Monday, November 16, 2009

World's strictest parents: Israel episode

I know I'm a few days late with this, but just before everyone starts talking about Dispatches, here are a few thoughts on The World's Strictest Parents: Israel, which I caught last week on BBC3.

Essentially, I disliked the Sha-ked (what's with the pretentious spelling?) parents, who were hosting rebellious British teens Gemma and Jack in their Nof Ayalon home.

The Sha-keds are religious, and live in a gated community near Modi'in, in which there are pretty strict communal norms, for example in the area of modest dress. Now, I have no problem with them asking the teenagers to dress appropriately while they are in their house - that's partially what they are there for. But what annoyed - even frightened - me was the Sha-keds' repeated insistance that Gemma, in particular, has to dress more modestly because that is what others expect. At one point, Mrs Sha-ked even told her that while she is in the Sha-ked household the family will be "watched closely" - so she better behave. Later, when Gemma sunbathed outside, Mrs Sha-ked complained to her husband that she was being publicly humiliated.

I found this unrelenting emphasis on conforming for conformity's sake highly suffocating - and I was watching from the safe distance of my London home. What is worse, it had nothing to teach the teenagers. Here was the perfect opportunity for the Sha-keds to explain to Gemma and Jack something about self-respect, about modesty. And all they got was: "But what will the neighbours say?"

Presumably, the Sha-keds conform to the communal norms because they believe in them. But the Sha-keds seemed incapable of explaining this (at least the way the programme was cut).

And while I give them full credit for their calm manner (they also seemed to have very aidel children - shame they got almost no screen time), I was not impressed by the way Mrs Sha-ked tried to kick Gemma out when the argument didn't go her way. Again, it seemed to be about conformity - not about teaching the kids a better way to live. They could have done so much better.

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