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The movie industry is a part of the mainstream culture which reflects general tendencies and trends that affected the society. The movies School Ties (1992), Marjorie Morningstar (1958) and Crossing Delancey (1988) vividly portray Jewish identity and Jewish culture In America. In recent decades it has not been the Jews alone who have fretted over their identity.
During the last generation the term has acquired a central position in psychological and social theory due, perhaps, to greater awareness of the dislocations in the relationship between individual and society that characterize the process of economic modernization and of the problems of preserving cultural continuity from one generation to another in the context of nontraditional societies.
Thesis The movies portray traditional values and lifestyle of American-Jewish and a change in cultural traditions: School Ties is based on the theme of national prejudices and stereotypes while Marjorie Morningstar and Crossing Delancey portray a conflict between modern traditions and cultural values of the Jewish families.
Critics (Erens 43) admit that other reasons for Jewish entry to the mainstream were many and mutually reinforcing. This outcome was a stage in a long-range trend, the maturation of an acculturated second generation come of age in large numbers. They were free Americans aspiring to achieve in the arts, as well as the professions and business. Despite the discouragement from shortsighted editors and publishers in the late 1940s and early 1950s, they persisted.
They overcame not only because of quality of writing, but also because their writing was viable in the marketplace (Buhle 123). Out of the large reservoir of talent on which the second generation drew was an impressive number of literary artists. The Jewish immigration under restrictive laws failed to provide obvious “foreigners” who might serve as targets of prejudice. This does not mean, of course, that discrimination had disappeared altogether.
The movie School Ties directed by Robert Mandel was released in 1992. The main character of the movie, David Green, is a schoolboy belonging to a working-class Jewish family. Similar to two other movies, the events took place in 1950s, and vividly portray Jewish identity and unique culture based on strict religious and family striations. A conflict of the story is based on the national and cultural differences between David Green, a Jew and his classmates, mostly Americans.
This movie vividly portrays Jewish-American culture and lifestyle, traditions and values dominated in Jewish families. In contrast to Marjorie Morningstar and Crossing Delancey, School Ties portrays racial envy and cultural prejudices faced by David. One day, going to school David is met by a group of local hooligans who try to beet him. David is insulted by harsh remarks about his identity and religion. School Ties shows that individual identity is built upon pre-adult identifications with persons close to the child, with their values and behavior patterns.
As the individual becomes an adult these identifications are integrated not only with one another but with the norms of the society in which the individual will play a role. David’s father notices his injuries and advised him to forgive and forget about them, because it is the only chance for David to go to Harvard. At school, David makes friends with a lot of classmates and becomes a team leader. One day, when David prays at the chapel, his teacher, Dr. Bartrum, notices him and discusses his vision and understanding of blessing. It is possible to say that this is an important of the movie, because it represents “identity formation” (Friedman 92).
Many Jewish-Americans, like the Greens, try to preserve their religious traditions and follow unique religious rituals. School Ties and Marjorie Morningstar show that during the 1950s to many faculty members and most of the colleges’ administrations, it was not the studiousness, skepticism, and noncompliance that vexed them most, but rather the fact that they perceived these Jewish students as being uncultured, clamorous, and rude; totally at odds with their accepted notion that college students always had been and should continue to be cultivated and refined, and not members of an exotic and alien culture. Jewish students were considered unpleasantly aggressive and unduly contentious, their manners the almost constant subject of faculty meetings throughout the 1920s and 1930s, when many professors considered their crudeness the “chief evil” that colleges needed to correct (Friedman 54)
Such discontinuities are crucial for understanding the identity conflict created at points of encounter between Jewishness and modernity. The movies, School Ties, Marjorie Morningstar and Crossing Delancey unveil that the self of the Jewish, imbued with one set of sanctions mediated by parents as part of Jewish traditional society, is cast adrift in a historical setting that does not reinforce and may undermine them.
