Tuesday, 10 December 2013

"More Moe, Less Curly!"

Cerebus #268 (July 2001)
Art by Dave Sim & Gerhard
(from Notes On Latter Days, Cerebus Vol 15: Latter Days, 2003)
...There was no question that Curly was the pacifist character in the trio. It's one of the reasons that The Three Stooges is "guy" humour. Every guy when he's a kid has been a Curly and every guy when he's a kid has been a Moe. It's a pecking order thing. Curly knows that Moe is the leader and he knows that Moe has a short fuse, so he should be working at staying on Moe's "good side" or... "less bad" side, anyway. And he can't do it. He literally can't go ten seconds without pissing Moe off royally, usually by making a joke out of something (nyuck nyuck nyuck) that Moe is taking seriously (Schmeck! Ow!). Curly, Larry and Moe used to promote The Three Stooges shorts - and make some extra money - by touring movie theatres when the film unit was on hiatus, doing their routines live as they had done them with Ted Healy in Vaudeville...

...and Moe used to say that when he hit Curly, the people in the audience would be yelling, "Hit him back, Curly, hit him back." I may be reading too much into it, but I think there was an essential schism in the Judaic racial character being acted out between Moshe and Jerome Horowitz in those watershed moments of the 1930s and 40s. You can (and most did, and do) fault "the Moe character" for being too aggressive, too belligerent and too quick to resort to violence - like, say Ariel Sharon in our own age. But, it is equally true that the fanatical pacifistic nature of the Curly character - when it came to self-defence, being clearly incapable of anything more effective than child-like impatience, fuming in his high-pitched voice and using ineffectual hand gestures - was instrumental in leading most of a generation of European Jewry to concentration camps and to the Nazi gas chambers of World War II with an air of placid acceptance that was nearly universal.

"More Moe, less Curly"seems to me a good motto for 21st century Judaism.

As I say, I may be reading too much into it.


Micah said...

I would be stunned by this display of ignorance if I were not already familiar with Sim's writing.

The idea that Jews "universally" and "placidly" marched into gas chambers is ugly victim-blaming and totally divorced from reality.

Most Jews killed in the Holocaust, about 95 percent, lived in countries that the Nazis had conquered, not in Germany. Jews fought in the armies of conquered countries. Jews served in the armies of France and Russia at a rate exceeding their proportion in the general population.

So, Dave's wrong that "most of a generation of European Jewry" went "placidly" to the gas chambers. What's right is that the majority of Jews that were killed in the Holocaust died after their armies, in which Jews served, were defeated.

Jews fought back where they could in other ways, like as members of the French Resistance, and in various uprisings in Nazi-occupied territories (in the latter case, most of those Jews were killed).

Now, Dave could mean that once the armies were defeated, and Jews were captured, that they then placidly went to the gas chambers. This is totally indefensible, as I don't think that any reasonable person calls civilians "placid" when they are murdered by conquering armies.

It's mind-boggling ignorance to think that an assortment of civilian Jews should have been able to offer any resistance to the German army, the most powerful single military in the world, who defeated millions of heavily armed French and Russian soldiers. These captured civilians were simply helpless by any realistic standard.

As well, I include the approximately one million Roma, political dissidents, disabled, and the other millions killed in concentration camps during the Holocaust. These people had no means to resist; they were not "placid".

This is breathtaking ignorance to the point of offensiveness with no historical reality to it.

Sim has made other ignorant comments about Jews and Jewish history. As I recall, in Latter Days somewhere, in tiny type, he suggested that the Holocaust was a biblical punishment.

He should count himself lucky that this aspect of his writing has mostly been ignored, because I could see a reasonable person finding this anti-Semetic. I'm more charitably inclined to believe that Dave simply likes to bloviate and provoke based on little more than anecdote, myth, and intuition. If that makes him similar in appearance to a bigot, I'd simply chalk it up to unfortunate coincidence.

-Micah Goldstein

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

Thanks for your observations Micah.

Just to nip any accusations of 'anti-Semetism' in the bud, could I refer everyone to Dave Sim's Judenhass?


Micah said...

One of the things about Judenhass that I have always found deeply troubling is that Dave suggests that the Holocaust was "inevitable". It seems like a central point of the book.

Was it inevitable because Dave believes that the Holocaust was the biblical punishment of the Jews that he suggested it was in Latter Days? In fact, there are plenty of reasons to think the Holocaust was not inevitable -- Hitler's unlikely rise to power being one -- but I doubt a serious consideration of "non-inevitability" was ever on Dave's mind.

Again, I want to clearly and unequivocally state that I don't think that Dave is anti-Semetic; however, I would say that his views on this one are similar to those on women: essentially worthless, lacking critical rigour, one-sided, over-generalized, seriously misleading, and in the end, when placed in context with other statements he has made, deeply troublesome.

Micah Goldstein

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

Hi Micah,
It's a little while since I've read Dave Sim's Judenhass, but I'm pretty sure the main thrust of the book was that anti-Semitism was historically so prevalent that to view the Nazi's treatment of the Jews as an aberration would be a mistake.

