Hollywood and Anti-Semitism: A Cultural History Up to World War II

Hollywood and Anti-Semitism: A Cultural History Up to World War II

Hollywood and Anti-Semitism: A Cultural History Up to World War II

Hollywood and Anti-Semitism: A Cultural History Up to World War II

Synopsis

American Jews have a powerful cultural narrative that seemingly speaks on their behalf. According to this narrative, Eastern European Jewish immigrants built the film industry in the first decade of this century and dominated it by the second. As opposed to determining a particularly Jewish vision of America, Steven Alan Carr argues that this way of looking at Jews in Hollywood emanates from a particularly American vision of Jews. Like the Jewish Question of the 19th century--which fretted over the full participation of Jews within public life--the Hollywood Question of the 1920s, 30s and 40s fretted over Jewish participation within the mass media. As a whole way of thinking and talking about both Jews and motion pictures, Hollywood and Anti-Semitism reveals a powerful set of assumptions concerning ethnicity, intent and media influence. Steven Alan Carr is an Assistant Professor of Communication at Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne. His work appears in Cinema Journal and other publications. This is his first book.

Excerpt

After World War I, the Hollywood Question began making its specific allegations of Jewish control over the motion picture industry. It drew from a confluence of other discussions that had already “mapped out” a particular way of linking American Jews, ethnicity, and agency. This “mapping out” charted the route along which one could invoke the Hollywood Question. the Question circulated amid a field of stock images and assumptions. Through these images and assumptions, the Question could respond to an increasingly urban, modern, diverse, and globally significant America. Moreover, through these images and assumptions, the Question could resonate with a certain dissatisfaction over this changing America. Many of these stock images and assumptions had been circulating for centuries, well before the emergence of the Hollywood Question. the way in which they spoke through the Hollywood Question, however, marked a profound shift in American prejudice during the Gilded Age.

Prior to the twentieth century, most of these stereotypes worked to justify, maintain, and repair the marginal status – often codified into European law – that Jews held within Christian culture. For example, both Germany and Russia had historically denied Jews property and voting rights. By even interrogating the ability of Jews to coexist with Christians in a presumably Christian society, the Jewish Question used certain stereotypes to justify this denial. in most cases, these stereotypes emphasized that the individual deviancy of the Jew was at odds with the rest of the Christian community. in its most extreme form, these stereotypes could activate the blood libel. This libel accused Jews of absconding with Christian children and then using their blood in various religious rituals. in alleging the most extreme form of deviancy, the blood libel thus worked to create and justify an ideological space that could contain and marginalize Jews.

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