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Anti-Semitism or Jewish ‘Camp’? Ernst Lubitsch's Schuhpalast Pinkus (1916) and Meyer Aus Berlin (1918)

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This article examines two of Ernst Lubitsch's ‘milieu comedies’, ‘Jewish’ comedies set in the ‘milieu’ of the Berlin garment industry. These comedies have been accused previously of ‘anti-Semitism’ or ‘self hatred’ because of their heavy-handed use of stereotype. The following article contends that different audiences may have received these films in different ways, and that the milieu films do not only reflect anti-Semitism and self-hatred. A close reading of Lubitsch's Schuhpalast Pinkus and Meyer aus Berlin, informed by the films’ historical context, promotion, and reception and theories of Jewish assimilation, stereotype, and ‘camp’, reveals a critical potential in the milieu films. The ways in which the milieu films deploy stereotype and humour not only mimic negative stereotypes about Jews in WWI Germany but also criticise those same stereotypes. Moreover, the deployment of stereotype and humour in the milieu films also underscores the failure of German Jews to assimilate fully. Both the style and content of Schuhpalast Pinkus and Meyer aus Berlin expose an incongruity between early twentieth-century perceptions of German Jews being successfully assimilated and the reality that they were treated as essentially different.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 January 2006

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