Our TV Critic Thinks the Newscasts Might Be a Rerun

The satire was so funny and so up-to-date. What do you mean it was made in 2008?

Michael Handelzalts
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Seven-time winner of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong. The rise and fall of a sports hero.
Seven-time winner of the Tour de France, Lance Armstrong. The rise and fall of a sports hero.Credit: Courtesy Yes Docu
Michael Handelzalts

With the prevailing view that any opinion deserves merit, and the inadvisability of brushing away any statement, however inane, for fear of being labeled an aloof elitist, I find myself recently trying to prove to some of my interlocutors that the earth is indeed round and not flat, and that it actually, and contrary to the way it seems to some, revolves around the sun and not the other way around. Until I devise some way to prove it effectively once and for all, I think I’ve come up with something almost as good: proof that our lives, such as they are (and they seem to becoming sucher and sucher as you read) are indeed recycling themselves, just as they seem to be doing.

It dawned on me last Friday, when, on one of the channels, I stumbled on what seemed to be a new and wonderfully topical episode of the satirical program “Wonderful Country,” with an elite team of comedians. They presented an outrageously funny portrayal of confusedly arrogant Israelis convening in their undies in the hallway of a condo, seeking shelter from incoming Hamas missiles, followed by a vicious caricature of a TV news show with a know-it-all female newscaster and a panel of politicians and commentators of every gender and ilk (leaning male and right) behaving like they know something about what has to be done about Gaza etc. I was still marveling at the skill and speed of the “Wonderful Country” team in mounting such an intricate, polished and up-to-date political satire, given the circumstances (missiles all over the place, Iron Dome or not) when a small caption informed me that it was a rerun of an episode originally broadcast in 2008, in the heyday of the “Cast Lead” operation. Woe is a reality whose satirically exaggerated reflection of yesteryear still seems spot-on. Wait a moment: Could it be that the newscasts we are supposed to be glued to in order to get our unbearable bearings are reruns as well?

Matters being as they are – and please don’t let me go into how they really are – I’ve decided to stick to the self-imposed, almost total “no TV” rule, and seek my solace with the sports channels. However, this happened to be a mixed blessing this week: no more World Cup (Deutschland uber alles), and not even Wimbledon Lawn Tennis (Federer loses in the final yet again). The only international competition remaining on the world scene is the Tour de France, which will reach its finale on Sunday, with the riders in Paris, 
cycling on the Champs-Elysees toward the podium, which will most probably be ascended by Vincenzo Nibali, who leads the others, as of this writing, by more than four minutes.

Even if you are not into watching a bunch of male bums in tights filmed from behind, rising and lowering over bicycle saddles, you can enjoy the breathtaking, mostly French, scenery, and think of the Tour as sort of a metaphor for the ever-recycling scenario of war-yet-again, a repeated, grueling ritual that drags on and on, with individuals crashing along the way and a victor crowned each day, for a day. One of them wins the trophy at the final ceremony, only to have the validity of his achievement questioned, and will anyway have to undergo the whole rigmarole again next year.

For those of you who decide not to turn on the Eurosport channel on 
Sunday to see the jostling dash toward the Arc de Triomphe because you are seeking something of more lasting value, I can recommend watching, on Yes Docu, the two-hour-long documentary “The Armstrong Lie” by Alex Gibney. The film follows the extraordinary life and lies of Lance Armstrong, who won the Tour de France seven consecutive times (1999-2005) and was later stripped of all his titles and trophies and banned from competitive cycling for life because of doping charges – first vehemently denied by him, then proved beyond a doubt and finally admitted to.

It all started after Armstrong had already won the most important, if not the only, victory that really matters. In 1996-97, following a successful career as a triathlete and cyclist, he survived a battle with testicular cancer, which had spread to his lungs, brain and abdomen. He also created a foundation in his name to fight the disease. In 1999 he won the Tour de France for the first time, and then repeated the achievement six more times with the U.S. Postal Service team. He left most of the other riders behind in time trials, on flat stretches of road and in the mountains, and his perseverance and especially surprising surges of power at decisive moments left many wondering, doubting and suspecting.

Armstrong could have retired and rested on his laurels forever, had he not decided to embark on a comeback to win the Tour yet again in 2009. This was after one of his successors on the podium in Paris – Floyd Landis in 2006 – was found to have used drugs and stripped of his title; the same thing happened to other riders, and suspicions over Armstrong’s titles grew. At this stage, Alex Gibney decided to follow him with a film crew, to document yet another heroic and inspiring tale of an individual fighting against all odds, and prove to the world and to himself that Armstrong was indeed invincible, and clean as well.

In hindsight, it looks like a classic tale of hubris: the hero being taken in by his own PR in an atmosphere of his world trying to put its own house in order. It was not only that Armstrong had to resort to doping to stay in the race at all; he managed to secure only third place on the podium, and that only by calling in some favors from other cyclists. His audacity and arrogance caused former colleagues and accomplices, whom he had shunned or offended when he was on his way up, to break the codes of silence. In an atmosphere of growing suspicion and some tell-tale confessions, Gibney decided to shelve his documentary.

When in 2013 Armstrong was finally stripped of all his titles (they were not awarded to anyone else, as happened with others found guilty of doping); and after admitting, on the Oprah Winfrey Show, that he had used EPO, steroids, blood transfusions and other substances to boost his extraordinary abilities even more, Gibney decided to remake his documentary. The new version is made from the viewpoint of an admirer scorned: Gibney tells of the cyclist and his self-deceit, while showing how he himself was taken in and began rooting for Lance, only to be let down dismally.

What goes up, must come down; the spinning (bicycle) wheel of fortune goes round and round. And so does our reality, in peace (does it exist at all anymore?) and war.