Idol Chatter

The Producers,” the movie based on the Broadway musical based on the classic Mel Brooks movie, opens today in some cities, and that adds yet one more to my quickly accumulating list of must-see new films. The Broadway show was my favorite of recent years, and the original film ain’t bad either. But when it comes to blogging the film for Idol Chatter, perhaps the most surprising thing about “The Producers” is that the controversy you might expect to erupt from such an irreverent take on the Holocaust is nonexistent. The Jewish world is not up in arms about the story’s making light of the Holocaust and Hitler using the tragedy for laughs. This despite the story’s show-within-a-show, “Springtime for Hitler,” an absurb and hilarious musical about The Fuhrer himself.

Given recent controversies over imagery and sensitivity in Holocaust art, and the ongoing efforts of the organized Jewish world to educate the world about the Holocaust, you’d think that the Anti-Defamation League would be lining up outside theaters with angry signs, or that newspaper opinion pages would be filled with letters from angry rabbis, educators, and Holocaust survivors. But there are no angry signs that I know of, no letters to the editor, no outcry–at least nothing too visible. I have one friend who was offended by the show’s Holocaust-for-laughs theme, and I am sure he’s not alone, but I haven’t heard much in the way of protest against “The Producers.”

Could Jewish leaders have come to realize that humor, even irreverence, can’t be equated with disrespect and hate, and that to put the Holocaust off limits to certain means of expression is to take away the language with which we try to process and grasp the unimaginable? I wouldn’t bet on it. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that many Jews took offense at Roberto Begnini’s “Life Is Beautiful,” a fairy-tale/comedy set partly in a concentration camp, a movie, in my opinion, that succeeding in dramatizing the tragedy and human loss of the Holocaust in a way that was more sublime and meaningful than many straight tear-jerker drama–only this was hilarious. More recently, an exhibit of Holocaust-themed art at the New York Jewish Museum sparked protests for its supposed insensitivity to survivors, which led to the strange spectre of Jews protesting a major mainstream Jewish institution.

More likely, “The Producers” benefits from the fact that it’s been with us, in some form, for a generation, was created by a known quantity–Mel Brooks, who made light of the Holocaust in more than just this movie–and is set not in Nazi-era Europe but in post-war America. Perhaps most importantly, the potentially offensive scenes in “The Producers” are intended to offend; the whole point is the characters’ (themselves Jewish) desire to make a Broadway show so egregious that it would be an immediate flop.

And then there’s the fact that the story it is absurd, period–clearly not intending to make a point about history or religion or politics, unlike the Jewish Museum exhibit or even “Life Is Beautiful.” “The Producers” is all about fun. So sit back and enjoy the dancing gay Hitler who takes Broadway by storm. And try not to think too much about what you’re laughing at.

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