How has the Jewish American Princess evolved?
“Girls”, the popular bur critically acclaimed HBO series is representing a totally new age for Jewish American Princesses (JAPs). Right from the start, it is obvious that Shoshanna Shapiro is the stereotype Jewish American Princess. As soon as she is on screen, she shows her flawlessly coiffed hair and demonstrates her pink fashionable Haute Couture tracksuit, there no doubt about that identity.
This impression is further strengthened when she admits that her, apparently filthy rich parents, are furnishing the $2,100 per month rent for her stylish Nolita apartment. The HBO show “Girls” has four protagonists and Shoshanna is one of these. Her role really portrays the latest incarnation of the long-running JAP stereotype.
She keeps on complaining that all her outfits are “at least half a year old, has the word “obvi” more often in her mouth than should ever be allowed, and she’s constantly laying around in her oh-so-plush apartment like a spoiled brat. In the first season’s 7th episode, she (accidentally?) mixes up crack and weed when an acquaintance named Ray is pretty much fed up with nothing else to but watching over her. Shoshanna, who is apparently pretty high) and Ray just have met but the guy can already very well tell what kind of spoiled brat she is. You can hear him say “I’m in no way your f*cking daycare, dear JAP,” and you can’t blame him.
There are critics that have dismissed Shoshanna’s character as comically overbroad or as flat, as John Cook (Gawker) wrote. Others critics even went further and saw some “malice” in the portrayal. It seems like Shoshanna, in comparison with the three other leading “Girls” characters, is just sitting around in her posh apartment waiting for the other three to show to use Shoshanna as a punchline (that’s at least what Miriam Krule wrote on Jewcy).
This sort of criticism, though, is not entirely fair. Shoshanna emerges, just like some more characters in recent TV series, as a rather empathic and emotionally complex character than all of her 1-dimensional popular cultural forebears. Shoshanna marks a very critical and interesting evolution of everything that always portrayed JAP stereotypes.
Zosia Mamet is responsible for portraying Shoshanna so deftly and profoundly, and if we want to understand how significant her role is, we need to consider and understand the history and evolution of the typical JAP character in TV series, books, and in movies. Brenda Patimkin (in Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth, 1959) and Marjorie Morgenstern (in Marjorie Morningstar by Herman Wouk, 1955) set the JAP stereotype very clearly in post-war America, though both writers never used the phrase “JAP” anywhere.
Fact is, though, that both Brenda Patimkin and Marjorie Morningstar were both characters that were depicted as very materialistic and entirely dependent on the money their fathers contributed, and those are qualities or characteristics that were often embedded in portrayals that followed. Also interesting is this article about the American bride who gets married in Israel.
During the 1960s, the JAP character had become so utterly pervasive that in 1971, New York Magazine an article by Julie Baumgold titled “The Persistence of the Jewish Princess” appeared on the magazine’s cover. Baumgold was defining the Jewish Princess by an exaggerated sense of self-absorption, entitlement, and over-centered confidence in her subpar beauty.
JAPs have always been portrayed as spoiled brats, typical daddy’s girls, loud, obnoxious, and totally lacking any sexual appeal. Of course, JAP jokes were proliferating which only reinforced the stereotypical way of thinking that they are too lazy and spoilt to do any cooking or care about housekeeping, incessantly whining, and totally indifferent to sex. So whatever it was that had made these Jewish princesses desirable to Wouk’s and Roth’s male characters just a few years earlier had totally disappeared by that time. The typical Jewish American Princess stereotype would definitely not fit in well with the recent wave of new immigrants that we’ve seen coming to Israel.