A new TV documentary series gets up close and personal with six teens. The most provocative seems to be the 17-year-old Maayan Shenar, who carries on a relationship with a 41-year-old man - in part, on-screen
Two teenage girls are whispering together in a toilet stall at school, lighting a forbidden cigarette, chatting. The topic - a terrible secret, concealed from one of the girl's parents. The pretty girl of 17, with light-colored hair and pouting lips, is looking for a way to reveal her secret.
"I'll tell her, 'Mom, I have cancer, AIDS and syphilis and I'm pregnant,'" she smiles, "and then I'll say, 'No, I'm kidding. I just have a boyfriend who's an older man.'" She looks hopefully at her friend and takes a deep drag on the cigarette. Her friend replies: "She'll say, 'Too bad you aren't dead.'"
Like the others participating in the new Yes Drama cable television series "Bli Busha" ("Without Shame" ) - a documentary that follows the lives of six young people from different parts of the country and of different socioeconomic backgrounds - Maayan Shenar, who is now 19, was filmed during her senior year in high school.
The secret life of this young woman from the small community of Har Adar, outside Jerusalem, is a major focus of the series, due mostly to her year-long, passionate affair with a man of 41, which she kept secret for some time. To that can be added her innate and apparently unconscious tendency toward provocation and bluntness, articulated well and with a frankness that doesn't bear censoring.
When we add to this the promising beginnings of a career as an artist (Shenar creates graphic works, and paints and photographs herself ), the result is a character to whom it is impossible to remain indifferent. As initial proof, one can cite the many comments that began inundating the Yes website after the network began broadcasting the series earlier this month.
"People will have opinions for sure," Shenar says, half-amused. "The first episode went up on the site even before the broadcast began and in the first two days I obsessively read the dirt from the people who wrote in. All the 'dirty whore with a venereal disease' and all the 'her boyfriend is a pedophile.' People write horrible things and I was all fired up, with a kind of masochistic urge, to read everything every fart writes about me. But this very quickly took on a different proportion: I was very angry and insulted at first, but then it amused me."
In the cafe where our conversation is held, Shenar stands out: She's wearing a printed T-shirt over a striped shirt, and a skirt over colorful tights, with nails painted bluish-pink and bright lipstick.
"Nowadays I'm doing mostly nothing, sitting at home and watching 'Big Brother,'" she says, glancing with a smile at the restaurant's large plasma screen, tuned to that reality show. "I'm selling a few works, designs and silly things. I worked at a cafeteria and will have a very, very deep scar from that for many years. I quit after three months and then I tried working as a waitress, but after I started spilling things, pushing old women and dropping food on children, I realized it wasn't for me. I didn't manage to be polite and proper and to do what they told me."
After filming finished, Shenar completed high school and joined the army, full of motivation. However, after suffering an anxiety attack during basic training, her service profile was lowered, and she was released from duty - "the fastest discharge in history. The Israel Defense Forces didn't want me."
It was a friend, an acquaintance of producers Aviram Buchris and Li Yardeni, who brought Shenar to "Without Shame." In addition to her are Guy Solomon, an angry teen who flaunts before his family his sexual preferences and fondness for appearing in drag shows; Sasha Berdichevsky, who in the eighth month of her pregnancy wobbles along with difficulty; Coraly Larsi, the daughter of a single mother, migrant worker from Africa; and Michael and Katya Mishpati, siblings whose father is in jail. It is Coraly who is the only one who seems to be a typical teenager.
"It sounded interesting," says Shenar, explaining her decision to take part in the show. "I didn't really know what it was going to be like. A researcher phoned and asked me about myself - how old I am, where I go to school, where I live, my socioeconomic situation, whether I have a boyfriend, whether he happens to be 41. That's how it became a done deal, at that moment."
Did you waver about doing it?
Shenar: "I realized it wasn't going to be some kind of filthy reality show. I was interested in doing it because it's a challenge ... It wasn't because of a desire to become famous or anything, more because it was an experience. In any case, every other person here does it, in these days of reality. It's like [going to] a psychologist, but it's filmed. It's sitting and talking about myself, which is something that's very hard for me to do and was harder before the series. I don't regret it at all."'A kid with braces'
At the center of that experience was, as expected, Shenar's affair with her now-former partner, Eitan Radoshinsky, lead vocalist of the Tel Aviv indie band Midnight Peacocks. The relationship between the two elicits immediate and perhaps understandable negative reactions. These do, however, soften as time goes on - as the relationship depicted becomes complex and it emerges that Shenar is not a helpless victim.
At the age of 15, she says, she started going to performances in Tel Aviv and became friendly with musicians. "This attracted me - also the business of hanging out with older people. It made me feel more adult as well, which is apparently what we want at that age. To stop being children. Even though I was a kid with braces and looked like one, with too much makeup and a low neckline. I am certain this seemed sleazy to other people, but I don't have any problem with it. I am not the only girl of 17 or 16 who hangs around with musicians. They like it."
You were a groupie.
"Groupie is a bit of an extreme word, but I loved hanging out with those guys. It looked cool - taking a dip in this repulsive swamp."
The relationship with Radoshinsky began about two years ago: "He had a girlfriend but apparently it wasn't very good because he came on to a little girl of 17. At first it started with just sneaking around ... At a certain stage I found out he had a girlfriend, but we didn't talk about it. She wasn't really present. She discovered [our relationship] and it was very dramatic; there was a confrontation and I went wild ... There was an aftershock and then we simply continued. The problem is that it started in a toxic way and continued like that until the end."
