In The Age Online: My Response to Dvir Abramaovich’s Family Guy Piece

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12 Responses to “In The Age Online: My Response to Dvir Abramaovich’s Family Guy Piece”

  1. aramari says:

    You nailed it Alex! There’s no shortage of actual anti-semitism around the world to be exposed, Dvir should stick to the serious stuff- he has a tin ear for pop culture.

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  2. Oliver Shalom says:

    Hi Alex,

    Dvir sure didn’t speak for me when he went after Family Guy.

    Funny, I haven’t always agreed with your writtings and found your initial “sledgehammer” approach off-putting, but now you’re speaking my language. Who would have thought that this Family Guy issue with Dvir’s “sooky la-la” approach is the mayo that made our schnitzel sandwich of agreement come togeather, and make me write something here?

    I’m a modern orthodox Aussie Jew, a decendant of Holocaust survivors and holder of a position or 2 in established orthodox synagogues. I work as a professional in the real world. And without any shame I can say: I love Family Guy. My favourite show by a country mile.

    Just like my mother who loved to watch “The Nanny” so she could hear the word “Chatchkas” on TV and thus thought the whole show was wholesomely Jewish, so too Dvir saw Family Guy as a non-Jewish show, saw it make fun using ridiculosly over the top Jewish stereotypes, and immediately rushed to yell “ANTI-SEMITISM!!!!” from the roof tops. But the equation was terribly wrong.

    To me, what Dvir did was point out to all and sundry that he just didn’t “get” the show and also proved his doofusness to the wider community by whinging ABOUT A FUNNY CARTOON SHOW THAT ATTACKS STEREOTYPES BY HIGHLIGHTING THEM.

    Family Guy goes over the top on everything, and in this case, to point out how stoopid anti-semitism and stereotypes are. It helped us Jews anyone with half a brain laugh at the antisemites who sprout that garbage as fact. I would think that most people would have watched that episode and thought “Anyone who thinks Jewish people are like that is an ass”, the same way those same viewers don’t think that dogs can talk, drive cars and write for the New Yorker in real life. (or do they?)

    Dvir’s really got to pick his battles better, and learn to differentiate between what’s funny, what’s done with malice, and what’s done to support us.

    To Dvir, if you end up reading this, I just want to say: Dvir, mate, I’m sure that you are doing some great work at the University and I really like it when you stand up for Jews and Israel in the press. But the choice of attacking Family Guy was not the highlight move of your career. We Jews are (usually) known for our sense of humour, and for poking fun of our enemies, even in times of suffering. This Family Guy episode was doing just that: taking stupid anti-semitic stereotypes and throwing them back in the face of anyone who actually believes them by pointing out of ridiculous they are. For this, Family Guy is our friend, and is to be applauded, not shunned.

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    • Keren says:

      To Oliver Shalom:
      Why would you be so sure Dvir does good work at university? If his analytical abilities are so faulty as to miss the use of humour in critiquing racism (as in Family Guy, South Park, Borat etc.) – what hope do his students have in developing such abilities themselves? What hope is there for the countless students assessed by him (or rather, by the underpaid underlings who operate according to Dvir’s guidelines as controlling head of Jewish and Hebrew studies)?
      Dvir’s employment as an academic has nothing to do with his ability to think, speak, write or teach. Seemingly, that is not a problem for the School of History at the University of Melbourne.

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  3. Morry says:

    Hi Alex,

    It’s clear that you have a thing about Dvir Abramovich, and it masks what you’re actually saying. Are you saying that in humour anything goes? If you are, I have to, politely, disagree. There is a fine line between funny and offensive, and I think it’s clearly defined. Your anectdote about two girls was very funny. The Chasers piece about children suffering cancer was decidedly unfunny.

