Here's to the Cynical Rating Gods

Who cares about the Thais and the Indonesians at all here, and how could they possibly contribute to a higher rating?

Channel 2 may not have invented media-borne Ritalin, but there can no longer be any doubt that it is its biggest pusher. It is as if the channel decided to disengage Israelis from reality and its adversities, and is drugging them so they might relax and enjoy the ride. The channel is determined to fill every viewer with good feelings at every possible opportunity, not necessarily out of the goodness of its heart but out of the recognition that there is no better recipe for high ratings, and their attendant monetary revenues.

I have no particular problem with ratings or the continual effort to boost them, on condition that we call the beast by its name; let the ratings be sky high, only without the artifice. A legally sanctioned and administered house of prostitution is a legitimate institution too, so long as it does not hang a sign on its door claiming to be an orphanage.

So it is hard to countenance - without flying into a rage - entire television evenings whose whole intent is to widen the circle of viewers, but which pretend to be "national campaigns" brought to the screen solely for the nation's good.

One example that comes to mind is the preposterous program "The Ambassador" - at the end of which the winner will be given an inconsequential job in a nameless Jewish advertising agency - as if the show were intended to salvage Israel's public relations efforts around the world.

"The Ambassador" is not even the most inferior exemplar: If a gaggle of celebrities and eager-beaver young men and women are willing to join forces for a synthetic Zionist mission, I have no problem with it. But "Test of the Nation," a program that supposedly searches for and finds the "smartest person in Israel" no less, is downright destructive; now intelligence is also a contemptible object.

Hundreds of thousands of Israelis - anyone who has succeeded in rescuing him or herself from the ocean of boredom - will no doubt switch off their TV sets at the end of the evening feeling just wonderful about themselves. All of sudden they find that they are awfully intelligent, that their IQ is incredibly high - and they didn't even know it before. Now they will know that they successfully survived a dubious test that does not itself meet any test, excepting that of the smug program host. Even the winner, apparently a nice young man, talented in his own right, looked less content and more bewildered when at the end of the game show the program hosts - with astounding earnestness - tied to his head a crown of "Smartest Person of All." All he wanted was to go home with the NIS 50,000 prize in his pocket.

Perhaps "The Ambassador" and "Test of the Nation" should not qualify as the subject of a whole column. But my gut tells me that, as I know the brutish spirit of the sacred cow of ratings, I can already guess what awaits us this week: another enthusiastic national campaign, a sort of "Tsunami Special" for the millions of afflicted people.

Channel 2 won't allow itself to miss such a carnival, and it won't be long before the Israeli survivors are gathered in the studio. Their naivete will be exploited for a coerced human objective, when they appear, all black and blue, at the side of the channel's stars, from Yair Lapid to Kobi Meidan, along with the finest Israeli singers, from Ninette Taib and Maya Buskila to Shai Gabso.

Am I being overly suspicious? Not necessarily. Still remembered in their everlasting ignominy are the polished "campaigns" on behalf of our own impoverished citizens, which crudely violated the wonderful tenet in Judaism of giving charity anonymously. Suffering people - children and adults - were exposed in all of their pain and their poverty to Israel's TV viewers, only to clear the conscience of the media tycoons and its idols, who use the same opportunity to pocket huge revenues from the numerous commercials.

A great deal of money is now being collected elsewhere in the world on behalf of the devastated countries in Southeast Asia. The funds are being raised in large part through cellular phone companies, without television shows and without studios filled with the joy of sadness. Millions of citizens have contributed discreetly, and merciful celebrities did not strut and caper around on a central stage.

On second thought, maybe this is nevertheless a vain suspicion. How could I even imagine such an idiotic idea, of a special evening for the Indians and the Thais and Indonesians and Sri Lankans? Who cares about them at all here, and how could they possibly contribute to a higher rating?