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The Notorious J.A.P.

In which I confront my long-term issues with the term JAP, thanks to a ‘Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’ rap battle

Marjorie Ingall
March 03, 2016

I have shared my unholy love for Crazy Ex Girlfriend before, but this week’s show took it to a whole new level. The episode, called “Josh and I Go to Los Angeles!” features four songs (including a parody of Les Miz about water pressure), a gasp-inducing lip-locking finale, and the most kosher hip-hop beef of all time.

The plot: Our heroine Rebecca’s longtime nemesis from Scarsdale, Audra Levine, who now has the high-powered New York City lawyer job Rebecca abandoned, shows up in West Covina to represent the evil utility company that’s illegally diverting the valley’s water supply to rich people in Los Angeles.

Rebecca and Audra engage in a rap battle royale about who is really the alpha Shebrew. The showfeatured a PG-13 version of the number, but of course there is a radio-unfriendly “explicit” version online, and that is the one we must share. Clutch Bubbe’s pearls if you’re horrified by profanity and unladylike verbal jousting:

So let’s see, we’ve got references to Westchester, Birthright, the Jewish frat AEPi, girls whose competitive instincts have been “egged on like Seder plates” by their mothers, the correct usage of shande, goy, and shtetl, and a liberal-off over who’s chiller with black people. This is on network television, friends. The moment I saw the preview last week, I plotzed. “OMG,” I tweeted. “I am FINALLY THE DEMO OF A THING.” I have never been the demo of a thing!

Come on, what percentage of the populace is familiar with the Jewish camp dining hall chant “sheket b’vakashah, hey?” Hearing this shout-out was like getting a secret handshake, an Oscar goodie bag, an Illuminati membership card and ownership of the media, rolled into one. It was so potent I momentarily forgot my longtime issues with the term JAP, or “Jewish American Princess.”

When I was in college, the J-word had the potency of any other ethnic or racial slur, but “JAP” doesn’t hold the same power for my younger, millennial colleagues. “It’s a retro word, very ‘90s,” volunteered a female co-worker. “It can be a useful way to pinpoint a particular stereotype. When I was growing up, it meant nose jobs and Long Island and hair-straightening.” Another female colleague, added, “Part of me thinks ‘What a fun term for re-appropriation!’ but I’m of two minds. I think everyone realizes that JAP is a disparaging term, but not everyone realizes how deeply offensive it is. It’s still loaded. Jewish men—and some women—still use it about Jewish women as an insult. It’s not like the n-word, where unless you’re in the KKK, you understand that this may be a term the in-group can use, but those outside the group absolutely can’t.”

I agree—not everyone sees the term JAP as offensive. Google “Jappy sorority” and you’ll see that plenty of young folk casually deploy the slur hither and yon. Unlike them, though, I grew up in an era of JAP jokes, none of which my colleagues had heard, and which seem to have died out. When I shared some, my co-workers were horrified. These jokes are undeniably misogynistic and anti-Semitic:

Why did the JAP have a gold diaphragm? She wanted her husband to come into money. What’s the difference between a JAP and a barracuda? The barracuda doesn’t wear Chanel lipstick. What do you do to stop a JAP from screwing? Marry her. What’s the difference between a JAP and the Bermuda triangle? The Bermuda triangle swallows seamen. What do you call a Jewish American Princess’ waterbed? The Dead Sea. How do you know if a JAP has an orgasm? She drops her nail file. What is a JAP’s favorite sexual position? Facing Bloomingdale’s. What is the difference between a Jewish American Princess and Jell-O? Jell-O wiggles when you eat it.

JAP jokes are all about frigidity and materialism. I’ve got a book coming out about the history of the Jewish Mother, and it’s interesting to note that the JAP is the Jewish Mother’s mirror opposite. The JAP is icy, withholding, vapid, narcissistic, materialistic, caring only for clothes and her gym-toned body and her own frigid beauty. The Jewish Mother is smothering, too full of love, provincial, dowdy— embarrassing in her excesses of suffocating fat and food and cuddles. How is it possible that these diametrically opposing cartoons—one that’s too giving, the other that’s too selfish—embody Jewish women? (It’s interesting that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is the first depiction of the Jewish American Mother I’ve seen that bridges the gap between JAM and JAP. Rebecca’s mother is super-chic, urbane, acculturated, cultured—it’s a modern-day portrayal of an old stereotype that incorporates JAP elements.)

But back to the video. Audra Levine, Rebecca’s JAP antagonist, shows up looking exactly the way Rebecca did in the pilot: Sharp suit, blue silk shell, artificially straightened hair. Rebecca now wears a loose patterned dress and naturally curly hair. (“You look well,” she tells Audra. “You look like a farmer,” Audra retorts.) Watching the two trade rap insults, I felt my wariness of the word JAP subsumed by my thrill at representation. The rap was talking directly to me, and screw you, outsider, if you didn’t get the fast-and-furious Jewish references. It felt new, younger, less borscht-belt-influenced and more hip hop, more reflective of the heterogeneous world most of us live in. I was so smitten, I chose not to see that the song falls into the trap of making Rebecca “not like other [Jewish] girls.” Audra is bad and competitive and unaware of meaningful happiness; Rebecca has shrugged off her urban lawyerdom and all its JAP trappings, for the better. (Audra also calls Rebecca the c-word, which is, like JAP, a term I do not use because I am an uptight biddy with outdated notions of feminism.) Still, for me, the “yay, we’re all Jews here!” trumps the JAP/c-word issues. I fully acknowledge that my fave is problematic. I don’t care. I’m farklempt to see young, funny, Jewishly identified women on my TV screen.

Marjorie Ingall is the author of Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children.