Similar to the character of David, Marjorie from Marjorie Morningstar is faced with a conflict caused by the modern behavior patterns and religious traditions of her family (Newhouse 2005). The main similarity between these movies is that they portray problems and grievances typical for Jewish students during the 1950s.
Marjorie attends Hunter College because her parents cannot quite afford to send her to a college out of town. The movie portrays that during 1950s, college life may have been a make-do existence with but a dim expectation of better days to come, but not all women brooded about being underprivileged. Many may have been embittered by the sour circumstances under which they received their education, believing it did not prepare them for the world they faced.
The movie shows that most women appreciated and admired their instructors, and respected the intelligence of their fellow students, their relations with college deans and other administrative officials, and some faculty members, was often less than amiable. Following Buhle “And so it went. By 1958, Hollywood rendered Herman Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar, what might be called still Jewish, a melodrama of middle-class life after a brief sojourn in bohemian circles” (116).
The prevalent belief that college officials ought to oversee the deportment and guard the morals of women students, combined with the cultural prejudices often displayed by faculty and staff toward Jewish students, caused much friction between the two generations. Officials seldom took pains to conceal their belief that these daughters of immigrants were “raucous and gawky”. The women themselves were cognizant that the underlying reason for their instructors’ perception of them as unladylike was rooted in anti-Semitism, but most tended to shrug this off (Friedman 29).
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In contrast to School Ties, Marjorie Morningstar portrays the conforming acceptance of current values. Where Holden is the dissenter from contemporary values, Marjorie finally embraces them as the most comfortable and convenient code. Marjorie Morningstar proclaims anti-intellectualism and conformism.
Marjorie Morningstar was also an extremely lucrative commercial success, as a movie. Critics (Buhle 125) underline that how limited the outlook of the movie is can be gauged from the fact that, although much of its action is set during the Great Depression of the 1930s at a time when anti-Semitism in the United States was in high gear, these important aspects of the life of that decade hardly receive mention. Marjorie’s family lived a comfortable existence on Central Park West untouched by these exigencies. Following Kun (1999):
Seen next to assimilationist feature films like 1958’s Marjorie Morningstar, it was all part of a much larger “de-Semitization” of American culture that Henry Popkin documented in a polemical, decade-marking essay for Commentary, Popkin recognized the disappearance of the Jew and of Jewishness everywhere he looked” (343).
In contrast to School Ties, Crossing Delancey is a romantic comedy that portrays a conflict between modern cultural traditions and the Jewish background of Isabelle. The main heroine, Isabelle, is a manager in a bookstore who dreams about an ideal love and family happiness. Her grandmother does everything possible to find a good match for Isabelle. Isabelle rejects her choice supposing that a modern woman can find a good match of her own.
Crossing Delancey builds complex models of Jewish identity structure and carries out extensive descriptions of Jewish personalities to measure the intensity, shift, and direction of Jewish identification. Through the characters of Isabelle and Bubbie, this film reveals current cultural trends which help to understand the contemporary situation in terms of its origins and the more general forces that impinge upon Jewish individuals and communities (Friedman 93). Using the character of Isabelle, Joan Micklon Silver has conveyed personal engagement.
For a generation of immigrant Jews and their children, the Lower East Side was a place that evoked feelings of longing and nostalgia and simultaneously allowed them to reflect upon their group progress and construct a new kind of ethnic consciousness. The East Side provided a grounded, tangible space where American Jews fashioned their image of the Jewish past (Wenger 3).
The remaining Jews, clinging to superstitions or, in extreme reaction, forsaking Judaism for libertinism, are not objects of identification. The range of Jewish social identity narrows as growing differences among Jews make full identification possible only with a smaller group within the Jewish community. For the enlightened Jews it is their fellow enlightened; for the traditionalists it is those who have stood steadfast with them in opposing the intrusion of alien values (Dershowitz 54).
The movies School Ties, Marjorie Morningstar and Crossing Delancey portray religious rituals and events as a part of Jewish culture and traditions. School Ties is based on one of the most important rituals – Rosh Hashanah. Marjorie Morningstar portrays a Passover meal, Jewish icons and a synagogue sequence. Crossing Delancey shows the tradition of matchmaking. The modish, largely socially-oriented return to the synagogue of the 1950s had its most popular representative in Marjorie Morningstar which portrays the suburban, affluent recruits for Judaism.
Particularly on the Jewish holidays, shopping on the East Side became a ritual activity. In the days before Passover, the Forward explained, “the East Side becomes a bedlam. The streets become fined up with endless rows of push-carts.” All the items needed for the holiday–dishes, pots and pans, food, and clothing–could be purchased from local merchants at bargain prices” (Wenger 4).
Critics (Erens 43) admit that Marjorie Morningstar is a fictional effort to demonstrate the validity of a middle-class, conformist, Orthodox mode of existence as the solution to life’s problems. The movie reassures middle-class audience that Orthodox conformity is not hard, entailed no sacrifice, is easily surmounted when inconvenient. A new Jewish culture does not attempt to destroy the immensely pervasive power of traditions.
Reason strips the concept of miraculous elements; universalism shifts its focus from the particular redemption of Israel to the reign of peace among all nations. But, insofar as they remained Jewish at all, rationalists and universalists continued to focus their Jewish identity forward toward the unattained ideal. “The sound of the Jewish voice–the vocalized language of the Jew–has always been central to constructions of Jewish difference and, in turn, to the anti-Semitic imagination” (Kun 343).
The most impressive scenes can be found in School Ties which depicts a strong sense of personal identity and strong values of Jewish culture. During the exam, David notices that one of his bullies and ‘enemies’ who has insulted him cheats. Dillon lost some of his crib sheets and the teacher finds them. To solve this problem, the teacher asks the group to “determine the justice”. During the meeting, Dillon accuses David in cheating.
In several days, Van Kelt explains everything to the school administration and tells that he saw Dillon cheating during the exam. The importance of these scenes is that a Jewfish teenager is strong enough to keep his moral codes and protect his identity. The movie portrays that anti-Semitism rarely attenuates Jewish identity; it serves rather to reinforce it. Anti=Semitism is believed to be part of the divine plan which God had determined for Israel (Dershowitz 54). Exiled from the Holy Land on account of their sins, Jews expect to suffer at the hands of the gentiles until the messiah would put an end to their travails.
The nations of the earth who tormented them are all actors on the stage of that drama, God’s agents in dealing with His chosen people. What gentiles thought of the Jews do not really matter; their views are unable to puncture the firm belief that the Jews continue to be the chosen people, theologically at the very center of world history even as it swirls around them, making them the objects rather than the subjects of historical events. In the three movies, the gentiles’ perspective on the Jews is very different. They understand the Jews’ suffering as just punishment for their rejection of Christ and expect that it would end only with the Jews’ conversion. But a Jew could not share that view, fundamentally opposed to his own, without ceasing entirely to be a Jew (Dershowitz 57).
The main difference between the movies is that School Ties portrays prejudices and cultural oppression as the main sources of national identity while Marjorie Morningstar and Crossing Delancey show that young Jewish girls try to change their cultural values and traditions and become a part of the modern American culture. For instance, after a luxurious childhood and adolescence, Marjorie is off to college hoping to become an actress.
Marjorie Morgenstern becomes Marjorie Morningstar, a more suitable stage name. She persuades her parents to allow her a summer vacation as an actress at the summer camp South Wind. There she meets the play director, Noel Airman, signifying Luftmensch, Yiddish for the man without visible means of support. Noel is a pseudo-intellectual, a composer with small talent, a womanizer, and the target of suspicious, antagonistic attitude toward the free intellectual (Dershowitz 54). To facilitate his conquest of Marjorie, who falls in love with him, Noel encourages her in her yearning for a bohemian life and for the stage.
