Pop culture

Aping the insipid culture of Reality TV – driven by the twin logic of low production costs and appeal to our basest instincts – diverts us from our true cultural calling.

Singer [illustrative] 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Singer [illustrative] 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
Allegations that two popular Israeli singers were involved in a series of statutory rapes that reportedly involves drugs and perhaps sex favors provided by the minor to the singers’ cronies and hangers- on have dominated domestic news in recent days.
Much of the public discourse has focused on the police’s logic in issuing a gag order when anyone with Internet connection can easily discover the names of the suspects.
No less worthy of discussion, however, is the state of Israeli popular culture in the 21st century. That the pop-rock culture of groupies, sex and drugs has been imported to our little corner of the world and is ensconced in contemporary Israeli society is undeniable; that we, the citizens of the State of Israel, confront such a phenomenon with relative equanimity should give us pause to rethink Zionism’s vision for the creation of a uniquely Hebrew culture.
Nearly all the founding fathers were enamored with the cultural possibilities offered by a Jewish state. A real potential existed for a truly modern Hebrew culture to flourish once the Jewish people had re-assumed sovereignty in their historic homeland and had adapted their ancient language to modernity.
Some, such as Micha Yosef Berdichevsky, a.k.a. Mikhah Yosef Bin-Gorion (1865-1921), called for a radical break with the Jewish people’s Diaspora past. Central to this approach was the rejection of “exile mentality,” whether the rabbinic Judaism that had developed in Diaspora communities around the world in the centuries following the destruction of the Second Temple, or the “sickness” that characterized relations between the powerless, rootless, wandering Jews and the Gentile.
Such was the dominant voice of Zionism in the first decades after the creation of the state. David Ben-Gurion’s melting-pot approach to aggressively socializing new immigrants, whether in the education system, the IDF or the workplace, attempted to produce a “new Jew” and shape a proud Israeli nation without all the neuroses of exile. That is not to say this form of Zionism was not open to external cultural influences.
Ironically, the iconoclastic Eastern European socialist founders of Israel were surprisingly puritanical. It was, after all, under Mapai’s leadership that The Beatles in 1965 were prevented from performing in Israel. Dr. Hanoch Rinot, then-director general of the Education Ministry and a member of Kibbutz Ein Harod, justified the decision in the following way: “This [The Beatles’ performance] is not a musical or artistic experience, rather a demonstration of ecstatic sexuality that will lead to aggression and sexual arousal.”
But there were other voices in Zionism, such as that of Ahad Ha’am (the nom de plume of Asher Ginsberg (1856-1927), who claimed that the great goal of the Zionist project was the renewal of Judaism and Jewish culture via a new and free interpretation of tradition.
And this trend has been increasingly dominant in recent decades, whether it be the influences of Jewish sources on the lyrics of mainstream rock stars such as Berry Sakharof, Ehud Banai and Kobi Oz, the increasing popularity of Sephardi liturgy (piyyut) put to music, the prominence of Jewish themes in the films of Joseph Ceder and Rama Burshtein, or the increased interest among secular Israelis in the study of traditional Jewish sources in intellectually open environments.
Aping the insipid culture of Reality TV – driven by the twin logic of low production costs and appeal to our basest instincts – diverts us from our true cultural calling.
Shows such as Haravak (“The Bachelor”) debase and objectify women. We cannot help but wonder how the young women who purportedly agreed to compromise their sexuality in the case involving the Israeli singers were influenced by this culture.
Attempts to censor or block outside cultural influences – such as under Mapai’s rule – are not only futile, they are dangerous, because ultimately no one can be entrusted with deciding what ideas should and should not be given expression. But surely we should seek a culture resembling Ahad Ha’am’s vision for a uniquely Jewish collective that is more than just a Hebrew-language version of the Big Brother reality show.