To the editors:
George Grass' witty review of the Lyric's Salome (December 9, 1988) was seriously marred by the phrase "Jewish princess." In discussing a work where all the characters have Jewish origins, the phrase can only have satiric intent. The phrase "Jewish princess" is an ethnic slur as ugly and offensive as any other racial or ethnic slur. It is offensive to Jews and offensive to women, with undertones of verbal--and even threatened physical--sexual harassment; whether used by non-Jews, or by Jews who have not examined all of its innuendos. Such "casual" slurs have no place in an arts review, especially in your publication which tries to respect all groups.
Rose Ann Chasman
George Grass replies:
My first inclination is to dismiss Ms. Chasman's letter as being too absurd to be worthy of reply. However, upon reflection, I am concerned that lack of response might be taken as implying acquiescence.
The phrase "Jewish princess" occurs twice in the review. The sentences appeared at points approximately one-third and two-thirds of the way into the review. Why was the phrase used? Simply in an attempt to keep the flow of writing from becoming monotonous. When writing about a theatrical work whose title is identical to the name of the principal character, it is all too easy to fall into the high school freshman trap of excessive repetition. Since Salome is in literal truth a Jewish princess, there can be no rational objection to naming her as such. Incidentally, Ms. Chasman is incorrect when she states that "all the characters have Jewish origins." To be sure, Salome is the only princess in the story. Presumably, since the word "princess" is also used as a short form of the phrase "Jewish American Princess," I would have still been in hot water had I resorted to it. In short, it is impossible to avoid offending someone who is determined to find cause for offense. I confess myself at a loss as to why my review would attract her attention when there are bigger fish to be caught, and I suggest that Ms. Chasman reconvene her intellectual inquisition with an investigation of Wilde and Strauss, who obviously were attempting to defame Jewish women with their dark tale of a certain female person of royal descent and Jewish antecedents.