By Hilary Weissman
Maybe I am sensitive because I happen to be a Jewish teenager (until the end of October), but has anyone else noticed the focus in the media in recent years on the mystical legend that is the Jewish American Princess, especially from Long Island? I’ll admit; I take it as a compliment when people are surprised that I come from such a place, but come on, are we all really that bad?
What happened to the good old days when the most prevalent stereotype in relation to the American Jew was the crazy yenta that was the Jewish mother? She was overbearing, nervous, hungry, and always ready to dole out her opinion and a sweater, no extra charge beyond a kiss and the reassurance of your whereabouts. These days, it’s the daddy’s credit card wielding, nose-job denying, designer label bearing teens that are the picture of the Jewish-American youth, and it makes me cringe.
Why the rant attempting to defend my cultural background’s honor now? There is E!’s newest special “Long Island Princesses Unleashed,” though not all are Jewish, one even delightfully calls her self a “pizza-bagel” (Half Italian/Half Jewish, naturally). Then there was the release of the online parody video of “Rachel and the Dragon,” Disney’s first ever Jewish American Princess who hails from Dix Hills, back in December.
Note that I used cultural rather than religious background, as this stereotype has nothing to do with the fact that we are Team Moses and grudgingly attend Hebrew School to one day read from the Torah when we come of age, a relatively new privilege might I add since young girls were once prohibited from even standing on the bima in even conservative or reformed synagogues.
No, this is the stereotype that is fostered by the enabling moms and dads of all religions and races across the country. Parents of many denominations end up on Dr. Phil or Oprah because they took out a second mortgage on their house in order to sustain their daughter’s ever-growing shoe collection, and they just don’t know where they went wrong.
If any of you have seen the aforementioned gems on the small screen, you will notice that most of the characters that are conjured to represent the “Long Guyland JAPs” are all gum-smacking, loud, eye-rolling caricatures, yes, even the “reality” stars, who literally live off the attention.
E!’s Princesses are unambitious and their chatter is boring. The only way they can hope to dazzle the audience, is by delving into “vajazzling.” No comment. Maybe that is why a stream of the E! special is so hard to come by online, the entertainment channel isn’t even replaying it on the Internet.
Rachel, with no mention of a dragon in their “Making of” featurette, is prevented from renting a beach house in Miami and screams “You’re not my real dad!” then crashes her dad’s car “and doesn’t even care” and continues to ask for more money. She has a fairy-god yenta in the form of Fran Drescher, the original JAP on TV, and two Yorkies named Dolce and Gabbana. The cartoonists observing three “real live Jewish American Princesses” in their studio sheepishly complain of the princesses’ hostility, judgment, and their evil-eyed stares, no pun intended.
Nauseous already? So don’t fan the flames of their five minutes of fame, and focus on the real Jewish starlets, like Sarah Silverman, Natalie Portman, and Chelsea Handler. Their stories are funnier, their accomplishments are admirable, and they’ve got the true chutzpah.
What about other famous Jewish girls that can touch our last nerve but really have hearts of gold, like Lima, Ohio’s own Rachel Berry on Glee? She plays up her type-A ambition and undeniable talent, rather than a sense of materialistic entitlement, but her home gym, plethora of activities, and doting two dads do not go unnoticed. Her nagging, controlling, and worrisome ways are the precursor to what an authentic Jewish wife would be, but her neuroses are somehow endearing.
Lea Michele, the Broadway Baby who brings Berry to life, is a young twenty-something who has been a fixture on stage since she was a tot, she knows an honest days work. Same with Long Island native Idina Menzel, who was cast as Berry’s long-lost mother on Fox’s phenom due to the fact that they match in talent and looks. These songbirds are doing their part to try to impart some honor to the image of young Jewish women.
Back in 2008, Moment posed the question of what exactly a JAP is and where the word came from, and brushed over the initial literary references along with the icons like Drescher’s Nanny Fran Fine, Jennifer Aniston’s Rachel Green, and Alicia Silverstone’s Cher Hororwitz.
Because we loved all these characters, I wonder whether the term has become diluted. It has lost its bite, as there are a lot worse names you could call a young woman these days. I have come to notice that when used, the word JAP today is simply a synonym for spoiled, a slave of expensive taste, and generally rude, but is not exclusive of those practicing religions other than Judaism. In some cases, the J is silent.