a different side of Israel

Tag: Alana Sobelman

Americobsession – The Final Chapter

Part 5 of 5

My last post – consisting of a kind of “psychoanalytic” reading of the American pop-culture craze in Israel – sent me searching for the opinions of other youngish Israelis, some like myself (American-born immigrant to Israel), others not at all. I corresponded with people from various backgrounds: American-Israelis, Israelis with American-born parents, Israelis with one American and one Israeli parent, the religious, the secular, and some natives whose parents literally planted the first seeds of Modern Israel.

AmericobsessionI asked six highly intelligent individuals three questions related to the induction and subsequent effects of pop-culture Americanization in Israel. If you’ve read my previous posts, you’ll find the bases of the questions to be obvious. What I have already done is set up a problem that I think is prevalent to the whole country, and perhaps the whole world. I wrote out a fairly one-sided view of young Israeli culture. That admitted, I decided to ask some other people what they thought, partly with the hopes of finding out that I was right in my claims, and partly with the hopes that those claims would challenged.

Question 1: “Do you believe that there is a thriving Israeli culture amongst teenagers today?” The first response was as follows:

You may call it thriving in the sense of being in transition. Historically, in the first decades of the Israeli state, western influence was perceived as threatening to Jewish-Israeli authenticity. So the influence and acceptance of foreign influence is relatively new, and perhaps taken to an extreme. But still youth organizations/movements in Israel are popular and though they are influenced by foreign elements, they are still inherently “Israeli.” Some try to deal with the Israel-Palestinian conflict, others with the secular / conservative one, and most focus on the army as a significant rite of passage in Israeli identity formation.

Another interviewee made an excellent point regarding the various sub-groups amongst Israelis and how these divides amongst individuals may also cause a shift in opinions about America’s pop-culture influence:
I suppose that really depends on where you live. I would definitely say that the majority of Israeli teenagers are much more taken in by American culture, than the Israeli one. And even the Israeli one seems very American at times. Although, I would add that here in the south (and in other places in Israel as well), there is a different, “Israeli” culture – an “arsi” one, (how would that translate to English?) that is definitely not American, and has more of a middle eastern flavor – the music, clothes, food, all goes with it.

(By the way, and if anyone is willing to translate “arsi” for our readers, we would all love to read it).

The responses to the first question were fairly unanimous. Most people said that there is in fact a culture specific to young Israelis that has its roots outside the American pop-culture that has seeped into the country’s existing art/tv/music culture. However, if we look at the next question, we’ll see that some of those who expressed their opinion regarding the existence of an Israeli-specific pop-culture also expressed concerns regarding the heavy influence of American pop.

Question 2: Do you fear that American popular culture has had or will have too great an influence over young Israelis?

– I definitely see the seeds of American pop culture sprouting here in Israel, and fear it will only become worse. I believe there are too many negative qualities in American culture – competition, an idealization of external qualities, nothing sincere, and of course, that terrible “American dream” – that clash with what we are trying to build here in Israel. These values do not coincide with the Zionist, pluralistic, socialist and multicultural understandings that Israeli society needs to deal with, considering its geography, history, society and religion, and what’s more, American popular culture, in my mind, only obstructs the path to constructing a moral, happy, peaceful society.

– Not really; it’s a hodgepodge of internal and external cultural contradictions and influences, not all American. Israeli music (specifically that mixture of Sephardic and Ashkenazi influences) is as equally influential as American pop culture on Israeli youth; “Eretz Nehederet” is as essential to Israeli youth culture as any American prime time TV show or Latin telenovela. We have McDonald’s, Pepsi and Levis, but also Falafel, Humus, Zara, Adidas and Puma. I think that the foreign influence, which is a global problem, will gradually balance itself off against the Israeli one. American culture is perhaps the most pervasive foreign influence because we share a similar multicultural / multiethnic background — that’s why, I think, American culture is so appealing to us.

Most responses to the above question leaned towards the side of disgruntlement and frustration. Others, however, took into account the complexities of Israeli culture and all of its influences.

And finally, Question 3: Although pop-globalization is said to be happening all over the world, do you feel that it has affected young Israelis any differently than in other places, especially considering U.S.-Israel relations? A couple of answers:

– Is the situation better / different in South Africa? No, I think it’s a global problem.

– I don’t know, I really don’t know how it is all over the world. I know that there are a lot of Israelis working in the US after the army, which does appear to be particularly “Israeli”. I guess that has something to do with an Israeli, youthful vision of America.. So my hunch is that yes, Israel has been affected differently, and I think Israel-US relations do contribute to it (just look at all the American flags on Yom Haazmaut! It drives me wild)…

And so yes, the influence is here, it’s creepy in its excess, but I what I was reminded of is that globalization does not discriminate based on nation: the crap is everywhere. And hence, perhaps we should all take comfort in the fact that youngsters in Iran are drinking CocaCola, in Lebanon they’re chowing down McGrills, and the top requested hit on Middle East Music TV is Spears’ “Womanizer” – and these are all facts.

