Saturday, June 9, 2012

Anti-Semitism In "Drive": 5 Lessons

Drive is the most anti-Semitic movie I have seen in a long, long time. Yet a keyword search of "anti-semitism in drive" yielded comments like "absurd."

Heeb Magazine there was a discussion of this issue centering on Sarah Deming's lawsuit to get her ticket price refunded on the basis that the trailer is basically false advertising. Jonathan Poritsky's assessment: "Completely bogus." 

I disagree. Not only is the trailer "misleading," it is patently false. Whoever made this film hates Jews and hates women too. I completely agree with the lawsuit claims:
"Drive was a motion picture that substantially contained extreme gratuitous defamatory dehumanizing racism directed against members of the Jewish faith, and thereby promoted criminal violence against members of the Jewish faith.
Perpetuating the lie, not only is the trailer misleading, so is the Netflix description of the movie:
"A Hollywood stuntman and getaway driver is lured from his isolated life by a lovely neighbor -- until her violent husband is released from prison."
In fact it is not about any of this. "Drive" features a criminal (Ryan Gosling)/talented (potential) race-car driver who falls in love with/is pursued by a married woman (Carey Mulligan) whose husband is inconveniently in jail, but penitent.

The husband does not do one violent thing in the movie other than take a "job" to protect his family from being pursued by thugs. (So the trailer exploited the stereotype of men as wife-beaters.)

I was very disturbed after watching Drive. Not only was the movie a hateful portrayal of Jews - much like The Passion of The Christ -  but because the anti-Semitism is so subtle, you almost don't even know it's there.

There seems to be wide consensus, in fact that the movie is not at all anti-Semitic - that the lawsuit is frivolous - and that the Jews are once again complaining over "nothing." For example the argument (see "Poritsky" comment, here) that reading the movie as anti-Semitic misses the point that the villains were gangsters, not only Jews:
"Nino and Bernie are Jews, but they're also gangsters. Their treatment is directly related to their gang involvement and their own propensity for violence."
However, a close reading of the movie shows the typical anti-Jewish stereotypes in play:
  • The Jews are obsessed with money. Even their knives - with which they kill people - are gold and in encrusted jeweled cases. The main gangster continually throws money at Gosling. He is "dirty" - Gosling is "above him" - and the movie dwells on the moment where he refuses to shake the Jew's hand.
  • The movie contrasts Gosling as someone who can do "real" (i.e. physical) work whereas the Jews manipulate, exploit, extort, steal and double-cross to make a living. And it's all about the cash - portable and transportable - recalling the racist stereotypes about Jews as "moneylenders" (recall that throughout history Jews were not allowed to own land, were expelled from their homes, and could only pursue professions where property was portable)
  • The gangsters have exaggerated Jewish features and affect; they are arrogant; they whine and complain in Yiddish.
Versus Gosling and Mulligan, who despite doing bad things are viewed completely sympathetically:
  • Gosling is portrayed physically as a Christlike figure. Unearthly, otherworldly stare; tall, thin, blond. Similarly Mulligan. 
  • Gosling is never tempted nor provoked - not by money and not by the flesh. Any time he um, actually chokes and kills people it's all forgivable, because for a good cause. The stealing? Well - the movie's logic is - he doesn't carry the gun - he only drives the car. (Really?)
  • Similarly, Mulligan, despite pursuing Gosling while married, is portrayed in a saintly, long-suffering kind of way. She is forever holding her son, playing the part of the dutiful wife and mother, never betraying any "badness" except when Gosling insults her integrity.
Similarly the sexism in the movie is subtle as we see that women are either suffering mothers (Mulligan), prostitutes, or sneaky, manipulative thieves.

5 key takeaways from this exercise:
  • To combat propaganda means to be educated and sensitized to stereotypes. It also means to be bold and stand up against a chorus of people who think you're nuts.
  • To fight propaganda you have to spell out very clearly what the issues are, very specifically, because generalizations actually anger people more than the possibility of propaganda itself.
  • It's important to distinguish between racism and speaking up when people, including Jews, women or anyone, behaves badly. Telling the truth is not the problem - covering up wrongdoing is.
  • If you're trying to change thinking or behavior in a positive way, subtler is better. Weave a story, don't push: The more you hit people over the head with a message like "think different," the more they resist it. (I remember being an Apple kid back in the early '80s when everybody was still on IBM - it took many, many years.)
  • The best way to make change is to model it visually and experientially - not to talk about it.
I can stand a lot of things, but I can't stand when people try to deceive others instead of telling the truth.

Have a good day everyone - and good luck!

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