10/23/20 A Gentleman’s Agreement

In “A Gentleman’s Agreement,” we see the positioning of a man and his son in New York City after their move from California. Phil Skylar Green, who goes by Skylar Green, the main character starts the movie being recruited and taken care of by a corporate business magazine editor to write about anti-Semitism in a big-time magazine series. At 11:30, Green has to explain to his son that Jews are a unique religious group and he claims anti-Semitism is when “people hate Jews for no reason,” whom are graciously described as “mixed-up” people. It was this need to help his son conceptualize anti-Semitism which inspired him to write the story despite such a “doomed” subject. The challenge of humanizing anti-Semitism to grab readers’ attentions without getting lost in facts and evidence is triumphed by Green’s inspiration to explore the feelings of his best, Jewish childhood friend, Dave, the feelings of Americans, how we feel as citizens about anti-Semitism. To break into the heart and mind, to understand the experiences firsthand to genuinely be able to speak for them, Green realized he needed to put himself into the shoes of what he’s studying- he was on a mission to be Jewish! 

            Unfortunately, Phil and his mother celebrate that the shallow title of simply being “Jewish” will be enough to bust open the controversial case and push America’s mind to challenge the anti-Semitist views rather than maintain them in the conspiracy of silence. I am certain the act will require much more self-immersion than a blunt title, but he compares his American, white privilege to minority Jewish affiliation, judging the reactions of selections from individuals and institutions in the community right away. 

A collection of examples in which Phil experienced anti-Semitist prejudice once he took on his Jewish identity are as follows. Firstly, Phil’s mother’s caretaker provided a new racism view, still promoting prejudice against the Jewish, targeted their intentions as doctors to be frugal and over-priced. Second, he was marginalized, and his apartment contract and government mailbox identification were threatened as soon as he identified as Jewish by displaying his new last name as “Greensburg,” indicating Jewish ancestry. Phil’s secretary herself was discriminated against and turned away when she used her Jewish last name to apply for her current secretary job at the liberal magazine business and was only accepted when she reduced her identity to be the Americanized last name of Wales. Interestingly enough, the Jewish secretary held prejudice against “other types,” and she justifies her own racist notions and racial slurs to be normalized. Phil reasserted his discomfort and disabling from anti-Semitism to come from Jews, like Mrs. Wales, just as equally as from anyone else (51:45). Other newspaper executives assume Green’s previous occupation to conceal his Jewish identity. Phil’s best, Jewish, childhood friend, Dave was harassed for first, being in the military, and second, being Jewish in the restaurant. The honeymoon location restricted the couple’s reservation. When he flies out to confront the honeymoon location, the manager implies Jews are not fitting of their high-class clientele and although he will not address whether or not the hotel is restrictive against Jews in itself, the manager suddenly discovers “there are no rooms available,” denying service without plausible, or at least straightforward and honest reasoning. Like Dave says, Phil configures fighting for equality and against Jewish prejudice is a waste of time. Tom, Phil’s son also experiences bullying and racial slurs at school when his father is exposed as being affiliated with the Jewish religion. Once again, Cathy undermines their identity and pushes it aside to be less real so that she can enable an unchallenged life with controversial Jewish affiliation. Ironically enough, when Tom tried to confront the horror in the other kids socially constructing Jewish affiliation to make him a bad person, he describes “they wouldn’t fight, they just ran,” parallel to Phil’s experience trying to confront the his honeymoon destination’s restrictive hotel (1:32:50). 

His love interest, Catherine, or Cathy Lacey, seemed unintentionally, but naturally petrified at the fact others in society would associate her relationship to be involved with a Jew as she reacted as if it her affiliation with him would reflect on her negatively. The competing racial and stereotyped dynamic negatively shifted their relationship dynamic. His fiancée continued to exert persistent, but often subtle pressure for Green to allow his research secret identity to be revealed to those closest to her to lessen the judgement. She was pressing for him to drop the identity of Jewish, as she perceived it as silly to stir conflict when it was unnecessary and inconvenient in her eyes, like with their upcoming family engagement party (1:03:09). I can most definitely see this conflict of interest, of shallow support for her fiances dedication to his Jewish research identity to be consistently trumped with her selfish means of convenience and acceptable socialization among others of high-class, American, not-Jewish majority. Lacey described her experience in his Jewish affiliation to be “tensed up and solemn” (1:04:00). At the party, plenty of guests were no-shows, and Lacey uncovered their intentions to have hidden prejudice. Cathy detests that Phil and Dave moving into her cottage upstate, the anti-Semitist neighborhood wouldn’t work, and Phil assumes she would continue to play along in the social norms of an upstanding “Gentleman’s Agreement” (1:30:08). Cathy contests that as long as the magazine is over, he should feel content enough to live in ostracization. As soon as Wales, Phil’s publishing realizing his Jewish identity was just an experience, he bluntly confronts her shock he would give up his Christian privilege, perceived to be much greater than Jewish status, to be a direct marker of anti-Semitism, and he cuts the excuses around the matter short before she can even retwist her words of disbelief to be anything else (1:40:54). He so passionately continues to reject the materialistic differences to be no more than subjectivity fueling prejudice against Jews. 