I not sure I noticed any reference to "biblical punishment" in it.


adampasz said...

Thanks for your comments, Micah. Very well put!

Dave Kopperman said...

I think the 'biblical punishment' that Micah refers to is in Cerebus's exegesis of the Torah - there's a bit where Cerebus observes that the practice of animal sacrifice is eventually going to retroactively upset YHWH so much that she would look for a pound-for-pound/eye-for-eye retribution, and it's heavily hinted that the retribution would take the form of millions of Jews being sacrificed in a similar fashion.

Now: it's impossible to parse where Dave's beliefs and those of Cerebus actually overlap. It also should be noted that he's clearly not advocating for it, but saying that it's going to be the revenge of the emotion-based YHWH. But I definitely felt a little put out when I read that section the first time - enough so that it stuck with me for over a decade!

A Moment Of Cerebus said...

Here's what Dave Sim has actually said...

"I decided some time ago that the term anti-Semitism (a 'coined' term of late nineteenth century origin) is completely inadequate to the abhorrent cultural phenomenon which it attempts to describe. For one thing, Arabs are Semites as well and the prejudice as it is generally understood certainly doesn't apply equally to Arabs and Jews. It was in the early stages of researching this graphic narrative that I first encountered the German term Judenhass. Literally Jew Hatered. It seemed to me that the term served to distil the ancient problem to its essence, and in such a way as to hopefully allow other non-Jews (like myself) to see the problem 'unlaundered' and through fresh eyes. Europe and various other jurisditions aren't experiencing a sudden upsurge in 'anti-Semitism'. What they are experiencing is an upsurge in Judenhass. Jew Hatered. So that's what I've chosen to call this story."
(from the introduction to Judenhass)

David Birdsong said...

In Isaiah the prophet refers to himself as a man of impure lips. He goes on further to say that he lives among a people of impure lips. God sends an angel with a coal to burn his lips as if to say that he is free to point out his own sins, but not anyone else's. That isn't for him to decide.

There are plenty of people that see the holocaust as God's punishment, but I think that is an error. Who has more faith, the unbeliever who can't accept God's existence or the believer that assigns mankind's sins on God? The unbeliever often says that a compassionate God would not allow such suffering and seeing something as horrible as the holocaust isn't likely to change that person's mind. The believer that blames God instead of the Nazis has insulted God.

We can see God as the mean old white-bearded man in the sky or we can see, as I try to do, that there is a much deeper relationship there. It is impossible for us living here in time and space to relate entirely to God who lives outside of time and space. We will not know the reason behind the universe for a long time to come.

Dave Sim has said on more than one occasion that the answers to all these mysteries and the answers for the hard questions will be known on the last day. I find it a little hard to believe he sees the holocaust as Biblical punishment, but I can't speak for him.

Anonymous said...

I always thought this part is where Dave suggested 'Biblical punishment,' from Latter Days pg. 316:

Cerebus: ...How many of these off-limits cattle do you suppose your people mutilated and burned trying to please the living thing, the big light and the big fire in the middle of the earth?

Konigsberg: Once again, I decline to answer on the basis of feeling more nauseous than I did a few minutes ago. [thinks] Millions, probably.

Cerebus: There's the sad part. Someday, Yoowhoo is going to demand that 'debt' be paid. And...millions, you said? Millions of your people are going to...um. [long pause] [clears throat] [another long pause] Anyway...

David C.

David Birdsong said...

I think one would have to assign the prediction to Cerebus. He appears to see the holocaust "up ahead". Anyone reading Cerebus along with the letters pages, commentary, endless internet speculation and back and forth among fans knows to this day that it is impossible to know where Dave Sim's opinions merge with Cerebus' opinions. This is one of those moments where it is perhaps better to cease speculations and just enjoy the story.

ChrisW said...

I disagree, in the sense that I'm pretty sure Dave was saying the Jews would pay for mutilating cattle in obeisance to God. Yoohwooh is the one who wanted cattle mutilated. As human beings, early Jews didn't have any way of distinguishing between God and Yoohwooh any more than the rest of us. But neither did Siegel and Shuster have any way of realizing that they'd signed a contract which would eventually have to be enforced.

Like it or not, that contract has to be enforced. Mutilating cattle is bad. Someone who is not God but pretends to be God convinces ordinary humans to mutilate cattle, which are off-limits according to the scripture those humans believe in; scripture which God negotiated with someone who pretends to be God.

Jews were the only people on Earth close enough to God to be relevant to this negotiation. At least they were able to write it down and transmit their writings through the generations, despite unbelievable persecution. This does not excuse any attack upon an individual Jew [nor does it defend an individual Jew for his bad behavior] but collectively, the Jews make a strong argument for being the Master Race. They are collectively closer to God than any of us slobs, and I say this as a strong opponent of any type of collectivism. God has chosen the Jews. All one has to do is not harm Jews and you're good.

Jews themselves are collectively strong so that not harming Jews means not harming a lot of non-Jews as well. So maybe it's best to not harm anybody. God might approve of that.