Art and commercial interests have long been good buddies. Singers and painters always need a wealthy sponsor if they want to have the time to concentrate solely on their art, and accordingly, the “big suits” have a clear marketing interest in associating themselves with popular culture. The connection is therefore expected and quite obvious in most cases. Still, there are certain artists, especially those belonging to the older generation, whom we all look up to and admire for being faithful to their audiences and for never “putting out”.

In Israel, we have the same phenomenon, whereas “production factories” mass-produce instant celebrities such as Maya Buskila and Ninet Tayeb who go on to promote garment companies and cellular networks, while at the same time, long-respected artists such as Yonatan Geffen and Arik Einstein tend to remain away from the limelight of the advertising media.

Up until recently anyway.

Toilet Paper made of CashMaybe it’s the rising inflation, or the desire to feel “young and hip” — in any case, classic figures within Israeli culture have been falling one by one into the hands of “quick-buck commercialism” in recent months and years. The result is unique ads that attract many fans, but at the same time upset many others, who feel betrayed by their idol.

The biggest sensation of the last half year has been the consent of singer-songwriter Arik Einstein, age 69, to appear in a TV ad for the cellular company Orange, a subsidiary of the global Partner Communications network. For a sum of nearly a million Shekels, old footage of Einstein was merged with specially filmed scenes, as to create the appearance that Einstein was performing in the 70’s together with current-day artists. As just mentioned, he earned this much money without even leaving his home. Aside from the commercial itself, a festive album was recorded to commemorate this rare collaboration between “old” and “young” artists — titled “Hebrew Work” (“Avoda Ivrit”). The declared pretext for such an ambitious project is Orange’s desire to do something special to celebrate Israel’s 60th anniversary.

This month, we learned of another novel purchase made by Orange. This time songwriter Yonatan Geffen was chosen to promote the massive “Hebrew Work” concert which Orange is throwing out in the park in early June. Such a wonderful marketing strategy — not to mention they’ve decided to collect no entrance fee at the concert!

These are just two examples out of many. But it is sending a strong message to struggling young artists that if they want to succeed, that if they want to be able to make ends meet, they must engineer their music to target the popular ear, so that business moguls would want to sponsor them. It has the danger of degrading the artistic quality of our culture onto the lowest common denominator.

On the other hand, everyone has to make money somehow. Why is it okay for Einstein to make money from selling albums but not from selling other products (like cellphones)? Why do we place such high expectations on him but not on young Ms. Ninet? Does she not deserve the same expectations? They’re both talented humans.

I don’t have an answer. It’s one facet of our Capitalist world we can’t avoid, and though it the situation bothers me, I think there is no use in playing prude.