When John, Phil’s son is ostracized for his superficial Jewish affiliations, he criticizes Cathy’s response to leave behind the Jewish act and instead flaunt and reap the more socially acceptable benefits of being a white Christian majority member of society (1:34:00). Although he detests, he does not see Cathy as an anti-Semitist, he contests her “helping it along,” not outwardly challenging anti-Semitist notions, but passively staying quiet and uncontested when they arise puts her in a position of enabling anti-Semitism to grow (1:34:20). Cathy reduces Jewish people to individually cause their own controversy in the political ruckus, not legitimizing it as a real social issue. Their disagreements of Jewish tolerance destroyed their relationship and called off their marriage, and she refused to live a life where they continued to uphold their White, Christian, socially accepted privilege as the majority, then also maintained racism and inequality for those marginalized, like the Jews specifically (1:36:01). She grew hateful that he wouldn’t silently accept their privilege they were born into. Dave contested that her lack of action to challenge anti-Semitist “jokes” and commentary doesn’t constitute as anti-Semitism, but it enables lengths for the underlying anti-Semitist notions to persist, and she too eventually realizes her passiveness, even if her values were enraged by anti-Semitism, did indeed “help it along” (1:51:12). Her values meant nothing when they weren’t elicited in her behavior, actions, and social boundaries. Phil actively fought prejudice, but Cathy sat on the sidelines and let the immoral prejudice continue on, but Dave explains Phil needs another active partner. 

Anne, the fashion editor at the magazine, actually turned out to be the woman who supported and loved Phil at all degrees of his superficial Jewish and true Christian identity. She even took out a strong disapprobation, also reflecting Cathy’s fear of taking an activist stance against anti-Semitism to instead remain socially powerful and accepted (1:46:26). She asserts action is what matters, social activism pervasive in social groups is what’ll constitute the change, and she undermined the shallow words and occasional efforts of Cathy’s family before, claiming they continued to defend the anti-Semitist, deeply integrated values, but just with glossed over explicit justification or diversion from what is true. 

6 thoughts on “10/23/20 A Gentleman’s Agreement

  1. I agree that Green calls out Cathy for helping anti semitism, although he doesnt believe that she was anti semitic. I think this is still true today although some people may not be racist or intentionally discriminatory it it noticeable in some of their actions and mannerisms that they are. For example, in currently with the Black Lives Movement one of the biggest ideas talked about was the idea of silence and how those who were silent were assisting the racist tendencies.

  2. I actually don’t think that Phil’s angle of presenting himself as Jewish is exactly “unfortunate” as you worded it. I think if Phil were to completely immerse himself in the Jewish culture, his efforts would take years to accomplish fully. For the purpose of this movie, Phil used the few tools he had available to compile various experiences as someone who identifies as Jewish to explicate rampant antisemitism. I think that he should have kept the simulation going for longer than eight weeks, but considering the events that occurred during those eight weeks feel as though he had enough incriminating content to write an affective piece.

  3. I thought that it was interesting how characters like Kathy and Elaine Wales were used to show just how deep anti-Semitic thought is in American culture. I found Elaine’s character to be particularly interesting because although she was Jewish herself, she still held some anti- Semitic thought and Phil calls her out for it. This movie definitely dug deeper than just the surface of anti-Semitism.

  4. I found it also interesting in where the characters had their toil on the matter. I agree with your examples in the film. Jews found life hard in America, following the end of World War ll.

  5. I liked how you talked about how the title of “Jewish” has different meaning throughout the story. The way Phil acted in order to get this good news story seemed very shallow at first, but as he got deeper into what the life of Jewish people was really like, I believe that he was encouraged to write a piece that held truth. He fought what prejudice he could see, like you stated. When he talked about the character Dave, Phil compared himself and his American-ness to Dave’s Jewish-ness and what that looked like in his life, and I believe that there was major character development in that!

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