This episode could have been called, “The Vast Spectrum of the Republican Electorate.” While politics was never mentioned specifically, I’m going to take a leap and guess that neither racoon-hunters nor those who shomer negiah voted for Kerry. It just as easily could have been called, “Further Investigation Into the Mindset of Those Who Sang Along Enthusiastically to ‘Throw the Jew Down the Well.'”
Despite rhetoric of Judeo-Christian values, of the faithful of all faiths uniting against sin and fun, the message from this show was that much of the nation still thinks Jews are odd as all get-out. That class, profession, and region are not nearly as salient as Jewishness. The father in the Jewish family a physicist and the mother’s an engineering professor. I’m not going to say that looked entirely foreign to me, but that’s not quite the typical Jewish home. Or, more to the point, a science/academic family is something quite specific, regardless of religion or lack thereof. This was portrayed as further evidence of a particularly Jewish uptightness or nerdiness. In the Christian family, the mother is a nurse and the father is a prison warden. Which led to perhaps the most amazing identifying caption ever on any television program, ever: “Father/Prison Warden.” But while the Massachusetts mother sees differences in terms of region or locality, or attitudes towards education, the Kentucky mother sees this as about Jews versus regular folk.
Keeping kosher–as in, keeping a kosher home, not just saying “hold the bacon”-is certainly a challenge if it’s not something you’re used to. So it was to be expected that food would be an issue. What was disturbing, though, was the Kentucky mother’s insistence that kashrut–and Judaism in general–is not the “American way.” That’s bad news. While there was a fair dose of intolerance on both sides–the Massachusetts mother’s objection to hunting was hard to take, given that she spent ages trying to track down kosher meat (I mean, for crying out loud, anyone who can’t just be a vegetarian for a week has no right to claim PETA-level love of raccoons)–the Kentucky family was grounded in a confidence that they belong, that even their flaws are admirable, that a son’s refusal to do homework makes him well-balanced, whereas the Jewish family is forever on the defensive. The family’s are supposed to consider each other weird, that’s the point of the show, but this went further. Both families feel themselves to be American, but one sees the other as anything but. Being of a nerdy/academic Jewish bent myself, I’ve taken a brief break from homework to read a book by Pierre Birnbaum about “State Jews” in France, about the fused Franco-Jewish identity during the Third Republic. Which is a fantastic book. But the point relevant here is that French Jewish goverment officials kept thinking themselves French (legally, they were full citizens, and the Republic was officially secular), anti-Semites kept repeating that they weren’t as French as French Catholics. Long story short, there’s now a country where Jews do not have to face that particular issue. And no, that country is not the United States.
But, back to the show, it gets worse.
When the Kentucky mom’s stay with The Jews is over, she says the following: “I’m ready to go home. Where real people are.”
I’ve got nothing.