On the other hand, I am fully aware that the shows are miles from reality, and that watching these shows is enabling deeply messed up people to get even more messed up as viewers judge them based on creative editing and producing designed to make everyone look like a horrible person. People seem to go on TV thinking it will change their lives for the better, and while that is sometimes the outcome, it seems far more common that things get worse, with the added scrutiny of millions of eyeballs.
In England, a new reality show called Jewish Mum of the Year gives me even deeper misgivings about the genre, because it pits Jewish mothers against each other in a contest whose rather paltry prize is an agony aunt column in the Jewish News. We’re not allowed to embed the video, but please head over to YouTube and watch this promo and this trailer which actually made me physically cringe.
Here’s the thing: being a Jewish mom is hard, important work. But the things these moms are asked to do in the competition–plan a bar mitzvah, act as matchmakers–have nothing whatsoever to do with the major challenges of Jewish motherhood. Planning Shabbat meals, teaching you children to be mensches, helping your family embrace Jewish tradition while still forging into the future, keeping a marriage alive, or raising kids on your own–these are just a handful of the honest-to-goodness tasks a Jewish mom has. They may not make for good TV, but it would be hard to argue that they’re not important.
The context for the show in Britain is also noteworthy: while Jews are known for being jokesters in the States, it’s a bit different on the other side of the pond. In England in particular, Jews are the butt of jokes more often than they’re the ones telling the jokes (Sasha Baron Cohen notwithstanding). And as Liam Hoare points out in his piece at the Forward, Jewish Mum of the Year is aired on the same channel and seems to be modeled on My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding, a show that staggers the line between exploitation and education.
I doubt that Jewish Mum of the Year is good for the Jews. But I think I’d probably watch it if I was in England. Oy.