From Shtetl to Stardom: Jews and Hollywood. Edited by Michael Renov and Vincent Brook. West Lafayette: Purdue University Press, 2017. xvi +190 pp.
There is something peculiar about American Jewish identity and its representation on page and screen. Despite the enormous success of Jews in America, there remains a crisis of belonging, a persistent fear of the threat coming from the surrounding world and hence discomfort with revealing one's Jewishness. The new noteworthy volume From Shtetl to Stardom: Jews and Hollywood revisits this peculiarity and how it plays out in contemporary American cinema, television, and comedy. The histories and case studies presented in it provide a rich interpretation of new material and a fresh reinterpretation of familiar paradigms.
The volume brings together--and therein lies its novelty--both scholars and industry insiders, such as writers and producers. The dense theoretical analysis of some pieces is juxtaposed with anecdotes and personal observations of others. As Michael Renov and Vincent Brook rightly claim in the editors' introduction, "Rather than take a primary historical, theoretical, biographical, or insider approach, as have most other studies of Jews and entertainment, ours combines differing approaches in overlapping and innovative ways" (xii). There's truly much of interest here for everyone.
From Shtetl to Stardom begins with "Histories" and Brook's thorough overview of the Jews' place in Hollywood. As he concludes, "Along with the undeniable persistence of Jewish executive predominance, a quick web search reveals that the media control canard, with antisemitic overtones intact, also maintains a hold on the public imagination" (i6). One wonders how the revelations which took down Harvey Weinstein and brought about the "Me Too" movement, putting Jewish masculinity under scrutiny in some circles, contribute to this "hold."
The section continues with provocative responses to Ben Urwand's deeply controversial book, Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact with Hitler (2013), by Lawrence Baron, Joel Rosenberg and Brook. Baron delivers a harsh and astute assessment, largely echoed by both Rosenberg and Brook, of Urwand's accusation that studios consciously collaborated with Nazi Germany: "in the end, [Urwand] produces a smokescreen and not a smoking gun" (32).
The volume's second section--and its richest--is "Case Studies." The theoretically sophisticated chapters by Shaina Hammerman and Joshua Moss are...