a different side of Israel

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


  1. That’s a by-product to democracy and free speech, Alana. Otherwise, we would be
    like Iran (God forbid) or another totalitarian or theocratic country who feels it
    necessary to tell their citizens what they may or may not do.

    I’d rather have like it is now.

  2. Oh, give me a break!
    What did you expect to find here? A bunch of camels and a nation obsessed with ethnic dancing?
    Israel is a modern country, and it has been this way for decades. If anything, this commercial Americanization had already happened in the early 90’s — certainly not in the past 3 years.
    I find it somewhat condescending when you demand Israelis to suit your romantic vision of a non-existent Israel.
    Not to mention the fact that Israel displays just as many expressions of Russian culture, Arabic idioms, and Indian mentality. We choose what we see fit, and always take it with a grain of salt.

  3. Actually I tend to agree with the writer. I think the fact that Israel is a democracy doesn’t mean we can’t have are own culture. Now, it is true that being the superpower it is, United states affects pretty much all western countries a lot, I think in Israel this “Americanization” is much more fast paced.
    This is probably mostly because of the reasons you’ve mentioned. Israel used to be based more on the European state model and today, because of the aid and the fact that Europe is less warm with Israel, Israelis see United states as a model instead (even though the United states is very different in it’s nature, demographic, size, and pretty much everything about it).

  4. Alana Sobelman

    March 23, 2009 at 8:24 am

    I am glad that you both responded the way you did. For Maurice I would say that I’m not exactly sure what you mean by “That’s a by-product…” I don’t believe that I was claiming Israel to be absolutely and 100% consumed by another country’s popular culture, simply that American popular culture holds great influence over the teenage population here. I’m not sure that anyone can deny the strong presence of the pop-culture coming out of the states. It’s easily found on t.v., radio, etc. – all of this I explained.

    I also don’t fully understand nor agree with your response: “I’d rather have it like it is now”. Again, nowhere did I argue that Israeli culture needs some kind of total overhaul, simply that there is a major part of Israeli culture that includes a lot of empty crap from the states. I am fully aware that there is most certainly all kinds of cultures here that have influenced the larger Israeli culture. What I did say, however, was that I see an unfortunate upsurge in American influence over young minds and that this concerns me a great deal. I come from the States and so I see very well the effects of the popular music and “MTV generation”-style “dribble” on young minds. Kids are more and more impatient in the States and less interested in literature and art.

    As for your comment on Iran, I might be careful making your own vast sterotypes – I would suggest you look into the dense and yes, artistic, culture of Tehran and other major cities there.

    And of course I would rather have this over a totalitarian regime.

    As for Elad, I am equally intrigued by your comment. I will first respond by saying that nope, I didn’t really expect to find a bunch of camels walking around. I in fact have traveled here before I made Aliyah in 2006, so I had a good idea of the modern advancements taking place all over the country.

    I am a bit confused about a few things that you said – and you may want to clarify. First, what I said was that American pop-culture has been influencing Israeli culture for a long time, but that in my three years here, it seems that with each year the influence grows faster and faster. Perhaps you may want to think about the creation of Israeli Survivor, Israeli Top Model, and Israeli Millionaire just in the last few years. There’s an imitation at play, and I find it to be sad considering the amount of real culture and dense history that exists within the country. I in fact have done not much more than complimented Israel and its vast populations and have made it a point to say that I hope nothing more than for these various cultures to hold greater influence over the already very modern Israeli culture. And speaking of “modernity”, to respond to your “Israel is a modern country,” I absolutely agree. But tell me, does “modern” need necessarily to include American pop-cultural artifacts such as Survivor and Top Model? I hope not.

    Israel has so many wonderful artifacts of its own, including some that I’ve named and others I regrettably neglected – in music, Arik Einstein, Giraffot, all of the Banais, just to name a few; in film, of course Nir Bergman (Knafaim Shvurot, others) and Ari Folman (Waltz with Bashir, others), in literature, David Grossman, Amos Oz, and so many others. And so I acknowledge these great artists without question as fantastic elements of the larger Israeli culture. But I ask myself, and I’ve called others to ask themselves: why not continue the trend of reading, listening to, and viewing these amazing works of amazing artists instead of so often replacing them with some of the emptiest “art” that comes from the States?

    I have little else to say. I only hope that you read this response with a bit more attention than you seem to have read the post itself.

  5. Alana,

    Is this some kind of academic project/thesis you’re involved in? Obviously, any country is going to pick up on another’s culture if exposed to it the way Israelis are, thanks to Cabel TV, the cinema, and the internet.

    As for Iran, yes the Iranians are controlled by their governemt, at least outwardly. I realize they do have a rich and ancient culture, but so do we in Israel. It al depends on what people want to pick up on. And reality shows and other diversions seem to be “in” for now, while folk dancing around a campfire on the shores of the Kinneret isn’t –
    at least for most people anyway. As for the ultra orthodox or Hareidim, they’re in their own world anyway, even in Boro Park in Brooklyn.

    By the way, nobody is forcing people to prefer aping Americanism. That’s what the
    Bush Administration found out in Iraq – that freedom and democracy, American style,
    isn’t accepted by those folk, including putting a McDonalds on every corner.

  6. I always thought it weird that Israelis, or people from most other nations could name dozens of American singers or movie stars but we Americans could not name so much as one Israeli, nor do most Americans give a crap about your culture, so much for cultural exchange, sounds more like a toady or a lacky relationship. I on the other hand love Israel and would love to visit your land and I ecourage you to think of your own T.V. shows and movies. I think that it is not that Israelis are not talented enough or do not have enough creativity one only has to look at all the great medical and scientific innovations in Israel, the people are intelligent but in the area of culture it seems like Israel may lack confidence.

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