I love Glee. I love the show-stopping musical numbers, the high school drama, the love triangles and the ridiculous amount of guest stars. Lea Michele’s (Rachel’s) incredible voice stuns me every time I hear it, nearly every scene with Kurt and his father brings me to tears, and Sue’s rants are nothing short of hilarious. All first season, I was on the bandwagon, but I didn’t really care; it’s that good.
And now the second season is airing every week, amid much hype. But while I watched the first two episodes of the second season, I felt a certain nagging in the back of my head, because I noticed that someone was suddenly in the spotlight, and not with the best reputation:
Meet Jacob ben Israel, who is without a doubt the nerdiest, dorkiest dweeb at the school. Jacob has a high, nasally voice, frizzy hair, and no fashion sense. He pines incessantly after Rachel, makes rude comments and accusations as the school reporter, and displays little to no tact in any subject, particularly how to keep his sexuality in check. Is this the nerd stereotype? Yes. But his appearance and demeanor also portray the negative Jewish nerd stereotype to perfection.
And his increased screentime during the first two second-season episodes have been dedicated to making him even more rediculously foolish, and more obviously Jewish. His hair has been called a “Jewfro” twice in the past two episodes; Brittany also refers to it as a “Jewish cloud.” When Jacob interviews Glee members, his microphone prominently displays his initials in blue font reminiscent of Hebrew, and the “i” is dotted with a Jewish star (see video below). Jacob is also put in the most cringe-worthy situations: in “Britney/Brittany,” Sue catches Jacob naked in the library, and he displays embarrassing sexual behavior during Homecoming (and admittedly that’s an understatement).
Are there Jewish nerdy kids? Yes, just as there are nerdy kids of any creed. But Jacob is overwhelmingly foolish and nerdy, while most of the student cast is either good-looking, or a great singer, or both. And that’s paired paired with an overwhelming portrayal of negative Jewish stereotypes, as well as numerous associations with his Jewish identity. (Jacob is the only character whose name suggests a religious affiliation: “ben Israel” is Hebrew for “son of Israel” or “son of the Jewish people.”) By now, we’ve forgotten that the more attractive and talented students Rachel and Puck are also Jewish.
Glee boasts a diverse cast and unflinchingly takes on teen pregnancy, homosexuality, and body image, all with the uplifting message that you need to be true to yourself, even if the world’s against you.
But for some reason, one that still escapes me, they have singled out Jacob ben Israel as the nerd who cannot become cool, the dork whom everyone laughs at, and the unmistakable Jew.
I love Glee a little less. And as much as I love the show, as much as it pains me to do this, I will stop watching if this continues. I can survive a dig here and there (I watch the Daily Show), I can tolerate a character who leans on stereotypes, but not when it is this blatantly derogatory, not when it borders on offensive. And certainly not when a show like Glee is this popular.
The next Glee episode, “Grilled Cheesus,” and focuses on the students’ religious affiliations and how religion plays a role in their lives. Maybe this is the time that Jacob will be redeemed; maybe Rachel or Puck will give us a more positive Jewish light. Or, maybe not.