Monday, November 13, 2006

Trauma, culture, humor

At the synagogue my family belongs to, religious school begins with a parent and child chosen class focused on a theme -- this time for Kid #1 and me, "Modern Israel through Pop Culture." We've listened to contemporary music (you don't know hip hop til you hear it in Hebrew), watched snippets of a film I'd seen before and liked, and yesterday viewed some commercials from Israeli TV.

The young man who leads the course (a native of Jerusalem) made the observation that some cultures have so much experience of danger, violence, and trauma that dark humor becomes an almost ingrained coping mechanism. He observed that whereas Americans tend to make trauma sacred and therefore untouchable (e.g. 9/11), Israelis tend not to be quite so grave in their approach. He asked us if we could ever imagine a US television commercial like this one, that makes so light of such a complicated problem.

The comments got me thinking also of Gerald of Wales, and his word pictures of an Irish bishop and of several Jews who use dark humor to deflate the oppression and violence Gerald himself is on the side of. I'll post a few of those quotes later.


Anonymous said...

That TV commercial is incredible - it would SO never air in North America. I'm still amazed that the situation would be dealt with in such a humorous way.

Eileen Joy said...

I, too, am amazed at the commercial; since I drive a VW [New Beetle], I'm trying to figure out if I'm implicated somehow in their marketing philosophy. Of course, VW has always been irreverent in their advertising, but this is a bit over the top. Am I to assume that the ad is absolutely 100% "real" [i.e., this isn't an Internet gag]? Also, to whom is this ad directed: possible consumers who would like to explode things in the interior of their cars? As to "toughness," doesn't that usually pertain to the *exterior* of the car? Anyway, ha ha ha ha ha, um, . . . . ha?

Jeffrey Cohen said...

I have the hardest time with it, too. This sells cars?? It is listed as a parody in one of its YouTube versions, but the presenter yesterday insisted it was a real commercial ... and representative of an acceptable vein of dark humor.

He also pointed out that Israeli TV has little censorship, since the assumption is that you can turn off your TV if it is offensive. Billboards and other forms of outdoor advertising are far more regulated (for example, movie posters) because they are a more inescapable part of the environment.

Jeffrey Cohen said...

PS If you want to see a commercial that navigates expectations surrounding Palestinian-Jewish divisions more complexly (and with a bit of utopian yearning mixed with belligerence), see this. The walking fellow's shirt essentially declares (in Hebrew) his pride in his military service.