Meet the predatory princesses: how American TV turned cliché into ‘reality’

By Anne Cohen, June 13, 2013
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Jewish American princesses of Princesses: Long Island (Photo: AP)

Jewish American princesses of Princesses: Long Island (Photo: AP)

It had to happen. After 'Real Housewives', 'Teen Moms' and 'Million-dollar Mansions', Jewish American Princesses were the next logical challenge for reality television to take on.

Princesses: Long Island, which premiered on US channel Bravo on June 2 with an episode titled ‘You Had Me At Shalom’, follows six 20-something, college-educated women from affluent Long Island — Chanel, Erica, Ashlee, Joey, Amanda and Casey — as they search for a husband from the comfort of their parents’ lavish homes.

In case you were wondering, the Jewish American Princess, or JAP, has four main characteristics: she’s rich, she’s cold, she’s shallow and she’s hunting for a husband. This show trots out these traits with such enthusiasm, they might as well have put them up as subtitles.

The Jewish aspect is emphasised with the requisite dropping of a Yiddish term or two, and bold declarations about their levels of religious observance, which range from Chanel’s modern Orthodoxy, to Erica’s take on reformed Judaism (“We’re reform Jews, which kind of means we’re not that Jewish.”)

Stephanie Butnick, editor-in-chief of Jewcy.com, an online magazine focusing on Jews in popular culture, grew up on Long Island. In an article called “Why Bravo’s ‘Princesses Long Island’ is Like, the Worst Thing Ever,” she explained why a TV portrayal of JAP pride isn’t the best thing for American Jews. But when asked to expand on her reaction, she added that though annoyed, she was not surprised.

“I think it’s just the next logical step in reality TV. It’s not a big shock that they’ve gone to this pocket of culture. It’s so absurd, so over the top, that I don’t think it can be taken seriously. It’s sort of painful to watch, and not really good television,” she said.

Even the Jewish aspect is not credible, she added.

“It’s not really fleshed out, it’s just a character trait that they throw about. They say ‘Shalom!’ etc. It’s so insincere.”

But as Deborah Dash Moore, Director of the Frankel Centre for Judaic Studies at the University of Michigan, pointed out, the Jewish American Princess stereotype has always been offensive. The term gathered steam in the 1970s and ’80s, “largely created by American Jewish men,” she said.

What should be noted in this case, she added, is the way in which these women embrace the derogatory term. One of the more memorable moments of the pilot features Ashlee proudly declaring: “Bring it! I’m Jewish. I’m American. And I’m a princess.” That kind of talk, Moore said, is the real issue.

“I think it’s a horrendous stereotype and one of the more unfortunate stereotypes that, for some reason, some Jewish women have bought into.”

Not all agree. For Steven M Cohen, Research Professor of Jewish Social Policy at Hebew Union College Institute of Religion, the fact that such a show even exists is a reflection of how far Jews have come in America.

“If you look at Jews in pop culture, you see a progression. Groucho Marx was obviously Jewish and never said so, Woody Allen was problematically Jewish, Jerry Seinfeld was proudly Jewish and Jon Stewart is comically Jewish. We’re in a sense living in a post-antisemitic age where you can make fun of that whole imagery.”

However, he admitted that he had not actually seen the show.

Last updated: 2:43pm, June 13 2013