Certainly Heeb magazine intended to provoke when it included a photograph in their latest number, “The German Issue”, of comedienne Roseanne Barr dressed as Hitler and taking burned, man-shaped cookies out of the oven. (To see the image, click here.) Admirably, the New York City-based “satirical Jewish culture magazine” readily admitted to pushing the envelope for pushing the envelope’s sake: doing so is part of its quest, its publisher explains in a blogpost, to be a magazine that “interrogates stereotypes and ideas (hopefully in creative ways) that many hold sacred in order to represent the complex and nuanced perspectives that many Jews have about their identities.” As another example, he cited a past image of Jewish actor Jonah Hill dressed as Moses and holding the two tablets, which in Heeb are replaced with two kegs of beer.
The Barr photo, the publisher said, was meant to question “whether something new was happening in the culture—whether the taboo against joking about the Holocaust and the Nazis exerted as much power as it used to.” While that’s a legitimate mission, it was probably clear that the Holocaust taboo had weakened over 40 years ago, when Mel Brooks’s The Producers was released. Which brings us to our only question about the Barr image: what, actually, is the joke? Unlike The Producers, in which the humor is as obvious as the offensiveness, the Barr image is arresting and provocative but little more. We agree that people would be wrong to accuse Heeb of ill intentions. But Heeb should be less worried about such overt critics and more concerned about those who take a look, register the image, and then move on to something else that doesn’t commit the lesser sin of protesting too much.