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Beyond Binaries and Condemnation: Opening New Theoretical Spaces in Jewish Television Studies

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The objective of this article is to critique the current literature on Jews and Jewishness in North American television. It is our contention that this work is problematic in a number of ways. First, it insists on a strict binary between ‘bad' and ‘good' television images, and ‘bad' and ‘good' audience responses to these images. Second, it assumes that a unified, ‘acceptable' Jewish identity pre‐exists the production of these images, and that this identity merely needs to be incorporated into the television landscape to make its images ‘better'. Third, it assumes a direct and unproblematic relationship between what the viewers see on television and how they understand the world. In the second half of this essay we introduce scholarship in other areas of television and media studies, as well as in the emerging field of Jewish cultural studies, to point to the need to theorise a much more complex relationship between identity and spectatorship than is realised in much of the current literature on Jewishness and television. We argue that our relationship, as viewers, to television is inherently complex, contradictory, ambivalent, and shifting, and thus cannot be pinned down by rigid and hierarchical binary structures. Further, we argue that Jewishness cannot be reified as a single, visible, knowable identity, and that the ambivalent pleasures of viewers viewing Jewishness on television, including our own, must be accounted for rather than dismissed.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2005-01-01

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