I don’t watch much reality TV, so I first came across the story of Rose Fostanes when a friend brought up how glad she was that Rose made the final cut. This particular friend wasn’t someone I would have pegged as interested in a show like X-Factor, especially the Israeli version, since her Hebrew isn’t very strong. So, I asked her why she cared about whether a specific person won at all.
“Well,” she said. “I mean, you know, her story is just so moving. I just think it would be nice if she won.”
My friend obviously assumed that I knew more about Rose’s story than I did. Curious, I did some quick research (Wikipedia, thank you once again. I’m still not going to donate to you, though). Rose certainly seemed to be completely different than the image promoted by most reality TV shows. At 47, on the curvy side, and at less than 5 feet tall, she bears little resemblance to the cookie cutter teen idols that the public is assaulted with each season, as if they were a new model of car. To add to her diversity basket, she’s a Filipina guest worker, and openly gay. Even she admitted that, at first, she didn’t expect much support.
I listened to a clip of her singing Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful, and I couldn’t see that much appeal. Sure, she has a strong voice. She’d make a great karaoke bar hostess. And, that’s not to denigrate her accomplishments at all. To be honest, the competition level of almost any regional reality show competition is usually not the same as on American version of similar shows, since America has a huge pool of talent to draw from, and access to intensive training is available everywhere. Singers competing on American Idol have probably been honing their craft for years before “being discovered”.
So I thought, what can it be that is getting everyone so caught up? My friends, my co-workers, the Israeli press — everywhere I saw her name, with the (usually) unstated assumption that, barring an act of God, she was going to win. First, I posited that it was the lesbian factor. People love lesbians. Well, at least, people love pleasant and/or hot lesbians. Ellen Degeneres, Portia De Rossi, Rosie O’Donnell (when she’s being funny and not bitchy), are all loved and admired.
However, based on the flack I caught for admitting to loving lesbians on my Facebook page (Ellen, the Presidential nomination bid I was suggesting might have to wait a few years) I decided that, at least in Rose’s case, it must be something else. Why would Jews be so supportive of her?! What is it about the Jewish psyche that made Rose’s situation a natural rallying point? And then I figured it out. It’s guilt!
Where do most Israelis encounter someone from the Phillipines? Well, that’s the person who’s taking care of Grandma. The person who spends 14, 15, 18 hours or more taking care of Grandma, at minimum wage (if they’re lucky), for days on end. I have a neighbor who is disabled, and her caregiver has been in Israel for over 8 years, and has seen her family twice during that time. Her Hebrew is almost perfect, and her English is better than most Israelis. But, thanks to the vagaries of fate, this is the best job that she can find.
Now, we as a country, could elect to do something about the long hours, the low pay, the third world living conditions that guest workers experience when they finally get some time off to go back to one bedroom apartments housing as many as 8 people. Of course, that would actually call for us to add money to the budget that could be put to better use on subsidized cottage cheese or abortions. But, then again, why should we?! I mean, how bad could the life of a Filipino in Israel be, if one of them can win X-Factor?!
And so, with the show over, and the champion crowned, Israel has again slain the dragon of our collective guilt. And now, we can move on to new reality tv shows, and not think about the Phillipines anymore. At least, not until the next hurricane, or when it’s time to find someone to take of Grandpa. I hear he’s feeling a little poorly.