Opinion

What Judd Apatow Has in Common With a Sexist Settler Rabbi

One brainwashes people across the globe using rom-coms. The other is a religious fanatic and a local joke. Who is more dangerous?

Katherine Heigl and Seth Rogen in a scene from "Knocked Up."
AP

The television series “Love” is about a bespectacled nerd with a big nose who meets a woman who could be called a hot mess. He’s a terrific nudnik, she’s addicted to sex and to alcohol. It’s a match that has failure written all over it, but against all odds they fall in love, of course, and their relationship strife has been fodder for three successful seasons. It’s a series about confused young adults who live in a confusing time and don’t know what to do with themselves. They chatter incessantly, and from the chatter arise a great truth and genuine feeling (as far as possible).

But this is American TV. In the series finale (all three seasons are available for the bingeing on Netflix) — spoiler alert! — a major drama unfolds. Well, not that major. “If I know I’m gonna feel this 40 years from now, why wouldn’t I just — and why wouldn’t we just,” he stammers, hinting. “Say it!” she demands. And he says it. They decided to get married.

It’s a “special,” “alternative” quickie wedding, performed by a Reform female rabbi (or whatever the Christians call it) at Catalina Island, an event replete with hefty helpings of embarrassment, irony and self-awareness, as required of millennials. But not for a moment does the thought occur to them that there’s another option, that they don’t have to do the wedding thing. They could wait a second and a half. After all, these are two relatively nonconformist, skeptical, intelligent, neurotics, who live on the margins. A pair of charming losers who can’t get a handle on the adult world and find it hard to keep a regular job. They know by heart the lies capitalism tells them.

So why should these two, who only met six months ago, be in a rush to marry and settle down? How will married life work out for them? They even discussed kids in one episode. What happened? Where’s the fire? Maybe they could first consider a different relationship model. Polyamory, perhaps? An open relationship? Nonparenthood? Maybe even living together before marriage. Under the cover of classic romantic comedy, they make the tritest, most obvious, most boring decision possible.

Why should their love translate automatically into a wedding? What would happen if they broke up, heaven forbid? Would they remain friends with benefits? Maybe the guy would come out of the closet? No! No! That never even enters their mind. First of all a wedding. Like in fairytales. He puts a ring on her finger, they vow mutual fidelity, kiss. Curtain. The End.

One of the creators of the series is Judd Apatow, a director and mega-producer behind for some of the most successful and highly regarded TV and movie comedies. Apatow has become the gold standard of comedy. All his works end the same way: The social order remains intact. The protagonists don’t defy the accepted norms and conventions. If someone accidently gets pregnant, as in his mediocre comedy “Knocked Up,” she won’t even think of having an abortion. She’ll marry her one-night-stand and become a happy wife and mother. In “This Is 40,” the main character has his midlife crisis but gets over it and reverts to his old self, and the whole family hugs and kisses and all that. Even the final season of Lena Dunham’s “Girls,” which Apatow produced and co-wrote, concludes with Hannah getting pregnant and becoming a single parent. (How subversive!)

That’s how it is with Apatow: At a certain point he decides that’s it, it’s time to cut the nonsense. The woman will have children, the man will propose. A family will be created. They will be together for ever and ever, without the possibility of parole.

Paul Rust and Gillian Jacobs in Netflix's "Love."
Netflix

Not surprisingly, Apatow is one of the most vocal speakers of the #MeToo movement. He’s always first to respond and to publicly condemn men accused of sexual harassment or rape, such as Woody Allen and Bill Cosby. That’s very worthy, but let’s not pretend: Apatow loses nothing by identifying with the trendy movement. In effect, he positions himself as an arbiter of morality and as an experienced producer worthy of succeeding the Harvey Weinsteins. That’s money in the bank. Most important: Denouncing sexual harassment and assault is consistent with Apatow’s agenda. Rapists and sex offenders, the disgusting, the violent and the obscene undermine the saccharine, heteronormative family idyll that a liberal Jew like Apatow meticulously cultivates.

But Apatow is a Republican disguised as a Democrat. A conservative with a near-fanatic faith in the sanctity of marriage and the nuclear family. It’s convenient for him to ignore the fact that for many women married life is a prison that makes possible the social and sexual atmosphere #MeToo is fighting. It’s an incomparable oppressive institution in which women are shunted aside, discriminated against and humiliated by their husbands and sometimes raped — metaphorically if not literally. Apatow is incapable of imagining a situation in which a man and a woman cohabitate without benefit of a binding contract. That, too, is violence. He knows exactly what the implications of this state of affairs are for the majority of the population. He doesn’t care. All he cares about is Hollywood-style romance.

Last Saturday, news anchor Dana Weiss interviewed Rabbi Eli Sadan, the head of the pre-army academy in the West Bank settlement of Eli, on Israel Television News. Sadan has made the news lately with all kinds of “scandalous” remarks. In the interview, he voiced, with supreme arrogance, the disgusting opinion that “a girl of 4 must be raised [to believe] the most sacred thing she has in life is to marry.” The remark could have spoken, with an ambivalent wink, by an urban hipster in an Apatow romcom who’s been waiting her whole life for the right man. It’s quite possible that Sadan would enjoy Apatow’s comedies. He’d certainly sign off on their bottom line.

To Apatow and to Sadan, women are supposed to marry and have babies, men are supposed to offer them the deal of their life and everyone knows his or her place and won’t budge an inch. It’s the fate of the religious Zionist in Israel and the sophisticated Jew in Los Angeles. It’s a transatlantic alliance of conservatives, all in the name of family values, decency and “happiness.”

At least Sadan tells the truth. Apatow wraps it in cotton candy. Sadan is a religious fanatic and a local joke. Apatow brainwashes hundreds of millions of people across the globe using comedies that go down smoothly. Which one is more frightening?