Euro­vi­sion: Not the time for in­side jokes

The Is­raeli Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion’s Euro­vi­sion teaser wins few likes

The Jerusalem Post - The Jerusalem Post Magazine - - OBSERVATIO­NS - VI­VIAN BERCOVICI The writer was the Cana­dian am­bas­sador to Is­rael from 2014 to 2016. A for­mer lawyer, she con­sults for in­ter­na­tional clients on a range of is­sues and re­sides in Tel Aviv.

What re­ally got me was the ap­palling Eng­lish, which con­veyed in­stantly, “We don’t give a rat’s ass,” pro­vid­ing the clear­est un­in­tended metaphor for the Is­raeli na­tional char­ac­ter. I re­fer to the Euro­vi­sion teaser re­leased last Fri­day by KAN, Is­rael’s Pub­lic Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion, that rocked so­cial me­dia im­me­di­ately – and not in a good way. Con­sid­er­ing the brevity of mod­ern at­ten­tion spans, it is far too long, clock­ing in at over four min­utes. So, truth is, 99% of po­ten­tial view­ers won’t get past the ini­tial 30 sec­onds.

It is also re­ally bad. Well, okay, it’s kind of funny in spots, in that way your kids’ tal­ent show can be funny – in­ad­ver­tently, a lit­tle cringe-wor­thy. Ini­tially, I was sure it was a par­ody put out by some art school kids with time on their hands, un­til I saw the early on­line re­ac­tions, which tended to ex­tremes.

Some were of­fended, deeply, by what they saw as the triv­i­al­iz­ing of an­tisemitic tropes. Oth­ers saw comic ge­nius in the same clip, self-par­o­dy­ing in that uniquely Is­raeli way some of our less appealing traits, and those as­cribed to us by many in Europe and else­where.

Specif­i­cally, there are two mo­ments in the video that in my view say it all. And it is im­por­tant to note that the tar­get au­di­ences for the clip are tourists ar­riv­ing from abroad for the Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test, as well as those un­able to make the trip who may view it on­line. It is a bo­nanza op­por­tu­nity to present the com­plex­ity of Is­rael to many mil­lions of peo­ple, in a cul­tural con­text.

Host­ing Euro­vi­sion is a mar­ket­ing boon for any coun­try, at­tract­ing tourists, me­dia co­hort hun­gry for con­tent, and the op­por­tu­nity for ex­po­sure to hun­dreds of mil­lions of tele­vi­sion view­ers in Europe and glob­ally. Since its found­ing with seven par­tic­i­pat­ing coun­tries in 1956, Euro­vi­sion has grown to in­clude more than 40 com­pet­ing na­tions, many hav­ing joined from cen­tral and Eastern Europe fol­low­ing the de­cline of com­mu­nist con­trol.

Ev­ery­thing is con­tro­ver­sial when it in­volves Is­rael, in­clud­ing sport and cul­ture. Last year, the first stage of the Giro d’Italia cy­cling race – one of the top sport­ing events in the world – was the fo­cus of much angst. It wasn’t just be­cause of the usual litany of con­cerns re­gard­ing the “oc­cu­pa­tion,” inequal­ity, etc., but more im­por­tantly, be­cause it messed with a sa­cred Euro­pean tra­di­tion of al­ways start­ing the race on the Con­ti­nent. This is heresy tan­ta­mount to tak­ing the Cham­pagne from Cham­pagne, Bolog­nese from Bologna, or Parme­san from Parma.

Euro­vi­sion is an op­por­tu­nity to “nor­mal­ize” Is­rael in the eyes of the world, par­tic­u­larly Europe. It is not a time for “in­side jokes” that only we “get.”

A crit­i­cal re­al­ity check that the cre­ative tal­ent on this pro­duc­tion over­looked: Is­raeli hu­mor does not

trans­late well. It is very cul­ture and con­text-spe­cific. In or­der to reach a broad range of cul­tures, it is im­por­tant to un­der­stand them.

