I don't wander out in the world looking to get offended. If you go out looking for a fight, a fight will find you. But sometimes you don't have to look.
That said, I have to ask: Katy Perry, really?
For those who may not know, Katy Perry has a video coming out Thursday in which she puts on a lot of makeup and costumes and pretends to be a collection of the "World's Worst Birthday Party Entertainers." This video is for her new song, "Birthday," which I know nothing about. But because Perry is such a Big Famous Star, she doesn't just get a well-financed music video: She gets a preview teaser video about the video.
So, watch the video.
She's funny in places. It's not groundbreaking, but the princess is pretty amusing and the elderly dancer, that's kind of cute. They're all broad caricatures of people, and okay, that can be humorous. But there's one who stands out from the others: "Yosef Shulem."Appearance-wise, Yosef passes the Semitic sniff test for me; he's not a great big hook nosed Fagin type. So that's a start. But then the schtick happens. And suddenly we have:
- the only ethnically-specific character in the video
- who is a Jew
- doing jokes that are entirely money-based*
On top of it all, this is being done by a woman who was raised by Pentecostal Christians, and whose preacher father decided in 2012 that it would be hilarious to tell his own Jewish joke. This is not an insignificant fact. The Venn diagram of those who are Super Duper Religious (Non-Jewish Variety) and those who Want to See Your Jew Horns does have some overlap. There's also a lot of gray area that includes people who believe in lesser, but still sticky, stereotypes.
I don't actually think Katy Perry is racist (as she's been called for wearing geisha outfits). I'm also not qualified to make that decision. Nor do I actually think she's anti-Semitic. But she's got some serious blinders on, and is obviously surrounded by people who don't like to tell her she maybe shouldn't do something. This sort of thing happens when people don't take a step back from their own cleverness and think about how it might be seen by someone outside their immediate group.
But as Entertainment Weekly suggests, it might be time for her to quit co-opting other cultures, and blundering into those gray areas. Doing comedy about people outside your area of expertise means you really should tread lightly. Some would say you shouldn't tread at all. This is such a case.
So again, Katy Perry: Exactly why was it important to do this particular joke?