There was a time when white men could say anything they wished with impunity. They could call someone a “N—-,” a “c*&t,” a “fag,” or a “kike,” and no one would say a word. Today, these men say these things and are shocked when people object, pointing out their racist, sexist, homophobic, or anti-Semitic rhetoric. “When did everyone get so over sensitive,” they ask. Well, people have not suddenly become sensitive to this type of language; they were always offended, but back in the day they had no way of expressing their offense. Mass media and social media, as well as societal shifts brought about by the Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and LGBT Rights movements, have changed this calculus.
I recently tweeted this, pointing out that white men have not lost their freedom of speech but have lost their freedom from the consequences of their speech. The reaction was swift and rapidly became anti-Semitic. Of the tweets I received, one in particular stands out:
.@gravity357 @AJewandaGentile @PoliticalPort Let’s see Jews take accountability for their #antiwhite hate speech first. #MerchantSpotting
What caught my attention was the hash tag #MerchantSpotting, an obvious reference to The Merchant of Venice. What was also obvious was that the creator of this hash tag has never read nor seen a production of The Merchant of Venice. How else do you explain creating a meme to express the degenerate nature of Jews by using an example of how hegemony uses institutional racism to maintain its position and power?
When Antonio comes to Shylock to borrow 3,000 ducats, Shylock sees an opportunity to strike back at a competitor who has used his position as a member of the majority culture to collude with other lenders to create a business environment hostile to outsiders. He creates a bond with a stipulation so horrific that the courts will either have to enforce it, thus humiliating and literally wounding Antonio, or find in favor of Antonio, thus exposing their hypocrisy. What Shylock does not count on is the depth of anti-Semitism in Venice. Anti-Semitism is not only present in the individual members of the community but has been institutionalized in the legal system itself.
When Antonio defaults on the bond, the court awards Shylock a Pyrrhic victory: he can collect his pound of flesh but only if he can collect it without drawing any blood as blood is not included in the bond. The court then offers Shylock the opportunity to collect triple the bond in cash but only if he agrees to convert to Christianity.
Ironic, isn’t it. A presentation of a marginalized person being crushed by institutional racism being used as evidence of “Jewish World Domination.” Next time, think before you meme.
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I agree that the situation you present in your last paragraph is incredibly backwards and strange. The way that people will twist and justify anything and everything they can in order to support their world view is ridiculous. But, you said it yourself – this isn’t the real problem. One person, even a group of people, with a backwards view of the world, will not accomplish much. When EVERYONE has this attitude, the problems arise. We can see what happens in a real world setting by looking at America historically. African-American people have long been persecuted, and even now, they are still the subjects of persecution based on their race on occasion.
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I think that your article is very interesting, because it connects the Merchant of Venice to modern times. I like how you called out the tweet for its inaccuracy. I agree with you, in that it is very ironic how someone would try to twist the story to make it, “anti-white.” The Merchant of Venice is full of Anti-Semitism and although I don’t agree with it, it is a very important part of the relationships within the story. It is crazy how in our modern world, things can be so falsely used as evidence and then spread by others due to their own ignorance and lack of knowledge.
I agree with your points in your article and think you make a great connection as to how the Merchant of Venice’s issues are still relevant today. The social media we have now is helpful, but also creates more destruction as stories get twisted and more problems arise. It’s so easy to twist stories nowadays as seen in that tweet you called out about the story being “anti-white.” The Anti-Semitism in the Merchant of Venice should not be ignored as it still is an ongoing world issue today. It’s dangerous when these stories get misconstrued and affect many peoples’ points of view that it’s hard to trust anyone to know what is right and wrong.
I like how in the beginning you refernced how white men’s freedom of speech hadn’t been taken away, but rather their freedom of consequence of their speech had. It’s very true and I agree. I think it’s important that you mention this because without these societal shifts brought about by the Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, and LGBT Rights movements, then today people may be making these same, harsh jokes going unnoticed or unpunished. I also like how the author calls this guys tweet out for being very inaccurate because it is! The “Merchant of Venice” isn’t so much anti-white, but mostly anti-Semitic.
Thank you for the comments on this post. I am glad you saw the irony of using a symbol of institutional Antisemitism as proof of “Jewish world domination.” However, while Antisemitism is represented in The Merchant of Venice, the play itself is not anti-Semitic.
In textual analysis, it is important to look not only at what characters do and say but also how the text treats them. And, in the case of Shylock, while he is certainly abused by most of the other characters, the text treats him much more sympathetically. In fact, the text presents him as almost a Greek tragic hero. His overwhelming ego (hubris) leads to his miscalculation to defy the gods (harmtia) resulting in his inevitable fall. Add to this the dramatic irony of the audience knowing Shylock is facing insurmountable institutional racism that he falls to recognize.
BTW, I am a professor of English and former HS AP Lit teacher. My email is email@example.com and am always happy to correspond with anyone interested in lit and textual analysis.