I have to admit, when I first snaked an advance copy of The Tribe: An Unorthodox, Unauthorized History of the Jewish People and the Barbie Doll from work, I figured I had a cheap blog post where I could rip on the lame thesis of some post-modern feminist filmmaker wannabe. After all, Jewish goddess Ophira Edut already told Barbie “adios” a long time ago; what else is there to say?
Well, color me a dumbass. Written and directed by Tiffany Shlain (who happens to be a neighbor of mine here in the netheregions of Northern California), the film spears the conundrum of secular American Judaism through the heart and mind in just 15 shorty-short minutes, using Barbie as the ultimate assimilated Jewess. (Barbie’s creator, Ruth Handler, who based Barbie’s design on a sexy doll for German men, was the daughter of Russian-Jewish immigrants.)
Normally discussions of how Jews don’t follow tradition get depressing quickly, but “The Tribe” is full of hilarious retro clips and smart, snarky commentary. While breaking down the “sub-tribes” of Jews and their many arguments with each other, narrator Peter Coyote (another Jewish Marin neighbor) delivers the deadpan gem that “everyone agrees that Barbie doesn’t look Jewish.”
Ending with Vanessa Hidary‘s slam poem “Hebrew Mamita,” Shlain shows us Jews that we’re as iconclastic, creative and confused as ever. Better that than confined to some definition that most of us don’t fit anyway.
“The Tribe” is an absolute must-see for every Jew who ever tried taping her nose up to give it that “ski-slope” look or anyone looking to understand more of the Jewish-American experience without drowning in guilt. You can organize a screening ($40 includes the DVD plus discussion materials) for friends, families, synagogues and neighbors or check your local listings.
Photo from this funny essay at Jewish World Review.