I Could Use a Nose Job, Frankly, and I Want to Laugh About It

The Anti-Defamation League should relax on video about Jewish boy's tale of rhinoplasty.

In the past month or so, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)—which monitors discrimination and hate crimes—has tackled two youth-related flaps related to Judaism. The first was a music video by the Groggers—an Orthodox pop-punk band—which tells the story of a Jewish boy who wants to get a nose job to impress a girl. The second was a yellow t-shirt shown on Urban Outfitters’ retail website that appeared to have a blue Star of David patch on the breast pocket, recalling the Yellow Badge Jews had to wear during the Holocaust. First, that video:

And now, a screen shot of the shirt, which has since been removed from the website:

The Danish company that made the shirt claims it was an error, and that UO posted an image of the early sample tee. The company’s co-founder told the ADL: “First of all the graphic is not the Star of David, and I can assure you that this is in no way a reference to Judaism, Nazism or the Holocaust. However, when we received the prototype of this particular style we did recognize the resemblance, which is why we decided not to include the star patch on the final production t-shirt.” (The quoted co-founder’s name is Brian SS Jensen, which just seems unfortunate under the circumstances.) The company says it pulled the t-shirt off production lines, and the ADL has published a press release calling the matter closed. (Fox News didn’t get that memo yet.)

As for the video, it was featured yesterday—quite negatively—on The Doctors, in part because of the “medical ethics” issue. Michael Salzhauer, an Orthodox Jewish plastic surgeon, requested that a band he liked, the Groggers, make a tongue-in-cheek music video about rhinoplasty. In return, he provided a free nose job to the lead singer. That’s the guy you see in the video—the nose job is real and, let me say, very good work. But now “Dr. Schnoz,” as he’s known around Miami, is the subject of an ethics investigation by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons, which found the video “inappropriate.” And that must be a hell of a high bar.

The Florida director of the ADL, Andrew Rosenkranz, told Religious News Service‘s Lauren Markoe he found the video “hurtful.”

“For hundreds of years Jews have been depicted negatively with distorted features, including large hooked noses,” Rosenkranz said. “It’s a physical trait that is associated with the image of the Jew as someone who doesn’t belong, someone who is alien.”

When I saw how Dr. Schnoz and L.E. Doug Staiman, the lead singer of the Groggers, were being excoriated, live, on The Doctors by four non-Jewish-identified clinicians, I felt that was more anti-Semitic than the video itself. Don’t these people know of the rich tradition of Jewish humor, which practically insists upon self-deprecation and inside jokes? The practice of making fun of ourselves has long served as a strategy to forestall discrimination and to lessen the blows when they do come. I’m not even talking about the Catskills. Look at Woody Allen, Jon Stewart, the self-ironizing Larry David. It’s why movies like The Hebrew Hammer—in which a Shaft-like detective played by Adam Goldberg tries to keep Jewish children from watching It’s a Wonderful Life—get made. And why Rob Tannenbaum’s band Good for the Jews has songs called “Hot Jewish Chicks” (in which, yes, noses are mentioned). Sarah Silverman, Adam Brodsky, Nice Jewish Girls Gone Bad, Andy Samberg, Adam Sandler, Mel Brooks, websites like Jewcy and Jewlicious … I could go on. Suffice to say, I think the Groggers are in good company.

I’d like to see the ADL—regional chapters included—pick their battles a little more carefully. If the organization is going to start taking on self-mocking Jewish entertainers, well, there might not be any time left over for offensive Urban Outfitters t-shirts—and there are more of those to come, for sure.