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NYTimes worthy? The annoying #Branca “discovery” story.

In re: Joshua Prager, “For Branca, an asterisk Of a Different Kind,” NYT, 8-15-11

This article, given front page status in the Monday Sports section of the New York Times, is both interesting and annoying. The annoying part is easy to articulate: not only because such stories are not unique (e.g., Madeleine Albright), but they are not surprising given the generation and era the subjects are drawn from. Whether part of the “children surviving the Holocaust” narrative or the “new immigrant creating a new identity” narrative, the decision of an increasingly secular Jewish diaspora during a period of intense anti-Semitism cannot be regarded as some shocking revelation that warrants above the fold coverage — even if in the sports section.

What is interesting and deserves attention is the way in which the article is presented, reflecting a sense that this “discovery” of Branca’s Jewish roots should somehow make a difference to him or to baseball (or to the world in general). Branca’s wife probably had it right by being somewhat dismissive of importance of the news that she had been “married to a Jew” all these years. Even Branca seems to take the position that this is all very interesting, but except for the renewed attention to his very minor role in a very minor part of American “popular culture” history, of what import is this news to him personally? Would it have made any difference if he had known he was Jewish, or that a Jew had given up the famous home run to Thomson?

As to its importance to the Jewish community, here we find some insight into a phenomenon of the 1950s and 1960s involving the Jewish community’s (secular and otherwise) desire to highlight the contributions those of Jewish descent had made to American society.  For me this effort reached its absurd (and hilarious) height with the lyrics to 1966 song, “Would you believe it?” that was part of a comedy album by Bob Booker (lyricist in this instance) and George Foster (“When you’re in love, the whole world is Jewish”):

I’ve had a lot of thrills in my life
Three kids, a gorgeous wife
(Such looks)
I’m thrilled about my car: a Riviera
My sister Sarah
And John O’Hara’s books
But the thrill of thrills that gave my heart a clout
Was the thrilling night when I thrillingly found out

Steve McQueen is Jewish would you believe it?
He’s just like you and I, couldn’t you almost die?
And Cary Grant is Jewish could you conceive it?
Such a living doll in a prayer shawl
Marlon Brando’s Jewish, Pat O’Brien and Richard Conte
Not to mention that lovely couple, Harry and Bela Fonte

Frank Sinatra’s Jewish would you believe it?
Sean Connery and Lyndon Johnson too
As a matter of fact the whole world is Jewish
Since I fell in love with you
Rosie McGonegal!
Since I fell in love with you

What might have been so important to the Jewish community of the 1950s and 1960s has faded as late baby boomers and their kids have shifted attention inward and focused on the personal nature of Jewish identity rather than community pride. Prager’s article on Branca would have been appropriately highlighted during the 1960s, perhaps; but for now it serves little purpose, except as a reminder of the “alien” character of Jewishness in the US and the distance we as a nation have travelled culturally over the past half century. Had he pursued those aspects of the story, it would have been worthy of its place in the Times.

But I do have to admit that, as an early baby boomer, I now have a little tune playing in my head (“Kevin Youklis is Jewish, would you believe it?”)….

August 15th, 2011 Posted by | accountabilitybloke | no comments