Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Bender Bending Rodriguez: An Example of Medieval Antisemitism

Futurama, an animated television show following the misadventures of Phillip J. Fry, a pizza delivery boy (“boy” being a somewhat misleading title, with Fry actually being in roughly his twenties or thirties), features as one of its protagonists an alcoholic robot named Bender. While often Bender’s actions can be interpreted simply at the surface level, there appears to be an undercurrent of old anti-Semitic concepts surrounding the character. While on their own can be considered solitary incidents perpetrated for humor, when strung together these scenes and notions can be linked to such works as “Theophilus” and “The Jewish Boy.”

While suffering from almost every vice imaginable, Bender still seems to have a particular weakness for covetousness and theft. In countless episodes the foul mouthed robot can be seen committing acts of larceny of varying degrees, stealing anything from a single wallet to a centuries old cigar. This sense of greed is a long standing negative stereotype associated with the Jewish people dating back to the medieval period.

There is also the concept of the Jew poisoning the well to consider. Brought up momentarily in class, this idea follows with the notion of blaming virtually everything and anything bad on the Jewish people. Thus when the well went bad (the cause often being a lack of understanding of hygiene and bacterial spread) the Jews were used as a scapegoat of sorts. However, in Futurama Bender conforms to this stereotype as well (season 4, episode 10) when he pollutes the sewer (a sort of modern day well) by filling it with all manner of filth and runoff.

However, one of the greatest connections between Bender and medieval anti-Semitism appears in the season four finale “The Devil’s Hands are Idle Playthings.” Here, in an attempt to acquire greater musical talent for his friend Fry, Bender sets up and accompanies his friend on a meeting to see the Robot Devil. This parallels the situation in “Theophilus” when the Jewish man convinces Tyofle to sign over his soul to the Devil in exchange for wealth. While the situations are obviously not entirely interchangeable, this instance along with the other similar occurrences subtly paints Bender in such a way that he conforms to many of the medieval notions of what constituted a Jew.

In the Futurama movie “Beast with a Billion Backs,” Bender once again deals with the Robot Devil in an attempt to gather an army of pirates to invade what is basically the equivalent of space Heaven (odd I know). To do this, Bender is “forced” to give his firstborn son to the Robot Devil in trade. This seems reminiscent of the Jews willingness to kill/sacrifice the child in “The Jewish Boy.”

While many of these examples can simply be taken as modern interpretations of what is evil/wicked, it is interesting to note the apparent similarity between Bender and medieval stereotypes regarding Jews. I imagine at least part of the cause of this is that many of the negative traits and actions that used to be associated with the Jewish people became less firmly tied to this particular race/faith as history and society became less focused on painting them as the villain (and thus creating an enemy/other for the common populace to “unite” against).

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