Another Tack: Ocean of schmaltz

January 12, 2006 14:07


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A president died when I was a first-grader. Learning that on the day of the funeral there'd be no school, I literally jumped for joy and wished the great man would "die every day from now on." My mom lectured me sternly but I remained happy. I wasn't exceptionally callous. All my six-year-old peers, just weeks into our scholastic careers, were likewise delighted. So much for the inherent sensitivity and vulnerability of youngsters. But to hear incessant media chatter, Ariel Sharon's brain hemorrhage has traumatized Israel's juveniles, who need particularly delicate handling so their underage psyches won't be too desperately affected by what befell the father of the nation. Children, expounded solicitous advice-dispensers, can't always verbalize their feelings. Therefore they should be encouraged to draw pictures to give vent to their emotions or alternatively resort to music to express their inner torment and insecurities. And not only inconsolable tykes dread losing the exalted collective father. Newspapers inaugurated Web sites where readers could communicate with the comatose premier and e-mail their ruminations, wishes and tributes. Choice entries were inevitably featured in print and solemnly recited by sanctimonious radio and TV talking heads. The populace evidently reveled wallowing in this bottomless ocean of schmaltz and saccharine. It was a melodramatic kitsch-fest rivaled only by post-Rabin assassination de-rigueur mawkishness, which could at least superficially be construed as arising from genuine shock at the suddenness of the historical upset. Not so in this instance. Sharon, though recklessly obese, had reached - in relatively good health up until last month - the average life expectancy of an Israeli male. A medical crisis in his case could hardly have been a bolt from the blue. Indeed, if anything confounded logic it's the apparent assumption that he'd carry on for another term or two. SHARON'S OWN braggadocio contributed to the conceit. His pose was central to political hype aimed at convincing the electorate that it's entrusting its fate in capable hands for the long haul. The deception was self-serving for Sharon and his political entourage, while satisfying a grassroots cop-out desire to count on a larger-than-life guardian, one who'd make all angst disappear and who had all the answers. The masses hankered for paternalism, and Sharon was all too eager to fill the role assigned him by popular demand. It allowed him freedom of action and freedom from scrutiny. He could trample the basic democratic rules of our game - or even change them willfully. And the citizenry, except for pesky skeptics, generally cheered. Folks not only wanted a father, but a strong one, a no-nonsense layer-down-of-the-law, someone who knew his mind and brooked no insubordination. A father like that makes his charges feel safe because he sees things others don't, as Sharon stressed by way of explaining why he reneged on his own electoral platform. The need to maintain the air of invincibility and unchallengeable wisdom accounted for why Sharon and his cronies pooh-poohed his warning stroke, commissioned an upbeat medical opinion, demanded a speedy release from hospital and allowed the patient to venture so far from his caregivers. This wasn't mere hubris; it was cynical preference for short-term political gain - hence the deliberate obfuscation during the first cerebral incident. SINCE THE devastating aftermath couldn't be denied, the other politically exploitable card was subsequently played. If earlier it was best that we discover as little as possible about our national father's condition, we were later inundated with an indecent deluge of detail. There was no real need for diagnostic minutiae. Only the big picture mattered, and it was obvious enough - the father cannot continue to take care of his clinging dependents. All else was downright undignified. Would Sharon really want bulletins about his urine output endlessly rehashed on air? It's closer to voyeurism than respectful concern. Nevertheless, again political considerations overrode propriety. Though no longer vigorous, a sanctified Sharon could elicit sympathy. The object now was to market a hallowed legacy to voters deprived of their autocratic dynamic dad. Obliging opinion-makers occasionally even spuriously extolled him as one of Zionism's founding fathers (no less). Those not conversant with facts could almost surmise that without Sharon there'd have been no State of Israel, that without him we're doomed. Studiously avoided was attention to the invective hurled at him while he sojourned on the "wrong" side of the political divide - from the vantage point of this country's journalistic, judicial and cultural establishments. Had he not expelled 9,000 Jews from their homes and destroyed 25 thriving villages, the deification of Sharon would have never begun. Had he not of late performed a key function in weakening the Jewish state, he'd never have earned the world's indefatigable interest in his vital signs. Shamelessly manipulative media whip up whatever hysteria they deem useful for their agenda. They manufacture and magnify a sense of orphanhood, then boost the image of the heir-apparent, urging we transfer our allegiance to him. That's what Father would have decreed, and what we owe him. Our final token of loyalty is to submit to Sharon's sly successor with full filial obedience. Quintessential wheeler-dealer Olmert is now our surrogate father. In our dysfunctional family, critical thinking is discouraged lest we realize we're in an abusive situation. It's immeasurably more expedient to busy immature know-nothings - of all ages - with drawing pictures, singing mournful songs, composing sentimental tripe and seeking fleeting walk-on glory in the epic soap opera promoted by calculating spin-masters.

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