Paris Attacks Send Our TV Into the Arms of Fictional Shows

But even with 'Scandal' and 'The Good Wife,' can he really escape reality?

Michael Handelzalts
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People hug on the street near the Bataclan concert hall in Paris following the fatal terrorist attack.
People hug on the street near the Bataclan concert hall in Paris following the fatal terrorist attack.Credit: Reuters
Michael Handelzalts

It was just one of those no, no things. Just one of those evenings when you turn the TV on and get stuck. On the Channel 10 newscast there was a story about a particular unit of the IDF, whose operatives are masters of disguise, and turn up among the Palestinians in the West Bank, mingling among them especially when protests arise and stones start flying through the air. At the right moments, our best and bravest (they are bound to be, since they are “ours”) draw their handguns and overpower, neutralize or apprehend their target, or prey.

The newsreel beamed again and again footage from Palestinian CCTV cameras, in which IDF soldiers – looking like a family accompanying a woman about to give birth – enter a Hebron hospital en masse, and leave after a couple of minutes, guns in hand, with a “wanted” character carried away in a wheelchair. My problem, as a viewer, was that identical footage was rerun ad nauseam concurrently on Channels 10, 1 and 2, drowning with too many words from various security has-beens images that anyway are supposed to be worth a thousand words.

Not only that: I had a very strong sense of déjà vu. Fairly recently I’ve seen similar scenes of much better quality (as far as sound, camera angles, focus and pace are concerned) on the Israeli fictional action-spy-political series “Fauda,” which follows the lives (and deaths, alas) of soldiers in precisely such a unit. In self-defense, I escaped from this onset of reality to “Delta Force 2” on one of the movie channels, and sought solace in following the very much alive and kicking Chuck Norris doing on-screen very much the same job as the aforementioned IDF operatives. Only I didn’t feel personally involved to any extent.

Well, tomorrow will be a new TV viewing day, I said to myself, only to wake up on the Sabbath with the terrible news of the Paris carnage. The story was covered live on pretty much every channel, and one thing was very clear to me, an Israeli viewer who has tried to digest too many hours of breaking news about “our own” terrorist attacks. The French, for whom it was a “one-off” occurrence (well, “two-off” as of this writing, after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January), covered the unfolding tragic events on their newscast (the English language France 24) with an astounding measure of composure. Very little, if any, gruesome footage from the scenes of blood and gore, and a very calm, sober manner of reporting the horrible news. No bystanders crowding and jostling to be seen on the screen behind reporters from the various spots in Paris that were so suddenly hit, in the city’s complacent underbelly, as it were. Possibly we, who live 24/7 with the possibility of a terrorist attack – not ever, hopefully, on such a scale with so many casualties – are already desensitized, and thus in need of stronger images and harsher, louder tones to impress us.

Anything but more reality

Anyway, after digesting the numbers and feeling an overpowering sense of helplessness (how’s that for hyperbolic metaphor?), I badly needed some respite from the overdose of reality, so I decided to catch up with the TV series I’m following, as your trusted correspondent on matters irrelevant and immaterial. Anything but more reality, I said to myself, and got ready to be regaled with TV fiction.

Item one: On “Madam Secretary,” second season, in the sixth episode, “Catch and Release,” aired originally on November 8, Secretary McCord watches, together with the President and his closest security advisers, how a drone uses a well-aimed missile to “neutralize” an American who made a notorious name for himself – without showing his face – by beheading captives on camera in the service of ISIS and in the name of Islam. Within the episode there was a sub-plot, with Madame Secretary getting the information that leads to the on-screen remote-control “kill” from her own brother, a medic who had volunteered to help the wounded and injured in Syria. Off-screen only a couple of days later, an American drone supposedly killed Jihadi John, a notorious Briton whose claim to fame was in wielding a knife and executing orange-clad western prisoners on gruesome ISIS video clips.

Again, reality rears its bloody head. Let’s zap to a series where the events are supposed to be so scandalously different: “Scandal,” where in its fifth season Olivia Pope is a live-in lover of President Grant. The president’s off-again-on-again chief of staff, the scheming Cyrus Beene (played by Jeff Perry, who was Meredith Grey’s father for a couple of episodes on “Grey’s Anatomy”) accuses her of executing a de facto coup. He claims that Fitz (the Prez’s nickname in the series) simply does whatever she tells him to do, being oh-so-happy and in love. My mind wondered to another country, in which, so they say, the prime minister abides by the whims and caprices of his wife, who exerts more influence on matters of state than is good for everyone.

Again, much too much reality for me, in this TV fiction. On, therefore, to “The Good Wife.” Here there is local Illinois politics, and the Florricks’ chief of staff, Eli Gold, resisted getting involved in Israeli politics. I should be safe from reality there. Indeed; but for the fact that in the sixth episode of the seventh season, Alicia represents a woman who was fired by a software company, and it turns out that she had written a program called “spoiler;” it can predict, based on a pilot or episode of a series, all probable and possible spoilers.The twist there is that the NSA acquires the software to utilize it in real-life scenarios, in order to avoid their carefully hatched plans being spoiled.

‘Paris Loves Lovers’

OK, I’ve got the message. There is no escape from reality on TV. I give up. And just to remind myself that Paris was once – and should ever be – the most romantic place of all, here are the lyrics to the Cole Porter song “Paris Loves Lovers,” as performed by the bon vivant (Fred Astaire) and the Communist commissar Ninotchka, played by Cyd Charisse in the musical “Silk Stockings.” You can watch the delightful scene on YouTube. Ninotchka’s put-downs of the decadent (in the communist and Islamic point of view) City of Lights are in parentheses.

“Gaze on the glistening lights below and above / Oh, what a night of nights for people in love / No city but this my friend, no city I know / Gives romance such a chance to grow and grow //

Paris (Capitalistic) loves lovers, (characteristic) for lovers (sensualistic) it’s heaven above (they should be atheistic) / Paris (imperialistic) tells lovers, (I’m pessimistic) love is supreme, wake up your dream and make love / (that’s anti communistic) //

Only in Paris (militaristic) one discovers (you’re optimistic) the urge to merge with the splurge of the spring / (bourgeois propaganda) / Paris (unrealistic) loves lovers (it’s individualistic) for lovers (and not at all collectivistic) know that love is everything / (But a low totalitarianistic thing).”

Ah, we will always have Paris. Or will we?