The discourse has reached a sufficient pitch of sophistication that in order to comprehend the state of Jewish life in the US — and that means the state of anti-Semitism in the US — we must consider the thoroughly modern morality tale that is the story of Seth Rogen, Eve Barlow and the ‘fart’ emoji.
Those fortunate enough to be spared a daily bath in the sewers of Twitter may need to be filled in. Seth Rogen is to comedy as Chapo Trap House is to Henry Kissinger: a kind of stoned, dirtbag antidote to adulthood. He specializes in depicting that saddest of American male specimens, the pot-smoking, pot-bellied, moob-stricken man-child.
In his funnier moments it is possible to see Rogen as a kind of satirist, in that he seems to be aware that’s it’s no joke to live as the soy-soaked characters he portrays. So it is not at all surprising to see Rogen reaching for the digital whoopee cushion: his success has enthroned him upon it.
While I find it increasingly difficult to escape Seth Rogen whether I like it or not, I was only vaguely aware of a music journalist called Eve Barlow until yesterday. This is because I am not greatly interested in most new pop music. I am, however, positively obsessed with anything Jewish. Yesterday, Tablet published an article by Barlow, describing the anti-Jewish abuse she had received on Twitter because she is a Zionist.
The moment you identify yourself as Jewish online, you receive a torrent of racist insults. Say anything positive about Israel and you double it. The intention is to bully, to intimidate you into silence.
The Twitter line of attack on Eve Barlow is to call her ‘Eve Fartlow’. It’s not much of a pun; perhaps it originates in a subliminal association about Jews and the release of gas. So many people caller her ‘Fartlow’ on Wednesday night that her name trended higher than the news of a mass shooting in San Jose. A republic, if you can keep it.
The masters of the algorithm have proven their ability to censor references to the contents of Hunter Biden’s laptop or the origins of the COVID-19 virus. They appear unwilling to do anything at all about anti-Jewish racism. From this I conclude that they either can’t be bothered, or that they think to do so would be bad for business, or that the panel of sedentary zoomers who decide these things agree with it.
It was smart of Barlow to smoke out the bullies. By describing what they’re doing, she drew them out in the thousands. So eager were they to insult her that they forgot to don their implausible ‘Free Palestine’ fig leaves and got straight down to the Jew-baiting.
Enter Seth Rogen. He tweeted the ‘fart’ emoji, a little cloud of gas. In the silly system of values to which Rogen seems to ascribe, this is the epitome of ‘punching down’, which is a big no-no. Personally, I don’t care if people punch down: it invariably exposes their vanity or hypocrisy more than it hurts their target. But Rogen’s response reminds me of the apocryphal story about Alexandre Auguste Ledru-Rollin, a French radical politician who spotted a mob passing the terrace of his café, rose to his feet and said, ‘There go my people. I must find out where they’re going, so I can lead them.’
Seth Rogen is Jewish. He has made a time-travel movie, An American Pickle, about an Orthodox Jew who falls into a barrel of pickle water, is preserved for a century and wakes up to meet his grandson in modern Brooklyn. Rogen plays both grandfather and grandson. He is completely unconvincing as the grandfather, a pious bruiser sustained by tribal loyalties, but alarmingly convincing as the grandson, a pear-shaped conformist who really can’t be bothered with being Jewish and spends his time tinkering with a dumb app.
Rogen expressed similar ambivalence about his American pickle when he was promoting the film and said he’d been ‘fed a huge amount of lies about Israel’ as a child and did his best to disavow any association with Israel. Another quasi-edgy comedian, Sarah Silverman, did much the same last week after the American pogromchiks had moved from the screen to the streets. ‘We are not Israel,’ she tweeted, separating herself from her sister who is a rabbi in Jerusalem.
People are free to join or disavow whoever they like. Famous people have more to lose, so they’re petrified of getting cancelled. Comedians will say anything for a laugh. Combine those impulses and you have Seth Rogen saying that if an old joke is now considered inappropriate, it should be annulled — a racist or sexist joke, perhaps — and then making one of the oldest jokes in the book, a fart joke, at a young woman who’s being bullied.
Mark Ruffalo, who has raged against Israel with Arafat-like fury for years, seems suddenly to have realized that words have consequences, and that celebrity vitriol is volatile and more likely to have real-world consequences than the vitriol of those who, like Eve Barlow’s persecutors, must attain critical mass to really hurt someone.
Mark Ruffalo isn’t Jewish, but Seth Rogen and Sarah Silverman are. Their response to the attacks on Jews in America in the last couple of weeks, online or in the street, sends a message: they are following their people, the self-righteous anti-Jewish left, so that they can find out where the mob is going and position themselves at its head, the better to avoid being its target.
Only someone utterly lacking in awareness and desperate for acclaim — a comedian, say — would pursue this shortsighted, selfish strategy. Like Churchill’s appeaser, Rogen and Silverman are feeding the ‘bad’ Jews — the Israelis, the Zionists, the religious, the Eve Barlows — to the crocodile in the hope that it’ll eat them last. But its appetite is insatiable. And when it gets its teeth into Rogen, his protests shall be as a fart on the breeze.