Two young Israeli women are talking about a third woman, an older one. One of the young women tries to refresh her friend's memory. "How can you not remember her?" she asks. "She's a famous lady who excelled in her field, a Nobel Prize laureate." The other woman fails to remember, until the ultimate identifying detail comes up in their conversation: It turns out that the leading scientist dyed her grey hair, but not all the way. The roots remain grey. Only then does the picture become clear. "Oh, you mean the one with the uncolored roots! Of course I remember her," the other young woman admits in a burst of joy. Suddenly she knows who her friend is talking about.
This conversation is broadcast on the radio not as a sketch, but as a commercial, for hair colors of course. My wife, who has kept her natural hair, sees that ad as degrading towards women in general and older women in particular. She's right. In many countries such a commercial would never have been aired, if only for fear of women's response. Here, as long as the ad does not refer to one or another ethnic-national group, it's permitted.
But that's not all. The short commercial really hits the nail on the head and exposes the characteristics of the new Israeliness: Superficiality, ignorance, inarticulateness, a mind filled with nonsense. Achievements? Excellence? That doesn't count with us. What does count is the reflection. The reflection in the mirror, in the eyes of others or on the screen: The lucky men and women, those who are above the common folk, make it to the screen. To the Big Brother's house. To the house of flirting in the dark. To the house of feminine wealth.
Somehow I can’t imagine a similar commercial for men's hair coloring. Not as a conversation between men ("Remember that professor the whole country is talking about? The one who doesn’t dye his roots?") and not as a conversation between women about men ("Remember…" etc.) Israeli advertisers are more careful not to offend Israeli men. It should be said in their defense that they are relying on the gender viewing statistics of certain television programs. These statistics may be misleading: If fewer men admit that they watch reality shows or spend hours posting videos on the Web, that only demonstrates their unwillingness to admit, not necessarily a different parent of media consumption. Because it's not that different.
No barriers, no hesitationsIsrael leads the Western world in reality broadcasts and Facebook use hours. These two actions complement each other; both don't require any intellectual effort beyond doing the homework of a fifth grader in elementary school. Both give their partakers a feeling of belonging to a virtual reality, replacing the non-virtual one. In the Big Brother's house people don't work, don’t make a living, don't produce, don't even read. Why should one read? It's so exhausting after all, so old. So they just sit idle and chatter.
Chattering has become our national characteristic: I chatter, therefore I am. And the more vulgar my chatter, the more I am. In the overflow of indefatigable chatter, one needn't be accurate, needn't give reasons, needn't rely on anything, needn't produce sentences in correct Hebrew. All is permitted, and the mouth – or the keyboard in one's tablet – works overtime. People are convicted in the blink of an eye. There are no barriers, no hesitations, there is no one to edit the words and check them before they are said, or at least before they are posted on the Web. Everything goes.
So women are not the only ones degraded in the hair colors commercial. It is the degradation of the Israeli public discourse, whose lion's share is shallow, impulsive and inarticulate. All of us, whether willingly or out of weakness, are part of it. The advertisers only spot it and turn it into ads simulating reality shows. And in a reality of reality shows, one is not what one has done with one's life, but what one has done with one's hair; our roots are just the roots of our hair.