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April 1991


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Benjamin Alpers <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sat, 13 Apr 91 13:18:12 EDT
text/plain (51 lines)
I was originally just going to e-mail this to Steve Carr, but have decided
to post it on the list because:  1) it is apparently of interest to a number
of people (sorry J.B.) and 2) I actually think it is relevant (more on this
later) . . .
Steve Carr is right that Jews are not a race.  In fact, the entire category of
race is extremely problematic.  Once upon a time, much work in anthropology,
sociology, history, and many other fields was based around the notion of race
as an objective reality.  For my money, race is best understood as a very
complicated social construction [oof . . . now there's a '90s intellectual
cliche if there ever was one . . . unfortunately, like many cliches, I think
there's a lot of truth in it].  What is important is not whether Jews are or
are not a race (we   aren't, but who is), but that antisemites _construct_
Jews as a race.  Most antisemitism (I'd say all, but I'm sure someone will
think of a counterexample) cares little about beliefs, religion or culture.
What it cares about is some notion of lineage.  In this regard it resembles
other racisms.  Antisemitism should not be defined by what Jews are, but by
what it thinks Jews are.  Otherwise, we could never understand its pathology.
At this point, no doubt, budding list cops out there are violently blowing
whistles. Put away your nightsticks, here comes the part where I tie this
whole discussion into the main threads of this list with only a minimal amount
of Sophistry :-) . . . Consider the above a plug for a general view that finds
the answers to questions about everything from the difference between video and
film to the preponderance of happy endings not in any inherent, necessary
qualities of technology or eternal, universal truths about human nature
(which, I feel, have about as much existence as giant invisible rabbits) but
in the contingent ways in which people interpret the world around them.
Obviously, the physical differences between video and film are important.
But I feel they can only be interpreted through an understanding of the
associations that people in our culture have learned to make with each medium
(e.g. video is used for news reports).  Similarly, any understanding of
the tyranny of the happy ending in Hollywood which is not firmly grounded in
a reading of the major studios understandings of both the role of their films
in society and how they are going to turn the biggest profit is barking up the
wrong tree.  We are wasting our time trying to understand antisemitism with
reference to inherent qualities of Jews or happy endings with reference to
universal mythoi [note funky Greek plural :-)].  Instead, let's try to
understand what and how cultural producers, whether of antisemitism or of
motion pictures, think.  [NB:  before anyone starts screaming that this leaves
audience reception out, I think it is useful to think of audiences themselves
as producers of readings of movies.  however, no direct reference to audience
response can explain why something, such as a happy ending, has been
_produced_ before an audience ever gets a chance to see it].
That's All Folks!
-- Ben Alpers
   Dept. of History
   Princeton University