What Is Ninet Worth?

What secured Ninet Tayeb's admission to the top of the million-plus club? Her fame. What did she do for it? Not much.

What's more important: The new haircut Ninet Tayeb got for a Pelephone ad campaign or the fact that she'll be getting around NIS 1.5 million for it? Judging by this weekend's papers, the haircut is clearly the big story. It's not every day that Ninet walks into a hair salon and cuts off all her tresses. This is a spectacular event by any standard. No wonder it is celebrated in the newspapers and on television and is arousing tremendous excitement.

Everyone's happy - the media picks up easy ratings, the cellular company's investment in Ninet is paying off even before the campaign has kicked off, the celebrity endorser herself wins the jackpot and the fans experience another Ninetish catharsis.

I am finding it a little hard to participate in the hoopla. With all the legitimate interest in the buzz-cut, I think the real story is the NIS 1.5 million. Maybe that's peanuts for Pelephone, but to me it seems like a lot of money. You have to work long and hard for that sort of money. If I'm not mistaken, this catapults Ninet to the head of the "million club" - a group of celebrities who earn more than a million shekels a year for being the face of commercial companies.

The list is impressive. Miri Bohadana will earn NIS 1.2 million for three campaigns; Adi Ashkenazi joined the club with an annual salary of NIS 1 million for endorsing an investment firm, leaving in the dust celebrities like Zvika Hadar (Shekem Electric), Gadi Sukenik (Leumi Mortgage) and Yair Lapid (Bank Hapoalim), whose annual pay for advertising alone is just shy of a million.

I do not begrudge the economic success of the Million Club members. May they be healthy, wealthy and happy forever. After all, we live in a free market of supply and demand. So long as private companies are prepared to pay them a fortune simply thanks to their fame and image, there is no reason to complain. You'd have to be an idiot to forgo the money. I am the last person to be swept up into socialist demagoguery against the capitalist system. After all, I am part of it.

Nevertheless, there is something I find infuriating about the norm of grandiose remuneration for celebrities. It's not the nouveau riche themselves, but rather the social-cultural phenomenon they represent - the troubling combination of celebrity culture's takeover of the public space, and work's ongoing devaluation on the scale of social values.

What secured Ninet Tayeb's admission to the top of the million-plus club? Her fame. What did she do for it? Not much. Namely, she got a haircut. Here is clear-cut proof of the fact that celebritydom, that fictitious and hollow existence, is now a seriously lucrative "job." Here is the ultimate example that you don't really have to work to really earn. You just have to be really famous. This is the new Israeli dream. Ask any boy or girl.

What actually happened here? A manipulative system enlisted to turn a young girl with average talent from Kiryat Gat into a locus of national identification. Every piece of gossip, every front page of an entertainment magazine, each of the photographs of the new haircut - all are part of a marketing strategy that brings a figment of the image into the Million Club. Nothing about this is real, innocent or accidental. Ninet is a marionette designed as an object of adoration for the masses, who through her vicariously derive the meaning of their existence. In essence, she is a tool, a cog in a well-oiled economic machine. The fans gobble up every scrap of information about her and her fellow club members, but it is unlikely they are aware that those they worship have retired to a separate galaxy, far away from the world of the average fan with the average salary.

The Ninet story only serves to demonstrate what it takes to be a "success" in Israeli celebrity culture. Someone is considered a success according to standards dictated by his surroundings, according to the ratings, without any regard for what he really is. No wonder celebrities develop a desperate dependence on outside validation instead of drawing strength from inner resources. So don't envy Ninet. If she gets NIS 1.5 million just for her name and face, what reason will she have to figure out what she's really worth?