IN THIS age of vulgarity, with increasing anti-Semitism and racism, the power of the mass media to propagate hatred through the internet has increased a million-fold. It draws in people who would shudder at accusations of anti-Semitism, including naïve Jews. Who would have thought that this power would result in mocking world-renowned holocaust victim Anne Frank, who would have been 90 this month? One of the episodes of a show currently distributed by Netflix is called The Roast of Anne Frank, in which she is “roasted” by a panel that includes Hitler. He mocks her, saying, “Everyone knows you as a hero and a bestselling author, but to me you’ll always be little number 825060.”
It is part of a Historical Roasts programme, where various historical figures take the hot seat to be lampooned by their peers, including Abraham Lincoln and Princess Diana. It seems crude that the late Anne Frank should be included. Comedian Jeff Ross, who hosts the show, tries to deflect accusations towards him, saying that he only kids people he loves, and Anne Frank is close to his heart. He says her diary made him cry. This sounds like sloppy Hollywood thinking, where nothing is sacred.
Most Jews still view any depiction of the Holocaust and its victims as a serious thing, not to be treated light heartedly. This is particularly the case in an age when rising anti-Semitism reminds us of the 1930s.Jewish historians remember Nazi publications which used cartoon imagery to depict Jews, such as Der Sturmer in 1934,with its front-page cartoons of ugly Jews in grotesque poses, accompanied by allegations of Jewish ritual murder – the notorious “blood libel”.
But as the Holocaust recedes further into history, younger generations of Jews become more distanced from it. Even some of the children of Holocaust survivors who grew up with the constant echo of what happened to their parents are less inhibited about how they portray it.
Another, equally vulgar treatment of Anne Frank and the Holocaust, reported in May in the New York Times, involved the Harvard Lampoon, an independent satirical publication run by students at Harvard University. It published a sexualised, digitally-modified image of Anne Frank, depicting her facing the camera, with her head mounted on the body of a slim, large-breasted, bikini-clad woman. A bold headline above it read, “Gone before her time: virtual aging technology shows us what Anne Frank would have looked like if she hadn’t died.” The text below it read, “Add this to your list of reasons the Holocaust sucked.” An uproar followed among students and faculty, with demands of accountability. The journal apologised publicly, and promised to review the editorial processes which allowed this to slip through.
The New York Times has itself been accused of anti-Semitism after it recently published a cartoon featuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It apologised for the incident. The power of internet-based media houses is new in the world because of its scale. Netflix is like a behemoth that lacks cultural sensitivity. It challenges the moral basis on which the media operate, not only in relation to Jews, but others.