Monday, December 17, 2007

Banality and alterity

First, Jews wishing to claim to be no different from other men did so by asserting membership in the majority, in the dominant ethnic group of their land. When this didn't work, the modern-day, liberal-minded equivalent of those previously-mentioned Jews decided to claim that Jews are no different from other oppressed minorities, oppressed, if nothing else, on account of being in the minority. If we can't show that we're basically WASPs with less per-capita blondness, then we can at least rest assured that we have a place alongside blacks, Latinos, Asian-Americans, and gays.

Felicia R. Lee has a fascinating (in terms of this question, at any rate) profile of Jamie Kastner, writer, director, and producer of "Kike Like Me," a film about Jewish identity. Kastner refuses to answer the question of whether or not he is Jewish, although his subject matter, along with Lee's description of "the curly-haired, 35-year-old Mr. Kastner" (the accompanying photo confirms this) push one to believe he might not be, say, Chinese. He gets defensive in the interview when asked if he himself is a Jew, assuming that the only reason someone would want to know would be anti-Semitism or a desire to set him up with their daughter. But it's for Kastner to decide what faith or lack thereof to adhere to. What's interesting is not so much Kastner's refusal to declare himself one thing or another, but his fear that his movie about Jewish identity might be mistaken for... a film about Jewish identity.

“I’ve always seen this not as a film for Jews particularly or about Jews but about identity, about what it means to be an outsider,” Mr. Kastner said in a recent phone interview. “There are certain issues for those who are perceived as other.”

Ah, the amorphous "other," friend of grad student and, apparently, documentary filmmaker alike. Kastner is not afraid to provoke, yet he is afraid to come out and say that he made a movie about Jews. It's not enough that the movie is directed at all who are interested, it has to be about every subject matter possible. He cannot simply show the film and let viewers draw their own comparisons, he must assure the wary audience from the get-go, this isn't about Jews, this isn't about Jews, until they relax and realize that it is, in fact, a movie about human beings.

No comments: