Below is video of the infamous “you want to work in this town?” joke about Jews running Hollywood, delivered by a teddy bear called “Ted” created by Seth MacFarlane, at the Academy Awards Sunday night. It’s getting a lot of attention. Note that the talking bear says it’s important to give money to Israel to work in Hollywood, and that Mark Wahlberg is hurt by being Catholic– before Wahlberg shuts him up.
This is a slightly absurd conversation. The overwhelming Jewish numbers in Hollywood are no canard; and in a diverse society, people evidently want to talk about that, so they joke about it (as they joke that the Israel lobby runs Congress). JJ Goldberg at the Forward, who (while arguing defensively that the joke has the “power to kill. Right now, in today’s world, given the worldwide audience of the Oscars, it’s like shouting ‘fire’ in a crowded planet”) concedes that “the strong presence of Jews in Hollywood surely has some sociological and cultural implications.”
If anybody can genuinely be said to control Tinseltown, it’s probably the 25 people who run the 12 main film studios—that is, the chairman (in one case, two co-chairmen) and president of each. Of those 25, 21 are Jewish, or 84%. That’s simple math. You could define “control” differently—throw in the top agents and producers, leading directors, most bankable stars and so on—and the proportion of Jews would drop, but it probably wouldn’t get down anywhere near the 50% mark. There’s a reason why Nate & Al’s stays in business.
And when Brando was called on the carpet in 1996 for asserting on Larry King that Jews “own Hollywood,” 19 of 20 top studio execs were Jewish, Goldberg says.
The issue in my mind is whether we’re all grownup enough to talk about these things without having pogroms, and I think we are. I’ve written here before that Jewish kinship networks are important professionally; most of my work in journalism has come from Jews with whom I share culture and language (very much the way Jodi Kantor got her job at the New York Times). People have a right to discuss these matters in a critical manner: in the ’60s sociologist E. Digby Baltzell, himself a WASP, helped break down Protestant discrimination against Jews in board rooms and back rooms with a book bewailing discrimination called The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy and Caste in America. Nick Lemann also ascribed a religious character to that former establishment when he called it “the Episcopacy” in his book on the meritocracy. So– what’s good for the goose… Lately Ron Unz, a Jewish meritocrat himself, published a study, The Myth of the American Meritocracy, saying that the Ivy Leagues, which he calls “the funnel” for the ruling elite, have student bodies that are 25 percent Jewish in some large part because Jews in the college admissions are looking for people like themselves. When he spoke at Yale in January, and a Southern Baptist in the audience questioned him, Unz established that there were two Southern Baptists in the audience, and said they ought to be better represented in the Ivy’s. He believes Jews are empowered and secure enough in a diverse liberal society to have this conversation. So do I.