Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Selfie That Broke the Social Justice Internet - My Op-Ed for Haaretz

This week I published my first op-ed for Haaretz (English language edition.) It's on the rise (and fall) of Belgian viral selfie phenom Zakia Belkhiri. What happens when anti-racist/anti-Islamophobia activists don't see any problem with the most vile kind of anti-Semitism?

Zakia Belkhiri Took a Selfie of anti-Semitism on the Left
Belkhiri’s stumble wasn’t an exception in the contemporary social justice narrative, it was another example of how the global Left systematically fails to include the Jewish struggle for self-determination, both cultural and political, within its framework of national and personal liberations.
read the rest here)

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Puttin on the Blitz

Netflix recently made the 1990s cult cartoon classic Animaniacs available for streaming. Off and on for the last couple weeks, I've been binging on the madness of the Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister). Unlike most reminders of the 90s, it's been an exercise in the most enjoyable kind of nostalgia.

I already knew there were a ton of adult jokes I didn't get at the time. (I was 18 when Animaniacs debuted but I really didn't know shit, and yes, the references on an after-school cartoon went over my head), but I've been taken aback on this rewatch, never more so than tonight. 

Episode 31 features a segment set in 1939 Poland, Puttin' on the Blitz. It's a Rita and Buttons segment. Rita and Buttons (a singing cat and dopey dog) take a wrong turn and end up in the middle of occupied Poland. That's kind of a WTF for a kid's cartoon like Animaniacs. Then again, Steven Spielberg was an executive producer of Animaniacs. On a hunch I looked it up- this episode was aired in 1993, the same year as Schindler's List. Go figure.

Rita and Runt have to hide from German soldiers  and cross paths with Nazis searching for the leader of the "Polish underground." The leader has to hide his daughter until they can meet up later at the train station and escape. While hiding, the daughter is saved by scrappy cat Rita (voiced by Bernadette Peters.)

Now, the story never mentions Jews or the Final Solution. It's actually pretty silly, in keeping with the rest of the show. So, why was it so jarring for me? Well, first of all, my generation isn't used to seeing World War II as a normal part of pop culture, especially as comedy fodder. There was a time, though, when war was just a part of the cultural conversation, even for kids, even for comedy. My favorite example being:

And second- where ARE the Jews? One of the criticisms that's been aimed at Schindler's List is that, for what is possibly the most famous 'Holocaust' movie of all time, the story is about a heroic non-Jew and the question of non-Jewish responsibility. And, I mean, are Rita and Runt supposed to be stand-ins for the Jews? Or... I don't know.

I don't think it's a coincidence that this segment came out the same year as Schindler's List. It even features one of the most famous images from that movie- a little girl in a red coat.

Anyway, I think it's an interesting look at the way that serious topics get filtered down through layers of pop culture, especially when you have artists like Spielberg, who are involved at every level.

Go to 7:55 and check it out for yourself.