With over 42 million views on You- Tube, the song that became the annual “halftime extravaganza” of the Super Bowl just may be a reflection of our times, on multiple levels. The discussion surrounding the video for “Hymn for the Weekend” serves as a good illustration of the superficial era in which we live. An interview with the Israeli company representative that visually “adjusted” every single frame of the clip so that it would appear “perfect,” capturing eyes, hearts and souls, exposes the shallowness of our global, viral reality.
The “spirituality” that the song intended to inspire relies on the viewers’ sense of sight, rather than any other sense, “hoping to facilitate inward reflection and deep awareness to ourselves and all that is around us.” It is telling that of all our senses, sight was the one chosen to stir our spirituality. After all, many of us were taught that looks can be deceiving, asked to not judge books by their covers. In an effort to utilize other senses, possibly more suitable to inspire spirituality, listening to the words of the song reveals yet another sad truth of our times. There is little, if any, depth or spirituality to be found in the simplistic, basic rendition of the “Hymn.”
It appears that all criticism of the clip gone viral revolves strictly around the visuals, questioning whether the representation chosen is in fact “appreciation” or “appropriation.” None of the criticism seems to even examine the words of the hymn meant to inspire spirituality. Even the underlying insinuation, that “spirituality” can be attained “over a weekend” rather than by an aspiration for long-term, deep commitment, is indicative of the shallowness which surrounds us. Finally, the very fact that the Hymn was so significant during the Super Bowl weekend, which generates absolutely nothing spiritual in its spending and consumerism, is only another reflection of the diluted and problematic discussion of our times.
Against this backdrop, in the age of oft accepted “moral ambiguity,” where few if any norms for what is socially acceptable are expected to be observed, it is perhaps easier to understand many global shortcomings and manifestations. Among these is none other than the infamous BDS campaign to which we are responding with our own well-meaning, reactive campaign, rather than investing resources to identify, expose and respond to its deep-rooted sources. However, the phenomenon I would like to discuss this time is sexual harassment and the ensuing public (and private) discourse.
Sexual harassment has become a weekly, if not daily, topic of discussion. In interview after interview, it has become abundantly clear that where there are insufficient codes of behavior for what is socially acceptable, the law cannot do much to help, intervene as it may. Whether one believes that the law creates reality or that it trails behind it, the law cannot replace societal norms. The most it can do is to delineate minimal expectations. As in all other matters, society should strive for better and actively define and elucidate social standards that rise above the base point prescribed by law.
Sexual harassment thrives in an atmosphere that enables it by not understanding, acknowledging or exposing it for what it is. Sexual harassment is not about sex or romance, but rather about power and its expressions. Recognizing that power, or perceived power differentials, exist in many forms, and that these distort boundaries even where they exist, societal expectations must aim higher. To truly address the challenges of sexual harassment, beyond the prescription of the law, among other things societal norms and expectations must ensure that women are not objectified by anyone, including by themselves. It must empower women and men, from the time that they are girls and boys, to know that they are equal (even if different). It must prioritize and guarantee that gender equality is maintained in every sphere of life, with a top-down approach, ensuring visibility of such equality. It requires facilitation of inward reflection and deep awareness, enabling private and public discussion of moral and ethical questions that empower a society to formulate norms and expectations which transcend the law and become common practice and routine expectation.
Such a process requires time, not a weekend, and entails authentic discussion and contemplation, not external, photo- shopped alterations and adjustments or standing ovations at the end of a play at a theater. When a colleague of a famous actor accused of sexual harassment proclaims his shock at the accusations by clarifying, on prime time radio, that his colleague did not harass a beautiful, young female colleague, though, “believe me, she is worth harassing,” it is clear that there are no societal norms or expectations that have raised the minimal bar set by the law.
Zoom out. Just as things are not as they first appear when presenting cases of sexual harassment, requiring inward reflection and deep awareness, individual and collective, so too we should at least contemplate the need for the same approach to other facets of this moral bankruptcy. If indeed sexual harassment is but one manifestation of this, perhaps it can shed light on other emerging challenges of our times.
Returning for a moment to the laundering of the delegitimization of the State of Israel using the very tools that were intended to protect individuals, communities and countries, perhaps there is a lesson to be learned. At the very same time that we read that more than 10,000 unaccompanied migrant children have disappeared in Europe, fearing many have been whisked into sex trafficking rings or the slave trade; or that 1 in 10 Syrians is either dead or injured; or that last month the tyrannical leadership of Iran set a record for executions, rendering it the world leader in state executions per capita; or that Freedom House published an important annual report on human rights and freedom; all we seem to hear about is Israel’s alleged human rights violations.
Freedom House, founded in 1941, is the first American organization to champion the advancement of freedom globally. Its annual report aims to “analyze the challenges to freedom, advocate for greater political rights and civil liberties, and support front-line activists to defend human rights and promote democratic change.”
Freedom House posits “that freedom is possible only in democratic political environments where governments are accountable to their own people; the rule of law prevails; and freedoms of expression, association and belief, as well as respect for the rights of minorities and women, are guaranteed.”
Freedom House is dedicated to the promotion of democracy and human rights as it believes that they are essential for international peace.
The 2015 Freedom House report was recently published
, but you would not know it scouting the lead headlines. It is no weekend read.
It is a thorough, comprehensive factual report, requiring significant reflection and awareness. According to the report, more than 2.5 billion people, more than a third of the globe’s population, live in countries that Freedom House defines as “Not Free.”
Israel, in case you were wondering, is clearly identified as one of the “Free” countries.
With all of Israel’s challenges, of which there are many (these are not factored in at all, neither as explanations nor as excuses), Israel’s “Freedom” rating’ is 1.5, its civil liberties’ rating is 2 and its political rights rating is 1 (1 being the highest, 7 the lowest in all the above ratings).
The BDS campaign, yet another manifestation of the emerging challenges in a global, viral reality in which ignorance is not only bliss but is power, does not contend with serious, deep level reporting that analyzes and synthesizes facts. Societal norms and expectations being at an all-time low, with capacity for “weekend spirituality” of the shallowest kind, do not expect it to. The lowest common denominator expectation serves as a wonderful platform for intersectional outreach, never even scratching the surface to expose BDS’s true intentions. Public discourse is satisfied with its sound-bite distortion of truth, and blatant, vicious lies, conveniently enabling simplified categorization, where those participating in the dissemination of falsehoods prefer not to be confused with the facts.
If we are truly to contend with the various manifestations of the weak links in a global, viral reality, we cannot expect to do so with quick fix one-line condemnations and solutions. Spirituality and knowledge take longer than a weekend to grasp, and are to be found not in picture perfect, sound-bite reality, but rather in thoughtful, genuine, deep learning and reflection.
They are a result of long-term processes of education, formation of identity, of opinion based on facts, with a degree of moral clarity. This includes demarcation of boundaries (possibly by the law) that serves as guiding infrastructure for deep discussion and engagement in the gray zones, ultimately framing societal norms and expectations that strive higher than the law can or should. If we truly wish to address the various facets of the reality that enable sexual harassment and the BDS campaign to thrive, we will surely have to look deeper and longer than to a weekend Hymn.
A final thought. After all is said and done, one can’t help but wonder if the tremendous global success of the clip, in large part thanks to the Israeli team that “perfected” it, will lead Coldplay to perform in Israel, this time without surrendering to the pressures of the BDS campaign.
Shabbat Shalom. A weekend of peace!