Have you heard the one about the Jewish mother?

I can't decide whether my antipathy to this show is because I find it borderline racist - or because it scrapes the barrel as television

Share
Related Topics

I wish my Jewish mother was still alive so I could ask her what she thought of Channel 4's new reality show, Jewish Mum of the Year. Would she be offended by the shameless peddling of racial stereotypes?

Would she find the premise behind the show so vacuous that it would be beneath her dignity to discuss it? Or would she think it's about time that there was a programme that talked to her cultural interests, and which also had an aspirational flavour?

I'm not sure, however, that she would have had the popular appeal to carry off a title such as this, although if it's the stereotypical behaviour of a Jewish mother you're after, she'd take some beating.

When I became editor of The Independent in 1998, I rang my mother to tell her the exciting news. "What's happened to that nice woman who used to be editor of The Independent?" was her response. "She's become editor of the Daily Express," I said. "Well," came the reply, "she's done well."

In recalling this exchange, I am reminded of the scene from Woody Allen's Manhattan when the lead character says he is writing a short story about his mother called "The Castrating Zionist". Anyway, back to the programme.

As someone who wears his religion lightly, I can't decide whether my antipathy towards this show – the second instalment is tomorrow night – is because I find it borderline racist, or because it embodies the very worst of modern British television. A new reality show? I know, let's extract a little bit of the DNA from everything from Big Fat Gypsy Wedding to The Apprentice via The Only Way is Essex and it's trebles all round. There is something pernicious about this genre of TV series, of which Jewish Mum of the Year is a perfect example.

The unspoken premise is that we are invited to laugh at people who behave in a certain way because their religion

Here, the unspoken premise is that we are invited to laugh at people who behave in a certain way because their religion, their culture or their environment conditions them to do so. Defenders of the show will say that it portrays the Jewish mother as a strong, proud, resourceful character, in keeping with the matriarchal tradition of the faith, but there is no sense in which some of the neurotic and noisome behaviour on display here is put in a historical or religious context.

We know that Jewish blood is passed down the maternal line, so it's hardly surprising that the mother figure should take her responsibility as keeper of the faith seriously. In the modern world, that often translates into a defence of cultural traditions, everything from the health-giving properties of chicken soup to the excesses of barmitzvah parties. My problem with this programme was that it went way beyond stereotypes, and headed off into a world of cliché. So we had big hair, big ideas and, yes, big noses. And to complete the set, we even had a Tottenham Hotspur supporter. The only thing missing was a good Jewish joke.

So, to make up for that... A child comes home and says he's been given a part in the school play as a Jewish husband. "That's terrible," says his mother. "Go back and tell them you want a speaking role."

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Provisioning Specialist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Provisioning Specialist is required to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Apprenticeships

£10000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an outstanding opportunity for 1...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Support Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Support Engineer is required to join a well-...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Services Administrator - Swedish Speaking

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join an awa...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

What Lord Myners tells us about the Royal Mail sell-off shows just how good the City is at looking after itself

Chris Blackhurst
Police are called to Lindt Chocolat Cafe in Sydney's Martin Place, a busy plaza in the heart of the city  

After the Sydney Siege, would Australia be safer with American-style gun laws? The answer is simple

Neil Brennan
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum