The First in Entertainment's sad end

The media or Dudu - who is to blame for Topaz tragedy?

By REBECCA BASKIN
August 20, 2009 21:11
Dudu Topaz in his early years.

dudu topaz young 248.88. (photo credit: Jerusalem Post Archives)

 
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How did the Dudu Topaz story end in tragedy? It depends on whom you ask. Topaz was born David Goldenberg in Haifa in 1946, the son of well-known actor and director Eliyahu Goldenberg. After a stint in the IDF's Gadna Entertainment Troupe, he studied acting in London before returning to Israel to begin his career. His first television appearance was as an English teacher, and in the early 1980s he began a series of game shows on Channel 1. The most successful of these, Play It, won the David's Violin prize for its contribution to Israeli culture. Topaz's first brush with controversy came when, at a Labor Party gathering in June 1981, during the campaign for the 10th Knesset, he expressed his joy that none of the chahchahim (a derogatory term for Israelis of Middle Eastern descent) of the Likud were in attendance. The incident earned him a three-year suspension from Channel 1. Topaz got back on the air with a new show, Slip of the Tongue, which managed to endear him to the same community that he had offended with the chahchahim incident. In 1988, Topaz wrote and starred in a semi-autobiographical movie, Tel Aviv-Los Angeles. Throughout the late '80s and the early '90s, he continued to star in various shows on different channels. His most successful show, Rashut Habidur (The Entertainment Authority) began at the end of 1993. To connect with his audience, Topaz would go out with a camera team during the show and surprise people at their homes as they were watching the broadcast. The show later became Harishon B'bidur (The First in Entertainment), airing live on Sundays. The show was known for always bringing something new, whether it be making peace between fighting family members, or providing large prizes to people in need. One episode of the show, focusing on an apparent alien landing, managed to break Israel's all-time ratings record, with 51.1% of the country's viewers tuning in. At the turn of the new millennium, following public complaints about Topaz's conduct, Keshet television, which broadcasted Harishon B'Bidur on Channel 2, decided to freeze production. In 2004, Keshet decided to cease all work with Topaz. It was the beginning of his downfall. In 2005, Topaz wrote and produced Moshe, a modern, satirical, musical interpretation of the story of the Exodus. It was a project he had been planning for many years. One of his sons, Omer, acted in the show, but Topaz himself participated only as the voice of God. The show was canceled after a short time, following harsh criticism. Said the editor of a weekly literary supplement in 2005, "I am not interested in publishing an article on Dudu Topaz's biblical musical Moshe... because everything that Dudu Topaz touches, even the Bible, is cheap and shallow beyond definition." He had two other programs, Everything Moves with Dudu Topaz and Everything's Tops with Dudu Topaz, but each received very low ratings and was on the air only a short time. At the end of 2007, he announced that he would no longer host TV shows, and would instead pursue acting and filmmaking. Topaz blamed his low ratings on the rise of reality television, for which he blamed media executives. On May 31, 2009, he was arrested for ordering attacks on TV producer Shira Margalit, Keshet CEO Avi Nir and entertainment agent Boaz Ben-Zion, all over decisions made to remove his programs from television. He later confessed to the crimes. Topaz's lawyer, Zion Amir, holds the media entirely responsible for his client's death. "A massive and horrible media campaign was conducted," Amir told Army Radio on Thursday morning. "The media was used to annihilate, to maul. These methods kill people... These things are meant to be dealt with in court." Members of Topaz's family also seem to believe that the media is at fault. His brother, Miki Goldenberg, slammed reporters who were standing outside the L. Greenberg Institute of Forensic Medicine at Abu Kabir, where his body is being held. "You are not sympathetic to my grief," Goldenberg told the reporters. "You are looking for evil in other people - in the warden who couldn't guard him. You are looking for evil. Go home and look in the mirror, maybe you have something good as well." Prof. Gabriel Weimann of the University of Haifa's department of communication describes Topaz as both a star and a criminal, and says that his story is "the story of Israeli media." Topaz helped to build the very media that eventually destroyed him, the professor said in a video interview posted on Thursday. "He went up very quickly, and down with the same speed," said Weimann. "In his career, success, fall and death is the story of the new Israeli media - and it's not a good story... He exposed to the Israeli media its problematic character... its rudeness, its voyeurism. The same things that brought his success brought his downfall. It's exactly the same formula." Top PR man Rani Rahav, however, believes that only Topaz himself is to blame. "Israelis are asking, 'What happened to our king?' He went from the king of Israel to the king of criminals," Rahav told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday. "We cannot blame the media. Dudu Topaz was guilty... he was responsible for everything." "I think something happened to him, he felt upset," hypothesized Rahav, when asked what led to Topaz's evolution from television star to criminal. "He was a beautiful guy, a beautiful person, a beautiful father... The people are in shock." Topaz confessed to the allegations against him and seemed to take personal responsibility. On June 3, he told Channel 2, "I have no idea what happened to me, what craziness surrounds me... I hate myself for the situation I'm in now." Weimann believes that, no matter who is to blame in Topaz's story, the Israeli media, and society as a whole, have a lot to learn from it. "I think the whole tragic story of Dudu Topaz will cause us to stop and think. Is this the media that we want? We have a media that is cruel, entertaining, escapist, competitive... all of the things that Dudu himself brought to the media. We need to ask, where is this going to lead us?" "Anything is allowed in the name of ratings... but there is a point where [we must say]... it stops here. We are paying prices, not just the death of Dudu Topaz but also very heavy societal, cultural and national prices... This is a sad story, but not a sad personal story... a sad story of Israeli society and Israeli media... and it's worth it to think how we will continue forward from this point," Weimann said.

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