Think about it: Big brothers

From Big Brother Assad to the Big Brother program on TV Channel 2, which came to a rather glorious ending last Tuesday.

September 1, 2013 21:42
Big Brother

Big Brother. (photo credit: Courtesy)

My original plan was to dedicate this week’s article to Big Brother Assad – one of the last surviving non-monarchic, secular dictators in the Arab world – who despite the war crimes he is apparently committing against his own people might well survive three years of civil war.

Once again we are reminded that contrary to what President Barack Obama said on Saturday, it is might rather than right that wins battles, and at the moment Assad has the full backing and active commitment of Iran, Hezbollah and Russia, while the medley of opposition forces have the hesitant backing of some of the Gulf States, and of a self-righteous and psychologically impotent West.

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Though Assad the father and Assad the son gave Israel 40 years of quiet on its northeastern border, today there is no promise that if the latter manages to survive the current upheaval, this quiet will continue. On the other hand, if he loses, the chances of militant Islamic forces taking over are much greater than of liberal secular forces doing so, and unlike the situation in Egypt where the army remains independent and powerful, if Assad falls, the Syrian army will disintegrate, and only God knows what will follow.

So all that is left for us to do at the moment is to sit tight, keep our gas masks handy (in the event that the Americans finally pull themselves together and attack), and pray that the outcome will be the lesser evil – whatever that might be. There is really not much more that can be said.

So from Big Brother Assad to the Big Brother program on TV Channel 2, which came to a rather glorious ending last Tuesday.

Let me start off by saying that in my opinion Big Brother-type reality TV shows, wherever they take place (and this format has taken root in numerous countries the world round) are an inferior, yellow form of entertainment, but nevertheless one that enjoys the highest viewing rates – in Israel we are talking about 30-40 percent! However, in the process of selecting participants for the show – usually but not invariably a mixture of attention-seeking freaks, misfits and not-too-bright “beautiful” people – every once in a while the production casters actually come up with characters who have something serious to say for themselves.

In the fifth season of “our” Big Brother, two such persons actually reached the finale.

After the winners of the three previous shows were all rather confused but lovable young Mizrahi men, the two finalists this time were the stunningly beautiful Ethiopian model Tahunia Rubel (who without doubt surpasses Israel’s Ethiopian beauty queen Yityish Aynaw in her looks), and the vivacious, golden-hearted Ashkenazi lesbian Levana Gogman – both strong-willed, determined young women, who refuse to pretend that it is raining when they are being spat upon.

It is not at all clear how in a racist and homophobic society like ours, the finalists were an Ethiopian and a lesbian. Undoubtedly, the unbridled male-chauvinist, racist and homophobic outbursts of two other housemates on the show – Roni and Gili Maili - had an effect. The Mailis (father and son) were both ousted in turn from the show by the production for their extreme verbal abuse of Tahunya, Levana and another lesbian housemate, and the final outcome was certainly a manifestation of poetic justice.

It should be noted that when the Mailis poured out their venom, the most the other housemates did was to protest weakly and politely, only to be ignored by father and son, who seemed possessed.

In light of the open support enjoyed by the Mailis among the general public (there were more complaints to the production about their being ousted than about the verbal abuse they spouted), and the fact that the outspoken, “sound and fury,” hard-as-nails Tahunia emerged the final winner, despite the fact that she was constantly being voted against by the housemates as a candidate for eviction – leaves some open questions regarding possible manipulation by the production to ensure a certain outcome, or at least the general direction of the outcome.

Outside Big Brother the final outcome would have been completely different. In daily life there is no production crew to stop the know-it-all, smart-alec male chauvinists from terrorizing their surroundings. On the one occasion in which I was forced to confront the phenomenon in my official capacity in the Knesset, the reaction of my superiors, including the Knesset director general, was: “it is below your dignity to react to this idiot,” and the man in question (also a Knesset employee) was not even confronted, never mind reprimanded. Outside the Knesset I have frequent encounters with such characters, who seem to flourish in all parts of our society.

The ugly graffiti that welcomed Levana when she returned to her parents’ home, which read: “Lesbians do not win” and “God hates Lesbians,” undoubtedly reflects the daily reality that she lives in, much more than the personal affection that she elicited from the public that voted for her (with or without intervention by the show’s producers).

Tahunia, with the NIS 1,000,000 she won, will undoubtedly be more protected in the glamorous world of modeling, which will certainly embrace her now more than ever before, and in the predominantly Ethiopian neighborhood in Beit Shemesh in which she lives (for the time being) with her family.

However, her experience in the Big Brother house brought back to her very concrete memories from her childhood, when she was forced to assume the Hebrew name Michal, and was discriminated against because of the color of her skin.

It is an undisputed fact that among the Jews in Israel, the Ethiopians are still at the bottom of the social food chain, with or without an Ethiopian beauty queen, an Ethiopian winner of Big Brother, and an Ethiopian Lady Macbeth at the Cameri Theater.

Finally, despite the inferiority of the Big Brother genre, if only the outcome of the fifth season were the reality.

The writer is a retired Knesset employee.

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