Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Rant #347: Jose Jimenez Lives!

Comic Bill Dana turns 86 today.

Dana's career just about spans the history of television. He was a star on the small screen beginning in the 1950s on the Steve Allen Show, and on record, and later, his writing talents came to the fore--he wrote the famous episode of "All in the Family" where Sammy Davis Jr. visits the Bunker household--and that is basically what he is known for today.

However, in a different place and a different time, he was Jose Jimenez.

My name ... Jose Jimenez!

For those of you who have no idea who Jose Jimenez was, or is, since Dana brings still brings him out on occasion, Jimenez was Dana's most famous creation, a Mexican who was enamored with the American way of life, but who was often overwhelmed with what he saw around him. This character had a heart of gold, but often didn't fully get what was happening around him ...

Or did he? And that was the charm of the character, who was often more worldly than you thought he was.

Dana's character was all over TV in the early 1960s, and he scored on a number of records. His most famous was "The Astronaut," which is pretty self explanatory.

However, there was a problem, which forced Dana to put Jose Jimenez in mothballs, only to come out occasionally for the past 45 years or so.

Dana was Jewish, and his character was full of Mexican stereotypes, including his accent, his supposed dimwittedness, and even his look.

Way back in the early 1960s, stereotypes were basically laughed at, except when they turned cruel. Although the Jose Jimenez character was not a cruel caricature--in fact, the character showed a lot of reverence for those immigrating to this country--Dana received lots of barbs from people taking offense to his character.

So, by the late 1960s and early 1970s--when laughing about ethnic stereotypes were perceived as becoming less and less funny by many people--Dana mothballed the character.

But he didn't mothball the idea of laughing at ethnic stereotypes, as the aforementioned "All in the Family" episode demonstrated.

Dana continues to write and to perform today, and while the Jose Jimenez character is pretty much a creation of the 1950s and 1960s, in this politically correct world we live in today, I think that we have much to learn from this supposedly slow-witted character.

We can learn to laugh at ourselves for both our faults as well as our triumphs. And I think that was Dana's point when he created the character.

And what's wrong with that?

I mean, if we can't laugh at ourselves, who can we laugh at?

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