Why Do (Mizrahi) Gentlemen Prefer Blondes?

Three TV series currently on air share several common denominators; one of them is that the creators and protagonists are men of Middle Eastern or North African origin, and the love interests are Ashkenazi women.

Liat Elkayam
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Liat Elkayam

There is a racy story about a black man who − how shall we put this delicately? − in the throes of intercourse with a beautiful blonde, liked to shout “Long live Schoelcher!” ‏(Victor Schoelcher was a 19th-century French abolitionist‏). That anecdote is mentioned by psychiatrist and postcolonial philosopher Frantz Fanon in his 1952 book “Black Skin, White Masks,” as an example of dark-skinned men’s aspiration to sleep with white women. Fanon, himself a black man who married a white woman, further writes: “Out of the blackest part of my soul ... I want to be recognized not as Black, but as White ... Between these white breasts that my wandering hands fondle, white civilization and worthiness become mine” ‏(translation by Richard Philcox‏).

Maybe that’s how things were back then, in the middle of the last century, in Martinique, when there was apparently just sand and more sand.

Now, in our own day, in Israel, three television series premiered over a period of a single month this summer on three different channels: “Ptzuim BaRosh” on HOT, “New York” ‏(its second season‏) on Yes, and “Malabi Express” on Channel 10. The three shows vary in quality, but they have three striking elements in common: male creators of Mizrahi ‏(Middle Eastern or North African‏) origin, male protagonists of Mizrahi origin, and decidedly Ashkenazi female love interests. Like the famous Hagashash Hahiver comedy trio said in one of their skits: “That’s how it was back in those days. What, ‘those days’? It was this morning!”

Was that a provocative paragraph by a Mizrahi writer? We won’t deny it. Anyway, as you know, Moroccan women are exotic and love to make trouble. But let’s move on to the evidentiary stage.

We will begin from the bottom, with “Malabi Express,” created by Miki Geva and based on his book by that name. This is a relatively high-end production ‏(filmed in Brazil‏), it’s pretty sexy ‏(at least for someone who doesn’t have access to Internet‏) and funny ‏(infrequently‏), but mainly it is, in a word, sleazy. The series follows the adventures of three friends − two Mizrahim and one Ashkenazi ‏(the latter a nerd, of course‏) − who go to Brazil to conduct serious and comprehensive research on women’s be-thonged butts. The main character, played by Geva, is torn between two women, a beautiful and older Brazilian, and the pin-up girl of the Israeli magazine “Blazer Ashkenaz,” played by Adi Himelbloy; the name of her character, please note, is “Dana.” Could she be more Ramat Hasharon-y?

A bit further up the scale in terms of quality, or fun ‏(same thing as far as I’m concerned‏), is “Ptzuim BaRosh,” created by Hanan Savyon and Guy Amir, who are already responsible for one series, “Asfur,” in which aspirations of inter-ethnic romance were realized ‏(by actor Shalom Michaelshvili, who played Motti, and Efrat Dor, as Shir‏). Apparently that did not suffice. Savyon and Amir, who also star in this series, give a perfectly reasonable performance as two friends with a history of shared infatuation with Natalie ‏(blonde and a kibbutznik, the Holy Grail of Israeliness‏), the character played by Nitzan Levertovsky.

The duo also fight crime, but from opposite sides of the law: one as a cop and the other as a member of a mysterious social-justice organization. At the present time, the woman who turns our Mizrahi heroes’ heads is Agam Rodberg, portraying Zohar Fein ‏(a name that plainly indicates Libyan roots‏). It should be said to the creators’ credit that the character who rivals Fein for the heart of the character played by Savyon , played by actress Rotem Zisman-Cohen, adds spicy zhug to her omelet.

A lot has also been invested in the production of “Ptzuim BaRosh” ‏(giant computer screens in the offices of the social-justice organization, text messages that appear in pop-up in bubbles on the screen, car crashes‏), it has some successful and even touching moments ‏(particularly those devoted to the relationship of Savyon, the good cop, and his disabled mother‏), and the sight of Rodberg in leather pants is certainly delightful. But it doesn’t really work. The series’ most prominent drawback, aside from the basic inanity of the plot ‏(a secret social-justice organization? Really, guys?‏) is that it takes itself too seriously.

Cool and charming

And then “New York” comes along and succeeds precisely where “Ptzuim BaRosh” fails. This is the well-justified second season of a cool and charming series created by Shuki Ben-Naim. Even though the series is cliche-filled and contains twists and turns that can surprise only people who have never watched TV in their lives ‏(the dead guy is really alive? Can’t be!‏), it has what is so lacking from the other two series described here: self-awareness, I believe it’s called.

“New York” recounts the exploits of the Alharizi crime family, and in particular those of the eldest son, Yossi, played by Oshri Cohen, and his far more charismatic friend/enemy ‏(on screen and in
life‏) − the petty criminal Liron, portrayed by actor Itay Turgeman. ‏(Just a thought: Can an actor of Mizrahi origin even play an Ashkenazi character?‏).

The sought-after female is played this time by the lily-white-skinned Yuval Scharf. Her name in the show is Anat Levy, which is not necessarily Ashkenazi. And there’s the rub. Even though in all three of these series the Mizrahim are cool, soulful guys with a tendency toward rebellion − and the Ashkenazim are cold and boring and have some sort of attraction to law and order, while the Russians
are frequently crazed murderers − the so-called ethnic demon does not truly emerge from the closet. And the ethnic demon is the name of the game in these series, not only with respect to the creators or content, but also vis-a-vis the channels broadcasting them.

It seems like ever since “Asfur” and “Haborer” ‏(another TV series featuring a romance between a Mizrahi man, acted by Yehuda Levy, and an
Ashkenazi woman, Maya Maron‏) − when you go out seeking high ratings and VOD downloads, the best thing is to get yourself a Mizrahi creator-protagonist, and let him ‏(forgive me, Mama!‏) go f*** an Ashkenazi girl.

I have no doubt that Mizrahim deserve a few heroes on television, as the Ashkenazi elder Etgar Keret wrote in a TV sketch called “Fledermaus at the Olympics,” in order to diminish injustice and humiliation. But how do you accomplish that? You create a Mizrahi hero, better and more desirable than any Ashkenazi. Because basically, it is permissible, and even desirable, to lay into Ashkenazim. They are, after all, part of an ethnic group that likes its fish sweet.

Getting back for a moment to the brief, but not entirely accurate, equation of Mizrahi=black and Ashkenazi=white, one can find thousands of discussions on the Web about why some black men prefer white women − ranging from a desire to upgrade status, to internalization of the Western ideal of beauty, to what is seen as the relative sexual permissiveness of white girls. But at least part of the truth is that for a black man to make sweet love to a white woman also means to screw a white man.

And where does this leave the black woman, which is to say the Mizrahi woman? First of all, with fewer leading roles. Second, with fewer candidates for romantic partners. And third, with a vengeance that can backfire. Because who would be the main beneficiary if we sleep only with Ashkenazim? Certainly not us.

But that’s enough for now. Pass the remote, and please hide this newspaper from the Polish guy I married.

"Ptzuim BaRosh." Takes itself too seriously.Credit: Ohad Romano
"Malabi Express." Mostly sleazy.Credit: Alba Vasconcelos
"New York." Self-aware.Credit: Eva Gez

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