Thursday, June 23, 2011

"I relied heavily on my Jewish safety net"

Anyone who wondered if perhaps "philo-Semitism" is just a variant of anti-Semitism, look no further. Simon Doonan says he doesn't understand Galliano's anti-Semitism, because Jews - rich Jews - helped him (Doonan) make it in the fashion business, Jews who could hire him, help him with money troubles, find him a lawyer, or buy his clothes (technically the clothes he arranges in store windows). Because obviously if Jews were not so financially helpful to Doonan, despising them would be totally OK.

And for the record, neither the fact that Doonan is gay and as such a member of another marginalized group, nor his marriage to a "nice Jewish boy" (and can we please retire that phrase), makes any of this OK. (Déjà vu).


Sigivald said...

I read such a thing more as an expression of confusion at Galliano's "group ingratitude", I guess I'd call it.

By which I mean, the logic seems to go like this:

A) Jews helped Doonan (and as he says, many many others "in fashion").

B) Doonan and Galliano are in the same business (and thus in the same "group" helped above).

C) Transitively, it's like Jews helped Galliano, or would have if he needed it, because of this group-membership.

D) Thus Galliano's antisemitism is un-worthy ingratitude or something similar. (And also perhaps bad because it's spite aimed at a group he considers Good.)

It's ridiculous logic, but I've seen more ridiculous, honestly held - and it doesn't mean it'd be okay to despise Jews if they'd been less helpful to Doonan - just that there'd be no group-identity ingratitude or desert-injustice involved.

(For evidence for B and D, note "It's got me thinking about just how incomprehensible I find anti-Semitism to be. Like most people who came up in the fashion world, I am wildly pro-Jew", and then the lines about being helped by Jews constantly.

I find it hard to read that as anything but "Jews have been really good to us [people in fashion], so what the hell has to be wrong with Galliano [one of US, in the benefited group] to despise them?".

But I might be wrong; this whole group-identity thing on both sides ("fashion people" and "Jews" as monoliths!) is completely foreign to my worldview.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


You've correctly summarized the article, surface-level-wise. But to even think of phrasing the question of bigotry in terms of, if we like Group X, it's bad to discriminate against them, without spelling out that it would be bad regardless, that's a problem. More problematic still, and the real gist of my post, is that Doonan's entire defense of Jews rests on the idea that Jews are rich and powerful. Which is an absurd angle to take, not because Doonan didn't get help from rich and powerful sorts who happened to be Jewish - perhaps so - but because anti-Semitism is about Jews being hated for being assumed excessively rich and powerful. Galliano in all likelihood felt that Jews were too rich/powerful relative to himself, or were using wealth/power in ways unfavorable to him. (Wasn't there something about Wagner and Meyerbeer? Anyway.) But I agree entirely with you that the problem stems in a large part from the "monoliths" approach - that some Jews were wealthy and helped Doonan does not make The Jews rich and/or helpful to Doonan.

(FWIW, while Jews have traditionally worked in fashion, and are well-represented these days among big labels, it's my understanding that this came out of a history of Jews in the "schmatta" business, which is to say, working as tailors, selling used clothes, rags, etc. Not that this has any particular relationship to Doonan's piece, just free-association.)

Withywindle said...

Doonan presumably thinks the article would appeal to (among others) a (non-Phoebe-subset) Jewish readership. Is he correct to think so? And if so, why?

Withywindle said...

But mightn't the type of praise he uses, which troubles you, appeal to other careful Jewish readers?

J. Otto Pohl said...

I do not think Doonan's reasoning is inexplicable. Most people deal with what they know from personal experience. If most Jewish people are friendly and helpful to you then that will give you an overall favorable opinion of the group as a whole. Maybe people should only judge people as individuals, but we are socialized to think of people as parts of larger groups. This can be positive like Doonan or negative as in many other cases. Most people do not analyze things that deeply.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


If you think so, how about phrasing this as a statement, not a question?

J. Otto Pohl,

"This can be positive like Doonan or negative as in many other cases."

Yes, people make generalizations. But moving beyond that basic fact of life, would you endorse an article in which someone laid out his negative views of Group X, assuming a group whose membership is not voluntary?

Withywindle said...

I have not yet begun to think. So first I toss out questions.

J. Otto Pohl said...

No, I do not intellectually endorse such negative generalizations. But, to be honest most people base their personal judgements on groups based upon their limited contact with some of their members. Antisemitism is not the best example because it has historically existed in cases where contact with Jews is non-existent. But, I can think of plenty of other examples where a person's negative experiences with individuals of a certain ethnicity, race or religion has given them a negative overall view of the group. Often these views would not have developed absent the negative interaction.

