It was either going to be hilarious, terribly racist, dry, or somewhere in between.
Two episodes into the series and I’ve settled for somewhere in between. As an Australian of Lebanese heritage, this most recent portrayal of Lebanese Australians in the media is one of fascination and fun.
It’s interesting to see so many Lebanese people expressing their distaste of the program and its ethnic stereotypes, but in all honesty, the stereotypes portrayed in the show don’t steer too far away from the reality for so many Australian Lebanese families.
As you may witness in Here Come the Habibs, Lebanese people are closely knit to their families and extended families, they love food, they dance in any place they can, the women are a mixed bag of fun and crazy, the men balance hours at the gym with their reputation, and really, they all just want to fit in without attracting too much attention.
Lebanese people don’t have a great track record when it comes to their air time.
From the Cronulla Riots to the Skaf gang rapes to Islamic State – as a person of Lebanese heritage, I can personally testify to there being a lack of representation of Lebanese role models in the media.
Beyond Marie Bashir, Robbie Farah, Hazem El Masri, Firas Dirani, Tim Mannah and others known to the media, there are an abundance of exceptional Lebanese role models doing great things every day. I could name a few: Hanan Dover, Zack Salhab, Samiha Elkheir, Leila Alameddine, Ahmed Fahour, Mohamed Taha,Talal Yassine, Roger Rasheed, John Symond and heck, Michael Usher as we found out this morning.
The thing with being ethnic is that once you’re known as ethnic, you represent your entire community. Not just you, not your family or your many cousins, but your entire country. You become the entire population- an economy, a culture, a polity, a society. Ask anyone and they’ll tell you that’s a lot of weight hanging on your shoulders, especially confused adolescent shoulders.
Here Come the Habibs tells the story of just that- An Australian Lebanese family who have won the lottery and moved to a luxurious new ‘palace’ in Vaucluse, are trying to fit in and stay under the radar, unsuccessfully. Led by their mother and father; Mariam and Fou Fou Habib, the three Habib children are a hilariously stereotypical representation of young Lebanese people. But it’s not all bad, it could be much, much worse.
What we can learn from Here Come the Habibs is ironic and somewhat inspirational. We learn that appearances are not what they seem, that you can’t buy falafel in Vaucluse, that there are White Australians who will welcome you with open arms and there are others who will devote their entire life to expelling you from “their” country. Like I’ve said before, we’re all guests on this land and it’s about bloody time we realised it. This was, is and always will be Aboriginal land.
I can confidently say that I’m more comfortable with the portrayal of Australian Lebanese people in the series than I am with the portrayal of White Australians, but I’ll leave that up to you to mull over. It was alright, the stereotypes are there but they don’t overpower the traditional Lebanese values of family, hospitality and generosity. What I’d like to see is the portrayal of Lebanese people beyond “habibs”, “cuz’s” and “bros” in a way that doesn’t make us appear as though our mental abacuses are faulty.