On Jewish Mums
Tonight, Jewish North London, will, with few exceptions, tune in for the second installment of Channel 4’s Jewish Mum of the Year. Few will be looking forward to it, or expecting to enjoy the experience. At best they will be hoping for damage limitation – that there are not too many grotesque moments, cringe worthy quotes and painful stereotypes. What they will really be doing is watching through the eyes of their non Jewish friends and neighbours and wondering – what will they think of us after this? It’s a perverse form of dual viewing, watching partly as yourself and partly as you imagine your neighbours to be. Come tomorrow morning, there will be a range of speeches given, as last week, on how ‘we’re not really like that’. Some of ‘us’ presumably are, otherwise the programme would not have been possible, but no matter. The reaction of non-Jewish critics has been fairly sympathetic (e.g. here and here) realising that the programme cannot claim to be ‘representative’. What is interesting is the view that, in the manner of ‘My Bit Fat Gypsy Wedding’, this is a predatory reality TV company preying on an unsuspecting minority group. But this isn’t really the case – the distortions of the reality TV format are well known by now, and the Jewish community is nothing if not media-savvy. No the, real surprise, and perhaps the real shonde is that the programme is co-sponsored (and quite possibly dreamed) up by a Jewish communal newspaper, the Jewish News. Dismissively referred to by the Jewish Chronicle as a ‘freesheet, The Jewish News’ is major Jewish community publication. It used to be sneered at as a cheap tabloid, but since the surge to the lunatic right by the Jewish Chronicle it no longer seems so unreasonable, being the equivalent of the Sun to the JC’s Daily Mail. The Jewish News is involved to promote its brand of cheap-and-cheerful Judaism, where ideas are played down and materialism and celebrities are promoted. The move seems short sighted on the paper’s side – there is great frustration in the community at the perpetuation and re-creation of quite unpleasant stereotypes of Jewish women – which surely overrules the immediate publicity and advertising revenue for the publishers. But perhaps the issue isn’t actually stereotypes of Jews at all. Maybe the portrayal of Jews is a smokescreen to take our focus off the consistent sexism and misogyny on show.