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The return of the JAP

Page 2 of 2 -- This month, Heeb magazine, a cheeky glossy aimed at Jewish 18-to-34s, features a spread of conspicuously non-Jewish models dolled up as ''JAPs''-tiaras, Louis Vuitton bags, the requisite cup of Tasti D-Lite frozen dessert-wryly proposing that you don't even have to be Jewish to be an American Princess.

''The consumerist element that was criticized in the JAP has now been embraced by American society,'' says Riv-Ellen Prell, author of ''Fighting to Become Americans: Assimilation and the Trouble Between Jewish Women and Jewish Men'' (2000). ''JAPs were the designated narcissists in the 1970s, but now we no longer feel shame about all being narcissists.''

. . .

To some, JAP is just the latest slur to be embraced as a means of self-empowerment, much the way gay culture adopted ''queer'' and African-Americans use the n-word. JAP's comeback may signal a new era in identity politics, one in which Jewish women, feeling victorious after battling the double burden of misogyny and anti-Semitism, peel away many aspects of the old stereotype-the snobbishness, the dependency on daddy's Amex, the sexual frigidity-and keep... well, the shoes and the Chanel.

''It's a classic structure of integration,'' says artist and critic Rhonda Lieberman, who has engaged with the stereotype in works like ''Chanel Hanukkah,'' which used fake Chanel handbags and lipsticks to create a menorah. ''You reject certain early parts of your background and then, when you're grounded, you can revisit those things and-through choice-decide whether or not you want to reclaim them.''

But not everyone thinks the revival of the stereotype is harmless fun. Given the noxious ideas about Jews and money, many feel uneasy about making the celebration of consumerism into a Jewish affair.

''There should be a distant early warning signal that warns us of incipient anti-Semitism when Jews are ineluctably connected to money and privilege, as is the case often with the JAP stereotype,'' said Susan Weidman Schneider, editor in chief of Lilith magazine, the Jewish feminist publication that spearheaded the earliest journalism about the stereotype beginning in the 1970s.

''We all negotiate the world through shorthands,'' said Prell, who, along with Lieberman, will be a panelist at an April 12 symposium in Chicago titled ''The JAP: Star Turn for a Stereotype?'' sponsored by Nextbook, an organization aimed at promoting Jewish culture. ''We can try to have control of them, but my own sense is that we have to be careful because they can so easily get out of our control. We're playing with fire.''

But for some of the neo-JAPS, the consumerism was wrapped up with their experience of Jewish culture.

''The Jewishness was the dressing up for the bar mitzvah, not the [religious] services,'' Lieberman, the artist, said, describing how she felt growing up. For a while, she said, she tried to strip her Jewish identity of the focus on appearances, but eventually realized that this too was unsatisfying.

''I soon discovered that questioning this taboo was the key to integrating parts of my experience and my self that threatened to cancel each other-and me-out,'' she said, in a speech on the subject. ''Not to reconcile them, but to let them coexist, honoring and appeasing each one.''

In the end, this may all come around, as issues of cultural importance often do, to Barbra. In one of the sharpest episodes of ''Sex and the City,'' Carrie wonders aloud why Mr. Big chose another woman over her. Suddenly she's reminded of ''The Way We Were,'' the classic 1973 movie in which the neurotic, curly-haired (read: Jewish) character played by Barbra Streisand loses her man to a simpler, straight-haired (read: WASP) woman. Carrie belts out the movie's theme song, and a hybrid personality emerges that is at once Jewish, smart, complicated in the best way, and unembarrassed by sartorial fetishes. Though Mr. Big might not have understood it, Carrie did. For some women today, that's more than enough.

Alana Newhouse is the Arts & Culture editor at the Forward. 

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The multicultural JAP In her one-woman show ''J.A.P.,'' Rachel Factor explains how her Japanese- American identity found its fullest expression in. . . conversion to Judaism
The multicultural JAP
In her one-woman show ''J.A.P.,'' Rachel Factor explains how her Japanese- American identity found its fullest expression in. . . conversion to Judaism
The screen JAP The WASPy Ali McGraw played against type as Brenda Potemkin in ''Goodbye, Columbus''
The screen JAP
The WASPy Ali McGraw played against type as Brenda Potemkin in ''Goodbye, Columbus''
The Jewish non-Jewish JAP Sarah Jessica Parker played WASPy Carrie Bradshaw pretty Jewish
The Jewish non-Jewish JAP
Sarah Jessica Parker played WASPy Carrie Bradshaw pretty Jewish
The spiritual cousin Today's neo-JAPS embrace their inner Material Girl, but Madonna has moved on to Kabbalah
The spiritual cousin
Today's neo-JAPS embrace their inner Material Girl, but Madonna has moved on to Kabbalah
The mother of them all? In ''The Way We Were,'' Barbra Streisand epitomized the angst of a curly-haired neurotic who loses her man to a straight-haired, less complicated woman
The mother of them all?
In ''The Way We Were,'' Barbra Streisand epitomized the angst of a curly-haired neurotic who loses her man to a straight-haired, less complicated woman
Photos from top: Factor: The New York Times/Laura Pedrick; McGraw: The Everett Cllection; Parker: HBO/Craig Blankenhorn; Madonna: AP Photo/Chad Rachman; Streisand: The Everett Collection
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