Arts & Culture

The Protocols: Anti-Semites We Love

Hello, and welcome to “Anti-Semites We Love!” It’s a new semi-regular feature here in the Protocols, when every few weeks I’ll take some time out from furiously cataloguing the various ways in which Jews hate themselves and give some attention … Read More

By / September 10, 2008

Hello, and welcome to “Anti-Semites We Love!”

It’s a new semi-regular feature here in the Protocols, when every few weeks I’ll take some time out from furiously cataloguing the various ways in which Jews hate themselves and give some attention to the people who keep making sure that we do.  Namely, those writers, musicians, and artists that we have admired and even loved over the years, found in them a kindred spirit, and then come across a passage in one of their works, or a troublesome quote, (my mother had a day planner given out free by the ADL, I believe, that was full of such chestnuts—a Jew-hating maxim for every day of the week.  I wish I was joking, but I’m seriously not), or the telltale section in their Wikipedia entry entitled something like “5. Controversies; 5.1: Anti-Semitism” and realized that not only were we not kindred spirits, but said idol would detest us for no reason other than an accident of birth. 

An idol such as this might be perfectly polite to our face as we proclaim our admiration and excitement at meeting them, all the while silently, relentlessly scrutinizing our behavior, pens poised, ready at some later date to hold up our too-loud laughter, the too small (cheap) or too big (showy) tip we left for the bartender, or our unfortunate propensity to spray them with crumbs as we speak as evidence of the inherent inferiority of our religion and race.  Later, over a glass of port with similarly inclined friends, they will mock our names, our noses, our manners, our almost touching—that is, if it wasn’t so ludicrously reprehensible—delusion that we could ever belong. 

You may surmise, reading this above paragraph, for this purpose my typical anti-Semite is rather a genteel one, the kind that stand around in country clubs in pressed white linen and tennis clothes, drinking cocktails and flashing their pearly teeth like some kind of advertisement for Presbyterian toothpaste.  This is not accidental.  Like many of my co-religionists (Ralph Lauren, Aaron Spelling, Joseph Lieberman), I harbor a furious and obsessive love for congenially hostile WASPs and their culture that borders on the self-destructive—the way an adolescent girl, feverishly inscribing the name of her crush on the cover of her notebook in ever deepening gouges of ballpoint, suddenly wonders what it would feel like to do the same thing with a razor blade, on the inside of her arm.  

But here the plan is to stay away from the professionally bigoted—those whose antipathy toward my race is a raison d’etre—your David Irvings, your Hassan Nasrallahs, your Adolf Hitlers.  We don’t love them.  Nor will I be reaching too far back into the sands of time—I’m not interested in waxing nostalgic on the virtues of Pharaoh, for example, or Haman or Antiochus; I filled in enough coloring pages of these villains in elementary school to last a lifetime.  

Instead, I shall focus on those that have had a lasting, positive effect on humanity.  Those that have left behind ideas and works or transcendant beauty (or at least impressive cleverness) and are exceptional (or at least amusing) in every way, yet happen to be tarred forever with the brush of disdain for the Chosen People.  The evidence may be no more than an incriminating joke or the recollection of a colleague; or it may be something more insidious, and some of these may have even contributed, knowingly or unknowingly, to something that may have helped the objects of their derision. Henry Ford gave us the Dearborn Independent, but he also gave us the car. You get the idea.  For every cloud there is silver lining—for every anti-Semite there is something, somewhere that is good for the Jews.  

The honorees on this page will not only receive the honor (or ignominy) of my humble musing on their lives; they or their heirs, should they choose to claim it, will receive one (1) signed and dated certificate, suitable for framing, decorated with all the Judiaca-themed clip art my 1991 PC edition of Print Shop has to offer.  Also, each honoree will have a tree planted in their honor in the newly endowed Garden of Intolerance in the Jewcy offices, if by planting a tree you mean we’ll write their name in crayon on a Styrofoam cup filled with dirt, shove a kidney bean inside and hope for the best.  (I got a lot of bean sprouts this way as part of my third grade science project, so there you go.)  We’re also looking for suggestions for future honorees, so if you or someone you love is an anti-Semite, don’t hesitate to let us know!  

