Ostensibly, I should have shoved to the head of the line to cast the first stone at that hated and unpleasant man called Menachem Ben. After all, at the height of this stormy week, when he succeeded in causing a god-awful mess for the radio show "Seder Yom," the popular morning program on Reshet Bet moderated by Keren Neubach, Ben found time to ridicule me in his column in the daily Maariv for a piece I published in Haaretz two weeks ago.
I must admit that even though I perceive this as part of his tradition of belittling me, my sexual proclivities and my work of many years, Ben does manage every time anew to give me the sinking feeling that with all my attempts to be original in my writing, I am just a conformist schmuck compared to him. And yet all that notwithstanding, I do not think, like many of the people who phoned to console me for what Menachem Ben had written, that he is "just an idiot."
In no way, shape or form is Ben just an idiot. Only an idiot could think that a person who is just an idiot could cause by the fact of his presence on that particular radio program a series of protests, strikes and demonstrations like we have seen this week. Moreover, a person who is just an idiot would not be capable of stirring up all the scandals linked to his name recently, starting with his crude performance on the reality show "Big Brother," and culminating in his long-standing battle against gays and leftists and the excessive public power he believes they have accumulated. To dismiss all this with the word "idiot" is little more than an evasion of facing it all head on.
Here I must once again don my intellectual schmuck hat (and thereby risk becoming the butt of Ben's jibes next week as well ), and mention the name of a classical work of French literature, which in my opinion is able to explain the meaning of Menachem Ben's persona and the need for such a persona to exist among us despite all the damage he supposedly causes.
The title of this work, a satirical dialogue written by the 18th-century philosopher Denis Diderot, is "Rameau's Nephew." It tells of an ignorant good-for-nothing idler with no formal education, a walking failure by any measure, a cynical and frustrated individual who lives in the shadow of his famous uncle, the respected composer Jean-Philippe Rameau. Diderot meets this unimportant person on one of his strolls around Paris and immediately a wonderful chemistry develops between them. Diderot, the learned encyclopedist, finds the nephew, in his total stupidity, to be the embodiment of the natural philosopher living on the fringes of respectable society, from where he can judge the kinds of human hypocrisy without bias and draw non-conformist conclusions by virtue of being considered a perfect idiot.
After Diderot, other writers arose and created wise idiot characters along the lines of this nephew, who fearlessly spoke their basic, and even primitive, truths, thereby serving as a counterweight to the excessive respectability of those who belong to the mainstream of society. In this respect, Menachem Ben is an asset that must not be relinquished.
As long as he walks among us, it is necessary to pay him a salary for what he is. Just as in the past, when he worked as a literary critic, he would express his negative opinion of books that, by his own account, he had read only a few pages of, and in so doing made a contribution to the removal of the camouflage from the idea of the supposed objectivity of literary criticism, so there is nothing wrong now with his participating in a news-based radio broadcast without understanding anything about the issues raised on it. This will make a laughingstock of the sanctified idea of journalistic professionalism and the listeners will say to themselves: "Wow, this whole business of the journalistic mission and the media as the watchdog of democracy is nothing but nonsense. It is a fact that there is someone sitting there who doesn't understand a thing and is blabbering his pre-formed opinions, and this is just as interesting as the things said by Keren Neubach, who has done her preparations for the broadcast in a professional way."
The main problem with using idiocy as a balancing inoculation against the over-respectability from which people in influential positions tend to suffer is the dosage. As long as the dosage of the inoculation is small, it is thought-provoking, amusing and tolerable - as in the case of Diderot, who relates to his eccentric protagonist, that nephew of Rameau's, without doing the slightest harm to the reputation of his uncle the brilliant composer. However, as often happens in bastions of tastelessness, of which to our regret Israel is one, the sense of proportion gets lost and someone who should have been no more than a clown becomes a king and gets a crown placed on his head. Later, when there are second thoughts about his coronation, the clown refuses to be separated from his crown. The real king, who gave the clown a crown only as a joke, is alarmed, protests and declares a walkout on his kingship. And the clown has achieved what he wanted: He has made a laughingstock of the king.
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