In the best news Wayne Coyne could have gotten, the Internet erupted yesterday after photos surfaced of Macklemore, purveyor of hard raps for your aerobics class, wearing a costume that many saw as an offensive Jewish caricature. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were in their hometown of Seattle last Friday to perform a “surprise” show at the EMP Museum—a surprise Macklemore maintained by donning a bowl-cut wig, a fake beard, and a large, hooked nose, as you do when you want to slip unnoticed into a crowd. (This despite the fact that the current ubiquity of his haircut means Macklemore could pretty much walk around unrecognized anywhere).
That Macklemore resembled, at best, one of Peter Sellers’ worst Pink Panther disguises, and, at worst, someone going as “a Nazi propaganda poster” for Halloween certainly did not go unnoticed on Twitter, where he soon became the subject of relentless accusations of anti-Semitism. Those quickly became even more widespread after they were taken up by Seth Rogen, increasingly our last line of celebrity defense against shitty pop stars.
Naturally, Macklemore denied he’d ever intended to dress up as anyone specific, tweeting, “A fake witches nose, wig, and beard = random costume. Not my idea of a stereotype of anybody.” His explanation that he has terrible judgment and even worse friends aside, other things suggested he was well aware of the connection—such as a pre-show tweet, “I feel like a man for the first time,” that could be read as a bar mitzvah allusion. Or the fact that The Stranger’s Anna Minard went to the same costume shop and found that he didn’t buy a “witches nose;” he bought a “Sheik/Fagin” nose, as in Oliver Twist’s “miserly Jew.” And, of course, as rapper Jensen Karp pointed out, Macklemore donned all of that for a performance of “Thrift Shop,” his ode to saving money, which also plays into common Jewish stereotypes.
Of course, in drawing these connections, one also runs the risk of perpetuating those stereotypes yourself—and that’s an angle Macklemore definitely exploits in the semi-apology he posted to Tumblr. Macklemore continued to play innocent, saying he believes his costume was “ambiguous” and referencing every “he looks like” joke Twitter made yesterday, from Ringo Starr to Humpty Hump.
I picked up a bunch of fake mustaches and beards and grabbed a left over wig from our recent trip to Japan. As it turns out the fake noses they sell at the costume store are usually big (my nose didn’t fit most of them). So I ended up with a big witch nose. I went with a black beard, because that’s the furthest color from my natural hair. Disguise was the intention. I personally thought I looked very ambiguous in terms of any “type” of person. Some people there thought I looked like Ringo, some Abe Lincoln. If anything I thought I looked like Humpty Hump with a bowl cut… The character I dressed up as on Friday had no intended cultural identity or background. I wasn’t attempting to mimic any culture, nor resemble one. A “Jewish stereotype” never crossed my mind.
Still, Macklemore realizes that some people may have looked at this particular Rorschach test and seen what they wanted to, especially if those people were looking at it with eyes trained to see stereotypes. Which Macklemore definitely doesn’t have; remember how he wrote “Same Love” that time?
It was surprising and disappointing that the images of a disguise were sensationalized leading to the immediate assertion that my costume was anti-Semetic. I acknowledge how the costume could, within a context of stereotyping, be ascribed to a Jewish caricature. I am here to say that it was absolutely not my intention, and unfortunately at the time I did not foresee the costume to be viewed in such regard. I’m saddened that this story, or any of my choices, would lead to any form of negativity. … I will let my body of work and the causes for which I’ve supported speak for themselves. I hope that anyone who may question my intent take a few moments to discover the human and artist that I strive to be.
Among those causes, Macklemore now says that “through this situation I’ve got hip to some incredible groups like the ADL,” a super-cool organization dedicated to fighting the defamation of Jewish people for the past 100 years that Macklemore just got turned onto. So at least, as he says, “Out of a negative can come a positive.” Indeed, no doubt if he could, he would definitely post a screenshot of the text he would send to all the Jewish people throughout history.
In the wake of this controversy, the world now steels itself for a pop-rap song about Jewish suffering.