Yes, it’s true. Israel has her share of trash TV.
Our screens are inundated with practically any type of reality show you can think of: Big Brother, Survivor, The Bachelor, Master Chef, A Star is Born (=Israel’s version of American Idol), The Voice, X-Factor, clothing makeovers, home makeovers… Considering the size of the country (less than the population of New York City) the amount and variety is staggering.
We love our trash TV. Some are fanatic followers. Some are closet followers. Others love to hate it, adamantly refusing to “stoop down to that level.” Everyone has an opinion, everyone cares – one way or the other.
In a country under constant existential threat, trash TV is a vacation for the mind. It’s an excuse to get involved in tiny, meaningless details (who said what to whom? Why did she wear that bikini?) and forget about everything else. It’s nice to pretend that what the judges said to some contestant actually matters…
It’s popular to bemoan the deterioration of society due to the focus on celebrity culture and instant fame. It is concerning that today many children who are asked what they wanted to be when they grow up now answer: “famous” or “rich”. It used to be that children wanted to be “doers”, “creators” or “savers”. Children used to say: I want to be an astronaut, a teacher, a ballerina, a doctor, a policeman…. I believe it is not the TV shows that are the problem; rather it is the lack of parental influence in relation to what children are seeing that facilitates this shallow outlook.
There is no doubt that trash TV and celebrity culture influences values. Two recent events highlighted for me where it seems we are going wrong (and by “we” I mean everyone, this is a global issue not just an Israel issue).
In Israel’s version of The Amazing Race, pairs of Israelis race around the globe, completing challenges in attempt to arrive first at the finish line. I watched as one pair raced through streets of a city in Spain. The woman was screaming as she ran, shouting how life was not fair, that she was dying to go check out the shoes in the shops she was passing but there was no time and she had no money and seeing the plethora of shoes she could not have was killing her. Seeing her behavior made me cringe. So loud, so obnoxious… And then suddenly she stopped. Her partner was ahead of her and came back to see what happened. She was standing in front of a homeless man lying in a doorway. She insisted her partner give the man money (although they didn’t have much left for themselves).
Don’t judge a book by its cover. In the midst of a selfish, materialistic, rampage this woman saw the suffering of someone else and threw all her selfishness aside to do what she could to appease it. Values come from within. Even if the external is shallow and obnoxious (like many things on TV are these days) it is up to us to choose to continue in the same vein or be motivated by internal values and ideals. This woman was a perfect example – she could have easily just kept on running but her heart saw the man, cold and alone on the doorstep. Heart and values trumped materialistic, selfish desires.
Another, larger and more dramatic incident occurred in the show Big Brother. A man in the house displayed aggressive and verbally abusive behavior. First he flung insults at black people, treating the Ethiopian model in the house differently because of her skin color. Then he directed his abuse towards a lesbian woman because of her sexual orientation.
The contestants strongly objected to this display of hatefulness but even more than that the viewers of the show did as well. Despite what people abroad might think of Israel, bigotry, racism and hatefulness directed at any group – ANY group (yes, including Moslems and Arabs) is simply unacceptable to the general public.
The producers of the show also objected to the cruelty of this man’s words. Although the show is known for putting together people with radically different backgrounds and ideas in order to ferment turmoil and create action, this went beyond anything anyone could swallow. Realizing that they would be condoning this behavior on national prime time TV, the producers refused to allow the man to continue with his behavior. In an unprecedented move the producers removed the man from the show, without waiting for him to be kicked off by the audience. Moreover they took him into a room and replayed for him the video of his actions. They gave him the opportunity to see himself from the side, to learn that this is unacceptable and repent – not to stay on the show but rather to learn not to hurt people in the future.
To me it was beautiful to see people rush to defend others from cruelty. Although the two women attacked could be considered less than sympathetic by many, they were immediately wrapped in kindness and understanding by those who witnessed their pain. An attack that was based on content of character might be considered legitimate. Cruelty based on skin color, sexual orientation etc. is not.
The point of this is that the values came from within. The TV format allowed spewing of hatefulness; it was the values of the people involved who put a stop to it – in this case the nation rose up to say that we believe in kindness and not hurting others, no matter who they are.
It is up to each and every one of us to decide, to influence. The ratings have already voted in trash TV. Now the question is what will we do with what we see? What values will we express and model for others?