The problem with the "What's A Coastie?" song
Post by Jesse Russell on 12/15/2009 3:15pm
When I first moved to Madison seven years ago anyone who hailed from one of the coasts was, understandably, considered a "coastie." I've watched as over the past couple of years that term has morphed into a more direct stereotype. Apparently it now addresses someone who comes from a coast, but hails from a specific, privileged socioeconomic background and isn't afraid to flaunt it. It's also typically only applied to women. Under this new definition I no longer qualify for the label. I hail from a coast, but paid my way through school and I'm male.
I guess I'm fine with the label being used in that manner, but what I do have a problem with is an even further narrowing of the term in the song "What's A Coastie?" The YouTube sensation was penned by two University of Wisconsin - Madison students and attempts to be funny by resurrecting an inappropriate and pejorative stereotype of Jewish women.
Defendants of the song say that it's simply meant to be taken in good fun, but the sad fact of the matter is that when a song uses an antisemitic slur that has historically been used to demean and mock Jewish women, specifically the slur "Jewish American Princess," it contributes to a culture of intolerance. By suggesting in the song that "Coasties" are specifically Jewish women it stops being simply a joke about anyone who moves to Madison from a coast and instead turns into a joke at the expense of one ethnicity. This song characterizes Jewish women as being self-absorbed, materialistic, and from wealthy backgrounds. The question needs to be asked, then, why did Quincy decide to call out Jews specifically? I don't know him, but I'm going to assume he isn't antisemitic and it is simply an issue of being ignorant of the history that surrounds the pejorative characterization.
The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle recently published an article on this very same topic. In it, Michelle Langer explains the history of the term "Jewish American Princess":
"First identified in postwar America, the term JAP became widespread in the 1980s, including a slew of incidents on campuses, including anti-JAP graffiti, JAP contests and prohibitions against JAPs in housing ads. It receded from public discourse after feminists and Jewish community leaders launched a campaign against the slur.
"Although such characterizations may be intended in fun, the consequences must be taken seriously, said Susan Weidman Schneider, editor of Lillith magazine, in a 1987 New York Times article.
"'Jewish women’s self-esteem is being critically damaged by the stereotypes,' she was quoted as saying at an American Jewish Committee Conference on Current Stereotypes of Jewish Women."
In 2006 the Jewish population of Wisconsin was 28,300 - less than .5 percent of the state's total population. In my home state of Connecticut the population was 111,830 in 2006 - 3.2 percent of the state's population and a percentage point higher than the national average. Is part of the issue a lack of diversity and exposure to Jewish culture? I don't know, but it certainly seems that the lack of compassion for a term that has been used to malign an ethnicity comes off to those looking in at the University of Wisconsin - Madison students defending its use as being extremely xenophobic.
I spent a lot of time going back and forth trying to decide if it was worth spending the time and energy on this post. In the end it was a lesson in antisemitism from the very pages of the UW-Madison's history that convinced me it was important to make a comment. In 1940, the university had offered Milton Friedman a tenured position. Friedman, who would go on to win a Nobel prize in economics, asked to be taken out of consideration in '41 due to a combination of antisemitism and academic politics directed toward him on the campus. Obviously that was a different era. Wisconsin in 2009 isn't Wisconsin in wartime 1941, but the fact of the matter is even if the intolerance is unintended it can still fester, rot, and breed if left unchecked.
So, Beef and Quincy, I'd like to respectfully suggest that the song would be just as amusing if you redo it, but lose the antisemitic slur.
Jesse was born and raised in Connecticut, began blogging in 1997, and moved to Madison in 2003. In 2005, he co-founded dane101 along with Kristian Knutson and Shane Wealti. In addition to helping nearly a dozen contributors run this website he's helped launch various events in the city including What's Your Damage?!, the MadPubQuiz of Awesomeness, the Fire Ball Masquerade, Dane101's Freakin' Halloweekend, and more.