A Tale As Old As Time: Jewish Stereotypes in Media 

Shira Delcau, Staff Writer

Since a children’s movie containing the antisemitic trope of an overbearing mother came out a few months ago, discussions have gone back and forth about the influence of an unnamed movie on children’s minds. Many people argue that it is an extension of free speech, while others ascertain that stereotypes of any type are harmful, especially in the malleable stages of early life. But what if this movie was theoretical and had never been released? Does it matter that the movie is a theoretical construct? Regardless, if you believed the movie existed, you knew it was possible. This potential belief demonstrates that antisemitism is still a critical issue. 

As the world becomes increasingly corroded with cancel culture, hate, and technology, establishing the line between hate and creativity can be difficult. Due to this dilemma, antisemitic stereotypes have become so ingrained in society that many people fail to understand their harmful ramifications and are unable to identify them.  

The far-reaching impacts of antisemitic ignorance are most clear regarding Disney movies. When people think of Disney movies, they often reminisce on positive traits. Junior Maraida Bongaarts says that when she thinks of Disney, she thinks of “princesses, princes, and girls who need guys to save them.” Bongaarts continues that “[the stereotypes in Disney movies] are often dresses and true love as well as princesses who need a man to save them.” When people regard Disney’s enterprise, and even its negative traits, antisemitic stereotypes are often the farthest criticisms from their minds.  

It is often a shocking realization that in general, many Disney villains resemble Jewish people. From Ursula to Maleficent to Hades, Disney villains across a broad scale resemble Jewish stereotypes. According to Hey Alma, “Cinderella’s evil stepmother slays the high-brow high-nose sneer. Maleficent from ‘Sleeping Beauty’ rocks demon horns like those twitchy demon Jews of yore. Hades from ‘Hercules’ is a snide, familiar outsider with thick New York diction who spits Yiddish phrases with endearing punctuation. In ‘The Little Mermaid,’ Ursula has got the sweetest little purple hooked nose you’ve ever seen.” There is no harm in movie characters resembling Jews. However, when cartoon villains are viewed as ugly and derisive because of these traits, then it is a direct insult to people sharing similar traits.  

More than any other Disney movie, “Tangled” perpetuates Jewish stereotypes. Not only is Mother Gothel the opposite of an innocent-looking Rapunzel, with curly black hair and a hooked nose, but she is also manipulative and significantly othered from Rapunzel’s golden kingdom of Corona. The entire plot of the movie resembles the Jewish stereotype of blood libel, in which a Jew is accused of stealing Christain children with their dark magic. Senior Nisa Maggiore says, “’Tangled’ is my favorite Disney movie because I love the character dialogue… I love ‘Tangled,’ and Mother Gothel is so cool, but she is a Jewish stereotype because of her features, and falls right into the overcontrolling mom stereotype that follows Jewish people.” “Tangled” is a well-loved princess movie supported by virtuous themes of hope, discovery, and kindness. However, themes opposing actual character execution can be dangerous to young minds. Hey Alma adds, “Disney produces media for young minds. There are real consequences to marinating youth in antisemitic imagery that trains us to unthinkingly identify any hint of darkness of Semitic origin with ugliness and evil.” 

Many people are aware of the Brat archetype – a petulant and entitled girl who believes the world revolves around her. What they fail to see; however, is with a few added elements, this archetype can develop into a major antisemitic insult. This insult is titled ‘The Jewish American Princess.’ The Take describes the Jewish American Princess as “a wealthy, well-educated young woman obsessed with her money, looks, and finding a rich guy to support the comfortable lifestyle she is used to.” Jewish American Princesses are typically spoiled girls who resemble Jews and make vague references to the money they received for their Bat Mitzvah. 

