Media matters: Great expectations

Just as much hype can be made out of letdown as buildup.

pope Nazareth 248.88 (photo credit: AP)
pope Nazareth 248.88
(photo credit: AP)
Two touted-as-historical events took center stage at the beginning of the week - though centerfold is probably more apt a word for the print coverage of the arrival of the rock group Depeche Mode and Pope Benedict XVI on our shores. Both intermittently interrupted the soap opera over the budget, an ongoing saga - a la reality TV - which has been topping the charts since late last Wednesday night, culminating in its passing in the cabinet this Wednesday morning. Let's begin with Depeche Mode, the band that began its "Tour of the Universe" on Sunday night at the Ramat Gan Stadium (after a warm-up show at Luxembourg's Rockhal), in the presence of 50,000 ecstatic fans, each of whom paid NIS 350-NIS 500 for the privilege. The media had a field day in the lead-up to the long-awaited concert, particularly since the British band had been scheduled to perform here in 2006, but was forced to cancel due to the Second Lebanon War. And, because of Depeche Mode's already apparent popularity here, a kind of circular press-public electricity was easy to generate around café and water cooler alike. So much so that people who had previously not been familiar with the name Depeche Mode, let alone with its music (or, if they had heard its songs on the radio, didn't know what they were listening to), found themselves caught up in the sense that something significant was on the horizon. As someone who belongs in this category, I can say that the Hebrew press came close to sounding as though it were in the employ of the band or the stadium. Considering the excellent sales job it did, it might as well have been rewarded with a hefty commission. Then there was the pope, whose imminent descending on the Holy Land provided endless opportunities for promotional buildup. This was especially true of the broadcast media, which went all-out in devoting airtime to the visit, and changed regular scheduling for this purpose. To create buzz toward the event, promos on radio and TV played it up in exactly the same melodramatic tone as they do for the likes of Survivor and the Eurovision Song Contest - which we are all awaiting with bated breath, to watch Ahinoam Nini and Mira Awad make us proud with their politically correct entry. The newspapers didn't lag far behind their electronic counterparts, giving the pontiff's sojourn front, inside, editorial and op-ed space - with photos galore. NOW, IT'S a stretch of the imagination to place a rock band on the same priority rung as the head of the Holy See. For though, in the current cultural climate, the former may be of more interest to a wider audience, the latter is a world religious leader - one who, collectively and individually, has a lot to account for where, say, the Holocaust is concerned. And, while Depeche Mode's appearance here in the absence of missiles flying is only a big deal to those who care about its albums, the pope's presence carries a different kind of weight, having to do with the past and present attitude of the Catholic Church toward Jews and the Jewish state. Indeed, as soon as the actual concert was over, Depeche Mode moved back to the entertainment sections, while the pope's every move continues to be monitored with the utmost care, and is among the lead stories in every news broadcast. Nevertheless, the similarities between the two, seemingly opposite, kinds of coverage have been striking. Most pointedly, after a crescendo-like anticipatory blitz, the actual events have been deemed - by the very people who created the buzz in the first place - "disappointing." The Depeche Mode performance, according to various critics, was "disappointing." Claims of poor lighting, too great a distance between the stage and the audience (with not enough screens for viewing) and even a bad choice of songs began creeping onto the Web - almost stealthily. According to Ma'ariv's Omri Ronen, for example, it was only the die-hard fans - who would have cheered had the band recited names from the phone book - who got their money's worth out of those two hours in Ramat Gan on Sunday. Talkbackers in droves agreed not only with Ronen's assessment, but with others in the same vein. And it seemed as though they all felt relieved to be able to come out of the closet with their "disappointment." The pope's performance, too, was labeled a "disappointment," when his address at Yad Vashem did not include a mention of the Germans or the Nazis. Because Benedict is a German himself, and was once a member of Hitler Youth (albeit, he says, not by choice), his omission was not taken lightly. And both Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi and Yad Vashem Chairman Yisrael Meir Lau and Knesset Speaker Ruby Rivlin (who made waves by refusing to greet the pope at Ben-Gurion Airport) were interviewed extensively on this very issue. Lest any of the above be interpreted to mean that the media were disappointed, let me set the record straight: Just as much hype can be made out of letdown as buildup, if not more. And, boy, was it ever. MEANWHILE, BACK at the economics desks, no one was "disappointed" with the prime minister's "zigzagging" on the budget. This is probably because, to be disappointed, one has to have had - or, as in this case, to have created - high hopes. And, regarding both Bibi and the budget, the local press has never had or created either. Therefore, reporters and pundits weren't the least bit disappointed with the way this particular drama unfolded. On the contrary, they were happily angry, and expressed as much repeatedly - asserting, as Channel 1's Oded Shahar has been doing all week: "This is no way to run a country." Opposition leader Tzipi Livni couldn't have said it better herself. In fact, it's sort of what she did say, though hers was a more metaphorical attack: "Bibi lost the brakes. Worse than that, there's nobody at the wheel." It was not the least bit surprising, then, when the camera crews were swiftly sent to the Mahaneh Yehuda market, for man-in-the-stall interviews on how Netanyahu is yet again screwing the poor in favor of the rich. Even Depeche Mode's having to cancel the next leg of its tour, in Turkey, because their lead singer took ill there at the last minute - and even the pope's visit to the PA to pray for a two-state solution - took a back seat to that choice, overcooked morsel. It was surprising, however, when the pundits began arguing over whether the fact that our prime minister ended up siding with Histadrut head Ofer Eini over the Treasury means that he has changed his ideology. Interesting that none of the journalists commented on the "social gap" between those who could afford to pay exorbitant sums to hear Depeche Mode and those who will have to buy fewer tomatoes, now that the VAT exemption on vegetables is being cancelled.