Harold & Kumar are Jewish?

So my last post was going to be my last post of the day but then I saw this from Latoya Peterson over at Racialicious, GQ Writer Compares Harold and Kumar to the Happy-Go-Lucky Negro Caricature. One of the paragraphs she picks out of the article is this*:

Hurwitz and Schlossberg’s trick is to take advantage of all this at the same time they’re turning it inside out. One joke is that the heroes come from two immigrant groups with reps for industrious conformity, not rebellion. Another is that they aren’t slackers: They’re bright college grads on the fast track to success—à la Borat, the clouds of reefer smoke and the actors’ ethnicities barely hide Harold and Kumar’s secret identities as a couple of brainy, affluent Jewish kids who aren’t too unlike, dare I guess, their creators. That just shows how things have changed, since Jewish characters used to have to be disguised as—or in a pinch, played by—goys to keep Middle America buying tickets. Now they’ve got to be passed off as dope-happy Koreans and Indians to avoid looking like juvenile Woody Allens. (emphasis Latoya’s)

Okay, Latoya opened it up for the commentors to tell her what they saw wrong with that statement. Just off the cuff I’m gonna point out the lack of evidence for this assertion after scanning the whole article. He picks up this point and offers absolutely no support for it other than what you see above, that’s just bad writing number one. Number two when we take this paragraph by itself what are the reasons for asserting that Harold and Kumar are Jewish characters disguised by their race? that they come form immigrant groups? that they’re known for conformity? that they’re bright college grads? that they’re brainy? affluent?

If those are the reasons, as we must assume because from the lack of anything else even resembling proof, in fact right after the paragraph above there is a break and he goes on a completely different tangent, complaining about the film making. Every single one of those ideas relies on stereotypes of People of Color and Jewish people. They are insulting to a variety of communities. They seem to work hard to reinforce stereotypes about Jewish folks and Folks of Color.

So all Jewish people are conformists? rebels? brainy? affluent?, way to fall into stereotypes to write an article. Oh, and Folks of Color are what exactly? Unable to be any of those things without being thinly disguised Jewish characters?

Part of the problem of dissecting the comments in the paragraph above is their brevity but what they seem to imply, is not pretty at all and relies on harmful assumptions and hurtful stereotypes. Great example of “journalism”.

*Head over to Racialicious to see another excerpted piece of tripe this was just the one that filled me with indignation as soon as I read it.

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9 responses to “Harold & Kumar are Jewish?

  1. Susan Marie Groppi

    … buh? I actually just saw “Harold and Kumar” for the first time, and I’m not going to claim to be any kind of expert, but why can’t they just be a Korean-American and an Indian-American kid? There was nothing in the movie that mapped them onto Jewish culture–maybe, at a stretch, the two Jewish characters in the movie who seem to have a night that parallels H&K’s? But the whole argument only makes sense if you start with the assumption that there aren’t any disaffected smartass stoners in these stereotypically “industrious” second-generation communities, which is frankly ridiculous. Talk about reinforcing otherness, gah.

  2. but why can’t they just be a Korean-American and an Indian-American kid?

    Exactly! There are really some deeper issues going on in the author’s mind. Asian-Americans have long complained of the fact that they are not simply allowed to exist in film, they can’t just be a character they have to be a martial-artist or computer-hacker or an exchange student or…or…

    This feels almost like an offshoot of that, as in they simply can’t be two Asian-Americans hanging out, there has to be something going on underlying such as them representing Jewish-Americans.

    It’s a load of horse-puckey as far as I’m concerned and the article does nothing except, as you said, reinforceing otherness.

  3. This reminds me of when the Zulus killed 5000 British soldiers, white folks started trying to say they had “Aryan heritage”. It’s like its so inconceivable for POC to embody certain things, they have to re-code us rather than accept us as people not stereotypes.

    Which, I guess fits completely into “you’re not like X other people”… you can’t be you and the identity as well, otherwise the whole fucking hierarchy falls down and their little minds shatter.

  4. One of the things that I loved about the first H&K was how it deconstructed (or deployed?) all the stereotypes, and then when you thought about it afterward, you realized that all the white male characters were racist, or venal, or dumb, or crazy (or what have you)–this placing the two tangentially observed Jewish guys squarely in the “othered” (but generally positively portrayed) category with (most of the) rest of the PoC males.

