Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Jesus, Jews, and The Little Drummer Boy

Continuing along with my seasonally appropriate Jesus obsession, just last night a friend who's been following events in Iowa expressed amazement at the god-soaked nature of this Presidential race, and said that antisemitism is very much alive and well and more ready to roar back to life in America than most realize.

He described the roots of antisemitism as Christ-killer mythology, a perception of riches gained at the expense of others, and deep anti-intellectualism. This stuff goes back to the thirteenth century, he said, and is never too far below the surface.

Tonight, his point was driven home as I watched the 1968 Little Drummer Boy stop animation TV special with my kids. This was produced by Rankin & Bass, the same team that brought us the feel good Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer a few years later, as well as Frosty the Snowman.

In Little Drummer Boy, a small-nosed and fair-skinned family get wiped out by desert marauders just after giving their little boy a drum as a present. He decides he hates all people, and goes off to live alone with the surviving family animals. He is captured by Ben-Haramed, who has a huge semitic hook nose and full Jewish lips underneath his sinister looking mustache.

Ben-Haramed works in the entertainment industry, talks incessantly about being rich and avoiding work, and is always fondling his gold coins. Long story short, drummer boy escapes, but his lamb friend is injured in the process. He hooks up with the magi, comes to baby Jesus, plays his drum, and his half-dead lamb is suddenly good as new. The moral of the story is that we should love all people.

Except, apparently, the Jews.

In all fairness, Rankin/Bass seemed to be equal opportunity bigots. Their 1970 Santa Claus is Coming to Town features a German villain who spews spit with his more guttural accents. I suppose none of this is any more racist than was Jar-jar Binks, but in the context of a Christmas special, it felt especially appalling.


Bruce at Four Sisters said...

Apparently there's a sequel, I'd like to see this:

(from Wikipedia)

A television sequel, titled The Little Drummer Boy Book II, premiered in 1976, also on NBC, again sponsored by the American Gas Company, again narrated by Greer Garson, and also currently airing on ABC Family. This time the sequel co-starred Zero Mostel as the voice of Ben Haramad. NBC stopped airing the program after many complaints of Anti-Arabism.

David B. said...

Honestly, that puppet seems more like an Arab than a Jew. There's no shortage of stereotypes denigrating to Arabs, including the ruthless desert merchant.

I admit that the "entertainment" thing is pretty interesting, though.

"Uta" Urban said...

Attended a Chistian church thing last night. Not their fault, but I swear (M will attest) I heard "Tomorrow Belongs to Me" at the beginning of a Gesu Bambino medley.

"Tomorrow Belongs to Me" was from the musical Cabaret, which takes place in a decadent Berlin nightclub on the eve of the The Third Reich. At one point a Hitler Youth stands up and sings a sweetly patriotic (and chilling) folk tune foreshadowing the rise of Germany. The crowd is left verklempt.

I pondered Drummer Boy during the kid's storytelling part of the church service. Are touching allegories at all ok for the kids? What's left for them? Is everything polluted?

How'd I miss the Ben Haramad imagery. And what about Simon and Garfunkel singing The Star Carol on my Christmas record? That's a twist. Fuck.

Sounds like Silent Night ("Stille Nacht" c.1806) is all we have left that sticks to the story. At least in arcane German, it does.

Sally said...

Anti-semitism didn't start in the 12th century, but rather when the Emperor Constantine joined the Christianity team and priests were sent out to spread the good news. This happened in 313 CE (= AD). It turned out not to be good news for the Jews, since most were quite happy with their religion and didn't want to switch, even when threatened with death. From then on, myths about Jewish practices accumulated. That's never stopped; the mythical document called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is still being taught to children in some Arab countries and is taken to be "true" in other countries and cultures. Any political emphasis on a religion that demonizes other religions is dangerous. The current and growing alliance between Christian fundamentalists and politicians is not only dangerous to Jews but also Muslims and anyone else who doesn't join the born-again pack. Including secular humanists. But since Jews have a long history of filling the role of outsiders (and have mostly refused to get on all the subsequent bandwagons: Christianity, Islam, etc.etc.), they get the majority of hits, often literally. The synagogue I attended in Sacramento years ago was burned in the 1990s. Stuff like the Little Drummer Boy may seem kind of amusing to some, but not really.

Merry Christmas to all the very nice Christians out there, and there are many of you.

Mark said...

Who is going to play the role of "bad" guy or antagonist now? Playing basketball you got skins(no shirt) VS shirts. Would the shirt people treat the drummer boy badly?

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