Jewish Journal

Joan Rivers and the consequences of Holocaust jokes on broadcast television

by Noga Gur-Arieh

March 6, 2013 | 11:08 am

Shouldn't stop making jokes, but must take responsibility while broadcasting to a wide audience. Rivers.

On the February 25th episode of the E! Entertainment's  television show "Fashion Police", comedian Joan Rivers made a remark on Heidi Klum's Academy Awards dress, saying: “The last time a German looked this hot was when they were pushing Jews into the ovens.”  The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), demanded that Rivers apologize for her "vulgar and hideous" remark, but the comedian refused. According to CNN, Rivers told HLN's "Showbiz Tonight" that: "It's a joke No. 1. No. 2 it is about the Holocaust. This is the way I remind people about the Holocaust. I do it through humor."

Joan Rivers' vulgar remarks are not new. In fact, I assume that the first word that comes to mind to most people when they hear Rivers' name is "vulgar."  I ,personally, admire that. I think that Joan Rivers speaks for the kind of women who are powerful, confident, and not afraid to grab any man's private parts. She is a strong woman, and she is a part of prime time television, which is what makes her a feminist icon, in my opinion. When she makes my jaw drop in shock with her very non politically correct comments and remarks, I want to stand up and clap my hands in honor of her confidence and bravery (right after I finish digesting that her words were actually said on television.)

However, some things are not a laughing matter. The holocaust is at the top of that list. The holocaust, under any circumstances, is not a joke, even 70 years later. A joke about the holocaust is not like a joke about Jews, or gays or women or Israel. It is not "offensive" or "so-not-funny", or a taboo and it is not Anti-Semitism, it is way beyond that.

The way I see it, when Rivers said that it is a way to remind people about the holocaust, she was wrong. I don't think that a joke about the ovens Jews were pushed into is a way to make people remember one of the darkest times in the world's history. Making jokes about the holocaust on broadcast television is letting people believe that it wasn't really that bad, and that at the end of the day, it was actually pretty funny, all that oven-shoving...

It took me a trip to Poland to truly understand just how terrible this genocide was. It took me seeing a building full of shoes, small chambers colored with Zyclon-B gas and covered with nails scratches, and one big pile of ashes to truly understand how there was no chance for the 6 million, who their only crime was being different than the ideal type that someone decided should be the only one to live on this planet. It  gave me an understanding that all of this was performed not by monsters, but by human beings to realize how important it is to remember and never forget.

Many people will live a lifetime without that visit to Poland, and probably won't put too much effort in reading and learning more about the holocaust. Those people will only rely on what they see and hear, and that is how they will remember the holocaust. My worst fear is that someday, decades, maybe centuries from today, all that will be remembered from the holocaust is jokes. I fear that in this day, the claim that many of the pictures and videos that were taken during the holocaust were being edited andphotoshopped will become the mainstream opinion, and that most people will think that "it actually wasn't that terrible." I fear that in this time, a leader will rise and convince everyone that a certain group of people is the source of all problems, and that it would be best for everyone to just place them apart from the rest. I fear that no one will remember what truly happened last time, and that everyone will nod in agreement…

You may say I am exaggerating. After all, it was just one harmless joke, and no one will take is seriously. You are right. It was just one joke. But the fact that this story did not make much of a noise, means that many people were light-headed about it, and just let it pass as "a bit offensive," just like all of Rivers' jokes. Many people, who don't take much of an interest in the holocaust, heard this joke, were shocked for a few seconds, but then just went back to enjoying the show. Next time, they may also laugh at such jokes, slowly forgetting that it WAS that horrible…

I, personally, don't laugh at holocaust jokes, but many of my friends do. I can understand that, because sometimes it helps to laugh about things that are difficult to handle. Within the Jewish community, and especially in Israel, we are surrounded by the holocaust. We read, we hear, we ask questions and always want to learn more. We understand the importance of remembering and never forgetting, and amongst ourselves, we sometimes tend to make jokes. We don't tell them in public, and we don't tell them to people who don't have enough knowledge of the holocaust, because we don't want them to take it light-headedly. Joan Rivers may also understand the importance of remembering the holocaust, but she must take responsibility and understand that her many viewers do not.

Unlike jokes about Jews or gays or women or Hispanics or any minority in today's society, jokes about an historic event, that many cannot currently look at and understand that the matter of the joke was not really true, have serious repercussions. It is not "offensive" or "not-so-funny", and it's not Anti-Semitism. It is being indifferent about the holocaust, which is something we cannot let time turn us into…

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My name is Noga Gur-Arieh, and I’m an Israeli Journalist, currently studying for my B.A degree in Media and Political Science, at Tel Aviv University.

I am very socially...

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