    There is nothing wrong with Jewish jokes, blond jokes Irish jokes, Holocaust jokes or any other jokes. The clear delineation, for me, regards what is having fun poked at it. When it’s nothing more than the stereotype, that’s can be very funny. When it becomes the actual people, then it becomes real, and bigotted and decidedly unfunny. Also when it causes pain or distress it is unfunny. There is nothing funny about somebody else’s pain … unless you’re an unfeeling git. Enter The Chasers.

    Your Holocaust joke/anectdote was funny. It made fun of the very stereotypical seriousness attributed to the Holocaust, an attitude. I read a Heeb piece about an inmate who decided to stay in the concentration camp, rather than escape, because they were serving pizza for lunch. It left me cringing. It was poking fun at the people caught up in the Holocaust, and by extension the survivors. It didn’t even have the saving grace of a single funny line. The new humour that goes wholly to shock has left me cold. It saddens me that Borat actually ridculing people rather than attitudes leaves people howling with laughter. That is of course their right, but for me it has reduced what was once wonderful lofty satire that poked fun at ridiculous attitudes, to gutter level. John Safran poking fun at people’s religious beliefs would only be funny if religious belief had no real validity, was just a ridiculous irrational quirk. To him that may be so, as it undoubtedly is to so many of his audience. But our socirty is based entirely in respecting differing views. To undermine that is to undermine the very foundations we are built on … not particularly funny. So what’s next? Poke fun at people donating to charities? Perhaps poke fun at the Salvos and their stupid efforts to rid our society of drug addiction? Efforts to stop wife-bashing and the people trying could be very jolly grist for the mill. Imagine somebody beating their wife and a passing Salvo joining in. Hilarious …. not! Or perhaps for some, yes … I can only hope not.

    I’m not sure if you get where I’m going, but the purpose of humour is definitely not to devalue ourselves or the values that make us and our society what it is. When satire crossed the line from poking fun at absurd relics and inane politics, to poking fun at the essence of what we stand for and who we are, it lost me. That’s not self-deprecating humour, just self-destructive. When political satire went from poking fun at policies, to poking fun at people (John Howard and George Bush spring to mind), it also lost me. I would say the same if the object was Kevin Rudd, much as I dislike the man.

    If we find ouselves laughing at the discomfort of an overweight woman in an audience, where a “comic” has just said to her “You’re so fat” … then we need to take a reality check, because it is we who have crossed the line.

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    • Alex Fein says:

      Morry, it’s unusual for you to play the man. I must say, I’m surprised.

      You’ve been reading this blog long enough to know that I critique any communal “representative” whom I feel is doing this community damage.

      In the past, people objected to my focus on Loewenstein.

      I do not seek out shy, retiring volunteers for such examination.

      Those that have come in for criticism on this site present themselves by behaving in the media in such a way that demands a response.

      Dvir happens to present himself on a regular basis.

      I’ve copped as much flak as anyone in recent months. A person has to appreciate that if they choose the fray, things can get heated.

      They also need to know that the fray does not exist for self-aggrandisement or preening. It exists as a public forum in which ideas are thrashed out.

      Rather than critiques of Dvir’s efforts masking my message, I think they highlight precisely what has gone wrong at the official levels of this community. If you haven’t already, I urge you to read the broader explanation of this phenomenon in the most recent post on this blog.

      Hope you’re having a restful Shabbes.

    • Morry says:

      Hi Alex,

      I have absolutely no problem with your criticism of Dvir Abramovich, and don’t criticise you for it … all that I was saying was that nowhere in addressing his shortcomings did I get a sense of where you stand on Jewish, or racist humour in general. Is it a case of anything goes with no boundaries, or do you have a line over which you find humour has gone too far? The issue of how your position differs from Dvir’s and by how much is important …. yet all that I know is that you like Jerry Seinfeld and are not offended by his humour. Perhaps you are saying that Jews should just bite the bullet and object to nothing if it doesn’t involve physical violence.

