The Right to Look Ridiculous

Once again a public figure is about to deliver "the speech of his life." In other words, to be given a long rope with which to hang himself on live television. Tears, tics, tricks, swollen neck arteries and all.

It has been happening recently with growing frequency: Television broadcasters suddenly become alert, the viewers at home turn up the volume, the messages begin passing back and forth on the cell phones, and in the air there's the sound of people rubbing their hands in enjoyment. Look, it's happening again, another "live show". Once again a public figure is about to deliver "the speech of his life." In other words, to be given a long rope with which to hang himself on live television. Tears, tics, tricks, swollen neck arteries and all.

What began as a semi-tragedy in President Moshe Katsav's horror show repeated itself this week as a farce in the performance of Esterina Tartman (as evidenced by the small and foolish smiles of victory she scattered afterward). This type of recital has managed to become entrenched as a genre itself, with its own characteristics. The main one is the attempt by a public figure who has transgressed to achieve a coup, to use the media against the media in an attempt to divert our attention from his shame, from the lies, from the embarrassment.

To ensure the "success" of the performance - in other words its unavoidable and colossal failure from a media, legal and political point of view - in a slim hope that it will arouse empathy in the archetypal "Massouda from Sderot," two ostensibly contradictory components in the personality of the performing artist are required. On the one hand, an obsession with everything related to "the media" and the importance of how he is reflected in it, and on the other hand, an almost total absence of self-awareness during his media performance. The fact is that there is no contradiction between the two. Both approaches reflect the same type of ignorance about reality and the rules of the media. The public figure attributes so much importance and mystification to "the media" that he does not understand how revealing it is, and with what transparency it conveys any sign of wretchedness, falseness, inarticulateness and ludicrousness.

And moreover, in his anti-media obsession, which combines fear with a desire to belong, the politician who has sinned expresses a pseudo-cunning, a childish desire to execute a shortcut. In one dizzying pirouette, in a prime-time coup, to reach the middle of the stage of our lives, and thus to gather in or save a career, even without being equipped with that small and unimportant baggage called a (genuine) brilliant resume, abilities and stature. He tries to bypass the acceptance and selection exams, where - what can you do - media people and legal scholars are also present, arbiters of taste, shapers of public opinion, professional pundits, legal experts. And it is no coincidence that the worst of the politicians have turned the media and the legal system into their main enemies. These are after all the only bodies that still presume to speak in the name of norms, to posit indexes of quality, regulations, and even to try to dictate taste in public behavior.

And nevertheless, as evidenced by the separate cases of Moshe Katsav and Esterina Tartman and their ilk, a public figure is mistaken if he thinks he will be able to achieve success with shortcuts, by bypassing and condemning the media and the legal systems. Since alongside the laws and the norms there is one more element that is shared by both the ordinary people and the "elites," and this is a sense of the ridiculous. A kind of natural sense of smell that somehow succeeds in distinguishing between the dignified and the ludicrous. And although there was at least one MK (not by chance an associate of Benjamin Netanyahu: Yuval Steinitz) who demanded that a law be passed against making people look ridiculous on film, nobody will take away this elementary and natural civil right from us.

It was the hero of the musical "Casablanca" who summed it up succinctly: "If you want respect you have to work." Even in the era of political spin and "A Star is Born," this little thing called natural dignity has survived: that which is acquired through hard work, that which is accumulated over the years through small and large demonstrations of integrity, dignity that speaks for itself beyond any spin or media coup. That's how it is. There are people who clearly cannot be made to look ridiculous, people who are respected even if they didn't complete any academic degree, and even if they gazed through binoculars whose lenses were covered. Even in the satirical television program "Wonderful Country" they cannot be made to look ridiculous. And on the other hand - what can you do - there are people who, in spite of spin and press conferences, cannot shake off the ridicule. Because ludicrousness or dignity are two things a man earns honestly, even if he is a politician.