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?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Larry Fink, the boss of fund manager BlackRock , is among those sounding the alarm  

Not all discounts are welcome: Beware the myopia of company bosses

Ben Chu
Cilla Black lived her life in front of the lens, whether on television or her earlier pop career  

Cilla Black dead: A sad farewell to the singer who gave us a 'lorra, lorra laughs'

Gerard Gilbert
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen