Over the past century, the various connections between American Jews and the nation’s entertainment media have generated a discussion that has been extensive, passionate, and, at times, contentious—a discussion that this exhibition brings into a new light.
Entertaining America presents a selective history of its subject in a series of installations, each focusing on a key topic. These invite visitors to consider how particular institutions (such as the nickelodeon), works of media (The Jazz Singer and Seinfeld), and personalities (“movie moguls” and stars from Theda Bara to Barbra Streisand) have provoked discussion of the relationships between Jews and American entertainment media. The discussion has prompted lively arguments about the Jewishness of characters, dialogue, and plots. Jews and non-Jews, fans as well as detractors, have been inspired to question who is Jewish in American show business, and even whether an entire industry could be termed a Jewish “empire.”
What do these debates tell us about the role of popular entertainment in modern American life and the changing place of Jews in American society? Our hope is that Entertaining America inspires visitors to join in the dialogue and situate their personal responses within the still evolving discussion of American Jews, movies, and broadcasting.