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September 07, 1990 - Image 90

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1990-09-07

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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without the pretention.

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Play Today's Wimps

restaurant

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Featuring:
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Special to The Jewish News

Present this invitation to your waitperson for

I

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With Coupon Only

I

t's

a bad year for Jewish
men. As portrayed on
prime-time television this
season, they're a bunch
of nice nebbishes. From
Miles Silverberg, "Murphy
Brown's" insecure producer,
to contentedly neurotic Mar-
ty Gold on "Anything But
Love," to sensitive, self-
absorbed Michael Stedman
on "thirtysomething," to
Stuart Markowitz, "L.A.
Law's" prime nudge, Jewish
men are being depicted as
good-hearted, but weak.
Miles (played by Grant
Shaud) worries aloud. Marty
(Richard Lewis) shlumps
around. Michael (Ken Olin)
whines and Stuart (Michael
Tucker) pouts. As for Jackie
Mason, well, he was in a
category by himself.
It wasn't always like this.
I used to watch Mick Belker
(played by Bruce Weitz), the
tough, dedicated cop, and
Henry Goldblum (Joe Spano),
the serious, introspective
lieutenant, on "Hill Street
Blues!' "St. Elsewhere" had
practical Wayne Fiscus
(Howie Mandel), an intern
who practiced in a Red Sox
cap, and philosophical Dr.
Auschlander (Norman Lloyd),
the hospital administrator.
Lt. Bert Samuels (Al Wax-
man) was a fair, decisive
authority figure on "Cagney
& Lacey" and Dr. Sidney
Freedman (Allan Arbus) was
MASH's wise, compassionate
psychiatrist.
I knew these men were
Jewish because periodically
they'd mention a grandson's
bar mitzvah, say kaddish for
their fathers or celebrate
Chanukah. However, their
religion was incidental to the
roles they played on the pro-
grams: that of capable men
who did their jobs well and
were respected because of it.
The difference with this
year's crop of Jewish men is
that although they are also
outstanding in their fields
(Marty's the star writer on a
Chicago magazine; Stuart's a
partner in a prestigious law
firm; Miles produces a net-
work news program; Michael
is an executive at a top adver-
tising agency), that's not
what makes them note-
worthy.
The emphasis is on Marty's
uncertainties, Miles' in-
securities, Stuart's need to be

Maria Steiglitz is a free-lance
writer from New York.

Howie Mandel played Dr. Wayne Fiscus on "St. Elsewhere."

in control and Michael's
endless self-analysis. The
men are caricatures of "weak
Jewish men" — even if affec-
tionately or gently drawn.
What seems to make
something like Stuart's
worrywart neurosis accep-
table (spending hours in un-
necessary color-coding and
cross-filing in preparation for
his first court appearance) is
that it's done in a manner
that's intended to be endear-
ing and humorous, not
ethnically maligning.
For some reason, Miles
seems to get it the worst. On
a recent episode, his BMW is
hit by four different people in
the course of a few days. After
each dent, Miles throws a tan-
trum. "God is punishing me
for buying a German car," he
shouts at one point. Ex-
asperated with his
histrionics, Corky (Faith
Ford) finally says, "Oh, Miles,
zei un mensch!" — only she
says it in English: "Oh Miles,
be a man!"
However, could it be that as
long as Miles doesn't behave
"like a man" he is safe? Could
it be that television writers —
so many of whom are Jewish
— don't want Jewish men to
be seen as threatening ar-
rivistes? Are the writers
subliminally saying. "Don't
worry, national television au-
diences, Jewish men in in-
fluential positions are
nothing to be afraid of. On the
contrary, they're just
overgrown teddy bears who
need a reassuring hug.

They're not taking over. No
way!'
Perhaps this is why we con-
stantly see Marty holding his
head and making references
to his mother and his
psychiatrist, Michael griping
about the difficulties of being
a "grownup," Miles looking to
Murphy (Candice Bergen) for
reassurance that he made the
right decision and Stuart
preoccupied with irrelevant
details.
None of this would be that
remarkable — after all, there
are plenty of Christian
schlemiels on TV this year,
too — except for the fact that
these are the only Jewish
male characters on network
television that I'm aware of.
I am sensitive to how my own
ethnic group is portrayed.
I liked it when, in TV years
gone by, I felt respect for
Jewish males — the Mick
Belkers and Dr. Freedmans,
even the Henry Goldblums
and Dr. Auschlanders. This
year's sample is not so
respectable.
Interestingly, the Jewish
women that I've seen on TV
this year — Melissa (Melanie
Mayron) on "thirty-
something" and Lilith (Bebe
Neuhirth) on "Cheers" and
Victor's girlfriend Amy on
"L.A. Law" — are self-
possessed and independent,
without a trace of Rhoda or
Molly Goldberg in them.
But, of course, women —
even Jewish women — are
never as threatening as
men.

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