If you somehow missed it, Lena Dunham is being excoriated for a 35-question "quiz" she published in the venerable New Yorker last week titled "Dog or Jewish Boyfriend?" where readers had to choose which item best fit whom. It had such hilarious items to ponder as:
8. I feel that he is judgmental about the food I serve him. When I make something from scratch, he doesn't want to eat it, but he also rejects most store-bought dinners.
9. This is because he comes from a culture in which mothers focus every ounce of their attention on their offspring and don't acknowledge their own need for independence as women. They are sucked dry by their children, who ultimately leave them as soon as they find suitable mates.
10. As a result of this dynamic, he expects to be waited on hand and foot by the women in his life, and anything less than that makes him whiny and distant.
And these laff riots:
13. He doesn't tip.
14. And he never brings his wallet anywhere.
So there you have Jewish Dunham who's dating a Jewish man perpetuating hateful stereotypes of Jewish men as cheap, nebbishy, and obscenely entitled. And offering up an idiotic, clichéd outdated vision of the Jewish mother as blind to her own needs. Is this really 2015 humor? Is this New Yorker humor? Is this even funny?
Some people on the Web are leaping to defend her as a parodist, and they say that she's cutting edge, and what's wrong with Jewish comedians satirizing Jews anyway? But I've never heard a Jewish comedian compare other Jews to dogs like this, so that latter argument is totally specious. Others fall into that special category of blog commentators who are basically rhetorical bullies. These people--some are even Jewish--have no better argument that "Get over it!" or "Lighten up!"
Then there's the contingent who contemptuously dismiss criticism of Dunham as just another "outrage du jour" and her critics of lacking a sense of humor. Because of course she's the epitome of funny and if you don't find her funny you ipso facto have no sense of humor. Comments like all of these are already showing up below. More are bound to follow.
Well, as the son of Holocaust survivors, I find her timing grotesque and her comparison of Jews and dogs ugly. One of the Nazi terms of abuse for Jews was Schweinhund, and Jews have been widely derided as dogs in the Arab world for years. In case there's any doubt among naive dog-lovers, traditionally in Islam "dogs have been seen as impure, and the Islamic legal tradition has developed several injunctions that warn Muslims against most contact with dogs."
The negative association with dogs predates Islam, though, stretching back to figures like fourth-century Bishop John Chrystostom in his hysterical, seminal Homilies Against the Jews. That dehumanization was intimately bound up with claiming that synagogues were infested with demons and declaring that Jews should be slaughtered. Is it any wonder the Nazis happily used his texts?
Lena Dunham's mother is Jewish. Lena Dunham grew up in a New York upper middle class home. Lena Dunham went to the renowned liberal arts college Oberlin. Is she really that ignorant of the historic imagery used against Jews? Or just reckless and perverse so soon after the killings in Paris and Copenhagen and reports about rising anti-Semitism in Europe?
The New Yorker defended her as an equal in comedy to Phillip Roth, Chris Rock, Lenny Bruce, and Richard Pryer. To quote Clueless: "As if!"
Lev Raphael is the author of the Jewish historical novel Rosedale in Love and 24 other books in genres from memoir to mystery.