The Television Project, an exhibition series at the Jewish Museum, introduces Jewish Museum visitors to a dynamic part of its collection: the National Jewish Archive of Broadcasting, the largest and most comprehensive body of broadcast materials on 20th century Jewish culture in the United States with more than 4,000 holdings. The latest installment of the series, You Don’t Have to Be Jewish, explores advertising produced for Jewish audiences or with Jewish content, and examines the way religion, ethnicity, and identity play out on American television.
Curatorial Assistant for Media Jaron Gandelman explains the process of curating the current installment:
When approaching the subject of Jewish television advertising, I was faced with a whole set of challenging questions: What makes a television advertisement Jewish? Should I focus on a specific period or all of television history? With so many advertisements featuring content that can be qualified as “Jewish,” how to I decide what clips and objects to include?
In organizing the exhibition, I first examined a period in the 1950s and 60s that became known as the “new advertising revolution” — a time when advertising agencies were breaking into newer and more effective styles of advertising that capitalized on a rapidly expanding post-war consumer culture. The period is probably best identified today by the television series Mad Men, clips of which are on view in the exhibition.
I noticed a growing trend in the advertising of that period: humor and irony took the place of what had generally been much dryer slogans and catchphrases; Hebrew National developed the slogan “We Answer to a Higher Authority,” emphasizing its better quality kosher meat products than what the F.D.A. required, and Levy’s rye bread came up with its now commonly known phrase: “You Don’t Have to Be Jewish.”
I decided to focus the installation on advertising that incorporated humor in innovative ways to sway customers. Examples of contemporary advertising, such as one for the dating website JDate, were included to exemplify how the format of humor and candor in earlier ads continues into the present, and remains an effective model for promoting products—whether Jewish or non-Jewish. The humor in these ads not only attempt to influence consumers, they also make critical points about the evolving role of Jews and Jewish identity in our consumer culture.
The Television Project: You Don’t Have to Be Jewish is on view through February 12, 2017.