MEDIA: When Is A Hamster Just A Hamster?

Last Monday, we called foul on PW’s Holiday Guide cover depicting vermin dressed up as an orthodox Jew.

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Bad ideas have a way of making friends in low places, but shit like this shoulda never made it up the ladder. The image on the right is easy enough to find, just Google “rats” and “Jews”; the image on the left is the cover of this week’s PW. Frankly, we think it should have been the euthanized before it got beyond “Hey, what if we…” stage. Given the long and well-documented history of vicious anti-Semites — from the Nazis to the Al Aqsa Brigades — comparing Jews to vermin, we can only look at the cover of this week’s PW and ask ourselves: What in the name of B’Nai B’rith was Tim Whitaker thinking when he signed off on this? And how did it get past PW Managing Editor Jeff Barg? We can vividly recall Mr. Barg making us change every instance of “Jew” to “Jewish person” before publication back in the day. Oy gevalt!

By Thursday the Jewish Exponent had finally weighed in on the matter. To wit:

Philadelphia Weekly’s most recent cover — the issue of Nov. 14-20 — has stirred up some debate over what’s cute versus what’s in poor taste.

The full-color front page — tagged to the paper’s annual gift guide — depicts a tan-and-white hamster with one of its front paws resting on a dreidel. The hamster sports a blue yarmulke and blond peyot. The headline accompanying the image reads: “Couldn’t we all use a hefty dose of cute right about now?”

The only rodent in the entire spread is the critter on the cover.

Tim Whitaker, editor of PW, said that “it never occurred to us” that the front page could have been seen as offensive. Originally, he said, the idea was to use the dog on the sleigh as the lead image — that is, until the hamster one was presented. That animal is the pet of Liz Spikol, the newspaper’s senior contributing editor. Spikol said that once it was decided to have “cuteness” as the theme for this year’s guide, cute animals came to mind. She added that, as a Jew herself, she doesn’t find the image offensive, and she doesn’t “understand why Orthodoxy would be offensive.”

A rodent as a symbol for the Jew has a long and notorious history, which becomes apparent even if you do a rudimentary search on the Internet. Nazi propaganda throughout the 1930s — films, posters and other images — depicted Jews as rats and other vermin; the point was to portray Jews as subhuman creatures who were unclean and in need of extermination.

The rodent family is a large and varied class of animals, replied Spikol. There is a huge difference, she added, between a rat and a hamster — and hamsters, she said, were never used in Nazi propaganda. Despite Spikol’s reasoning, some are upset with the cover.

“Where did your art director receive her training?” wrote Solomon Moses in an angry letter he sent to PW and then forwarded to the Exponent. “At the Heinrich Himmler Academy of Design?” MORE

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