A Casting Call for JAPs

Production company looking for ‘super JAP-py’ groups of friends!…gone are the days where being a JAP is a bad thing — today Jewish American Princesses are proud. think “Jersey Shore” meets “Real Housewives of New Jersey” — but classier. We want beautiful, fun, outspoken groups of Jewish American women.

We didn’t make this up! It’s the actual casting call that went out in May from Get Some Media, an L.A. company searching for Jewish women to star in a new reality television show.

A JAP reality series plays perfectly into the recent trend of ogling the (highly-edited and contrived) lives of wild “ethnic” youngsters. Last winter’s smash-hit, “Jersey Shore,” followed a group of “guido” Italian-Americans, and filming has recently begun on “K-Town,” which is the same idea; just replace Italian with Asian.

In this context, a TV show about JAPs hardly sounds out of place. In fact, it sounds commercially viable. Jenn Hoffman, President of Get Some Media, seems to agree. According to Newsday.com, Hoffman said that “with the popularity of ‘Jersey Shore’ and me coming from Long Island, I thought there was an untapped gold mine, the one I grew up with, which are Jewish-American princesses.”

Why are Jewish women embracing a stereotype that has traditionally been viewed as pejorative? “Reality TV plays strongly on stereotypes,” says anthropologist Riv-Ellen Prell. “It’s the only way it can work.” Ethnic stereotypes are well ingrained in American society, and the JAP label, with its focus on excessive consumption, nouveau-riche status, and overly demanding attitude, is no exception. According to Prell, Professor of American Studies at the University of Minnesota and the author of essays on stereotypes, it represents “common American experiences attached to gender and ethnicity.”

Women who embrace the Jewish American Princess label see this as reclamation of a once-negative term. Prell connects this to what she calls “the ‘Sex and the City’ phenomenon,” defining the modern woman as one who is smart, sexy, and embraces excessive materialism.

While the casting call declares that being a JAP is something to be proud of, Prell disagrees, citing the stereotype’s undeniably sexist and anti-Semitic undertones. JAP is a term used to marginalize Jewish women. By drawing on common stereotypes as its source material, reality television allows the audience to simultaneously sympathize with its subjects and be reviled by them. This is made easier when the subjects are “ethnic others.”

Unlike “Sex and the City,” which went to great lengths over its six-year run to give its characters nuance and depth, reality television gives the viewer no more than surface-level, typecast representations. What are the implications, then, when the characters are real people and the content is built around ethnic epithets?