth Rogen and Barbra Streisand in The Guilt Trip. That should be obvious. But Jewish culture does identify with the themes expressed in the clip. The overbearing mother, the neurotic son, and the hurdle that is their relationship, those are all a part of a religious/ethnic culture that has made such a prominent place for itself in Hollywood by allocating and embracing its own quirks.
It might make some non-Jewish readers uncomfortable to read this article, unsure if they should agree with the statements made. It might make some Jewish readers upset to endure this adhesion to stigmas that might very well not apply to them. I do not intend to claim that these ideas are the definitive. They are simply existing characteristics that have, quite certainly, become associated with a certain group of people. The reason for that is because there are some Jews who are just like the characters in The Guilt Trip. Although there are plenty of Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, et al who might also embody these qualities, well… I guess our people just snagged ’em first.
Have an easy fast, everyone!
[Photo Credit: Sam Emerson/Paramount]