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A Culture of Tough Jews

Rhetorical Regeneration and the Politics of Identity


David Moscowitz

From brutal Nazi killers to Hanukkah heroes in the ’hood, tough Jews refute images of doomed Holocaust victims, wandering Jews of exile before them, and the post-war ‘nice Jewish boys’ who followed. They foster belligerent responses to polemics of fear and self-hatred, and as such, materialize as a challenge for postmodern cultural identity. A Culture of Tough Jews reframes the tough Jew as an enduring act of rhetorical regeneration by reifying a related figure, the vital Jew. As corrective to the tough Jew, the vital Jew encourages robust cultural production and dialogue. For audiences of rhetoric and cultural studies, the book offers critical and theoretical study of rhetorical regeneration, including original constructs of postmodern blackface and transformative performativity, as a resource for contemporary rhetorical invention. It also constitutes a case study for the postmodern critique of identity by invoking concerns of (post)assimilation, gender and power, and the social construction of race, ethnicity, class, and power to advance conversations on fractious cultural exigencies. A Culture of Tough Jews is a spirited call for postmodern cultural vitality that responds to contemporary politics of identity and memory.
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Introduction: The Need for Regeneration


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The Need for Regeneration

In Quentin Tarantino’s WWII film Inglourious Basterds, it’s the good guys who act like thugs. That’s a terrible idea. (Mendelsohn 73)

Jewish vengeance, like any other reprisal, requires rationale. Violent, lawless, anarchic retribution is not acceptable without it, particularly for a film that vies for Academy Award Best Picture recognition. When a rationale is offered, it often goes something like, “Holocaust movies always have Jews as victims … I want to see something different,” which is how Quentin Tarantino described his motivation for making his Oscar®-nominated World War II revengefest Inglourious Basterds (2009). Newsweek reified this logic by devoting the cover of its Culture section to Tarantino’s sentiment in the form of a bold-print pull-quote superimposed over the iconic black and white image of railroad tracks leading into Auschwitz. Turn that page and the headline for Daniel Mendelsohn’s review of the film screams, “When Jews Attack” (72).

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