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To Jackie, these surroundings not only include the conformist society of socialism, but also his new capitalist reality.

Starting a business in Frankfurt, Germany | FRM

In contrast, Jackie stands out as someone whose actions are not dictated by considerations of economic or social status, but who genuinely cares about other people. Thus, his weaknesses—gambling and cheating—are intimately tied to his strengths: This dialectic—weakness turning into strength upon close examination—is one of the most important features of the schlemiel Wisse In fact, as is the case with Jackie, once this weakness—his inclination to help others even if by questionable means—is no longer ridiculed, but recognized as a strength, it reflects badly not on the schlemiel, but rather on those who mock him, turning the erstwhile loser into a moral victor.

Thus, while the schlemiel exemplifies those negative qualities of weakness that must be exposed and ridiculed to be overcome, schlemiel fiction also sets up inversions by producing a balanced type of humor that cuts simultaneously into the character and into those who belittle him Wisse At first, they appear to be the perfect counter-image to the eastern German loser Jackie and his clan. With his mother, wife, and two children, he led the life of an orthodox Jew, as both Jackie and Rabbi Ginsberg acknowledge. He gained status, as his doctoral title suggests, and considerable wealth. Speculation, of course, has much in common with its low-brow cousin, gambling, which Jackie enjoys.

Speculation typically involves the lending of money or the purchase of assets, equity or debt but in a manner that has not been given thorough analysis or is deemed to have a low margin of safety or a significant risk of the loss of the principal investment. The kind of activity in which Samuel Zuckermann engaged thus had little to do with respectable financial investing, but rather with imprudent risk-taking in hopes of receiving quick profits.

Not only do the two brothers share the weakness of indulging in speculation or gambling, but their families are also similarly dysfunctional. Even Samuel and his wife Golda turn out to be less orthodox when it comes to financial matters. It does not take long for them to discover that the Zucker household does not adhere to Jewish customs.

The latter, of course, is not easily fooled and eventually admits that he has knowingly ignored the breaking of shiva law as long as he could pretend not to be in the know. He is aware that sitting shiva and having a conciliatory talk with his brother will require putting forth the pretense of following Jewish customs and concealing his assimilation to gentile culture, as well as his true persona. Thus, while Jackie concocts stories and misleads people in typical prankster-style he pretends to play pool while intoxicated, for instance , at his core he remains true to himself and openly admits to, as well as accepts, his faults and weaknesses, confirming his schlemiel persona: The film gradually reveals the fact that life in western Germany is not as grand as Samuel makes it out to be.

German Phonetics and Phonology Theory and Practice

In effect, Jackie gains moral superiority over his brother by refusing to pretend to be better than he actually is and by simply accepting his status as an unlucky trickster. Presenting the dynamic of East-West relations in Germany in the framework of a schlemiel story whose plot develops as a family feud offers a new perspective on this cultural conflict. In this dynamic, western Germany is often seen as the strong, intact, and dominant force, while eastern Germans are mostly regarded as inept or naive.

The schlemiel Jackie gives voice to the latter perspective, while simultaneously turning this dynamic on its head. According to Wisse, this represents the essence of the schlemiel dialectic: In fashioning the schlemiel, the Jew admits how weak and foolish he appears to those who dominate him […].

Yet […] he does not submit to self-hatred, and stands proudly on his own record. After all, so goes the inevitable dialectic, he survives. And after all, is he as foolish as he seems? And above all, who are they to judge him? At its best, the finished irony holds both the contempt of the strong for the weak and the contempt of the weak for the strong, with the latter winning the upper hand.

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By presenting the schlemiel as an eastern German Jew, Levy engages a potent technique of Jewish humor: Such a definition of winner status opens the door to anyone, regardless of ethnic belonging, or geographical or historical heritage, and is based solely on modes of behavior. Levy proposes, is up to the individual, each of whom possesses a free will to alter his fate. Inversions also occur in the realm of moral standing and further highlight the schlemiel character of Jackie. Through his demeanor throughout the film, the western brother leaves no doubt that he perceives himself to be the superior of the two brothers.

He even uses courtroom lingua, giving the impression that he comes from a morally superior position to judge his brother: In fact, the double standard of his moral stance becomes more acute when he ends his tirade of insults with an apology—not to his brother, as one might expect, but to his mother: In this instance, the supposed loser once more proves himself morally superior by refusing to respond to insults and physical aggression with the same.

In this confrontation, Jackie additionally unmasks the tendency of the West to draw attention to and exaggerate the involvement of the East German secret service, the infamous Staatssicherheit or Stasi , in every facet of life in the GDR—a stereotype that has prevailed for years after the fall of the Wall.

This play on words is amusing and its clever use of language a staple of Jewish humor. Levy conveys the moral message in this Jewish parable that inherited, historical roles need not be stagnant, but rather must adapt to an ever-changing reality. It was introduced in to bolster public investment in eastern Germany.

This is done, for example, by highlighting this traditional, stereotypical discourse in scenes that provoke sympathetic laughter, and by choosing not to recast the Jews in the victim role they typically inhabit in post German films. These roles evolve as the plot unfolds and are presented from different perspectives throughout the film. Just as Levy refuses to label one group in German society the perennial victim, his use of Jewish humor also denies any one group the attribute of winner. Discussions of the prototypical Jewish prankster, the schlemiel, have shown that this kind of humor turns such norms upside down, criticizing both the fool as well as those deriding him.

The supposed loser thereby gains the upper hand, mocking his mockers.

Levy joins the postwall plea of scholars and the media in Germany and abroad for normalization in the Berlin Republic. He paints a vision of tolerance and acceptance between different social, religious, and ethnic groups. He draws on and mingles familiar stereotypes of eastern and western Germans, as well as Jews, asking his audience to look beyond these and to see the Other as a human being, sharing the same weaknesses, problems, and joys.

His goal appears to be an easing of the tension-fraught relations between East and West, as well as Jew and Gentile, by means of a kind of humor that underscores commonalities. Instead, this film serves as a plea for open and productive interactions, which can lead to a new freedom in identity formation, along with the acceptance of diverse expressions of group belonging.


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Levy signals that Jewish citizens living in Germany today want to leave behind their marginalized, passive position of victimhood and instead become active, equal members of German society. This resurgence of Jewish humor in postwall Germany indicates a strengthening, as well as a certain degree of emancipation, of Jewish culture there. This creates a sense of otherness that is imbued with a guilty conscience arising out of history.

Die Blechtrommel [The Tin Drum]. Comedian Harmonists [The Harmonists].

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Ehe im Schatten [Marriage in the Shadows]. Hitlerjunge Salomon [Europa, Europa]. Zentralwohlfahrtsstelle der Juden in Deutschland e. Der Esel Des Propheten. Laughter and the Sense of Humor. Spiegel Online International 25 Jan. The Movie Review Show. Essays on Jewish Humor. The Joke and Its Relation to the Unconscious. The Jewish Element in American Humor.

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