The inevitable villains of thriller movies are unregenerate Nazis in nice suits who scheme to bring back the Reich. This cartoon has its uses. Since it would be simply eccentric to want to reprise an obsolete variety of mischief, the impression is created that radical political evil is now safely in the realm of fantasy as if a new, improved system of malevolence with its own peculiarities and stylistics were not a distinct possibility or actuality. The traditional figure of the Southern bigot has analogous functionality. Since modern right wingers don’t go around calling people niggers, they can tell themselves and others that what they are retailing isn’t a racist ideology. Which is rather like a contemporary girl-gone-wild who assures her father she’s not a floozy because, after all, she doesn’t dress like Betty Boop.
The question that these thoughts are leading to is this: circa 2006, has the figure of the anti-Semite also become for the most part an imaginary bugbear? I’m sure there are some people around who harbor a traditional hatred for Jews just as there really are American Nazis who wear retro uniforms and go around Heil Hitlering each other. In the America I grew up in, however, these coelacanths were already both scarce and old and bore very little resemblance to the international relations professors and leftist agitators who are routinely denounced as anti-Semitic by Alan Dershowitz. Exactly why are Jews supposed to be hated as Jews in a country where one is free to pick and choose one’s religion like a hobby and Jewish ethnicity is utterly unremarkable? Even in the early 60s, when I was in high school in L.A., being Jewish was about as exciting as being Scottish or Slovenian. It was a mere subdivision in a racial taxonomy whose only significant categories were white, black, Mexican, and oriental.
I freely admit that I may be utterly wrong about this. Maybe the population of the nation harbors mysterious reservoirs of paranoid rage towards the People of Moses—if we’re really anti-Semitic, I guess we’ll have to start talking like that again. Or maybe my indifference to Catskill shtick is a symptom of a hidden spiritual canker. On the other hand, it could be that anti-Semitism really is obsolete and that criticism of Israel has a range of other motivations, some good, some bad.