One-sided humor is not funny

For too long, satire on television appeared to belong to the Left. In recent years, the popular show ‘Latma’ has proven that humor can come from the Right as well.

Latma 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Latma 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
“Satire is tragedy plus time,” wrote Lenny Bruce. Within the Israeli context, that should be reworded as: “No matter how much time has passed, the tragedy is that satire is the privilege of the Left.”
Jewish humor, anthropologists have informed us, has always been accompanied by a strong social commentary character. Israeli humor takes that one step further: It is intensely political. For the past four decades, the televised satire has been predominantly left-of-center and directed too often against the nationalist and religious camps.
The defense of Israeli satire that has always been voiced is that the “freedom of expression” and “freedom of artistic creativity” are sacred.
Another excuse is that satire always attacks the government in power. We note, though, that good satire attacks all those in power, including politicians of all stripes, business moguls, the cultural elites, the powerful media, the judiciary and society in general.
Israeli television has a long tradition of satirical programs. From Nikui Rosh in the 1970s, to the Hartzufim in the 1990s, to Eretz Nehederet, which debuted in late 2003, media consumers have never been at a loss for laughs. The targets, though, have made those shows one-dimensional.
It was Jonathan Swift who wrote an incisive truth so relevant to Israel: “Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders do generally discover everybody’s face but their own.”
A skit-by-skit review over the years highlights another disturbing element. The viciousness of the humor can reach shocking depths. The imagery, more often than not, goes beyond the expected biting style – as when a Hartzufim skit had two haredim dining on the head of a secularist, or a Hebron housewife using a bent-over Arab as an ironing board.
What is the current state of affairs? Israel’s Media Watch reviewed Eretz Nehederet for the period of December 2010 to May 2011, a total of 15 programs. The main personalities who appear in the program are Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (nine appearances), Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman (four) and Interior Minister Eli Yishai (four). Lieberman is portrayed as a fascist, including a Nazi-like hand salute. The character representing the Council of Judea and Samaria spokeswoman, Roichel, is depicted as a lesbian and a sadist and is seen in 11 of the 15 programs. Opposition politicians are missing as objects of scorn, but Jonathan Pollard appears twice.
Funny or not, this reflects an ideologically-driven agenda from the far Left, the assumed fiefdom of the country’s cultural and literary elite.
But there is a solution in sight. It is balance.
And it exists.
Over the past few years, inroads have been made by satirists coming from a different political and social worldview – Haggai Segal, Uri Orbach and Erel Segal (no relation) have been publishing satirical columns in the printed media and have even achieved radio status. Yedidya Meir’s “Eppes” page, which challenged readers with its very Jewish frame of reference, eventually had to leave Haaretz. Even the B’sheva weekly and Makor Rishon’s Friday edition carry satirical columns. Television, however, is still the “property” of the leftist elite.
For the past two years, first as a website and then in a video format, Latma has emerged as a remarkable example of fresh satire, if only because it is simply different. Gone is the monopoly.
And it is popular. Its classic “We Con the World” clip, commenting on the 2010 flotilla effort to Gaza, had, as of Monday morning, over 2.5 million hits at one of its YouTube locations (and at least another million at other sites).
Latma criticizes the media, mocks politicians across the spectrum and includes social commentary in its barbed humor. It comes from an admitted right-wing perspective. By its very existence, it exemplifies the lie pushed by the cultural leftist elite in Israel: that culture is Left and the Right is dry.
With a proven track record, Latma has been in negotiations with the Israel Broadcasting Authority’s Channel 1 TV. At least one pilot was successfully produced. Caroline Glick said last April that “this will provide an opportunity for new talent to penetrate onto the national scene... our product is going to be introducing Israeli TV audiences to a lot of new faces.” Over 100 episodes of Latma’s Tribal Update are proof that the crew is professional. However, at present, the IBA claims it does not yet have the considerable funding necessary for going on air.
If any example were required to highlight the deep gap between Left and Right, one only need review last week’s sketches by Eretz Nehederet and by Latma vis à vis the tent protest camp at Rothschild Boulevard.
The first attacks Binyamin Netanyahu, the tycoons and the settlers in Judea and Samaria.
The last few minutes of the program are devoted to propaganda prepared by the tent protesters.
Latma, by contrast, points to the unmistakable political socialist thrust of the leadership, with its New Israel Fund backing. It also deals with the social terror exercised against anyone who does not toe the line of the demonstrators. It ridicules the supposed deep concern of the left-wing demonstrators for the well-being of the average Israeli citizen, noting that this concern was not evident during the disengagement from the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli public deserves variety, pluralism and balance. The laws that oversee the television networks lay down those very same principles.
There is enough satire to go around for everyone.
The creative effort can come from all sides.
Can we all not enjoy a good laugh?
Eli Pollak and Yisrael Medad are, respectively, chairman and vice chairman of Israel’s Media Watch.