The Beauty of Our Capitalist System

(by Eric Blair)

According to Bernie Farber, a spokesman for the Canadian Jewish Congress, it is the market forces of capitalism, and not the dark forces of censorship, we should blame for Pathway Communications' decision to pull the plug on Marc Lemire's Freedom-Site earlier this summer.

Bernie Farber to Marc Lemire: "Hey Marc, such is the beauty of our capitalist system. Pathway communication [sic] has decided that it does not want you as a customer. This is it's [sic] right."

To Nick Knight, Bernie Farber again referred to the server's right to make what he termed "simply a business decision."

Perhaps he was right; perhaps, this seemingly heavyhanded attempt at censorship had been largely a business decision. In fairness to Bernie Farber, he did wish Marc Lemire some "Good luck finding another server." Which was very sporting, I thought, considering that Marc Lemire was purveying, among other items, a number of articles on Holocaust revisionism on his Toronto website.

That the orthodox version of the Holocaust had been turned into a creature of the marketplace was remarked on nearly a decade ago by Sir Immanuel Jakobovits, then Britain's Lord Chief Rabbi, who noticed that the line between the Holocaust as an event and the Holocaust as an entertainment fad was becoming increasingly blurred.

The Holocaust was now, he said [The Jerusalem Post, Nov. 26, 1987]: "An entire industry, with handsome profits for writers, researchers, filmmakers, monument builders, museum planners, politicians and even some rabbis and theologians were partners in this big business industry."

We may well wonder what the reaction might have been on that particular occasion had the reporter who interviewed Lord Jakobovits for The Post piped up and exclaimed: "Hey rabbi, such is the beauty of our capitalist system!"

That the Holocaust had been turned into a creature of the marketplace struck many of us as long ago as April, 1978; long before such foreboding nametags as "deniers" and "revisionists" were common currency. It was the month when NBC Television broadcast its four-part mini-series "Holocaust." Nine and a half hours long, it was seen by an estimated North American audience of 120 million viewers; it was in the same league as "Roots."

However, after it was shown, a debate flared up over what a few observers felt had in some ways diminished the solemnity of the Holocaust as a theme. There was the advertising, for example, the tacky commercial messages which routinely intruded on the narrative flow of the grim storyline, hawking all kinds of products. There were others, but that was the chief sticking point.

If memory serves, I recall one jarring note when, following a poignant scene, the series cut away to a commercial message flogging the virtues of a brand of unusually tangy barbecue sauce. Not for nothing has Norman Mailer decried TV commercials as purveyors of nihilism.

Still, all in all, the series had been a smashing success. The public enjoyed it. An exasperated Elie Wiesel was heard to gripe that nowadays when he or others heard someone mention the Holocaust, it was necessary to inquire whether it was the TV show or the historical event that was being alluded to. It seems our future Nobel Peace Prize laureate was left unmoved by "the beauty of our capitalist system."

In any case, a lesson was learned and later applied.

When "War and Remembrance" was broadcast on ABC during the late 1980s, screenwriter Herman Wouk made sure he retained veto power over what products could be pitched in its commercials. Newsweek reported [Nov. 14, 1988]: "To ensure a tasteful tone throughout the adaptation, Wouk successfully demanded a ban on ads for bathroom cleansers, analgesics, perfumes, feminine hygiene sprays and even some brands of fast foods."

Hence, a 45-minute sequence showing Jews being gassed in Auschwitz, arguably the centerpiece of the series, ran uninterrupted. Imagine how an ad for, say, cough medicine parachuted into the middle of that rather harrowing sequence might have gone down. It was, as the old salt in the oatmeal commercial on TV likes to say, the right thing to do.

The right thing from a viewer's perspective, what I mean; surely, 45-minute long stretch of air-time without a commercial-break must have made some of the network bosses more than a little giddy with anxiety; they couldn't have been too pleased to hear their accountants afterwards report a $20 million loss on the project. The capitalist system evidently has its ugly side, too.

Jewish writers like Jacob Timmerman and Leon Wieseltier in deploring the aggressive marketing of the Holocaust have bitingly remarked that "There's no business like Shoah business." They have not appreciated the way that one of the saddest chapters of Jewish history has been exploited. Perhaps, what they have failed to understand is that "such is the beauty of our capitalist system."


July 1996