Who Needs Satire?

"For Yedioth, I need the headline: `I wanted to screw in Paradise.' That's what I need."

- Ronny Shaked, reporter in the territories for the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, briefing Israel Defense Forces soldiers who captured a Palestinian youth who had planned a suicide attack (from the Tel Aviv weekly Ha'ir, April 15, 2004)

Now that is a sentence that could drive any Israeli satirist to despair. Try finding a line that better encapsulates in a single breath the one-dimensional Israeli approach to suicide attacks, as well as the vulgarity that has taken over the country's tabloids. Satirist Uzi Weil could not have said it any better. Who needs satire when those we want to satirize do the artistic work themselves?

The truth is that all of us do. While it's true that Israeli reality overshadows the humorous and satirical reflections of it, there still remain some holy enclaves that a satirist will not touch if he values his life. Implicit but well-internalized barriers continue to protect the values of our existence, and absurdly, these barrier have been getting higher and higher, particularly in recent years. The creators of the Channel 2 weekly satirical show "Wonderful Country" can only long for the (relative) freedom that the creators of the pioneering satirical television show "Nikui Rosh" (literally, "Cleaning the Head") enjoyed 30 years before them. What the Cameri Quintet was allowed just a few years ago was no longer taken for granted by writers Shai Goldstein and Dror Raphael.

Three-plus years of collective psychological defense against daily terror have crowded the ranks of the consensus; at the same time, those same three-plus years of economic recession have greatly shrunk the commercial media's willingness to break through the lines. This is as evident in journalistic coverage as in satirical energies, which are much reduced. Alternative, subversive voices have been pushed to the margins or to the Internet, where anything goes. "Editorial considerations" have become more and more subordinate to what is called "public sentiment": Hurting the public's feelings is forbidden, especially when the consumer public is concerned.

Take, for example, the thriving bereavement industry. There is nothing funny or ridiculous about bereavement itself, but before we all stand at tense attention, where is the channel that will dare to broadcast a skit about the political commercialization of bereavement? And what about the Holocaust and its pimps? Forget it - why get into trouble? Look what happened to Yehuda Nuriel after he published a reprimand of those who refuse to serve in the territories under the signature of one "A. Schickelgruber": His newspaper fired him. And the memory of Yitzhak Rabin? No way. Thrice holy. His buddy Shimon Sheves will get cross. A satirical sketch about God himself? Not a good idea. Maybe we'll need him, or one of his representatives on earth. So, meanwhile, everyone is walking on eggs (or going for imitations of President Moshe Katsav or Judy Shalom-Nir-Mozes) - apart from some impertinent types who try something on the Beep cable channel and immediately get slapped down.

Memorial Day and Independence Day are not necessarily the ideal opportunity to test the limits of what the public can take. These are days of nurturing myths, not of undermining them. In this sense, a collection of articles on satire, and in a commercial newspaper at that, could be asking for trouble. But these are troubles of the useful sort, and therefore we have requested articles from a number of writers of proven satirical talent, and asked them not to hold back this time. Some (a few) of them even acceded to this request, so it is not unlikely that there will be readers who feel offended by some of the pieces on these pages. We therefore advise readers to excercise their own discretion.

Happy holiday.