THE CRE­ATIVE team clearly thought it clever to se­lect cer­tain con­tro­ver­sial is­sues and at­tempt ironic lev­ity. They failed, ut­terly.

Lucy Ay­oub, an Arab-Is­raeli, and Elia Grin­feld, a Rus­sian-Is­raeli, both jour­nal­ists, take us on a Disney-es­que odyssey – re­plete with cheesy melody – through the com­plex­i­ties of mod­ern Is­rael, with an at­tempted “light touch.”

Of nu­mer­ous bad lines, the worst: While lead­ing Euro­vi­sion tourists to a cashier, they nod know­ingly to the vis­i­tors and chirp this doozer: “Most of us are Jews but only some of us are greedy.”

Just. Not. Funny.

That is be­yond tone deaf, par­tic­u­larly to­day, when Jews in Europe, North Amer­ica and be­yond are sub­jected to some of the most vi­o­lent an­tisemitism, in words and deeds, since the Holo­caust. It’s just not funny. It’s not, as KAN seems to think, about “own­ing” the neg­a­tive per­cep­tions oth­ers have about Jews. It’s ham-handed, dumb and dam­ag­ing.

And then there’s just the plain sloppy and in­ex­cus­able, which ac­tu­ally, is the most re­veal­ing of the at­ti­tude and ap­proach un­der­ly­ing this cre­ative ven­ture.

While show­ing off the many glo­ries of Tel Aviv, burly Elia ges­tures broadly at the background panorama of our “lovely bitches.” Yes. He said “bitches” in­stead of “beaches,” as many Is­raelis do, which is sort of cute.

What isn’t cute at all is the sub­ti­tle that was trans­lated by some­one with less-than-com­pe­tent Eng­lish skills. This was no clever pun. This was un­in­ten­tional. And therein is the nub of the prob­lem.

Is­raelis are fa­mously re­source­ful and re­silient, but that “get stuff done” at­ti­tude does not au­to­mat­i­cally mean they un­der­stand the nu­ance of cross-cul­tural com­mu­ni­ca­tion. In fact, there is no He­brew word for “nu­ance,” which is very telling.

A pro­mo­tional big-bud­get video pre­pared by the na­tional broad­caster with more than am­ple lead time and re­sources is a high school-level em­bar­rass­ment. That they did not even bother to find some­one with a grade three ed­u­ca­tion to proof­read the Eng­lish sub­ti­tles says it all.

We present our­selves as be­ing thick, in­sen­si­tive, gut­ter chau­vin­ists.

Oh, wait. Maybe it was in­ten­tional. In­ter­est­ingly, a re­porter whose work I re­gard highly, por­trayed the video in an opin­ion piece ear­lier this week as be­ing con­fi­dently cheeky, in­clud­ing the “bitches” thing. He refers to a re­sponse from the broad­caster on Twit­ter, ask­ing if it was just over­looked. They re­sponded with a wink­ing icon and, “Ya think?” An­other clas­sic Is­raeli mo­ment.

Ya, I do think – that it was an er­ror be­cause it is not the only trans­la­tion glitch in the sub­ti­tles. And, I hate to be so nit­picky, but for ex­am­ple, moor­cavim does not trans­late to “bleak.” Ever. And there are more.

What this says to my inner Eng­lish teacher and cul­tural sen­si­tiv­ity coach is that this was a bit of sloppy, slap­dash work. I see it too of­ten in the busi­ness world here in poorly stated doc­u­ments that are rough trans­la­tions of He­brew id­iom to Eng­lish and pre­sented with bound­less con­fi­dence.

Even on the most gen­er­ous in­ter­pre­ta­tion, if it is a joke, it is at best, a fish­bowl joke that only Is­raelis will get.

Joke’s on us.

(Screen cap­ture)

KAN TEASER video: ‘Euro­vi­sion 2019 – The Mu­si­cal.’

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