Palestinian-American comedian Aron Kader and Jewish-Israeli actress/philanthropist Naomi Ackerman shed some light on what you may have missed in the latest episode of "Arab Labor."
I believe this episode was written purposely to break the taboo Arabs have about sex. I don't think that a show has ever brought an audience this far into the bedroom of a Muslim couple. Of course, they're no different then any other TV couple that has been seen in a bedroom, but for Arabs and Muslims, this is a big first.
Sex is never openly talked about among Arabs and Muslims, and Arabs will never show public displays of affection. By using a very traditional old-fashioned nightgown inside the bedroom, which is only sexy to Amjad's father Abu Amjad and probably the older generation, this episode advances the discourse on intimacy. It's quite obvious that there is a comment here on what the modern generation likes versus the older one. Arousal and desire differ from culture to culture, but I this episode could have been written for any TV show anywhere and should be universally understood since all humans have sex and have different habits around it.
As an Arab married to another Arab, I witnessed how differently our families talked about sex before and after our wedding. This is not limited to Arabs; most married people probably experience something similar. Sex is unspoken before marriage and almost never not insinuated after -- maybe not in specifics, but in general about having babies and starting a family.
Most Arabs assume you're a virgin before marriage so sex is a big no-no to talk about until you're married. Even then, it's only acceptable to talk about it around other married people and really just between your respective sex. Delving into the topic can offend easily, but the humor here should be enough to compensate.
Aron Kader is a Palestinian-American comedian and founding member of The Axis of Evil Comedy Tour that debuted on Comedy Central in 2007. He performs regularly in Hollywood at his home club, The World Famous Comedy Store.
In this episode, we get a peek into the bedroom of the different couples on the show. Honestly, sex is sex, people and intimate relationships are truly universal. The problems this episode addresses are relatable and on display on every sitcom.
Classically, Bushra, a working mom with small children, doesn't want to have sex because she is tired. Timna is looking for ways to spice up the romance in the bedroom, and tries to roleplay with her husband Natan. Meanwhile, Amjad's parents are the older couple. They're empty nesters still in love and simply having a blast.
What's different here is the cultural context and the opportunity to peek into a Muslim bedroom. I do not think we have ever seen that before. And when we think of the Middle East, most people assume that the people there are very traditional, perhaps religious and old fashioned. Well, I would think again.They use their tradition as a tool of seduction, or not ...
Bushra wears a traditional nightgown to keep her husband away, while her mother-in-law uses it to seduce her husband. The Jew who they give the nightgown to as a gift uses it to try and tempt her husband to act out a playful role as an Arab. It could seem surreal that culture and race enter the bedroom, but doesn't everything we live and breathe follow us to our most intimate places?
Natan doesn't want to engage in the roleplaying game of Arabs on the eve of his reserve duty since he will be dealing with Arabs while in the army. In Israel, everyone over the age of 18 is required by law two join the army. Girls serve for two years, boys for three. Men continue to do reserve service for one month every year until their 40th birthday. Unfortunately, many reserve soldiers spend their month of reserve duty standing at checkpoints that separate the Arab areas from the Jews, checking identification documents.
On the morning Natan has to leave for reserve duty, Timna pretends to be an Arab woman trying to go through the checkpoint and her husband, who is already in his military uniform, cooperates and they have a playful little encounter. It might seem tasteless to someone watching this from the outside, but dealing with the realities of the Middle East requires some humor and lightheartedness. It's no different than someone in the U.S. role playing as a of doctor, policeman, or firefighter.
Naomi Ackerman is a Jewish-Israeli American. She is the founder and executive director of The Advot Project -- a non-profit organization that uses theater for transformation with incarcerated youth. Naomi draws upon her vast experience as an actress in theater, musicals, films, and television to develop programs that promote peace, change, and encourage self-empowerment.
Click here to watch the full episode, and Kader and Ackerman recapping the ep.