Before I encountered any actual Gypsies I had a rather sympathetic view of them. They were victims of Nazi genocide and before that slavery. But, encountering them in person in Kyrgyzstan prejudiced me against them. All of the ones I encountered were aggressive beggars and they were rather unhygienic.

Some negative as well as positive behavior by some groups does have a cultural basis. Gypsies really do think its okay to steal from other folks. My guess is that the widespread existence of anti-Gypsy prejudice in Europe stems back to actual negative contact with members of the group.

Withywindle said...

An alternate thesis, then: Even beyond the normal human enjoyment of having your group/nation complimented, there is a long Jewish tradition of individual identification with the nation; it is possible that that even secularized, liberal Jews derive particular enjoyment from positive descriptions of the Jewish nation. And I will add an anecdote: I once asked an elderly gentleman his opinion of a member of his synagogue. "He is a philanthropic gentleman," he said, in tones of deepest respect. Since then, I think I have heard echoes of that respectful description among a great many Jews. Doonan is describing his benefactors, and Jews as a whole, by a variation of the term; I could see where some/many Jewish readers would react positively.

Andrew Stevens said...

Out of curiosity, is all philo-Semitism a species of anti-Semitism in your view? E.g. I would, I suppose, consider myself philo-Semitic due to my admiration for the history of Jewish culture - their heroic resistance to oppression and their refusal to compromise deeply held beliefs going at least as far back as the Roman Republic and all the way through the Third Reich. This wouldn't mean, obviously, that I think of all Jews (or even most of them) as heroic, so perhaps that isn't the sort of philo-Semitism you intend to tar. It is possible you only intended to disparage reasoning from individuals to the group, rather than a view on the culture as a whole.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

J. Otto Pohl,

If you don't see why it's a problem to look at things along those lines, I'm not sure what I can add. I'd just emphasize that my objection is to prejudging - and not trying to stop one's self from doing so - those from groups one cannot opt out of. If you really don't like Democrats or Republicans, that's a different issue.


I don't see how what you describe is about looking at Doonan's piece from anything but a superficial level. Yes, he's saying that Jews are philanthropic, which is a subset of "nice," but a) he's implying that these individuals, his benefactors, were acting as Jews, in concert somehow with Jews on the whole, and thus setting a dangerous precedent for those who want to extrapolate something not so lovely re: Jews as a whole from a few negative experiences (I mean, maybe Galliano had a few negative experiences - does that make his anti-Semitic outbursts OK?), and b) we're way past the point when pointing out Jewish successes, particularly ones pertaining to money, can be interpreted as straightforwardly complimentary.


See here. Especially: "[P]hilo- and anti-[Semitism] share an unhealthy interest in Jews and an unreal notion of who and what Jews are. Both deal not with Jewishness but with 'Semitism,' as if being a Jew were the same as embracing a political ideology such as communism or conservatism—rather than what it really is, a religious and historical identity that cuts across political and economic lines." Adam Kirsch explains this better than I could.

Andrew Stevens said...

Ah yes, doesn't touch my opinion then, since indeed I am only referring to them as "a religious and historical identity that cuts across political and economic lines." I don't have any particular interest in Jewish people, whom I find to be as forked and complicated as any other group of people.

Sigivald said...

But to even think of phrasing the question of bigotry in terms of, if we like Group X, it's bad to discriminate against them, without spelling out that it would be bad regardless, that's a problem.

True, I suppose.

But what if we consider it against the general ground of "bigotry is bad" that permeates most of the West (especially the Anglosphere)?

In that context, it becomes increasingly rote and meaningless to say "yes, of course, bigotry would still be bad even if Group X hadn't benefitted MyGroup so much".

(In other words, requiring such notices when they're not even what's being talked about may/does lead to boilerplate that nobody cares about, and eventually just becomes meaningless for that very reason - despite it being quite true and morally forceful.)

I mean, mostly, that it seems perfectly okay and fair to just skip to the "Galliano's a double asshat for being a bigot against Group X, who have done him/HisGroup Nothing But Good!" step, rather than having to preface or add "And he'd be an asshat for being a bigot even if some Jewish individuals had actively harmed him!"...

Which, again, is true. But of dubious rhetorical value in the work at hand, which is an explication against Galliano, rather than a philosophical work against bigotry-qua-bigotry.

PG said...

It sounded like Doonan was doing a kind of Model Minority spin in which, while of course all bigotries are bad, some bigotries are worse because they're extra-extra-unfounded. It's the kind of thing one sees in remonstrances against bigotry toward Asians, who don't even have those "group characteristics" (illegal immigrant status/ disproportionate rates of poverty and criminality/ etc.) of those other nonwhite races. Why, the Model Minority is so great, they might even be better than us Majority Group, and perhaps we should endeavor to be more like them!

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...


He might have gone that route, but he left out the bit about "while of course all bigotries are bad." But yes, this was the spirit of it.