Peeling the Orange
Is there more to The O.C.’s Seth Cohen than meets the eye?
Seth Cohen, the half-Jewish stud on The OC, is a terrific character. Played by Adam Brody, he is handsome, likeable, and self-conscious about his background. Often, this self-consciousness takes the most obvious form: affected, self-deprecating neurosis. In Thursday’s episode, Cohen complained that, instead of having a sexy “dark side,” his alter personality was “a yenta named Sylvia.”
Hot shiksas love this shtick—at least I hoped they did when I was in high school—and there’s something wonderfully true about how Seth worked this angle in his relationship with Summer last season. I give OC creator Josh Schwartz credit for mining that vein of humor common to savvy, confident Jewish boys surrounded by non-Jewish women.
What Schwartz and his writers miss is that boys as smart and ironically self-aware as Seth sometimes tend to be more conflicted. Though Judaism is central to his identity, Seth never wonders what it means that his mother is not Jewish. He never wonders if he could marry a non-Jew—or what it means that his father did. He never wonders why he has no Jewish friends, and he never seems to crave any.
Of course, most television adolescents don’t struggle with these questions; David Silver of Beverly Hills 90210 was too busy trying to separate Donna Martin from her virginity to fret about her being Catholic. But David was a narcissistic boob who thought he could be a professional rapper; Seth Cohen is sensitive and humane.
If we’re to suspend disbelief and enter the world of The OC, then we must acknowledge that Seth, given what we know about him, has thoughts about religion that he hasn’t shared with us. We must admit that his Passover seder with Summer, his parents, and his Jewish grandma was more fraught than he let on. And we must demand that Josh Schwartz show us more of the whole Seth in future episodes. His Jewishness is not physiognomy, not religiosity, not a stereotypical, overbearing family; it’s the source of his mildly alienated humor. Being Jewish clearly means something to him. So far, he just hasn’t told us what.
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