      I’m not putting words in your mouth …. only asking the question I asked before. I don’t think it’s enough to belabour a position as wrong, it is far more positive to indicate what is right. That was the whole purpose of my post, and to make the point I put myself out there and indicated in no uncertain terms what I find offensive and why. I clearly don’t think that anything goes where bigotry or offrense is concerned (and I’m being far more general than antisemitism) and I think that if we (not Jews, people) find something offensive and inappropriate, the onus is upon us to say so, so that those doing the offending know that they are. That is nothing more than simple honesty and people should know, whether they are friends or performers.

      Again, absolutely no problems with what you’ve written, love reading every word, but am missing some serious context that I was asking for in my post. Certainly no “playing the man” … just losing sight of the ball and asking where it is.

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  4. Phil O'Semetic says:

    Dvir is so dire… in denouncing dubious and indelicate depictions of Jews, he is in effect denying his own people one of the greatest defences against discrimination and oppression… the abilty to laugh at that which is unjust and intolerable.
    If sarcasm is the lowest form of humour, satire (at its best) is surely the apogee of glee? Satire is the mirror that betrays the Emperors foolish nakedness. It is powerful and feared by tyrants. Jon Stewart became the lightning rod in the U.S for the outrage & incredulity that a (majority) of society couldn’t find expressed anywhere else in mainstream media!
    The history of humour is typically that of the outsider’s perspective. The observer whom elicits and contrasts the dysfuncton within and without their own society and the wider world. If the outsiders world is also somewhat bland and repressive, that only seems to make the result all the merrier! Country to city, island to mainland, minority to majority, the gradient of giggle worthyness is irresistable. Canada is merely a whitebread version of America, but responsible for providing nearly as many American comedians as New Zealand has Australian entertainers! It is no accident that Australia’s greatest comedic character grew out of the stultifying conformity of Melbourne’s post war suburbia. Within western society, Jewish culture has been the wellspring of entertainment and amusement. As Homer Simpson famously said, “…A Jewish entertainer? Get out of here!” Surely a heritage as robust as that can take a little ribbing, even if somewhat tasteless or lame. Ultimately, I’d rather put my faith in the audience as an effective and democratic discriminator of taste than some self appointed magistrate adjudicating upon the worth of mirth?

    Thankyouverymuch….

    *Roy Rene for inaugural induction into Oz comedy hall of fame*

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  5. Sol Salbe says:

    Alex,

    Congratulations on a well argued and humorously argued case. I remember the apprehension, – -no, mortal fear would be a better description — of going to see Life is Beautiful with my Holocaust surviving parents. They liked it. You can have a comedy about the Holocaust that was appreciated by the survivors of Auschwitz.

    Two points of interest in relation to your commentary. To the list of cultural items which to Dvir Abramovich objected one needs to add the Palestinian film Paradise Now. The film was praised by the Jewish News’s Don Perlgut, received positive reviews in Haaretz and Yediot Acharonot and acknowledged as a nuanced presentation by both Habama (Israel’s culture portal) and Galei Tzahal (Army Radio.) But Dvir tried to mobilise the Jewish community to protest it showing.

    The other point relates to your allusion to our community having more Holocaust survivors per capita than any other community outside Israel. If you are referring to the proportion in the total community you are right but I’m not sure of the value that one can put on the fourth significant figure – it is not all that meaningful. If one the other hand, you are speaking in terms of the Jewish community, something that affects our collective psyche, then I’m afraid that you have fallen for an urban myth. The proportion of Holocaust survivors in our Melbourne community is significantly higher than in Israel. That myth may have true many decades ago but it is verifiably not true now.

    Sol Salbe
    ssalbe@westnet.com.au
    [If you contact me offline I can send you a review of your work that may not have seen]

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  6. J says:

    thought you might like to know that i just watched this very episode of Family Guy, here in Israel, at 7.30pm on a thursday evening, on the local cable comedy station.

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  7. Alex Fein says:

    Hi Morry.

    This is really an excellent question: where do we draw the line on anti-Semitism, and once its drawn, and then crossed, how do we respond?

