Five Thoughts On: Peter’s Palestinian Alarm Clock
I don’t know if I’m the only Jew who watched this episode of Family Guy while residing in the Palestinian Territories, but I’ve got a suspicion that if we all got together we’d have trouble making a minyan. This doesn’t, in and of itself, compel me to comment on the subject, however it’s a good opportunity to offer up a new gimmick for the blog:
Thought #1: I don’t entirely get the joke- at least insofar as the alarm clock aspect is involved. The joke is about a suicide bomber, right? For better or for worse, that’s the joke. The clock blowing up, however, is much more reminiscent of a scene from Munich in which one of the Mossad guys who might actually be Jewish (i.e. not The Hulk) plants a bomb in a PLO hotel room.
Thought #2: In the inevitable Internet squabbling that’s resulted, a prevalent “It’s racist!” argument is that, while Family Guy’s incessant Jew Jokes are about religion, this is about race (the implication being religion is fair game, race is not). However, neither of these positions is particularly coherent. Family Guy mocks Judaism, Jewishness and everything in between. The Goldman’s aren’t so comically insufferable due to their insistence on observing the Shabbos- it’s the shrill voices, effeminate men, hypochondria and so on- ethnic and racial traits. On the other side of the coin, the “Palestinian” in the clock is clearly acting out an extremely warped view of Islam that, while perhaps sadly intertwined with Palestinian national resistance, is nonetheless a ‘religious’ act. If it is, for one reason or another, ok to mock religion, this may well be in bounds.
Thought #3: Then why, exactly, is the alarm clock “Palestinian” and not “Muslim” or, even less offensive, “Jihadi?” A tough question. “Muslim Alahm Clahck” BOOM! would be incredibly offensive but in a way that wouldn’t particularly standout from the rest of the series.
Thought #4: As always, the real thing here is the burden of representation. Jon Stewart, Shmuely Boteach and Neil Diamond are out there to balance out the Goldmans whereas I would have to guess that less than half of America, and far less than half of Americans in the Family Guy demographic, can name a single living Palestinian. And certainly not anyone outside of realm of politics. So when “Palestinian” pops up in American popular culture, it’s in this context pretty much 100% of the time. That’s undeniably problematic.
Thought #5: It’s probably worth noting that just as the joke is offensive to Palestinians who face the burdens of oppression throughout the world and particularly in the West Bank and Gaza, it’s also a joke that makes light of the way in which lots of innocent people have been murdered and maimed. I have no interest in policing such humor, but it’s worth considering how the safety of an American living room recontextualizes the horrors of others.