Culture & Society
“A new year is unfolding – like a blossom with petals curled tightly concealing the beauty within.”
TORONTO. December 28/22 – Christopher Buckley, the American author, and political satirist once said: “Reading any collection of a man’s quotations is like eating the ingredients that go into a stew instead of cooking them together in the pot. You eat all the carrots, then all the potatoes, then the meat. You won’t go away hungry, but it’s not quite satisfying.”
For diaspora Jews living in countries where there is a high percentage of individuals harbouring virulent antisemitic attitudes, there’s not much to be satisfied with. Antisemitic-based quotations abound from so many Internet sources. Many have been loosely translated from Urdu, Arabic, and other languages; so much so that one has to continually scramble to separate the fact from the fiction.
For diaspora Jews in many parts of the world, the continual need to come to the defence of one’s religious beliefs has left many reeling in a state of scepticism and understandably, in a precarious quagmire. It has, in essence, become an inherent part of daily life.
Having said that, whether or not you agree with Christopher Buckley, I believe quotations do have a place for us, especially in times of incertitude. Perhaps, as we look forward to the year ahead with some tiny spark of sanguinity, this is the time to revive them.
Separating the fact from the fiction in movies. The days when we could laugh at ourselves.
It was Steven Spielberg who said: “The most amazing thing for me is that every single person who sees a movie, not necessarily one of my movies, brings a whole set of unique experiences. Now, through careful manipulation and good storytelling, you can get everybody to clap at the same time, to hopefully laugh at the same time, and to be afraid at the same time.”
As a British comedy, there are very few films that can be compared to “Monty Python’s Life of Brian.” To remind you, the 1979 film, directed by Terry Jones, tells the story of the character Brian Cohen, a young Jewish man who is born on Christmas day in the stable next door to Jesus Christ and is consequently mistaken throughout his life for the Messiah. Take this great quote:
“- Brian Cohen: Lay off, I’ve had a hard time!
– Ben: You’ve had a hard time? I’ve been here five years, they only hung me the right way up yesterday.”
The film’s themes of religious satire were controversial at the time of its release, drawing accusations, from some religious groups of blasphemy and protests. At the time, thirty-nine local authorities in the United Kingdom either imposed an outright ban or imposed an X-rating (18 years) certificate. Some countries, including Ireland and Norway, banned its showing, and a few of these bans lasted decades. The filmmakers used their notoriety to promote the film, with posters in Sweden reading, “So funny, it was banned in Norway!”
Nevertheless, the film was a box office success, the fourth-highest-grossing film in the United Kingdom in 1979, and the highest-grossing of any British film in the United States that year. It has remained popular and was named “greatest comedy film of all time” by several magazines and television networks, and it later received a 95% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
And who can ever forget Mel Brooks’ 1974 film Blazing Saddles with Gene Wilder, Slim Pickens and Cleavon Little? Or for that matter Mel Brook’s famous three Yiddish words, “Loz im geyn!” (Let him go!)
Another unforgettable film? The 1992 My Cousin Vinny starring Joe Pesci and Marissa Tomei. Who can forget Fred Gwynne, who played Judge Chamberlain Haller, hilarious comment: “What is a yute?”
So, why am I telling you this? Well, were no longer in the 1970s or 1990s when we, as a society, were more attuned to distinguish a movie’s narrative in the genres of satire and humour as fact or fiction and laugh at ourselves.
Today, COVID-19 has exhausted us. As Jews it is in our culture, in our blood, as Frank Luntz, the US-based political and business pollster pointed out years ago, to “understand and connect with people transcends international boundaries.” He added, “… we have developed some very destructive communication habits that have seriously undermined our efforts and the causes we believe in. Our words lose their resonance and our style and tone offend. We assert when we should inform. We reject when we should interject. We push people away when we should pull them in.”
As someone once remarked, “A new year is unfolding – like a blossom with petals curled tightly concealing the beauty within.”
To laugh at ourselves has been the very essence of who we are. It has been the life-blood of how many of us portray ourselves. COVID-19 has done a good job of physically sucking this out of us and we are now left to wonder if the petals curled tightly concealing the beauty within us in 2022 will remain that way in 2023.♦
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