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Reality Bites

The biggest Israeli sex scandal is on TV

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Yoram Zak, the Big Brother host.(Mouse)

In the last two weeks alone, Israelis have been treated to a carnival of corruption, including the farcical ejection of the designated chief of staff, the arrest of yet another mayor for allegedly accepting bribes, and the trial of ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. But these matter little compared to the case that’s really rocking Israel: Call it Big Brothergate.

The reality television show—a local version of the popular international format—has become something akin to a religion in the Jewish State, with a designated channel broadcasting live from the contestants’ villa 24/7. Ask thoughtful Israelis why they love the show so much, and they’re likely to cite the aforementioned scandals and say that, in a political reality so harsh and arid, a bit of lush escapism never hurts. That is, until the escapism, too, is mired in scandal.

It involved the show’s editor, Yoram Zak. Sitting in his control room, thinking that his microphone was shut off, Zak gazed at one of the show’s female contestants milling about and said some inappropriate things. This being about reality television, I will tell you some of what he said: Politely put, he guessed that the attractive contestant would have enjoyed it if he, Zak, placed a part of his anatomy in a spot on the contestant’s body that is commonly considered erogenous. (If you can read Hebrew, you’ll have a lot more fun with the link.)

A public storm ensued. It is one thing for a prime minister or a mayor to accept payola, or for a top general to steal public lands for his own private use. But for someone to sully the sterling morals of reality TV? Letters flowed in by the dozens. People were outraged. Zak had to go on an involuntary vacation. Further measures are pending. Calls are mounting for the show to go off the air. Just when they thought they were out, reality pulls Israelis right back in.

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Daniella Ashkenazy says:

It escapes me why TABLET – a serious magazine in every other respect, is headlining this ‘scandal’ which involves the crass jerkheads behind a dumb (staged) and decadent reality TV program (a scourge worldwide) that (lamentably) is wildly popular with the lowest strata of Israeli society and makes soap operas look like quality programming.

Deregulation and commercialization has lowered the quality of Israeli television. While loosening of Socialist controls was unavoidable, one of the ramifications is going to be growing education gap between the young people and their parents who watch this crap and those who don’t – a gap that Israel can ill afford. But that is not the topic here. Nor is it the issue of my comments: It’s Tablet’s obsession with scandals in Israel – big and small that seem to dominate Scroll.

I get the uneasy impression that Scroll — like bottom-feeding catfish, has become addicted to digging up the most uncomplimentary aspects of Israeli society for their reader’s consumption. The choice of such items conveys a smug self-righteousness in the subtext since “strangely enough” I don’t see similar trash being served up regularly in Scroll about the American Jewish community – save a mention or two of Bernie Madoff… Or have I missed something? I would add: HEEB is definitely not my cup of tea, but at least they hold up the same outlandish ‘mirror’ to Israeli society and the American Jewish community and even the Holocaust – there is no singling out.

I read the Hebrew papers and a host of other sources of interesting news about Israel in English (I’m an American-born Israeli journalist). There are plenty of breaking news items about Israel and Israelis that could be noted in Scroll that would present a more balanced and far more enriching picture of Israel reality –which is not the same as reality TV and its producers.

@ Daniella-

The reason I love Tablet so much is because it gives us ALL things Jewish- from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Love you Tablet! From strength to strength!

mah zeh bulbul?

I can only agree with Daniella’s comments. The amount of attention you give to these stories in tablet is in inverse proportion to the interest that they generate in Israel. You are doing a disservice to your readers by presenting a distorted picture.

While I agree that the scroll could certainly give us a little more of the positive news items from Israel, I still think this story is entertaining. Have to agree with Daniella, though, that there is some distortion as to which news stories Americans get about Israel. Not only on Tablet, but in general.

The only thing I would love more than coverage of Israeli television shows and movies is some links for where we can view these shows. Or even where we can get DVDs (formatted for American players).

Daniella Ashkenazy says:

Responding to A.

You can access Israeli program directly via the Internet – VOD for free; but since there are no subtitles in English, if you don’t know Hebrew this is a non-starter. A commercial channel in the States (carried by Comcast) has Israeli TV – the best and the worst – some with English subtitles See: http://tin.tv/

There are very good Israeli films that you may be able to rent/buy with subtitles via the Internet. Some of my recommendations: Broken Wings, Noodle, Yossi and Jager, Turn Left at the End of the World, Sweet Mud, The Galilee Eskimos, Open Heart, Uspuzim, Kippur, (and the classics The Policeman from 1971 and Michel Ezra Safra and Sons)

Those readers – like Wendy – who seek everything from “the sublime to the ridiculous” (I’m also a lifetime odd news junkie) can go to the news website of wild and wacky news in English from Israel gleaned from the Hebrew press: Chelm-on-the-Med© Online (www.chelm-on-the-med.com) while good for a laugh, is much more: it presents a genuine mosaic of ‘real’ lighter side of Israeli society that is not a monologue (most books and blogs about ‘Israelity’ are just that – except Donna Rosenthal’s “The Israelis” – highly recommended). The Chelm Project (which has largely taken over my life) is a composite, by countless Israelis whose antics or bizarre behavior land them in the back pages of the Hebrew press. In a more serious vein, I believe it is more than infotainment at its best: French philosopher and critic Roland Barthes who pioneered social theory argued that popular cultural material is a social barometer, significant beyond its face value. French philosopher, sociologist and anthropologist Pierre Bourdieu who pioneered the concept of “cultural fields” and “social capital” held one can read the trivia of everyday life as full of meaning about a society. Chelm-like captures and shares with non-Israelis the ‘fabric’ of Israeli society.

@Jay – bulbul = dick

@Daniella

Thanks very much for the suggestions, both movies and others. I will note all of them.

You’re on target with your introducing the necessity of seeing the lighter side, the everyday side, of a society, in order to fully understand it. If one was to rely only on mainstream sources for news about Israel, then one would get if not a black and white version, maybe a sepia tone picture. The everyday character and the way people truly lives their lives is quite absent. Your own sites look intriguing.

VOD would not be a problem for me, if you’re still checking replies and wouldn’t mind offering some links.

Daniella Ashkenazy says:

For A.

Write me via the Chelm website (with your e-mail) and I’ll see else what I can find and get back to you. I’m assuming you don’t know conversational Hebrew.

Believe me, Israel is a lot more warm, inviting, surprising and human place than what focus groups find (a dangerous, gloomy, tight-assed place filled with religious fanantics)

Daniella

I’ve said that least 3770365 times. The problem this like that is they are just too compilcated for the average bird, if you know what I mean

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Reality Bites

The biggest Israeli sex scandal is on TV

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