Film Features

A Very Merry-Go-Round: Put on Your Yarmulke, Adam Sandler and Hanukkah


Tis the season! With A Very Merry-Go-Round, we’ll be offering the hottest holiday takes in town.

A few thousand years ago or so, around this time of year, Maccabean Jews successfully fought to reclaim the Temple in Jerusalem. They burned sacred olive oil as a sacrifice to God, and because of the enemy occupation, there was only enough oil in the temple for one night. Miraculously, the oil lasted for eight nights, giving the Maccabees enough time to make more. This miracle warranted the creation of what we know today as “the Jewish holiday,” Hanukkah. I like to imagine that the Maccabees, as they watched the holy oil persevere, saw in the fire that one day, their descendants would make a fortune off of fart jokes.

Adam Sandler made his first big impression on mainstream America with his tribute to the Maccabees and alienated Jewish kids everywhere, “The Chanukah Song.” The song consoles us using the same sentiment my mother used whenever I’d encounter anti-Semitism in middle school: “Don’t feel bad, look how many of us are famous!” To this day, “The Chanukah Song” remains the only Hanukkah song anyone has heard of, which is a shame, not only because “I Have A Little Dreidel” is a banger, but because it cemented our holiday as the joke, the afterthought. I’m not saying that “The Chanukah Song” was a bad thing; for me, hearing the song at age 12 was the first time I’d encountered media about my heritage that didn’t center around Hitler. But an incidental effect was more people seeing Judaism only through the lens of Hanukkah, which is probably the least important part of being Jewish.

Adam Sandler St. Patrick's

It’s like thinking Catholicism is all about St. Patrick’s Day

You might have heard by now that historically, Jews have never really given a shit about Hanukkah. We get more excited for Rosh Hashanah, our new year, or Yom Kippur, when we can get a whole year’s worth of sin absolvement done in a single day of fasting. But American Jews, craving that sweet, sweet assimilation, started treating Hanukkah as eight days of mini-Christmas so that their kids wouldn’t get crushed in the arms race of toys by their WASP counterparts. What began as a passing tribute to some curiously potent olive oil is now the only holiday celebrated by millions of American Jews, emblematic of both our tenacity and our unfortunate, but necessary, capitulation.

Sandler’s career has followed a trajectory similar to the Festival of Lights. His humble origins as a singing novelty on SNL could have never predicted the mainstream behemoth of Happy Madison Productions and The Sandman. It’s easy to say that Adam Sandler sold out, abandoned cleverness and embraced the easy joke. Pretty much every major publication has more or less said that for about 90% of his movies. But Sandler’s appeal is that his theatrical talent doesn’t compromise his everyman status. He’s proven before that he can be enormously clever, most recently with 100% FRESH, but knows that most people don’t want a comic that’s smarter than them.

A ’90s icon that’s survived this long, Sandler understands that bombing with the critics has its benefits. Sandler has consistently delivered for his base of gross-out enthusiasts, slapstick aficionados, and MRGM Editor-in-Chief Thomas Seraydarian. I submit that there is no fandom more devout than Sandlerites, for none have been made to suffer more greatly. Most artists experience peaks and valleys, but Sandler goes between outer space and underground. ANIMALS recently aired a convenient summary of Sandler’s film career, so if you’d like a tally of Sandler’s hits and misses, just watch S3E7 “The Trial.”

Sandler judge

Featuring Judge Mom From MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE!

A career diverse enough to contain both REIGN OVER ME and I NOW PRONOUNCE YOU CHUCK AND LARRY in the same year tells me that Sandler on some level craves greatness, but also has no problem coasting for the sake of a check. As we did with our now-beloved Hanukkah, Sandler’s career is the epitome of bending yourself just enough to fit in.

Perhaps this is overly-dramatic analysis for a peepee poopoo-style comic, but reflecting on American Jewish culture is inherently contradictory. We’ve suffered innumerable prejudices and tragedies throughout human history while being the scapegoat for the world’s great evils. However, many American Jews have successfully bought into whiteness, and use the same philosophies that justified our torture against other minorities to bolster their own families. We need to learn how to defend our culture without blending it into power structures that destroy other people’s cultures. I think Adam Sandler exemplifies that not in the tone or subject matter of his work, but in his balanced consistency. He’s managed to sneak into the mainstream while still taking time to do what’s important to him.

Adam Sandler Jack

What’s important to him being JACK AND JILL

This year, Sandler decided to remind everyone that he is, in fact, funny. His special 100% FRESH stands out not only for balancing childish gags with juxtaposed musical interludes, but for committing to being unflinchingly absurd for more than an hour. It ends on a raw, sincere tribute to Chris Farley, but for the most part Sandler sticks to songs about queefs, reflections on fatherhood, and pantomiming fellatio with Rob Schneider. None of this sounds funny in abstract, but Sandler’s gift has always been selling immature jokes so well that even if you don’t laugh, you still like him in a weird way.

Sandler is America’s Jew. He only brings up his faith for laughs and doesn’t talk about the past that is once again becoming our present. I’m not saying that to be judgmental. Adam Sandler is the version of himself that America demands he be. The fact that he’s retained his heritage at all is a miracle on par with the extra-strength olive oil. The Sandman represents a step forward to me as a Jewish person. An imperfect step, certainly, but a step of substance and a step to be proud of. So the next time menorah season comes around-which will be next year, since Hanukkah was two weeks ago-consider popping on a Happy Madison classic while eating your chocolate coins, if only to reflect on how far we’ve come, and how far we’ve yet to go.

Dan Blomquist
Dan Blomquist is a contributor for Merry-Go-Round and writes about important things sometimes, but mostly about television. He believes that memes are the future and that free will is an illusion.

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