Who knows? American pop-culture globalization may soon bring peace to the Middle East – one pair of China-made baseball caps at a time.

Written by Alana Sobelman

Americobsession: An Application

Part 4

We have recently defined Freud’s terms, the id, ego, and superego for the sake of playing with a new understanding of what it is about American pop-culture that sends young Israelis flying to the mall for the latest Rihanna album or happy meal. Allow us to divide young Israel in the same fashion as the mind: the id would be the part of this group that endlessly craves all of the food, attention, and love it can get. The ego would be that part that tries to rationalize the basic desires by performing a balancing act between the id and the superego, the latter of which takes in the societal rules and regulations. I would like to argue, then, that it is the id of young Israeli culture that most thirstily craves American pop-culture, for it is the kind of goods coming out of MTV and McDonalds that are most immediately satisfying: they are the cheapest, take the shortest amount of time to achieve, and take the least amount of conscious thought. The battle between the id, ego, and superego of young Israel is clear: id-ruled young ones want it all, and ego-rationality belongs only to those who can differentiate between the movies that one can watch while talking on the phone and eating a burger, and those that take concentration and, if I may say, intellect. But who, then, informs the ego so that it may protect the id from receiving every bit it pleases? As we learned, it is the superego that learns to cope by first, living with and imitating parents, and second, by following the rules and regulations of society. The difficulty would seem in our case, then, that what society is dishing out is aimed at the id, rendering the ego helpless in the face of such juicy junk as Top Model and 90210.

McDonalds GenerationAfter all of what’s been discussed, one thing we can say for sure is this: American pop-culture, by its very nature, will always be the most accessible and masturbatory form of food and entertainment. It aims to satisfy—it goes straight for the id—and in such a young and, as I said, “culturally vulnerable” place like Israel, it seems the only thing that will stop its ultimate takeover is very early education. And what about the networks and companies that are allowing the dribbling in of this crap? They are more or less completely unstoppable – they in fact are paying for the leakage. And they now have a hold of what we crave, so much to the point that they’ve picked on what White Castle has reminded Americans endlessly: “It’s What You Crave!”

Maybe, despite the repugnance that I’ve expressed in these posts, you still may, “but is American popular culture really so awful?” No, it can be quite fascinating actually. The real concern arises out of the thought of every new generation of Israelis acting more and more like infants to later and later stages of life, until one day – if there are no other forms of cultural entertainment besides all that dribble I’ve mentioned – we may cease concerning ourselves with anything else, including how to remain the historically rich, diverse, and culturally remarkable place that we in fact really are.

In the next and final post of this series, we’ll hear from some Israelis and Americans on the subject, both here and in the States, in order to find out if my concern is such a concern for others. Perhaps what defines Israeli culture is all a matter of personal perspective, or it could be that the infusion of American into Israeli culture is somehow seen as necessary for the future; in any case, it seems a topic worth discussing.

Written by Alana Sobelman

Americobsession – Part 3

As I’ve explained in the previous post, it is my aim to examine the “psyche” of Israeli culture in very broad (and no doubt very stereotypical) terms in order to get to the bottom of the “Americobsession” that has its shiny little hands in nearly every corner of Israeli life. This cultural “psyche”, I’ve explained, contains the same elements that Freud gave to the human psyche: the id, the ego, and the superego. All three, Freud made clear, need to be in reasonable balance for relative psychic stability. The id, the most primitive feature of the psychic structure, contains our primal wants and desires. It functions in that part of the mind that is irrational and emotional. The id of course, then, is equated with the newborn infant. It is the part of the mind that does not take “no” for an answer and its entire existence is based on immediate satisfaction. The ego responds to the id by rationalizing the primal wants and desires and by predicting the long-term consequences of the id’s rudimentary needs. The ego is considered our very consciousness. And finally, there is the superego, the last part of Freud’s structure of the mind to develop, and the part that is most affected by outside stimuli. The superego becomes a holding cell for parental and later societal rules and regulations.

I have denied Freud’s notions the ability to express themselves fully and hence justly, but if we can nonetheless play around with the idea for a moment, we will most definitely be entertained by what we’ll find out about Israelis and the “Americobsession”.


