Lady GaGa's nose

10 Mar 2010 by CST

This is a guest post by Danny Stone, Director of the Parliamentary Committee Against Antisemitism

For a long time now I have been buying Q magazine. I saw it as an in-depth, broader publication than the NME which I also enjoy.

I had been saving it for some light reading before bed and finally got round to looking at this months issue before bed on Tuesday. I had been particularly keen to read the feature article on the pop sensation Lady GaGa, I didn’t know much about the story behind her eccentric appearance and was interested to learn more.

I was one column through the article when the author, Sylvia Patterson, started to describe the singer’s appearance:

She stares straight at you with enormous brown eyes, bewitchingly younger and prettier in the flesh, with a glorious Jewish nose.

I couldn’t bring myself to read the rest of the article and put it down in disgust, only picking it up the next morning to a) check that I had read it right and b) try and get past it and satisfy my original intention of learning about Lady GaGa.

There were certain questions I find I ask myself – rightly or wrongly – in these cases. So I consulted with colleagues on whether I was being over-sensitive – the general consensus was not – although it is fair to say there was some uneasiness with the level of my objection. So, on consideration, I decided to write to the magazine and was given the email of the editor-in-chief Paul Rees. I noted my concern, the offence I had taken and the laziness of the stereotyped description. There were two points I made which I felt were of particular concern:

  • It is irrelevant what Lady GaGa’s cultural or religious heritage is, the use of the word ‘Jewish’ to describe someone’s nose is classic ethnic antisemitism.
  • Would a similar description applied to any other ethnic minority have passed the edit? You can imagine the crass examples I might have cited?

My email finished by asking that Q prints an apology and avoids such careless stereotyping in the future.

To Paul Rees’ credit, he replied very quickly reassuring me that the comment 'wasn’t meant in a derogatory way, but as something celebratory, hence the use of the word ‘glorious’'. He went on to explain ‘It is used in the same way as we’d use ‘glorious Roman nose’ as a description.’

He apologised profusely and, given I thought his words to be genuine and that he had noted my concern (and was unlikely to let it go through again) I said I accepted  but noted my continuing concern. He thanked me for my understanding.

This is one that will continue to eat away at me. Maybe I should have notified the Press Complaints Commission, or sent him an email back pushing for a printed apology but I don’t think, on this occasion, I would have succeeded. Ultimately, this is a music magazine where similar comments are unlikely to appear often, if ever, and they’ve said sorry…

What I find very hard to come to terms with is that in 2010, ‘glorious Jewish nose’ can pass the edit of a successful magazine article. Perhaps more sad is my (and others) lack of certainty on whether I should have felt offended and taken action.

Well, I cannot read such words as anything but derogatory and whilst I don’t want to be part of any language police, I do want to tackle such stereotyping which feeds a wider carelessness in our use of language about Jews. For all those that want to join, well, bless you.

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