- "Cool Jewz":Contemporary Jewish Identity in Popular Culture-An Introduction
"Cool Jewz." The term came to me as a response to watching the film The Hebrew Hammer (Jonathan Kesselman, 2003). What is going on, I asked myself, in Jewish Popular Culture? Since 1988 and Neal Gabler's An Empire of Their Own, Jon Stratton's Coming Out Jewish, David Zurawik's The Jews of Prime Time, and Paul Buhle's From the Lower East Side to Hollywood,1 new scholarship has been emerging which seeks to reclaim Jewish cultural history from essentialist ontologies about Jewish identity (like David Desser and Lester Friedman's American Jewish Filmmakers).2
I remember seeing Jon Lovitz on David Letterman's show one night. "So, Jon," Letterman asked, "you're a Jew?" To which Lovitz replied, "Well, Jewish." Jews and Judaism were ceasing to be superficial and one-dimensional identities which presupposed cultural consensus—on religious praxis, on politics (specifically about the State of Israel), on history (specifically about the Holocaust). Despite the stereotype of Jewish domination of twentieth-century [End Page 1] performing arts, Jewishness was emerging as performance itself. Jewish identity could be seen as a mask of performance, like Al Jolson's blackface. How cool.
The essays in this special issue all focus, in their own way, on performing Jewishness—in film, on TV, influencing music, publishing, theatre, and even the holy-of-holies in American culture, baseball. Very cool.
While it hasn't quite taken forty years to produce this special issue, at times it has felt like it. The Jewz discussed in these essays—Sarah Jessica Parker, Willow Rosenberg, Malcolm McLaren, Shawn Green, Tony Kushner, and Barbara Rushkoff—are all cool. Finally, a very special thank you to Samantha, Michele, Rosalin, Bernice, Jon, Matthew, Ranen, Laurence, and David—your patience makes you all the coolest Jewz of them all.
Mikel J. Koven is Lecturer in Film and Television Studies at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. He has published extensively in the area of folklore & film in such journals as Ethnologies, Culture & Tradition, Contemporary Legend, Journal of American Folklore, Literature/Film Quarterly, and Scope. He is co-editor of a special issue of Western Folklore on Folklore & Film, and co-editor of Filmic Folklore (Utah State University Press, forthcoming). Koven is also a contributor in Steffan Hanke's collection Caligari's Grandchildren (Scarecrow Press, forthcoming). His book, La Dolce Morte: Vernacular Cinema and the Italian Giallo Film (Scarecrow Press, 2006) is due out by the end of the year.
1. Neal Gabler, An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood (New York: Doubleday, 1988); Jon Stratton, Coming Out Jewish: Constructing Ambivalent Identities (London: Routledge, 2000); David Zurawik, The Jews of Prime Time (Hanover: Brandeis University Press, 2003); Paul Buhle, From the Lower East Side to Hollywood: Jews in Popular Culture (London: Verso, 2004).
2. David Desser and Lester D. Friedman, American Jewish Filmmakers, 2nd ed. (Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2004).