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"Big Brother" addiction leads to cultural war in Israel
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09:09, December 23, 2008

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From radio shows and pin-up posters to dinner-time conversation, the Israeli version of the reality TV show "Big Brother" has all but taken over the national discourse for 107 days until its finale last Tuesday.

Now that the show has come to an end, addicted viewers are left with a feeling of disappointment and emptiness.

However, a cultural war arose by the program will continue as critics accused it of controlling the lives of the viewers and distracting the country from real issues of importance while addicts said it reflected the real cultural war in the country.


Big Brother was first broadcasted in the Netherlands and it has been a prime-time hit in almost 70 countries world-wide. The show features a group of contestants who are filmed 24 hours a day as they live together in a house for three consecutive months, monitored by TV cameras from every possible angle while locked up and isolated from the outside world.

With the Big Brother earning 28 million U.S. dollars in advertising revenue and 500,000 U.S. dollars in text messaging, it is the highest rating of revenues from a television show in Israel's history.

Meanwhile, with over 6.5 million text messages sent to vote for the winner, more people voted for contestants on the show than those registered to vote in this month's primary elections in Israel.

Big Brother has swept large audiences in Israel, with a substantial proportion being glued to the screen most hours of the day.

Sheli, a pensioner from Jerusalem, who found herself addicted to Big Brother, told Xinhua what her life was like during the show, "I got up in the morning and I turned on the internet to see what the players are doing. Leaving the sound on, I'd check on them throughout the day, or whenever I heard them doing something interesting, then at night I'd watch the edited version on TV, I really didn't want to miss anything."


On the night of the final show, thousands of people and professional actors turned out to protest against the Big Brother in Tel Aviv, saying reality shows are entrapping an entire nation into a mindless bubble of cultural emptiness.

"The show has created hysteria around peeping, it has created viewers staring mindlessly without thinking, making people addicted to empty, shallow entertainment," said Dan, an artist from Tel Aviv who is against reality TV shows.

Critics not only complained the show is dragging the nation's culture into the sewer. On Tel Aviv notice boards, a poster admonishes Israelis to think a little more about Gilad Shalit, thelong-held captive Israeli soldier thought to be in the Gaza Strip, and a little less about Big Brother.

"That's the real reality," the poster says.

Even the addicts, many of them also agreed that they felt pressured into watching the reality show with 30 percent of the viewers in Israel watching Big Brother.

"We would talk about it over coffee with friends, about who's going to be voted off next week," said Sheli. "I needed to watch it, just to keep up with conversation."

A report by Ynet website that a school decided to cancel an educational trip because the timing clashed with the final episode infuriated many parents, teachers and students.

Shira, a Jewish mother of two, told Xinhua, "it disgusts me that teachers would choose a reality show over education, it really shows what path our country is choosing to follow."


Some defenders noted that the reality show reflected the ethnic division between Jews of Middle Eastern and North African descent and the Jewish immigrants from Europe, saying that is the real cultural war in Israeli society occurring every day.

JTA news service described the program was "a 21st-century cultural showdown between Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jews", even though the producer reminded in a statement that the viewers at home should remember that the contestants "represent themselves, and only themselves."

The two finalists, JTA said, the foul-mouthed middle-aged building contractor Yossi Boublil symbolized the anti-hero stereotypical Sephardi, and Shifra Cornfeld represented the stereotype of the Ashkenazi elite, living in Tel Aviv in a bubble of left-wing politics and liberalism, detached from the rest of Israel.

Moran Haim, a 25-year-old manicurist from Holon, was quoted by JTA as saying that the cultural conflict between these two groups, instead of Palestinians versus Israelis, was the main issue in the Jewish country.

"Again and again, it comes back to the pain that comes from being from the country's periphery and the contrasting experience of someone like Shifra, who may not have been born with a silver spoon in her mouth, but represents a more educated and professional type of person," she said.

So many complaints after Cornfeld emerged as the victor on the show and won its 250,000 U.S. dollars prize echoed the dissatisfaction. According to local press, a 46-year-old woman filed a complaint to the police station the morning after the final of the show was aired when Shifra took the prize instead of the runner-up Boublil.

The woman believed it was illogical that Shifra won, after records showed over 86 percent of voters voted for Boublil, who was compensated 12,500 U.S. dollars surprisingly.


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