August 3, 2009
Roseanne plays Hitler for Heeb magazine
Not too many people are laughing at Roseanne Barr’s portrayal of Hitler on the cover of Heeb magazine this month. Yet there she is: a real-life Jewish grandmother dressed as a “Nazi domestic goddess.” She even figured in the trademark Hitler mustache and swastika armband, and bakes a batch of “burnt Jew cookies,” you know, for emphasis. Extra TV did a segment on the cover last week calling it “not funny” and shaming the controversial choice. But Heeb publisher Josh Neuman defended it, saying the cover was meant as “satire” and not done for “shock value.”
OK, you mean to tell me putting a Jewish woman on the cover of a Jewish magazine costumed as the man who burnt Jews in ovens (while she burns things in ovens) has no shock value? Since we’re being a wee bit insensitive to the remaining Holocaust survivors and their children, let’s at least call a spade a spade here, folks.
But if you’re mad, don’t blame Heeb. It was Roseanne who wanted to be photographed as Hitler. According to the magazine, she has a theory “that she may in fact be the reincarnation of Adolf Hitler,” and thus requested to create a kind of Jewish Halloween nightmare in order to make a personal statement. Writer Oliver Noble accompanied Roseanne at the photo shoot and wrote about the strange atmosphere on set:
Noble wisely decided to go with the flow. He writes that he greeted Roseanne with a “Sieg Heil,” in honor of the shoot.
“Until it’s time to face the practical repercussions,” Noble writes.
On her blog, Roseanne had to defend her choice and wrote that she was mocking Hitler and ridiculing his ideas.
But from the public’s reaction, it seems the larger culture isn’t ready for such a blatant Holocaust joke. It hasn’t inspired conversations about satirical irony, as Heeb had hoped, as much as it has elicited shock and awe from those who were unprepared for such an image. Which is a problem for smart comedians like Roseanne. It’s the same criticism that was made of Sasha Baron Cohen for his latest film, “Bruno” in which overt embodiment of gay stereotypes was meant as a critique of homophobia, not of homosexuals. Before the film was released, New York Times writer Brooks Barnes wrote, “Ultimately the tension surrounding “Brüno” boils down to the worry that certain viewers won’t understand that the joke is on them and will leave the multiplex with their homophobia validated.” The same could be said of Roseanne’s Heeb cover: anti-Semites won’t get the joke and will continue to endorse Hitler’s agenda.
Neuman thinks it’s time American culture owns up to its own interests. On Heeb’s blog, he writes that a rise in mainstream humor about the Holocaust may be signaling a cultural shift in attitude.
“Virtually every pitch we received leading up to the publishing of our Germany Issue circled back to the Nazis and the Holocaust and almost all of them were humorous,” he writes. “Certainly Jews have been joking about the Holocaust since the Holocaust (I believe it was the Warsaw Ghetto where the Jewish inhabitants referred to Hitler regularly as “Horowitz”), but these jokes have largely been uttered in private or underground. In recent years, they have been ﬁnding themselves in the most public of conversations.”
He cites some examples:
“And what better way to capture this moment in popular culture than by having the original ‘domestic goddess’ don the Fuhrer’s famous mustache?” Neuman asks.
In the magazine’s defense he says “Heeb is a satirical Jewish culture magazine that interrogates stereotypes and ideas that many hold sacred in order to represent the complex and nuanced perspectives that many Jews have about their identities.” Indeed, in comedy as in satire, nothing is sacred. But pop culture jokes about the Holocaust have been getting public play long before the Soup Nazi entered the kitchen and certainly before Heeb decided to put one on the cover.
Mel Brooks has been playing and mocking Hitler for decades (anyone see a little play called “The Producers”?) and has said on television that, “One of my lifelong jobs has been to make the world laugh at Adolf Hitler, because how do you get even? There’s only one way to get even: you have to bring him down with ridicule.”
Roseanne would probably agree.