The lowest rated network television series this spring season was the first one ever to examine the negative impact of the “Jewish-American-Princess” stereotype on young women. Fox’s “Class of ’96” confronted its freshmen with a spate of “JAP” jokes at fictional Havenhurst College. For “Jessica Cohen,” the anti-Semitism revealed by her classmates became a catalyst for her to explore her Jewish identity— helped by the female Hillel rabbi, and by another Jewish woman who’d originally scorned Jessica for being wealthy—and to assert herself against the perpetrators.
“Class of ’96” writers dealt with negative stereotypes of the Jewish woman as a top priority early in its first season because “‘JAP-bashing’ is a hale issue and hate issues are hot now,” according to co-producer John Romano. “College campuses are places where horrible ideas can be openly discussed, and so students can open their mouths and be shot down. Prejudice kept secret is far more dangerous.”
After the March airing of this episode, called “The Best Little Frat House at Havenhurst,” TV Guide persisted in calling Jessica a “Jewish American Princess” even while putting the program on its “Save Our Shows” endangered quality programs list. Computer bulletin boards around the country lit up with males decrying “politically correct cant” and protesting not the JAP slur but the program’s negative stereotyping of exclusionary fraternities (which on the show had been the hotbed of anti-Semitism and misogyny).
LILITH plans to use clips from the segment of “Class of ’96” in ongoing workshops at campuses and at summer camps—as one example of how to combat the pernicious “JAP” stereotype. Too bad the reward for Jessica’s spunk is a date with a non-Jewish man.