August 18, 2011

MEDIA COMMENT One-sided humor is not funny

Posted in Uncategorized tagged at 1:46 pm by yisraelmedad

One-sided humor is not funny
By Yisrael Medad and Eli Pollak

“Satire is tragedy plus time,” wrote Lenny Bruce. Within the Israeli context, that should be reworded as: “no matter how much time has passed, the tragedy is that satire is the privilege of the Left”.

Jewish humor, anthropologists have informed us, has always been accompanied by a strong social comment character. Israeli humor takes that one step further: it is intensely political. For the past four decades, the televised satire has been, predominantly left-of-center and directed too often against the nationalist and religious camps.

The defense of Israeli satire that has always been voiced is that the ‘freedom of expression’ and ‘freedom of artistic creativity’ are sacred. Another excuse is that satire always attacks the government in power. We note though, that good satire attacks all those in power including politicians of all stripes, business moguls, the cultural elites, the powerful media, the judiciary as well as society in general. Israeli television has a long tradition of satirical programs. From Nikui Rosh of the 1970s to the Chartzufim in the 1990s and to Eretz Nehederet which debuted in late 2003, media consumers have never been at a loss for laughs. The targets, though, have made those shows one-dimensional. It was Jonathan Swift who wrote an incisive truth so relevant to Israel, “Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.”

A skit-by-skit review over the years highlights another disturbing element. The viciousness of the humor can reach shocking depths. The imagery, more often than not, goes beyond the expected biting style literally as when a Chartzufim skit had two Haredim dining on the head of a secularist or a Hebron housewife uses a bent-over Arab as an ironing board.

What is the current state of affairs?

Israel’s Media Watch reviewed the Eretz Nehederet satirical program for the period of December 2010-May 2011, a total of 15 programs. The main personalities in the program are Prime Minster Netanyahu (9 appearances), Foreign Minster Lieberman (4) and Interior Minister Yishai (4). Lieberman is portrayed as a fascist including a Nazi-like hand salute. The Yesha Council spokeswoman character, Roichel, is depicted as a lesbian and a sadist and is seen in 11 of the 15 programs. Opposition politicians are missing as objects of scorn but Jonathan Pollard appeared twice.

Funny or not, this reflects an ideologically-driven agenda from the far left, the assumed fiefdom of Israel’s cultural and literary elite.

But there is a solution in sight. It is balance. And it exists.
Over the past few years, inroads have been made by satirists coming from a different political and social worldview, Haggai Segal, Uri Orbach as well as Erel Segal (no relation) have been publishing satirical columns in the printed media and have even achieved radio status.
Yedidyah Meir’s Eppes page, which challenged readers with its very Jewish content frame of reference, eventually had to leave Haaretz. Even the Besheva weekly as well as Makor Rishon’s Friday edition carry satirical columns. Television, however, is still the ‘property’ of the leftist elite.

For the past two years, first as a website and then in a video format, Latma has emerged as a remarkable example of fresh satire, if only because it simply is different. Gone is the monopoly. And it is popular. Its classic “We Con The World” clip, commenting on the 2010 flotilla effort to Gaza, had as of Monday morning, over 2.5 million hits at one of its YouTube locations (and at least another million at other sites). Latma criticizes the media, mocks politicians across the spectrum and includes social comment in its barbed humor. It comes from an admitted right-wing perspective. By its very existence it exemplifies the lie pushed by the cultural leftist elite in Israel: that culture is left and the right is dry.

With a proven track-record, Latma has been in negotiations with the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Channel One TV. At least one pilot was successfully produced. Caroline Glick, last April, had said, ”this will provide an opportunity for new talent to penetrate onto the national scene…our product is going to be introducing Israeli TV audiences to a lot of new faces.” Over 100 episodes of Latma’s “Tribal Update” are proof that the crew is professional. However, at present the IBA claims that it does not yet have the considerable funding necessary for going on air.

If any example were required to highlight the deep gap between left and right, one only need review last week’s sketches of Eretz Nehederet and of Latma vis a vis the tent protest camp at Rothschild Boulevard. The first attacks Benjamin Netanyahu, the tycoons and the settlers in Judea and Samaria. The last few minutes of the program were devoted to propaganda prepared by the tent protesters. Latma points to the unmistakable political socialist thrust of the leadership, with its New Israel Fund backing. Latma also dealt with the social terror exercised against anyone who does not toe the line of the demonstrators. They ridiculed the supposed deep concern of the left wing demonstrators for the well-being of the average Israeli citizen, noting that this concern was not evident during the disengagement from the Gaza strip. Two different views of the same events.

The Israeli public deserves variety, pluralism and balance. The laws that oversee the television networks lay down those very same principles. There is enough satire to go around for all. The creative effort can come from all sides.
Can we all not enjoy a good laugh?

Eli Pollak and Yisrael Medad are, respectively, Chairman and Vice-Chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il)

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