Thursday, February 14, 2013

NormBlog on Tropes

[From Normblog]

I've already said my bit on those Steve Bell and Gerald Scarfe cartoons. But I cannot pass up the opportunity offered by a column of Hadley Freeman's to put on display the way in which legitimate worries about the use of traditional anti-Semitic themes and imagery get swept aside.

Freeman is of the view, articulated in just two stray sentences, that the Scarfe cartoon was anti-Netanyahu rather than anti-Semitic. 'Griping' about it, as she puts this, does little to combat anti-Semitism. The interesting thing is that this opinion of hers is stuck inside a piece devoted to taking a critical view of sexism in the media. Sexism includes not only 'viciously misogynistic elements' but also 'more insidious tropes'. Such as? Such as 'describing any female celebrity as "flaunting her legs/curves/body"'; or as describing an 'unmarried, unmothered woman over 30... as "brave" for which read: pitiable, for which read: tragic'. OK, you'll know how that works - demeaning or otherwise prejudicial stereotypes.
But for some reason, unexplained, while Freeman can see that the application to a particular woman of a general theme involves more than a comment on that woman, because it mobilizes a prejudice about women, she can't see, or doesn't want to, how showing a Jewish politician using the blood of Palestinians to cement a wall recalls a tradition of anti-Jewish hatred, associated with the 'blood libel', in which Jews take the blood of others for their own dubious purposes. Of course, Scarfe may only have had Netanyahu, and not Jews, in mind. There's no reason not to believe his own assurances on that score. But it isn't only about his mind, it's about - to repeat Freeman's own term - insidious tropes.
So, why are some insidious tropes more equal than others? Because some you consent to see, and others you don't. These less equal others are denied entry into the republic of tropes that are acknowledged to have a malign history. It's the Caryl Churchill two-step: she wasn't meaning all Jews, just some Jews. It is the strange fate of anti-Jewish tropes in some quarters today to have cast off all their generality and to be only ever about THIS.
Zach adds: The cartoons in particular are a good example of when some tropes just aren't okay because of the history of the subjects. For instance I also saw people claim that Scarfe's cartoons were acceptable  because he also portrayed Margaret Thatcher as covered in blood. Well, Margaret Thatcher is not Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel is not Great Britain. 
Before you start complaining about "special treatment" for Israel, that Britain can be criticized in ways that they can't, let me offer you an example of what I mean. During George Bush's administration, it was very very common to depict him as a monkey, including in political cartoons. But the one time that President Obama was depicted as a monkey, people flipped out and called for the cartoonist's head.
Why? Because President Obama is black, and African-Americans have an ugly history with being depicted as animals that white Americans have not experienced. That isn't a double standard in President Obama's favor, nor is he demanding special treatment. Because of his background, it's not okay to depict him as a monkey whereas it would be with a different President. Now getting back to Netanyahu, because he is Jewish and from the Jewish state particular kinds of labels that might be acceptable when leveled at Britain are not acceptable with Israel. There are plenty of ways to criticize people, I don't think it's unreasonable to ask Israel's critics to be drawn to something other than the lowest possible form.

1 comment:

  1. I have to tell you, Zach, I am always on the look-out for interesting material to swipe for Israel Thrives.

    I am shamelessly stealing the above and intend to add my own commentary.

    You and Matt have a terrific weekend.


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