Friday, June 4, 2010

Profile: Herman Munster


http://www.jewornotjew.com/profile.jsp?ID=815

Big thanks to Joe from Scranton for one his always terrific suggestions. Here's Joe's take on Herman, which became the basis of this profile:


According to Wikipedia, Herman Munster's birth name is "Malkin," the Jewishness of which you covered in your fine Evgeni Malkin profile. That just suggests the possibility, but it got me thinking.

In the case of Superman, we have a character with a Jewish name created by a Jewish writer who, arriving in America through extraordinary circumstances, proceeds to pass as ordinary.

In Herman Munster, we have the reverse mythology. A character with a Jewish name created by a Jewish writer (Allan Burns) arrives in America through extraordinary circumstances and attempts to pass as ordinary.

The difference is that, Herman fails at that, and I wonder if it isn't possible to read that as a dark parody of the Jewish assimilation story. Superman lets us imagine Jews as retaining all that sets us apart at the same time as we do all that we are supposed to do as Americans. Herman Munster shows us an immigrant who only thinks he's assimilated. Everyone but Herman sees how unsuited he is for typical American life. I grant you that the ways in which he is generally unsuited -- extraordinary size and strength and a simpleton's sweetness -- are not typical Jewish stereotypes, but they are (if we think, for instance, of Chelm) one variant of the stereotype.

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