Media Matters: A new look at an old argument

Just try to imagine election season without the kitschy commercials.

ad picture 248.88 (photo credit: )
ad picture 248.88
(photo credit: )
Am I the only member of the press and the public who looks forward to watching the election ads on TV? Apparently not, judging by the ratings which, against all predictions, turned out to be high on Tuesday evening. No small feat, considering that this election season they've been relegated to slots before and after prime time (6 p.m. on Channel 10, 10 p.m. on Channel 1 and 11:15 p.m. on Channel 2). Furthermore, other crucial developments of the day - the attack from Gaza that left an IDF tracker dead and other soldiers wounded, as well as the arrival of new Middle East mediator George Mitchell - could easily have upstaged them into oblivion. Maybe what this means is that I'm among the very few who actually enjoy watching the ads - or admit to it - and not merely for the professional purpose of analysis and critique. As it happens, this is one form of low-brow entertainment I personally find addictive. My taste, in this case - like my aversion to reality shows - puts me in the minority. Not that consensus is all that common, mind you. In fact, it's considered to be a rare commodity in this country, which is why the overall patriotic mood during Operation Cast Lead was so refreshing. But two aspects of the current campaign generated across-the-board agreement this week, both in the media and among the masses. The first was a kind of collective bemusement-bordering-on-bafflement at the unintentionally comical commercial of the joint Holocaust survivors/pot smokers list. So talked about has the ad become that one might wonder whether, by mere virtue of buzz, the party doesn't muster a couple of mandates. The second was the unanimous opinion, from pundits of all political persuasions, that the election ads are anachronistic, a waste of tax-payers' money and an insult to voters' intelligence. What we need, say all, is a televised American-style debate between the key candidates. The networks would surely be more than happy to oblige. Indeed, the last such event, between then prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Center Party leader Yitzhak Mordechai - broadcast on Channel 2's Mishaal Ham program nearly a decade ago - garnered unprecedented ratings. WHERE THE Holocaust Survivors Party is concerned: Aside from its being ridiculous to some and offensive to others, it serves to hit home just how out of control our political system and the egos of its players are. That small interest groups aim for influence inside the Knesset makes coalition-building and government stability hard enough as it is. But when splinter factions themselves start splitting (as is also the case with the regular Greens and the Meimad ones), well, Chelm doesn't begin to describe the situation. As for the more serious discussion about the necessity of the campaign commercials altogether, it's one of those old hats taken out and dusted off for debate prior to every general election - which, due to the above, comes along a lot more often than the optimal four years. That the ads, with their simplistic messages and matching jingles, tend to become as much a focus - albeit negative - as the candidates they are promoting makes sense in this cultural climate and media environment. Israelis are a news-ravenous bunch, which means that the press is required to provide constant sustenance, with the speed and panache of a short-order cook. But the dishes served by the media cannot consist solely of politics spiced with Palestinian terrorism. On the contrary, the recent pedophile ring expose is as "welcome" a spicy item as the scare surrounding the listeria-bacterium contamination of a batch of frozen pizzas and other widely popular Ma'adanot products. This makes editorial menu-planning a challenge. On the one hand, writers and talk-show hosts have a plethora of material - particularly in the not-so-aftermath of a war, and right before an extremely consequential election. On the other hand, the current-events consumer we are catering to has eclectic appetites. Hence the hoopla over the propaganda. But just try to imagine election season without it. TRUE, IN the age of the Internet, it is as anachronistic as the military censor. True, the quality of the commercials leaves much to be desired. True, nobody votes based on their content, that is heavier on slogans than substance. True, we'd all like to be treated to a debate between the contenders (though these days, it couldn't be narrowed down to two, which would make it more like a panel of Politika than a presentation of opposing worldviews). Still, it is a tradition. That it is one which everybody loves to hate - like, say, the Eurovision Song Contest - only indicates how ensconced it has become. And how part and parcel of the electoral process it is. It also provides a bit of light relief to the otherwise weighty considerations involved in deciding how to cast one's ballot. In spite of the mantras we all moan in unison - such as "There's no one to vote for," "They're all the same sh-t" and "We have to reform the system" - it is worth stopping to appreciate the electrical energy of the electoral process itself, whatever tune it's sung to. And the more it's felt in the air and over the airwaves the better, even the kitsch. It is, after all, what distinguishes us from our neighbors.