Monday, December 03, 2007

In Which I Am Curmudgeonly

First a bit of background for non-Israelis: YES is an Israeli satellite TV carrier known for their elaborate, lavish commercials. Two years ago, I thought these had hit an ethical nadir with the following (the commercial is mostly in English, which is something else I tend to grumble about):

Impossible though it may seem to top a commercial set in a Vietnamese torture camp for crassness and insensitivity, I believe this one, for YES's upcoming HD transmissions, ably manages the task:

(This one might need a bit of explaining for non-Hebrew speakers: the ultra orthodox characters have condemned HDTV as an abomination, and are singing about how it's against the Torah--because all the Shiksah women look so great--and we'll all go to hell because of it.)

Now, at first glance it may seem that a commercial mocking Orthodox Jews' tendency to exclude and denounce anything new and unfamiliar is a great deal less offensive than a commercial in which POWs sing and dance with their (offensively drawn) captors, but at least with the YES Impact commercial I could tell myself that the people involved were too removed from the reality of this particular experience, which enabled them to make a joke out of something horrible (I believe something similar happened with a commercial in Asia, which made light of the Holocaust, though I can't remember the exact circumstances). The HD commercial doesn't have that excuse. It is, quite deliberately, attacking a segment of the Israeli population, and it can do so with impunity because a) the segment in question doesn't watch TV and b) the rest of us don't like them very much, for a whole host of good reasons which include, but are not limited to, the fact that they don't want us to watch TV either. Or vote, or wear the wrong kind of clothes, read the wrong kind of books, get married later than 19 or have less than 12 children, worship according to our own conscience, and so on and so forth.

But therein lies the problem. As my mother likes to say, one has to live in Israel to be properly anti-semitic, and the divide between justifiable resentment of the Ultra-Orthodox's determination to impose their worldview on the rest of us (such as, just recently, when their protests managed to scuttle the Jerusalem gay pride parade, protests announced with posters much like the ones the characters in the HD commercial are seen putting up) and statements like why do they have to have so many kids, and why can't they get jobs, and why do my tax shekels have to support them, with their attendant disturbing undertones, is extremely permeable. Commercials like the one above feed on what's ugliest in Israeli society (in any society, I suspect). Worse than that, they manage to turn people who simply do not deserve my sympathy into underdogs.

If any company but an Israeli one had made such a commercial, they'd be called anti-semitic. It's not alright if an Israeli company does it.


Ilana said...

So basically their ad is "The Haredim hate it, therefore you'll love it!"?


And to be a true anti-semite, you must first take a segregated bus from Beit Shemesh.

Mae said...

Sorry, Abigail, I found both commercials hilarious.
Maybe I haven't spent enough time in Israel to detect the antisemitism. They reminded me of Mel Brooks.
Thanks for posting them.
Hi to your mom... Mae

Mae said...

I forgot to mention that using the song YMCA was really a great touch.

Raz Greenberg said...

And in continuing mae's post, the other great touch is the usage of a Tsvika Pik song in the first commercial.
Abigail, I think you really took both commercials too hard. I would agree that to an American (or a Vietnamese, for that matter), the first commercial might seem tasteless, but the point of this commercial is not to make fun of the Vietnam war - it's to make fun of the movies about the war, movies that are often overloaded with pathos, and sometimes turn the war into some kind of entertainment no less grotesque than the musical version offered here (ever seen "Rambo II"?). Yes, it is aimed at selling a product, and granted, they wouldn't dare mocking "Schindler's List" in the same manner - not because they're not allowed to, but because it could mean losing business. Still, I think they deserve a credit for trying to sell their own product through making a joke out of it.
As for the second commercial - sorry, but here I fail to see any problem at all. This commercial portrays the Haredim in a funny way, true, but I don't think it portrays them in a negative way. You can see a far more insulting portrayal of this sector in every single satirical TV show. I also don't think that this commercial is laughing at the Haredim as much as it is laughing with them: in fact, while it's true that this sector of the population doesn't watch TV, I think the commercial marks a certain amount of accepting the same sector into the general population.
And I wouldn't consider it anti-Semitic, not even if it were done by someone outside Israel.
I only wish half the creativity that went into doing these commercials would go into doing Israeli movies and TV shows.

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