The initial instinct of anyone who watched the first episode is to wait for that guy in a dark alley and tell him to say goodbye to his kneecaps.
"That's also what my mother thought, only with an electric saw and his neck," Shenar laughs. "She still wants that."
He didn't look to you like a grandfather?
"Maybe there was some kind of Electra complex there. Maybe it was a rebellious act, but I think it's just my taste. I've never gone out with anyone under 30 ... It's always ranged from [men who are] between 30 and 50."
Maybe it has to do with mental age.
"Could be, even though Eitan's mental age is 3. I still feel more adult than he is, by several years. Not that that's bad ... It's my sort of paraphilia."
Did you ever think about why you went out with someone 24 years older than you?
"There are moments when this seems a bit twisted, but to my mind it's also pretty exciting ... What's not right about it is what makes it interesting. I get it that I am kissing a man who is going bald and wears glasses. It feels weird but it's preferable in my mind to kissing someone my own age; that seems more perverse ... The mental gap in general between men and women is some 20 years in favor of the women. A boy of 17 as compared to a girl of 17 - the gap is huge. Physically, too."
The relationship between Shenar and Radoshinsky lasted a year and ended about a year ago. A few weeks ago, at the premiere event that Yes held for the series, the two kept a polite, safe distance from each other. Subsequently, Radoshinsky went crazy when a television reviewer said he exploited Shenar in order to promote his band. His nearly 5,000 Facebook friends were witness to his outburst of rage.
"He is continuing to go out with girls of 16 and 17," Shenar says now, "and I will continue to go out with men of 50."
Ultimately, it was on-screen that she told her parents about her boyfriend: "I thought if there were cameras there, my mother would not be able to stab me."
No doubt this made them happy.
"I think they were glad, because they knew I was hiding something. The fact that it was in front of the cameras was really hard for them. There were moments when I wanted to die. Like when I say, 'Mom, I have a boyfriend who's 41,' and then she reacts and the crew says, 'Hang on, that was out of focus, let's do it again.'"'Again, with feeling'
The moment there's the filter of a camera, doesn't it distance you a bit from your life?
"I thought it was going to be like that, but in the end a lot of truth came out and there were things that surprised me. There were many very real and intimate moments like that, although in those moments there are five more people in the room and the boom is dangling in front of my face and the director is saying, 'Do it again, with more feeling.'"
What do you think, now, when you look at those things that were filmed?
"I simply say to myself, 'What a stupid girl,' or, 'Get a coherent sentence out of your mouth.' When I look at it, I realize I didn't make the right choices. Today I am in a much better place mentally and psychologically."
Are you afraid of how you look there?
"I assume I look as bad there as I do now, maybe worse. I am most afraid of what my parents are going to see. The absurdity is that if anything really good has happened in the wake of the series it's that I feel much more comfortable with them. It's absurd because I never really had talks with them like you're supposed to, and they see a lot of things about their daughter's secret life on the screen - together with tens of thousands of other people."
What do they think in the meantime?
"In the meantime it seems to be working well because after the screening they just hugged me and kissed me and said I was sweet. I was pretty sure they would throw me out of the house and erase my name from the family tree. There's no knowing what will happen later."
Shenar mentions the difficult problems she has had with her self-image, which were also manifested in an eating disorder from which she suffered for about two years. After she reached a weight of 36 kilos, she succeeded in overcoming the disorder. In the same breath she says, "Even in the series I have baby fat ... It's hard to see myself in general; I am very critical of myself. After the premiere, which was in HD on a gigantic screen - with every pimple stretched over three meters - I went outside and muttered to myself that I'm fat and ugly, and wondered why I said all those silly things. Every second word I say in the damned series is 'like' or 'you know.'"
You all look young and are experiencing very intimate situations on-screen . Can you understand viewers who think you are being exploited?
"Possibly. I didn't feel exploitation. Being in the production isn't easy. Every possible situation in my life was documented. If they could have documented me sitting on the toilet, they may well have. But there isn't really a voyeuristic and nosy atmosphere here. Emotionally, you reach the depths. I didn't feel there was exploitation. Clearly there was a feeling that they wanted to get as much as possible out of me and that I would get as much as possible out of myself in front of the cameras - but that's my life, which people documented. There wasn't any interference in the 'plot.' We are real people, it isn't staged and I am not 30, like people write about me. I just smoke a lot and look old."
If you were to see someone in your situation, is that what you'd think about her?
"I understand how people judge others, why people say it isn't right that I am dating someone much older. It's clear this looks twisted to people. I've heard and read that this generation is rotten, and parents are permissive and don't set boundaries and because of that we get pregnant from 40-year-olds or come out of the closet or do drag, and we're all on drugs. I don't know other people's parents, but mine are amazing and I think we kids turned out perfectly fine."
Are you worried about how your parents will come across in the show?
"My parents are liberal and they just don't educate the way people train a dog. I have a feeling - as I've also read in the reader responses - that people will get the impression that the parents don't see what is happening to their children. That it's a sign of terrible upbringing if a boy comes out of the closet or a poorly raised girl gets pregnant at the age of 17. The fact that we're screwed up doesn't mean our parents are screwed up; as for mine, I can testify that they are wonderful educators. As for all the other issues, I don't give a damn."