My latest YouTube obsession is something called “Bad Lip Reading.” In “Bad Lip Reading,” new dialogue is dubbed over scenes from movies like “The Avengers” and “Twilight.” Instead of Kristen Stewart telling Robert Pattinson she’s freaked out that he’s a vampire or Mark Ruffalo complaining about the daily life of a radioactive superhero with anger management problems, “Bad Lip Reading” dubs silly topics like wrestling in the mud and adopting a puppy. The videos are so well done that someone who hasn’t seen the original movie could be convinced that the dialogue was taken from the original.
Editing and context are powerful tools. You can switch the meaning of a scene by applying new dialogue, changing the music or changing the title of a video. I worked in reality TV. I would know. Anything is possible in video. You can turn a saint into a villain, and vice versa. These methods, however, are not limited to just reality television and viral YouTube videos.
There is a clip circulating around the Boston University community right now titled “Boston University Students of Color Discriminated Against at Campus.” A pro-Israel group at BU hosted an event at Hillel, and pro-Palestine students came to the event. They were asked to leave by the police and refused. I do not agree with kicking the pro-Palestine students out of Hillel. I do believe in open dialogue and would have preferred to wait and see what the students could bring to the table.
I don’t agree with how the organizers of the event handled the situation, but I am more disturbed by the framing of this event as anything that had to do with race. Claiming that this clip depicts “students of color” discriminated against at Hillel is a disservice to the real struggles students of color have to face and serves to frame Hillel and the entire Jewish community in a light that is simply not accurate.
The discrimination and marginalization faced by students of color on college campuses is real. There is no doubt about that. Activism and change are necessary to change the current situation. Those efforts should be put into fighting against oppressive forces that actually create inequality, and not into fighting an organization and community that has always welcomed and embraced people from all backgrounds. By appropriating language of an important cause for their own gain, the video title only serves to distract activists from actual areas that need to be changed.
Hillel is an inclusive institution. Anyone is allowed into the building. Kosher food is provided in the dining hall, but non-Jews and Jews alike are invited to enjoy it. Shabbat services are hosted on Friday night, but any student, Jewish or not, who is interested can attend. Within the Jewish community, there are people from Yemen, Iraq, Poland, Russia and Ethiopia, and all are welcome and included. There is nothing about Hillel’s culture that enforces racism. If anything, Hillel is an institution that combats it. Jews have only been considered “white” in America for around the last 40 years. In our recent history in America, we have been barred from attending universities, belonging to exclusive clubs and working at certain companies. With our own history of oppression, we have always been at the forefront of fighting for the oppressed and helping others, armed with the knowledge that “we were slaves in Egypt” and that we have a responsibility to make others feel welcome and prevent injustice in any form.
Framing the Jewish community as non-inclusive toward people of color is an outright lie and only serves to separate the Jewish community from our allies and to distract from real issues. Instead of using the same tricks that “Bad Lip Reading” and reality TV uses, campus groups should move forward in a spirit of collaboration, making progress more impactful than pitting community against community and being more honest than “Bad Lip Reading.”
Originally published in The Daily Free Press.
Written by CAMERA Fellow at Boston University, Lindsey Cohen.
Learn more about the 2016-2017 CAMERA Fellowship here.