The term is inherently derogatory and maintains sexist, classist, and antisemitic origins. Originally, when Jewish people began integration within American society, the economy was materialistic and focused on establishing a consumer society. According to The Take, “Wealth, conspicuous consumption, or high-status education were positive tokens that allowed [Jews] to show off their Americanness and claim a place in the society hierarchy.” The original intent of this materialistic orientation was to blend in. However, as society progressed consumerism became aversive, and materialistic criticism focused on Jewish women. 

One well-known character but unknown Jewish American Princess is Rachel Green, one of six protagonists in the sitcom show “Friends.” On “Friends,” Rachel’s Jewish identity is rarely mentioned. However, when mentioned it usually conforms to the stereotype of the Jewish American Princess. Living off of her father’s money, possessing a college education without a job, and having plastic surgery for her nose, are all typical traits of the Jewish American Princess. And more than just humorous plot lines and ways to add character depth, Jewish American Princesses are often created to teach the audience a lesson. Cher, the protagonist from “Clueless” says, “I decided I needed a complete makeover. Except this time, I’d make over my soul.” Ulterior characters such as Rachel Barry from “Glee,” Gretchen from “Mean Girls,” Jessica from “New Girl” and Rebecca from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” are women who embody the characteristics of the Jewish American Princess. However, in recent years, many Jewish women have begun working to reclaim this negative stereotype.  

In addition to childhood favorites such as “Clueless” and “Tangled,” various other childhood media preserves negative Jewish undertones. According to Summit News, “[In the Barbie franchise] many classical pieces of literature come from anti-Semitic views. In fact, ‘Barbie of Swan Lake’ is not the only movie in the franchise that has Jew coded villains. ‘Barbie as Rapunzel’ (2002) and ‘Barbie as the Princess and the Pauper’ (2004) also comes from anti-Semitic source material and has villains that perpetuate harmful stereotypes against Jewish people.” Other well-known favorites such as the fantasy series “Harry Potter” is appreciated for its wizardry and relatable characters. Others view it disdainfully. Freshman Matthew Finnigan says, “When I think of ‘Harry Potter,’ the first thing that comes to mind is JK Rowling and her transphobia, but I would not say that makes the books less good.” Overall, “Harry Potter” is a series that fights against fascism and the oppressive reign of Lord Voldemort. However, in part to the author’s hate, the “Harry Potter” universe contains hidden stereotypes. According to NBC News, “Critics have been pointing out for years that the hook-nosed, greedy goblin bankers who run Gringotts Wizarding Bank look a lot like the hook-nosed, greedy Jewish caricatures that have been a hallmarks of antisemitic propaganda from the Middle Ages to Der Sturmer.” In “Harry Potter” movies, goblins originated from Rowling’s depictions and appeared to portray antisemitic stereotypes. However, many people argue against the contrary nature of antisemitic tropes in “Harry Potter” films, rebutting that children would not understand the stereotypes. Furthermore, they contend that even if children understood the stereotypes, they are not actual stereotypes, just how viewers picture goblins to look. Even if these stereotypes are doubtful there are many obvious stereotypes. From the jokes in Seinfeld, to the comedy character Howard in “The Big Bang Theory” and the Jews in “You People,” Jewish stereotypes are everywhere. 

People need to be aware of these subtle Jewish stereotypes. Sophomore Cameron Mitchell says, “I cannot think of any [Jewish stereotypes in media] off the top of my head. I feel like I can think of more for other stereotypes but not necessarily Jewish stereotypes.” For decades, media has inspired this dangerous obliviousness, especially because it can be difficult to write stories without hidden stereotypes. Maggiore adds, “How do you write a villain without it falling into some stereotype? We have to do better as a society because if you were supposed to write how a villain looks, I feel that there are a lot of ways in which that can be interpreted, and it tends to be on the negative side towards someone. It never does anybody any good to write a villain into something without giving it another side of humanity. I think if you are writing these one-sided villains where they are just mean to be mean, then you do not get to see the person behind it and that is really important.” The way to eliminate these harmful stereotypes is not to cancel old movies and shows, but rather create new classics, aimed towards establishing a harmonious society and common humanity.