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Bader, M.J. (1994). Political Science: Black Face, White Noise: The Jewish Jazz Singer Finds His Voice. Michael Rogin. Critical Inquiry. XVIII, 1992. Pp. 417-454.. Psychoanal Q., 63:816-817.
Psychoanalytic Electronic Publishing: Political Science: Black Face, White Noise: The Jewish Jazz Singer Finds His Voice. Michael Rogin. Critical Inquiry. XVIII, 1992. Pp. 417-454.

(1994). Psychoanalytic Quarterly, 63:816-817

Political Science: Black Face, White Noise: The Jewish Jazz Singer Finds His Voice. Michael Rogin. Critical Inquiry. XVIII, 1992. Pp. 417-454.

Michael J. Bader

Rogin considers the first feature-length talking movie, The Jazz Singer, made in 1927, starring Al Jolson. The Jazz Singer marked the death of silent films while telling a story about familial and cultural parricide. The central character, Jack Robin (a.k.a. Jackie Rabinowitz), kills his oedipal father and the silent movie era through his devotion to singing jazz, a symbol of generational revolt in the 1920's. Like the Jewish moviemakers who built Hollywood, the main character revolts against his failed immigrant father by pursuing upward mobility and the love of a "shiksa." The movie struggles to depict the guilt involved in rebellious assimilation, as well as the costs to the family and the immigrant community. Rogin argues that the movie transposes the social pressures of anti-Semitism into a purely intrafamilial father-son conflict, concealing social reality.

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At a time when black performers were banned from starring roles on stage or film, the black voice was "ventriloquized" through the use of blackface. By the early twentieth century, Jews had almost entirely taken over blackface entertainment. Rogin sees blackface as a mask used by Jewish entertainers in their struggles to assimilate. He argues that The Jazz Singer emasculated revolutionary black modern music in the name of paying it homage. Blackface resurrected the plantation myth of the childlike Negro and domesticated the improvisational energy of authentic black music.

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Article Citation

Bader, M.J. (1994). Political Science. Psychoanal. Q., 63:816-817

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