My week in writing

With a show at the Tate this year, the Pre-Raphaelite painters are enjoying something of a renaissance. After being alerted to a lecture that was taking place in London revealing that William Holman Hunt – one of the movement’s founders – had lived in Jerusalem for several years and painted there, I decided to investigate further.

As I discovered, Holman Hunt built a home and a life in the Middle East; a daring feat that none of his fellow Pre-Raphaelites attempted. Not only that, but a look back in times revealed him to be on a par with Theodor Herzl in his passion for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the region. His letter on the subject, in which he offered to pay some money to3ward such a scheme, made for fascinating reading.

This week, I also followed up on the ongoing dispute over Jewish education at Calderwood Lodge in Glasgow, and received reassurances from several venues set to host Israeli dance company Batsheva next month that the tour would go ahead, despite the efforts of boycott supporters. And in another look back at the past, I learnt about the refugees from Nazi Europe who were able to stay in Britain by working as servants.

In Comment I discussed whether the British Jewish community should drop the tradition of observing two days of the festivals, and published two thought-provoking pieces on Ed Miliband and the disturbing trend of “Price Tag” attacks by extremists in the West Bank.

Away from the JC, I wrote for the Independent’s “Independent Voices” section on the embarrassing Jewish Mum of the Year programme on Channel 4, questioning the purpose of such television. In Optima magazine I discussed the growth in the use of sleeping pills and other remedies for insomnia.

Jewish Mum of the Year: Yet another TV programme which supports stereotypes

I wrote a piece about the Channel 4 series for the Independent’s new Indy Voices site:

“I feel like we’ve been Gypsy Wedding-ed,” a friend complained on Facebook last night.

“Now I know what it’s like to come from Essex,” said another. My reaction to the first episode of Channel Four’s Jewish Mum of the Year competition? Not my community, again.

The show, essentially a contest in who can best conform to the worst stereotypes about Jewish women, comes hot on the heels of other Jewish-centric documentaries, including Paddy Wivell’s BBC Wonderland programme about the Orthodox community of Stamford Hill, A Hasidic Guide to Love, Marriage and Finding a Bride and the follow-up, Two Jews on a Cruise, and Strictly Kosher, ITV’s study of Manchester’s most colourful Jews.

Of course, other communities have also come in for scrutiny, from the “hilarious” nuptials of Irish Travellers to the activities of the youth of Essex, Liverpool and Newcastle. Life in a minority can be fertile ground for comedy writers, as the seven-series run of The Kumars at No. 42 shows.

When Channel Four advertised the second series of Gypsy Wedding with the tagline “Bigger. Fatter. Gypsier”, they came in for a fair amount of flack, and last week the Advertising Standards Authority ruled that it was irresponsible, offensive and reaffirmed negative stereotypes. The deputy chief executive of the charity that publishes the Travellers Times criticised the series for making the community “look totally feckless, not really to be taken seriously as an ethnic group”. “It just confirms prejudices,” said Jane Jackson.

In truth, I’m not sure taking a look at a minority group for entertainment is necessarily offensive, or in any way made with racist intent, but I do wonder what the point is.

Read the full version of this somment piece on the Independent website.

Friends: not there for you anymore

“Surely you’ve seen this episode,” my dad says, as he comes into the living room to find me watching yet another old Friends episode.

“So,” I say. “You can never watch too much Friends.”

But apparently, you can. Channel 4 are axing the reruns of the popular series, fifteen years after the world first tuned into the antics of Rachel, Ross, Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, Joey and ugly naked guy. E4’s popular 8pm to 9pm slot wil be filled with something new from October 2011.

“It’s time to say goodbye to old Friends and welcome new ones, in the form of more comedy, drama and entertainment from the US and UK,” said Channel 4’s head of acquisitions, Gill Hay.

Forever Friends? not exactly!

Fifteen years is a long time, and after showing each of the 236 episodes around the same number of times (ish) it makes sense for Channel 4 to close the doors on Central Perk for good. But Getting Lippy was quite sad to hear the news, and wasn’t the only one as the web erupted in a show of emotion for smelly cat et al.

On Facebook, a keen fan named Daniel Wheeler showed his contempt at the decision by setting up a group to ‘SAVE FRIENDS! – E4 TO STOP SHOWING FRIENDS’.

“Lets try and get them to show more episodes!” it appeals to its 201 members.

One Benjamin Howard tweeted that hew as ‘deeply saddened’, adding that “when Richard and Judy left [sic] it was only thing that kept me going between 5-6 :(“.

“devastated […] who doesn’t love eating their dinner in front of Friends?!” said SpannerBristow.

Over on the Watch With Mothers blog, the vitriol was intense as the noted the ‘horrific news’ that Friends would no longer be there for us.

“Clearly, you only meant “I’ll be there for you every day, twice a day for 17 years and then that really is it.”

“Call that commitment, do you? Damn you, Friends! Damn you all to Hades!”

“What will we do when there’s nothing else to watch on an evening?” mourns blogger Joseph Seager.

“I might have to buy the boxset,” he said.

So it seems someone will be emerge a winner from this then.