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Why I love self-loathing Jews

Posted Nov 04 2009 10:05pm

Fucking brilliant. I love Larry David and I love this scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm. My previous post on Roth and his examinations on the human condition (often the male, Jewish version of it) made me realize that I am drawn comedically to the self-loathing Jew personality in Hollywood, on the radio and TV, and in books. I find some of the great Jewish talents of today and yesterday and their examination of their cultural and social roots of immigrant, working class Judaism to be some of the greatest cultural moments we have ever produced.

Maybe there is a personal connection of sorts since I grew up in an ethnic neighborhood in NYC, the son of working class immigrant parents. I knew lots of Jews and other immigrant kids growing up and we all shared this embarrassment of sorts about our backgrounds, but we also shared the need to transcend this handicap, as we considered it, and become more white, if you can believe that.

And I think that still holds true for Jewish personalities today. Think of Woody Allen, Howard Stern, Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld, Philip Roth, and even Lenny Bruce and their very public, very funny battles with cultural Judaism and how it has hampered their outlooks on life, and their acceptance into white America. This Jewish personality is never happy, never satisfied despite huge financial and cultural success. Howard Stern still takes abusive calls from his classic Jewish mother on the air, Woody has parodied his Jewishness in the face of Anglo-America, and of course Larry David is self-loathing  as well.

I think there is also a connection between all working class immigrant groups that we can all identify with. We all seem to have been raised by parents who instilled this fear of success, of life in us in terrible ways. We always had to teeter between being Greek or Jewish and being Anglo, you know, in order to make our way up into the American world. We never knew where we belonged. We had to be successful, but not too successful so as to forget our roots. We had to be Greek, dammit, and had to marry our own kind, or else. We always have to walk that line between the culture of the immigrant, the culture of the American, and the culture of oneself, which is a fucking mental disaster, making it impossible for us to make anyone happy. Am I American, am I Greek? A blend does not work either. And Jews are in the same boat.

I remember once I went out with my father to a Greek cafe in Queens for some coffee. My son came with us. The waiter came over and asked my son in Greek for his order. Of course Jack does not speak Greek. My father explained to the waiter, sheepishly, “My son married a foreigner, so the kid does not know our language and culture.” Let’s dissect for a minute: We were sitting in a cafe in Queens, New York City (in the USA) where English is the official language, I am surrounded by Greek immigrants, I grew up in this city, in this country, I married an American Jewish woman and she is considered a foreigner. I had nothing to say. How do you respond to something like that? You don’t. As the product of this insane immigrant environment, you learn that reality is a tricky, elusive, and enigmatic thing. You realize that these folks who raised you are so mentally and culturally confused about who they are as a people, as a race, that there is no right answer.

Back to the Jews. I think this is why I connect with this group of personalities. We all get it. We are all part of the same club and we all share the same values and confusions that make us the lucrative therapy cases we are today. Stern goes to therapy four times a week, while Woody has been in therapy for over 30 years! I have done my fair share as well but am done spending the money. I realize that no therapist will ever fully get the self-loathing thing unless he or she is one of us. And if he or she is, run for the hills.

We are self-loathing because we are incapable of making the people who created us happy. Ever. I just saved us thousands of dollars in therapy.

OK I just popped two pain pills and am getting all fuzzy, which I love. Plus, my typing is starting to slur. Oh and by the way, this site is all about self-indulgence and selfishness so I can write about anything I want. So there. Plus, free form writing will help keep my brain intact, especially since there is a small dent in it now that the tumor has been removed.

Fucking brilliant. I love Larry David and I love this scene from Curb Your Enthusiasm. My previous post on Roth and his examinations on the human condition (often the male, Jewish version of it) made me realize that I am drawn comedically to the self-loathing Jew personality in Hollywood, on the radio and TV, and in books. I find some of the great Jewish talents of today and yesterday and their examination of their cultural and social roots of immigrant, working class Judaism to be some of the greatest cultural moments we have ever produced.

Maybe there is a personal connection of sorts since I grew up in an ethnic neighborhood in NYC, the son of working class immigrant parents. I knew lots of Jews and other immigrant kids growing up and we all shared this embarrassment of sorts about our backgrounds, but we also shared the need to transcend this handicap, as we considered it, and become more white, if you can believe that.

And I think that still holds true for Jewish personalities today. Think of Woody Allen, Howard Stern, Larry David, Jerry Seinfeld, Philip Roth, and even Lenny Bruce and their very public, very funny battles with cultural Judaism and how it has hampered their outlooks on life, and their acceptance into white America. This Jewish personality is never happy, never satisfied despite huge financial and cultural success. Howard Stern still takes abusive calls from his classic Jewish mother on the air, Woody has parodied his Jewishness in the face of Anglo-America, and of course Larry David is self-loathing  as well.

I think there is also a connection between all working class immigrant groups that we can all identify with. We all seem to have been raised by parents who instilled this fear of success, of life in us in terrible ways. We always had to teeter between being Greek or Jewish and being Anglo, you know, in order to make our way up into the American world. We never knew where we belonged. We had to be successful, but not too successful so as to forget our roots. We had to be Greek, dammit, and had to marry our own kind, or else. We always have to walk that line between the culture of the immigrant, the culture of the American, and the culture of oneself, which is a fucking mental disaster, making it impossible for us to make anyone happy. Am I American, am I Greek? A blend does not work either. And Jews are in the same boat.

I remember once I went out with my father to a Greek cafe in Queens for some coffee. My son came with us. The waiter came over and asked my son in Greek for his order. Of course Jack does not speak Greek. My father explained to the waiter, sheepishly, “My son married a foreigner, so the kid does not know our language and culture.” Let’s dissect for a minute: We were sitting in a cafe in Queens, New York City (in the USA) where English is the official language, I am surrounded by Greek immigrants, I grew up in this city, in this country, I married an American Jewish woman and she is considered a foreigner. I had nothing to say. How do you respond to something like that? You don’t. As the product of this insane immigrant environment, you learn that reality is a tricky, elusive, and enigmatic thing. You realize that these folks who raised you are so mentally and culturally confused about who they are as a people, as a race, that there is no right answer.

Back to the Jews. I think this is why I connect with this group of personalities. We all get it. We are all part of the same club and we all share the same values and confusions that make us the lucrative therapy cases we are today. Stern goes to therapy four times a week, while Woody has been in therapy for over 30 years! I have done my fair share as well but am done spending the money. I realize that no therapist will ever fully get the self-loathing thing unless he or she is one of us. And if he or she is, run for the hills.

We are self-loathing because we are incapable of making the people who created us happy. Ever. I just saved us thousands of dollars in therapy.

OK I just popped two pain pills and am getting all fuzzy, which I love. Plus, my typing is starting to slur. Oh and by the way, this site is all about self-indulgence and selfishness so I can write about anything I want. So there. Plus, free form writing will help keep my brain intact, especially since there is a small dent in it now that the tumor has been removed.

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