Out There: A Trump-induced reality check

At its core, the idea of listing possible side effects when advertising a particular product or activity is an interesting one.

US Elections. (photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
US Elections.
(photo credit: PEPE FAINBERG)
When things get rough here, or the politics get particularly nasty and absurd, or people waiting for an elevator don’t realize that first you have to let the others off before getting in yourself, one refrain can always be heard: This would never happen in a medina metukenet, loosely translated as a “normal, proper-functioning country.”
We have this odd sense of inferiority in Israel.
We are a country of some 8.2 million people, with world-class restaurants, an internationally respected judiciary, a functioning parliament, a humming economy, a vibrant religious and intellectual life, wonderful music, a great army and a purported nuclear capability. Yet whenever things don’t go just right, we say this would never happen in a proper-functioning country. Nope, never. And the implication is we are not such a country.
And, of course, the model held up as this normal, proper-functioning, regular country – this medina metukenet – is the United States of America. America is a wonderful country, but a recent trip there reminded me of one basic truth: It, too, has issues.
Take the current election campaign. One of the oft-heard criticisms heard here during our own election campaigns is a lack of debates.
And debates, when done in the right format and in proper measure, serve as a great way of informing the voting public. Like the seven Lincoln-Douglas face-offs in 1858, the four Nixon- Kennedy debates in 1960, even the sole Reagan-Carter debate 20 years later.
Now those were debates.
Yet when we go to elections in Israel, you hardly ever have the candidates face off against each other. And, inevitably, someone will take to the airwaves and ask why we don’t have debates, just like they do in a medina metukenet, just like they do in America.
Why not? Well, because not all political debates are of the Lincoln-Douglas variety.
I WAS in the US last month and heard the debate featuring Marco Rubio trying to out-Trump Donald Trump, using the insult to attract attention. He insulted the unnatural orange-hued color of Trump’s skin as well as the size of his hands and, by innuendo, other body parts. Trump, being Trump, defended his manhood to the stunned moderators, and then went on with taunts of ‘Little Marco,” and “Lying Ted’ Cruz.
My thoughts were less Lincoln-Douglas, and more Hill Junior High School, and how the medina metukenet we over-idealize in Israel is not always as proper and well-functioning as we romanticize.
What we are witnessing now in the US is a political nominating process playing out like reality TV. The Republicans started out with 17 contestants, all – just like on the reality television shows – trying to remain standing another week.
But the action in this particular reality show doesn’t take place on an exotic island or in an isolated mansion, with one participant voted off the program in tears each week. This reality show takes place in arenas or theaters or libraries across the US before a live audience, well-read moderators and tens of millions watching on television.
There have been 12 debates so far. Twelve. That is a lot of debates, with a lot of the same talking points repeated over and over again. The post-debate highlight reels are filled not with great substantive answers, but with angry, insult-laden exchanges between the candidates.
The winner is not he who has the most well-considered answer, but rather he who has delivered the best zinger, the sharpest punchline, the most original insult.
Indeed, the harsher the insults, the bigger the audience and the more the networks can charge for 30-second advertising slots. In other words, the more bizarre, the better. Come the 12th debate in mid- March, and Americans tuned in not to see the candidates elaborate on health care or foreign policy, but rather to hear their trash-talk.
Granted, our campaigns here – those of the silly commercials and candidates who do little more than say how horrible, just horrible, everything is in the country – leave much to be desired. There is plenty of room for improvement. But after watching the US debates this year, I realize that the American model – at least circa 2016 – is not the one to which we should aspire.
I WAS also struck by the paid commercials for prescription drugs aired during the debates, something that seems peculiarly American (all but one other country – New Zealand – prohibit these types of ads).
Advertisements by their nature are designed to drive people to want something, and advertisements for prescription drugs are aimed at getting people to want – not necessarily need, but want – those medicines.
I always get a real kick out of watching those ads. They are one-third information about the medicine itself, and – to deflect any possible liability suits – two-thirds warnings about what could happen if you actually have to take it.
One ad currently being broadcast in the US is for a prescription drug against insomnia called Belsomra. It is about two minutes long and features odd-looking furry creatures representing sleep and wakefulness.
The male voiceover of the first 40 seconds of the ad – over Dvorak-sounding music that conjures up grassy meadows – talks about how insomnia affects the brain’s neurotransmitters, and how this particular drug turns down the wake messages sent by the brain. That’s the good news.
The next 80 seconds contains all the bad news, with a female voice talking about everything that could go wrong.
“Do not take Belsomra if you have narcolepsy,” the announcer says, accompanied by the same soothing music and sunny pictures of a well-rested woman going out to get the morning paper. “Walking, eating, driving or engaging in other activities while asleep, without remembering them the next day, have been reported.”
Belsomra, the ad continues, should not be taken with alcohol. “Abnormal behaviors may include aggressiveness, confusion, agitation or hallucinations. The temporary inability to move while falling asleep or waking up, and temporary leg weakness have also been reported. In depressed patients, worsening depression including risk of suicide may occur. Alcohol may include these risks. Side effects include next-day drowsiness.”
I mean, you hear that litany of possible problems – especially the part about walking, eating driving or engaging in other activities while asleep – and who wants to take that drug? Fear of the side effects alone is enough to keep you awake.
But, at its core, the idea of listing possible side effects when advertising a particular product or activity is an interesting one.
Just think if other activities had to be accompanied by a long list of possible side effects: like chewing gum, riding a bike, eating a hamburger or moving to Israel.
“Moving to Israel may at first result in frustration, agitation, confusion and an inability to express yourself well,” an announcer might say over a panoramic view of green Galilee hills, with Hatikva playing in the background.
“With time that will pass, though you might also find yourself developing more aggressive behavior, and witness an overall change of eating habits. You also may hallucinate about how everything is better everywhere else, especially in a medina metukenet.”
A collection of the writer’s “Out There” columns, French Fries in Pita, is available at www.herbkeinon.com and www.amazon.com