One of the hallmarks of comedian Sarah Silverman's aggressively non-PC style is that she manages to make shockingly offensive and bigoted jokes, but delivers all of her material with the same deadpan expression. She's attractive, and it's hard to know what to make of her blank, little girl face, coupled as it is with her inflammatory riffs on, among other things, rape, doodie and black people. Either you "get" her and think she's doing the whole thing with an ironic wink, forcing us to confront our own intolerance and prejudices. Or you think she's merely discovered the lazy route to creating controversy, and that her use of taboo subjects is cheap and obvious and just not that funny.
I myself was on the fence about her, although when I watch her show I always really like her sister, Laura. It's all the same to Sarah. "I don't care if you think I'm racist" Silverman, 37, has said in her stand-up act. "I just want you to think I'm thin."
She covers both marvelously in this viral video for "The Great Schlep," which can be seen at www.thegreatschlep.com. It was created for the Jewish Council for Education and Research, a political action committee, in collaboration with Droga5 (of Marc Ecco and Honeyshed fame.)
It was shot on a teensy little production budget in Silverman's L.A. apartment, against her happenin' apple-green wall and the groovy patterned cover on her brown suede sofa, all the better to frame Shepard Fairy's iconic Barack Obama poster, featuring a colorful Social Realist-style portrait of the senator over the word "Hope."
Silverman wrote the piece herself, and her words are illustrated here and there with some clever, well-placed and paced graphics; the background music works perfectly, too. It's the essence of modern, breakthrough messaging, in that (sadly for agencies) "schlep" has so far reportedly earned seven million views (via YouTube and Vimeo) on a media budget of zero dollars.
The four-and-a-half minute viral was e-mailed to me three different times before I looked into it. The underlying idea is really smart: that with Florida playing such a critical role as a swing state in the 2000 election, twentysomething hipsters need to talk their elderly Floridian grandparents into voting for Obama, even if the oldsters are initially reluctant to back a black candidate.
Obviously, it's hard to motivate young voters to have these tough political conversations, especially if they're not particularly close with their grandparents. That's where our Sarah comes in. Several seconds into it, Silverman says, "If Barack Obama doesn't become the next president of the United States, I'm going to blame the Jews." The "Jews" part is illustrated with a picture of a large, hooked schnoz; the sort the Nazis might have used on a poster to identify those that they were sending to concentration camps. This works nicely with the phrase, "blaming the Jews," which was big in Hitler's Germany at the time.
But this is also the essence of a giant generational difference. Fifty years ago, Jews were fearful and more assimilationist: they wanted to "pass" or at least not create any undue anti-Semitism in the larger culture. These days, kids feel comfortable reading a magazine called Heeb and making fun of all the old Semitic taboos.
Sure enough, Silverman manages to ramp it up a notch or two. In trying to show just how alike old Jewish grandmothers and black people are, she has one of each sit beside her on the sofa. They both love wearing tracksuits, she says, and want to drive the same kind of car -- a Cadillac. So far, they're both smiling. She keeps heaping on the stereotypes, though (they both love jewelry and bling), and by the time she gets to "and all their friends are dying," the black man gets up and walks out.
By the time she ends it -- with a sly take on Jewish grandparents' tendency to shoveling out the guilt -- she tells the kids to threaten the Floridians that if they don't vote for Obama, they won't visit this year. "Let's just hope they stay healthy until next year," she says.
Ostensibly, the schlep (another ironic use of the Yiddish idiom, by the way) was supposed to take place over Columbus Day weekend. Sarah-haters gleefully reported that "The Great Schlep" was a big bust: apparently, fewer than 100 people actually got on a plane to Florida to confront their grandparents. But more than a million people have downloaded the "talking points" from the site, and thousands have signed up for the Facebook page.
But it's bigger than physical numbers: like Never-NeverLand, you can find it in your heart. Everyone needs to get out of their own little comfortable niches and talk politics with someone unlike them. I hope "The Great Schlep" movement toward multi-generational thinking will live on after the election -- and that the grandparents will, too.