And with that, allow me to introduce you to Anti-Semites We Love, edition one: ladies and gentlemen, RICHARD WAGNER.

Every little girl fantasizes about her wedding day: the dress, the flowers, the cake, the music.  And every little Jewish girl remembers the day she figured out that her wedding wouldn’t be like the ones in the movies.  Why?

No "Here Comes the Bride."  Because Richard Wagner wrote it, and Richard Wagner was an anti-Semite.

Such an anti-Semite, that despite being one of the most influential composers the world has ever produced, his work has never been given a public performance in the State of Israel. (It has been broadcast on the radio, for the well-known opera buffs of Hamas.)

Such an anti-Semite that he authored an entire, widely distributed essay on the subject (which he published under a pseudonym) entitled: Das Judenthem in der Musik (Judaism in Music), in which he savages Jews in general and Jewish composers Felix Mendelssohn and Giacomo Meyerbeer in particular, deeming them a negative, alien influence harmful to German music and Germany in general.  While his language in this pamphlet is certainly offensive, it is worth noting that Mendelssohn and Meyerbeer were not only Jews but also contemporaries and rivals, with Meyerbeer in particular being far more commercially successful and beloved by audiences (and truly, less gifted) than his antagonist.

It is true that Wagner was Hitler’s favorite composer, and that the Nazis appropriated some of the kitschier aspects of his theatrical ideas for staging their own rallies; as well as co-opting some of his stickier ones about race and German identity.  However, even as the Nazis celebrated some of Wagner’s racial theories (as they similarly bastardized elements of Charles Darwin’s, but that doesn’t seem to bother us as much—after all, creationists don’t tend to perform very well on their MCATS), they aggressively suppressed other memes in his work—his pacifism, for example, and while Wagner’s writings and work may have been an influence on some of the Nazi’s loftier (and more ludicrous) mythological sentiments, he did have the good taste to die some 50 years before Hitler came to power.  

And if he had not?  Who knows what would become of him.  Wagner certainly was no friend of the Jews.  But he was also a genius; an irascible, iconoclastic man who might have had quite a bit of trouble adapting to totalitarian rule, which does not tend to look kindly on individual brilliance.  It seems fairly likely that Wagner, while an idol of the Nationalist Socialists in theory, might have run rather afoul of them in practice.  

But let’s look at what matters: his work.  Wagner, in his operas, was among the first artists to make use of cultural and nationalistic tropes as subject matter—not in purely folkloric terms, but as the underpinnings for transcendent high art.  In retrospect, the canonization of these old Germanic legends of Nordic heroes makes us (especially as Jews) cringe, having seen such names and archetypes splashed liberally across the primitive websites of white supremacists and people who sell SS paraphernalia on eBay.  But substitute Siegfried and the Valkyries for more comforting cultural archetypes—the larger than life characters of the American West, for example–and one begins to see how Wagner nudged open the door for countless artists using their own cultural identities as the inspiration for works that at once defined and transcended the realm of personal experience.

In addition to stretching the limits of tonal music (and arguably anticipating the modernist atonality that would dominate the beginning of twentieth century musical composition), Wagner also wrote extensively on his theories of performance, most specifically on his concept of Gesamtkunstwerk, or “total art,” in which music, dance, story, and stagecraft would be united into one complete whole.  Many scholars have written that cinema takes this concept to its ultimate and highest level, but I beg to differ. To me, the best example of “total art” as Wagner might have recognized it (and probably also hated it), of story, dance, music, and visualization coming together has a seamless whole for the participatory audience, is that most Jewish of art forms: the American musical theater.

Do you see where this is going?  I realize it’s a giant rhetorical leap, but stay with me for the sake of humor.  You take a cultural archetype from a storied (and comforting) past—say a jovial Jewish dairyman with five troublesome daughters.  You add a little Americanized Gesamtkunstwerk, a dash of New York chutzpah…and bam! 

That’s right.  Without Richard Wagner there would be no Fiddler on the Roof.

And then what the hell would anybody play at their wedding?

Richard Wagner, we salute you.  You are an anti-Semite we love.