Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Tiki't Easy, America... Former Football Star Not an Anti-Semite

Tiki Barber has come under media fire for recent comments he made. Apparently, not wanting to deal with the media or his ex-wife after their separation, he holed up in his Jewish friend and agent's attic for nearly a week to avoid being seen. He told Sports Illustrated that the event was sort of like a "reverse Anne Frank thing."

Anne Frank, of course, was the poor Jewish girl who hid in an attic to avoid Nazi detection, and penned her journal of the horrifying events that has now become an integral part of Western culture. So the Anti-Defamation League and others are going nuts over this comment, alleging that his comments were “perverse,” and that "the Frank family’s experiences, as recorded in Anne’s diary, are a unique testimonial to the horrors of the Holocaust, and her life should never be debased or degraded by insensitive and offensive analogies."

Rabbi Jason Miller takes it a step further in the Huffington Post, and wonders if this "PR nightmare will mark the end of his television career."

Were his comments insensitive? Well, yeah, they would be to someone who's desperately looking to see it as offensive. But I can assure you, Tiki did not mean to liken his plight to that of the Jews in the Holocaust. Even his agent suggests the inanity of any such claim, and reminds us that Tiki was a guest of Shimon Peres five years ago in Israel. The truth is, he just wanted to make a witty observation about an unusual scenario. And if you don't focus on the offensive undertones, you might say that he succeeded. I mean, it is sort of an ironic reversal of a common perception. Rather than a Jew being allowed to hide in an attic for protection, an image we have come to know well from twentieth century history, Tiki's Jewish friend was protecting him by allowing him to hide in the attic from the media and his ex-wife, whom he apparently feels were as adamant pursuers as Nazis.

Now, is that an exaggeration? Certainly. But what comedy does not rely on a bit of hyperbole? Go to a boardwalk and have a caricature drawn of your likeness, and the artist may draw your nose, ears, or teeth as much larger than they are for comic effect. Or consider that stand-up comics exaggerate nearly every situation they describe on stage for the same reason.

And Tiki is far from the first to use Anne Frank as a source of comedy. In an episode of Family Guy, Peter Griffin is shown in Anne Frank’s attic, loudly eating potato chips and clueing the Nazi’s to their presence, leading to their capture. In the show South Park, Eric Cartman is shown in one episode to corral cats into his attic to avoid their slaughter at the hands of townspeople, the irony of course being that the character is a fervent anti-Semite.

The fact that Tiki is being crucified for this is rather interesting, though, and exposes how misplaced American sensitivities are. Tiki's not being targeted by the media because he said something that could be construed as anti-Semitic- he is being targeted because he is a celebrity that has said something unexpected and controversial, and in our culture that is overloaded with gossip media, that sort of thing draws viewers and hits as honey draws flies.

Think about it. Tiki Barber simply made a bad joke involving Anne Frank and he receives an incredible amount of focus for his insensitivity. Yet when true anti-Semites and hatemongers spew their venom in this country, they are invited to speak at universities as honored guests. Mahmoud Ahmedinjad, for example, denies the Holocaust altogether, which is not only the least academic thing one could suggest but also the most insensitive. He has called for the genocide of the Jews in Israel. Yet when he visited America, how did our prestigious institutions like Columbia University greet him? He was invited to speak and given the opportunity to slather his anti-Semitic rhetoric upon impressionable youths.

Anti-Semitism is only a story when there’s a celebrity involved. And that is the sad state of affairs we have come to in this country. When a sports figure tells a joke in poor taste, people are aghast and offended. Yet when a genocidal madman spouts anti-Semitism in it's purest form and suggests genocide before their very eyes, they couldn't be less interested and just chalk it up to free speech.

I think the Anti-Defamation League and Rabbi Miller need to just lighten up- they have much bigger fish to fry. So you'll be alright, Tiki. When the next celebrity spirals down a Sheen-esque vortex, your flubbed joke will be forgotten by most Americans. And if we have an NFL season, I hope to see you there.

William Sullivan

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