Jew Parodies: The good, the bad, and the ugly
Is anyone else getting sick of Jewish song parodies? Every month it seems a new Jewish group puts out a parody of some pop song where they change the lyrics from "I love you" to "I love Jews," add in a few references to bagels or bar mitzvahs, and suddenly the video is posted on every single Jewish website that ever existed. I will admit that a few of these videos are quite good, but the majority are blatant pandering or borderline offensive and overall just getting on my nerves.
Like everyone else in the entire world, I liked the Maccabeats "Candlelight" video that came out last Hanukkah. (I actually prefer to listen to their version rather than the original "Dynamite" by Taio Cruz.)
I like this video because it's clearly well done, both musically and visually. But even more importantly, the lyrics are interesting, creative, and tell a story.
I also enjoyed this Lady Gaga mashup parody "Chagaga" by the Tichel Cuties. It is also musically and visually well done, and I found the lyrics to be an interesting window into the Orthodox lifestyle.
College students love to make parody videos that speak to the experience of being at their individual university. (Some students at Northeastern made a great one recently.) Jewish students are no exception, and often make videos that speak to the Jewish experience on their campus. Unfortunately, most of these speak more to Jewish stereotypes (especially the JAP stereotype) than anything else.
In 2009, the University of Wisconson's "Coastie Song" video offended quite a few people. More recently, it's one out of the University of Michigan made by a couple AEPi frat brothers. (AEPi is a Jewish fraternity.)
The song, "The Pursuit of Jappiness," hits on all the same sorts of stereotypes (BMWs, Ugg boots, leggings, etc.) and after getting a call from the assistant director of the University's Office of Greek Life, the AEPi President issued an apology. It's not clear if there was a big reaction to the video, or whether the statement was a preemptive move. I don't think the video is good enough to go viral, but by using the word "JAP" they're guaranteed to get a little attention from the Jewish community.
"Bar'chu!" (I'm A Jew) by Jew Man Group, which appeared on the scene only last week, is THE WORST. Seriously, I hate it.
I think that this is worse than songs about JAPs, which, while often pretty terrible and offensive, are at least trying to be humorous, speak to a specific aspect of Jewish experience, or make some sort of social commentary. This song is pure pandering. It doesn't tell a story, teach you anything, or even speak to any specific experience of living as a Jew. Instead, it touches on the most generic and "relatable" Jewish experiences without managing to say anything creative at all. (They couldn't even come up with something interesting to film!) And that offends me much more than a song about a Jewish girl wearing Ugg boots.
Growing up, I was excited whenever I heard a pop culture reference to Judaism but today they are everywhere. Jon Stewart, Seth Rogen, Glee, Saturday Night Live -- Jewish references are all over the pop culture scene. Just this morning, a radio morning talk show host with an Irish name used the word "kvetch." Parodies can be fun, but since they aren't our only channel for Jewy pop culture references anymore, it's time to enforce some standards.
It isn't enough anymore to change the word "you" to "Jew." Tell a story, shed light on a specific Jewish experience, or teach us something. If the only thing you have to say in your video is "I love Jews," don't make it. And above all, when you find a video like "Bar'chu!" (I'm A Jew), don't spread it around!