Explaining the Americobsession

Part 2 out of 5

In my last post I introduced the topic of the “Americobession” that has for many years—and it seems for many more to come—taken hold of the young, and thus naturally imitative, Israeli population. Most of my native friends agreed with the sentiments expressed in the previous post and others were a bit offended that I hadn’t given enough credit to those youngsters who have taken it upon themselves to follow a different path towards whatever decent may be coming out of restaurants, t.v., or radio. Not one reader I know, however, disagreed with the notion that the goods of popular American culture, including English-language catch-phrases, have forced their way into daily Israeli life and are all too rapidly extinguishing potential talent from within Ha’aretz. As I already expressed, I am interested in finding out why modern Israel has been ransacked by American pop-culture and if there may be anything to do to limit its force. You may argue that pop-culture from the U.S. has made its way into the eyes, ears, mouths, and hands of most teenagers in most countries on the globe – and in this you would certainly be right – but there is a significant difference in the effects of such tasty candy on a country such as Japan from one such as Israel, and one that primarily relates to the very young age of Israel itself and the rapidly increasing speed of pop-globalization with which the former must contend.

As noted, I’d like to bring some of Sigmund Freud’s ideas into this piece in order to look for some explanations. I’m interested in relating what Freud has discussed with regard to the early development of the psyche, beginning with the very first stages of infancy. It was with the term “infancy” where I first made the connection to Israel, for it is a fact that it wasn’t until the late 40s, with the official signing of the very first Israeli constitution, that outside modern influences could have begun taking their hold on the youngest pup of the Middle East. The analogy then? I will apply the split of the psyche (id, ego, superego) to our little nation. Of course the psychic model applies to every country, and each somewhat differently. And within every country, the model applies to the various cultures, religions, generations, etc. But seeing as I have already stereotyped an entire culture within Israel—that of the American-candy-loving youngsters—I’ll allow myself the freedom to apply this model to the country as a whole in order to explain the actions of this specific generation. And thus, we will begin with a brief and rather layman’s-termed explanation of the id/ego/superego model, and move on from there into a deeper investigation into the “psyche” of young Israeli culture and what about it may have led to the “Americobsession”.

Written by Alana Sobelman

Coping with the Americobession

AmericobsessionIt seems that American pop-culture and the English language have together saturated what could have been a thriving Israeli culture of sophisticated art, film, literature, and music. Just flip through the channels: Top Model, Top Israeli Model, American Idol, Israeli Idol, Who Wants to be a Millionaire, Survivor, Israeli Millionaire, Martha Stewart, Oprah, Dr. Phil. You’ll find television commercials for Israeli products that are entirely in English; you’ll even find plasticized American traditions such as the classic lemonade stand scenario reenacted for commercial purposes in the same nostalgic fashion that’s been done before—white picket fence and all.

Then turn that tuning dial: Britney, Ricky Martin, Rihanna, Jessica Simpson.

And then transliterate from Hebrew the words on any one of those street billboards: HOT, Orange, Super Pharm, New Pharm, Mega, Super Sell, BIG, SMILE.

And lest we forget the vulgar expressions that come out of endless attempts to capture American pop-culture through misinformed translations on clothing: the tagline “Pussy King” on the face of a so-called Burger King T-shirt (usually worn by an Israeli guy showing off the two months he spent driving an ice-cream truck in New Jersey); or a perfectly classy looking woman sporting the slogan “Kiss It” across the back pockets of her 1,000NIS ($250) pair of jeans.

Any efforts—if they ever existed—to halt American globalization in Israel have capsized, making way for newer and more counterfeit ways to promote all of the products, sights, and sounds that are already themselves carbon copies of what was once considered quality in American culture. A double-fallacy, and an especially unfortunate scenario for those of us Americans who have seen it all before.

As to why this has happened, it seems like an old topic already—American political support of Israel leads to financial support, which logically leads to a dribbling in of McFlurries, Coca Cola, Pink and Ashley Simpson. But in my three years here I have noticed a frightening upsurge in what I’ll call the “Americobsession” that draws me to conclude that so much of the flashy crap I was hoping to escape from when I left America, is now on the prowl to suck me right back in. I once figuratively spat at the windows of WalMart and gave my dollars to Nader. And now I seek news updates from the FOX network and question Obama’s willingness to use military force. Is it true? Have I become more American since I’ve moved to Israel? Or have I simply become more Israeli by surrendering to American influence?

The four posts that follow will include a few different investigations into the rampant and largely incurable Israeli obsession with all things American. We’ll lightly skim the pages of Freud and talk to some Israelis and Americans on the street in order to find out what exactly it is about all of that junk from the States that makes young Israelis trade in their Arik Einstein for Hootie and the Blowfish, their ‘Operation Grandma’ for ‘Team America’, and their individual tastes for a load of very expensive dribble. Americans have already fallen for it. Must Israelis now shovel the shekels for a cargo full of bad leftovers?

Written by guest writer Alana Sobelman

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