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Hollywood & Anti-Semitism: A Cultural History up to World War II. .

Hollywood & Anti-Semitism: A Cultural History up to World War II, by Steven Carr. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001. 342 pp. $24.95.

The subject matter of this book is one that--as a film critic, an armchair film historian, and an American of the Jewish faith--immediately attracted me. I looked forward to delving into Can's work. Unfortunately, I found myself slogging my way through it. Carr has taken what could have been an interesting and informative topic and let it get away from him. Hollywood and Anti-Semitism reads like a doctoral dissertation or a long-winded classroom lecture. It is dull, dry reading, a scholarly opus that will lose its audience very quickly because of its stilted writing style.

Carr has been very thorough in his research, citing numerous examples of antisemitism and coupling those with the Christian majority's unwarranted fears of a Jewish conspiracy to reshape the nation via its perceived control of the financial and entertainment worlds. If an author can be cited for being too thorough, then Carr must be found guilty of excess. He offers numerous examples of the same people--industrialist Henry Ford and his Dearborn Independent newspaper, for instance--making antisemitic remarks and attempting to stir up anti-Jewish sentiment. After a while it becomes numbing and boring. What Can needed was a tough editor to help trim his long-winded passages.

The poor individual who attempts to work his way through this volume will be inundated with footnotes--more than 800--as well as a feeling of frustration. You keep turning the page waiting for some new revelation or tidbit about the movie industry or the paradox concerning the Jewish studio moguls who, on the one hand, worked hard to homogenize their product while privately trying to assimilate into the American mainstream.

Carr is most studious in describing how Christian Americans viewed their Jewish brethren, citing numerous examples from nineteenth-and twentieth-century books, pamphlets, editorials, and newspaper and magazine articles. Yet here, too, Can lumbers into overkill as after a while the constant reminders of how various individuals and organizations basically recited the same fears, anxieties, and outright prejudices toward Jews becomes mind-boggling.

Carr's main thesis rests on what he calls "The Hollywood Question." But he has buried that idea under so much verbiage that you quickly forget what the question is. Even while trying to explain the question, Can loses the reader with such sentences as, "If one could locate the Hollywood Question within a cultural topography, one would need directions on how to 'get to' the site of this question. Just as streets and highways allow travel through space, so a particular set of ideas organizes the Hollywood Question, connecting its assumption to the rest of the cultural landscape. Some of these ideological connectors--questions of race, modernity, isolationism, national identity, and the like--have carried more 'traffic' over the years than...." Carr seems more comfortable meandering around his thesis, pointing out every nook and cranny, than getting directly to the point. And this is where he loses his reader. Research is fine, and one cannot fault Can for his tenacity and thoroughness, but the sheer weight that he provides suffocates the reader rather than helping to propel him to the next chapter.

Unfortunately, Hollywood & Anti-Semitism will not attract the general public. It is a work that may impress the academic community, but will leave the casual reader squirming and numb.
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Author:Bloom, Bob
Publication:Shofar
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jan 1, 2003
Words:559
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