The rest of the movie plots the course of their love affair. The heart of the movie is not Marjorie a “Shirley,” conceived by Noel as the daughter of rich Jewish parents. Clearly, Irving Rapper (the director of the film) approves “Shirley,” in contrast to Noel’s disdain. Noel goes on to describe her, the archetypal middle-class Jewish woman of the decade (Buhle 129). It can also act as a counterforce, undermining the rationalism and universalism upon which enlightenment is built and inducing a newfound identification with fellow victims of discrimination or persecution. The fear of rejection also has a social effect that tends to strengthen Jewish identity.
In the desire to escape the anxiety of being a Jew in the social world of gentiles, Jews have preferred to mix socially with one another. Even as the presence of gentiles has made Jews ill at ease, they have felt more comfortable among fellow Jews, where they could relax and not feel they had to be on best behavior. School Ties shows that Jewish embarrassments of this kind seem to have been especially prevalent at times when anti-Semitism was moderately strong but not so virulent as to make the attempt at gaining acceptance futile (Buhle 131).
In present-day America both the lower level of social anti-Semitism and, from the Jewish side, the decreased sensitivity to the opinions of the gentiles following the Holocaust and in the period of the state of Israel have reduced the anxiety. It is possible to say that Crossing Delancey portrays Jewishness as a natural part of modern culture. Following Wenger (1997)
Lower East Side memory involved a healthy dose of sentiment and romanticism, but it was also commodified cultural product. In the old immigrant neighborhood, Jewish tradition was bought, sold, and marketed” (4)
Three movies can be seen as an evocation of the plight of a language that has lost its main constituency through the Holocaust and is conceived as losing viability as an everyday language among acculturating later generations. More important, however, is the use of the themes to bring to life the predicament of Yiddish in the modern world. The most important is that the movies unveil current trends and tendencies in cultural life and lifestyles of American-Jewish (Erens 21). Like so many second-generation Jews, for the main characters Jewishness is largely limited to acquaintance with the imperfectly acculturated social life of a Jewish milieu with no commitment to or depth of interest in or knowledge of the Jewish religion or Jewish history in its many aspects.
In sum, the movies portray that new cultural trends influence individual Jews and Jewish communities. By devaluing Jews in the eyes of non-Jews–and hence some Jews also in their own eyes, anti-Semitism may produce mild or severe negations of self. It may have entirely the opposite effect, resulting in renewed affirmation of Jewish identity. In the movies, anti-Semitism sometimes serves to abet the influence of enlightenment by adding negative reasons for abandoning Jewishness to positive ones. In contrast to School Ties, Marjorie and Isabelle are Jews because they are born of Jewish parents, live in their cultural ambiance, and are determined not to renounce the ethnic group to which they belong. School Ties is based on themes of strong personal and national identity which helps Jews to survive in America.
Works Cited Page
Buhle, P. From the Lower East Side to Hollywood: Jews in American Popular Culture. Verso, 2004.
Crossing Delancey (1988). Dir. by J. M. Silver. Warner Home Video, 1998.
Dershowitz, A. M. The Vanishing American Jew: In Search of Jewish Identity for the Next Century. Touchstone; Touchstone Ed edition, 1998.
Erens, P. The Jew in American Cinema. Indiana University Press, 1984.
Friedman, L. D. The Jewish Image in American Film. Carol Publishing Corporation; Revised edition, 1991.
Kun, J. The Yiddish Are Coming: Mickey Katz, Antic-Semitism, and the Sound of Jewish Difference. American Jewish History, 87 (1999), 343.
Marjorie Morningstar (1958), Dir. by I. Rapper. Republic Pictures, 198.
Newhouse, A. Marjorie Morningstar The conservative novel that liberal feminists love. 2005. Web.
School Ties (1992). Dir. by R. Mandel. Paramount.
Wenger, B.S., Memory as Identity: The Invention of the Lower East Side. American Jewish History, 85 (1997), 3-7.