    But that only works if Harold and Kumar are, you know, what they are and not stand ins for someone else.

    However, the idiocy of the statement–“barely hide Harold and Kumar’s secret identities as a couple of brainy, affluent Jewish kids who aren’t too unlike, dare I guess, their creators”–puts me in mind of a review of The Forbidden Kingdom in the local Honolulu Weekly in which reviewer Ryan Senaga wisely observes: “The Forbidden Kingdom may eventually be regarded as a gorgeously filmed rejection of the Asian male as star of a U.S. release–two talented non-whites weren’t enough to carry the obviously ethnic storyline.”

  5. bankuei-
    That’s definitely a factor here because there it seems to be “Hey they don’t act like our Asian stereotypes! They can’t be Asian!” They’re unable to open their minds to the fact that Asian folks (and POC in general of course) are not monolithic. We all like different things, different books, different music, we are difference but they’ve been thinking of us as one big hulking stereotype for so long that anything else (as you said) makes their minds shatter.

  6. Kate-
    That’s one of the reasons that H&K is one of my favorite movies, that it dealt with some actual serious issues when it came to race, stereotypes and whiteness but did it in such a way that it flew under the radar for a lot of people and was hilariously funny.

    This article wants to steal that from the movie and make it something welse completely.

    Forbidden Kingdom is one of those movies that I was really excited about (Jackie Chan & Jet Li, I’m there!) then I saw the preview and Shia Labeouf and realized the movie was of they type we discussed in the panel “What these people need is a honky.” at WisCon last year and my interest waned. Is this review anywhere online? because I’d really like to check it out.

  7. It wasn’t even Shia LaBeouf, who I kinda like, but a B-list Shia La Beouf. So in their minds they had to have even a B-list white guy, in a movie with superstars Jackie Chan and Jet Li. (trivial sidenote: I like Jackie Chan lots, but I have a total crush on Jet Li.)

    Alas, the Honolulu Weekly site seems not to have been updated in a month, so I’ll use a few pull quotes and hope I am skirting the edge of fair use since I don’t know where else you could get the weekly on the Mainland!

    Honolulu Weekly Volume 18 No. 17 (April 23-29), review by Ryan Senaga on The Forbidden Kingdom:

    “The main problem with The Forbidden Kingdom is that it features martial arts legends Jackie Chan and Jet Li sharing the screen for the very first time and they both play second fiddle to a haole boy who is best known for playing Just Jack’s biological son on Will & Grace. . . .”

    “Outside the rice paddies of racial subtext though, the movie is a fun little tribute to the bygone era of Black Belt Theater . . .”

    “As the white liberator in question, Michael Angarano does adequately in the type of role Shai LaBeouf did before getting promoted . . .”

    “Of course, it’s all an excuse to get the two stars together and for nostalgia’s sake, their performances are amusing . . .”

    “As an added bonus, we get to see one literally piss on the other. Is that a throwaway comic gag or a metaphor for this film’s cultural implications? Regardless, The Forbidden Kingdom is flawed, yet priceless.”

    I think Senaga says it all!

  8. Kate-
    Um…I think I might be a little in love with Senaga. Just from the excerpts I can tell he’s on it. I really thought it was Shia LaBeouf (who I really like) but I don’t mind Angarano, he was in that horribly bad/good movie “Sky High”.

    I’ll have to go see it pretty soon, oh and Speed Racer, and Prince Caspian and HArold and Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay…too many movies out right now.

  9. “The rice paddies of racial subtext” is a phrase made of win.

    I too like Shia LaBeouf (and I might have felt slightly more positive about it being LaBeouf just because I like him although I HATED Transformers, the most recent thing I’ve seen him in), but my only exposure to Angarano was indeed in “Sky High” which I really disliked because the idea was great but there was no edge at all; totally safe. So I identify him with that kind of role which makes me think of white male singers who with far less talent (and, if I must say so, looks) than comparable females-of-any or MoC, can get to be stars. So – eh. Not Angarano’s fault, really. He wants to make it just like anyone else.

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