    Firstly, any art form or creative pursuit is almost purpose-built to test boundaries, and sometimes, to defy their right to exist.

    To attempt to draw up a concrete framework for anything as amorphous as cultural product is destined for failure. The best we – and the government – have to go on in a very general sense, is the murky and impossible to define idea of “community standards.” These, themselves, are constantly in flux. Can you imagine Lenny Bruce getting arrested for profanity today?

    Sometimes something is so off – perhaps it is an obvious and malicious lie – that pretty much any reasonable person can tell it’s off. The whole story with Vic Alhadeff and the NSW HSC religious studies text is a really good example of this. And Alhadeff’s deft handling of the matter was a lesson in how to run community relations really, really well.

    But these things are rarely so clear cut.

    I’d therefore recommend a cost/benefit analysis of nasty stuff written about Jews.

    I’m sure you’d agree that when we pounce on every tiny insult to Jewish honour in every conceivable medium or forum, we diminish the gravity of the charge of, “anti-Semitism.”

    When we see or hear something unpleasant written about us, the first thing we should do is pause to consider: how harmful is this item to us as a community? If this item is left unanswered, will there be negative consequences for Australian Jews?

    We also need to ask: what are the costs of speaking against an item? Do we paint ourselves as beyond normal community standards for offence? Do we appear as whingers to the extent that when something genuinely horrible happens, people are sick of hearing from us?

    With the NSW HSC example, the costs of NOT speaking up were dire. A whole generation of NSW students would have been inculcated in vile libels and other misinformation about Jews, and because it would have been done within the HSC context, such misinformation would have had considerable legitimacy among students.

    The cost of Alhadeff speaking up were nil because he did so calmly, reasonably, and with the strength of the facts behind him.

    But Family Guy? The Producers? John Safran? The multitudes of others that Dvir finds offensive to Jews? The costs of constantly bleating about them are large, and the benefits are non-existent.

  8. Morry says:

    There is little to say here, Alex, beyond that I agree wholeheartedly. It was simply a dimension that was missing from what you were saying. You were originally very clear on what shouldn’t be, but somewhat vague on what should. Now nicely cleared.

    Strangely, as happens, in reading your response something gelled in my own perceptions. It has to do with …. I don’t know, delegation, I suppose. Like everything else, it has two sides. There are issues, like the ones you cited, where clearly community leaders need to get themselves involved, and hopefully as effectively as you describe (Vic Alhadeff), there are other places where we need to respond as individuals because, as demonstrated here, what offends me won’t necessarily offend you and vice versa.

    I am mindful, however, than in a subculture that believes in the existence of a “powerful Jewish lobby” letters by offended Jews are still attributed to “the lobby” and hence the community. The Ashrawi peace prize issue jumps to mind. Letters by individual Jews triggerd a furious backlash of responses about “the Jewish lobby”, and whilst I recognise that this was amongst the already bigoted, the overtones were entirely unpalatable. The fact that this was individual opinion was so very often ignored. Contrast that to the Chasers “children with cancer” piece, that triggered a huge flood of individual criticism, yet never once was it suggested that it was anything but individual.

    I have no resolution. Clearly, in a perfect world, issues of individual offence could be left to the individual, and their responses in letters to the media etc wouls also be seen as individual. It is of concern that it’s not. I know that I probably stand in a very small group in advocating that there are levels of vilification that affect the wellbeing of minorities where their abolition should be legislated as wholly unacceptable to any democracy. Many good people believe this to be personal. With both sides presented they will make an individual informed decision. The reality is vastly different. Often you don’t get to see both sides. Most recently the Swedish blood libel about Israeli soldiers and body parts, totally discredited, has morphed into Jews kidnapping African children to steal body parts, and it’s now spreading throughout the Arab world like wildfire. If we can recognise the damage of false accusations to individuals, and have libel/slander laws that pursue truth and limit harm, why in the world can’t we see the same effects on minorities?

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