I don’t watch reality TV, so when my husband asked if “Kosher Soul,” which premiered last Wednesday on Lifetime TV, was a typical example of the genre, I didn’t know what to tell him. When I was getting my Master’s in Media Analysis (yes, it’s a thing, no, I don’t recommend it), I asked one of my professors how, if you’re not a fan of a given genre, you can possibly judge whether or not the program in question has successfully achieved its goals? He mumbled something about good drama being good drama regardless of genre.
I disagreed. If you’re not a fan of science fiction or Westerns, how can you determine whether a work delivered what fans–not overeducated media critics–expect of it? I believe art needs to be evaluated on its own terms.
This is my roundabout way of saying that I have no idea whether or not “Kosher Soul” is good reality television. I don’t feel qualified to evaluate it on those merits. The only criteria I do have for reviewing this half-hour “reality” show about Jewish celebrity stylist Miriam Sternoff and her fiancé (spoiler: husband by Episode 3), African-American comedian O’Neal McKnight, is as a Jewish woman married (16 years this January) to a black man.
In some ways, Miriam is way ahead of me. She’s gotten O’Neal to agree to convert. (Though not before the wedding, which my own husband found very odd.) My husband made it clear before we got married that while he was fine with having a Jewish home and raising our children Jewish, he would not be converting for a variety of reasons. One of them was that he took religion too seriously to treat it the way O’Neal seems to do on the show, which primarily includes switching hats. Though O’Neal has also agreed to a ceremonial bris, even though his friend points out, “White man has your dick in his hand, with a knife? That’s scary.”
“It is,” my husband agreed, most solemnly.
In other ways, Miriam and I are pretty much on even ground. We’re both in love with a self-described, “short, black man,” who enjoys grabbing our breasts at every opportunity. We both deal with his criticizing something we’re working on (in her case, the seating chart for their wedding) by exploding, “If everything I’ve done up to this point is wrong, I’m going to let you do it!” And we’re both pretty used to the actuality that, whatever we cook, he’s going to ask to have it fried–“I want the whole table fried!”–and then put hot sauce on it even before tasting to see if it’s necessary. We do it mainly because, as Miriam admits, “He has made huge sacrifices for me.”
My husband has made huge sacrifices for me, as well, including dealing with the reactions of family and friends to our marriage. (Though when O’Neal explains how he had to break the news to his Southern grandmother, my husband sputtered, “Why would you do that? This is where you lie to your grandmother and tell her you’re going to get re-baptized.”)
O’Neal’s friends want to know, “With all the beautiful black women out there with good jobs, why you pick this white girl?”
It’s an excellent question.
Miriam takes a stab at addressing it by offering that her fiancé’s behavior can get pretty extreme and childish (their relationship has been on-again/off-again for nine years now, and she explains that he “wasn’t the boyfriend he could have been” at the start, prompting my husband to ask, “Does that mean he cheated on her?”). Miriam elaborates that, “A lot of black women wouldn’t have been as tolerable (as I am).” (We presume she means “tolerant.” Though the former is more interesting.)
To be brutally honest, I’ve heard the same thing. I.E. White women will put up with crap from black men that strong black women reject. It’s not offered as a compliment.
I like to think that I am an individual who makes my own relationship choices, rather than being an unthinking member of a stereotypical mob. But this is the kind of thing that I would like to hear more about. What, exactly, does Miriam think she tolerates that a black woman wouldn’t? Why does she? (An unspeakably inane subplot in the first episode involves Miriam agreeing to wear a gold grill at their wedding in exchange for O’Neal giving her the honeymoon of her dreams, whether in Greece or St. Bart’s, instead of his own choice–Disneyland. Not something I would do. And not just because a gold grill retails for $1300.)
And I would really like to hear O’Neal answer the same question. As my husband said, “What, exactly, do those two see in each other? You can’t tell from the show.”
Instead, the closest thing viewers get is O’Neal’s epiphany that their relationship is like the classic black and white cookie. You can’t take just one half or the other. You’ve got to eat the whole cookie.
Is that about par for the course when it comes to reality show sociological insight?
Watch the black and white cookie moment from “Kosher Soul” below: