Media Matters: Dudu-filled pages

The response to the Topaz travesty - and how the media accuse and excuse in the same breath.

dudu topaz 248 88 (photo credit: Courtesy Naor Gal)
dudu topaz 248 88
(photo credit: Courtesy Naor Gal)
For a media critic, the Dudu Topaz case is what a friend and fellow writer calls "low-hanging fruit": there for the picking; no tree climbing necessary. This is not only because Topaz was an uber-celebrity among the Hebrew media elite (one whose decades-long career could have kept him in financial clover for the rest of his life; it certainly would have allowed him to rest on his laurels for a while, until figuring out how to make a comeback, other than the release of a new children's book, which was sure to become a best-seller and still might). That would have been sufficient cause for country-wide shock, as details of the Sopranos-like scenario unfolded. But his victims, too, are high-level media figures. Avi Nir and Shira Margalit are executives in the Second Authority for Radio and Television - the latter the daughter of ultra-famous columnist and newscaster Dan Margalit. The third victim of Topaz's violent and malicious machinations, agent Boaz Ben-Zion, is a prominent fixture in the entertainment world, as well. And that, apparently, is just the tip of the iceberg where Topaz's plans to pulverize anyone to whom he attributed his fall from grace. That, in an act of cold revenge, Topaz hired hit men to rough up the above for removing him from the screen is the stuff B-movies are made of. It is therefore no wonder that the press has been devoting excessive coverage to the story, which reached fever pitch on Tuesday, with Topaz's confession, on Thursday morning, with his suicide attempt and on Thursday evening, with the discovery of his intention to have a few more celebs pummeled. For all those who not only know him personally, but who have born the brunt of his outbursts, this was no mere "low-hanging fruit"; this was pure, pre-squeezed pulp. Nor was it surprising from the get-go that Topaz wasn't going to be given a break by the branja (as was, say, actor/director Assi Dayan, who beat up his pregnant girlfriend, and then filmed himself on Channel 10 last month). That the punditocracy has been pretty uniform in its denunciation of Dudu's dastardly deeds was therefore to be expected - as was the fact that, because so many different columnists and talk-show panelists are dealing with the same topic, each has had to come up with his or her own take on the affair. What is startling, however, is the underlying message common to every comment, no matter how negative, on the crimes committed. Though the angles vary, the motif is the same: Topaz is not a person with free will, but rather a personification - a symbol - of serious societal ills. Army Radio and Yisrael Hayom police reporter Hadas Shteif claimed the police used the press to scare Topaz into confessing. Haaretz's Yossi Melman said that issues like North Korea are too foreign and far away for our superficial public, who can relate more to local trash. Conductor Nancy Brandes asserted that Topaz's addiction to the limelight caused him to lose his mind, and called his friend's drive "clinical." A similar sentiment was echoed by former TV great Yigal Shilon, who explained how he himself handled being put out to pasture. Producer Assaf Gil called Topaz a "tragic figure," as did Israel Radio's Carmit Gai, attributing his behavior to his having "lost the ability to discern between right and wrong," and criticizing the public for having "elevated him to such heights for so long and then kicked him to where he is now." The Seventh Eye's Noam Yoran opined that Topaz's "real crime - the one for which he was booted out of the world of TV - was that he loved the garbage he created. In today's TV world, which is full of junk like Reality shows, it's OK to create junk, but... you're supposed to be ironic and cynical about it. Heaven forbid you should actually love it." Rating editor and former Yediot Aharonot TV critic Yaron Tan-Brinak had this to say: "This story really is bigger than Dudu Topaz... It's as though we knew it would happen. We knew that there would be those who had difficulty handling the dizzying intoxication of fame and the subsequent crash. [It was inevitable that] the television industry of dreams... would eventually create its [own] nightmares." NONE OF this should have caught me off guard, however. It is certainly not news that in climates where narcissism rules, the only part of "me, me, me" that gets omitted is the taking of personal responsibility for "my" sins. But then, in such climates, there is no such thing as sin. Which means there is no such thing as opting for good over evil. There is only heredity and upbringing; there is only one's childhood, one's mental state - and, of course, one's society. When someone does something bad, it is not his fault, but a function of something faulty in one or all of the above. "Look at the bright side," a colleague pointed out. "At least no one is blaming the occupation for the Topaz travesty." Oh yeah? This from Ma'ariv's Ronen Tal: "Avi Nir and Shira Margalit didn't deserve to get beaten up, but we live in a beastly country, and they have a part in its interior decoration." Indeed, Tal writes, "Israel is a violent country. Its police are violent. Its army is violent. Its security services are violent. Its criminals are violent. Its youth are violent. We are violent toward foreign workers who are unable to provide the right documents, violent toward the guy in the club who looked lustily at our girlfriend, violent toward a population of a million and a half Arabs in Gaza..." Now, that's low-hanging fruit for you.