July 3, 2022

“Mask Singer” and the curious nature of celebrity in Israel

The second season of the Mask Singer (“The Masked Singer”) ended in a way that was not particularly spectacular when the “Gorilla” won and unmasked himself, revealing the face of singer Shai Gabso.

A singer winning a singing competition comes as no real surprise. The real shock had come earlier in the season, when the ‘Peas’ turned out to be Itamar Grotto, a former deputy director of the Ministry of Health.

While the majority are people category B (or even C) – singers, actors, athletes and other personalities in the entertainment industry – who, as you might expect, have occupied the screen for most of the season, it There were a few notable and unexpected exceptions in the casting. Among them, ex-Knesset MP Stav Shaffir disguised as a ladybug and Nehemia Shtrasler, columnist and daily economic commentator Haaretz, who was hiding under the costume of the “porcupine”.

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Personalities in search of (extra) fame on a reality TV show, this is nothing new, you tell me. But the presence of such unlikely figures in one of Israel’s most-watched shows underscores a deeper undercurrent in Israeli society where the very notion of fame reflects what Israelis consume with ever-increasing appetites. daily: information. The Israelis’ obsession with news has given rise to a new genre of celebrity – or at least a broader definition of the latter.

Stav Shaffir (Photo credit: Hagai Hirschfeld)

Without COVID, it is likely that Grotto would never have been chosen to appear in a reality TV show that aired in prime-time. But the pandemic gave him access to daily television shows and news programs – and in doing so, it allowed him to enter all Israeli homes, which now see him as a familiar face.

The evening’s news is among the most watched programs in the country and news, more generally, dominates the audiovisual landscape with almost seven hours a day. And the personalities, the faces seen on those shows have entered the Israeli zeitgeist – making some of these personalities as famous as the actors, singers, artists who tend to populate reality TV shows.

Journalist Yonit Levi and her husband, presenter Ido Rosenblum. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons / Montage)

Yonit Levi, the presenter of the most-watched news program in the Jewish state – and who, it turns out, is the wife of host Ido Rosenblum of the “Masked Singer,” which proves how interconnected the entertainment industry is in Israel – is one of Israel’s most recognized women.

With only three broadcast channels in Israel – two of which are commercial – Israelis are, in a way, a captive audience. “The Masked Singer” begins as soon as the evening news on Keshet 12 ends, and “Survivor” begins after the news program ends in prime-time. And both commercial channels are doing a – huge – publicity around their shows during the afternoon and evening news – which makes it natural to see some of the same faces reappear onscreen in these two different ones. circumstances.

Arab Israeli journalist Lucy Aharish attends the 67th Yom HaAtsmaut ceremony at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem on April 22, 2015 (Hadas Parush / Flash90)

While not all faces of Knesset members, past and present, are necessarily familiar, some of those who may have made the headlines, whether for good or bad reasons, have become an ideal breeding ground for TV. -reality.

The surprise created by the appearance of Shaffir, friend of singer Keren Ann, on the set of the “Masked Singer” was more driven by her talents as a singer – she started ninth and she baffled the judges by her identity – than by the probability of its participation in the program.

Donald Trump and Oren Hazan, May 22, 2017 (Twitter / Oren Hazan)

Oren Hazan, former deputy of the fallen Likud – more cut, it seems, for reality TV than for parliamentary representation – had taken part and won the last season of “Big Brother VIP.” “

Former Likud MPs Nava Boker and Inbal Gavrieli lived the adventure of ‘Survivor VIP’ and lawmaker Pnina Rosenblum – who had made a flash appearance in the Knesset – took part in the first season of ‘Masked Singer’, the last year, which also included news presenters Lucy Aharish and Gadi Sukenik.

MP Merav Ben Ari attends a meeting of the Labor Committee in the Israeli Parliament regarding national service on February 6, 2017 (Miriam Alster / FLASH90

For his part, the former Labor MP Eitan Cabel appeared on the small screen during the VIP season – more distinguished – of “My Kitchen Rules”.

Some elected officials, for their part, do not wait until the end of their mandate to try their hand at reality TV. Merav Ben-Ari, legislator of Yesh Atid, appears in the credits of the reality TV show devoted to football “Goalstar” – which was shot when she was not in the Knesset.

Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov at the beach, June 19, 2021 (Screen capture)

The current Minister of Tourism, Yoel Razvozov, a former Olympic judoka, was supposed to appear on the “Ninja Israel” show when he was a member of Parliament, but he had strained a muscle and consequently withdrew from the cast.

The Likud deputy and former minister David “Dudi” Amsalem for his part illustrated in a season of “Master Chef VIP” which has not yet been broadcast to date.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) speaks with then-coalition chairman David Amsalem during a Likud party faction meeting in the Knesset on November 19, 2018 (Miriam Alster / Flash90 / File)

But perhaps even more shocking is how other Israelis have exploited a quarter of an hour of infamy by turning it into hard currency through participation in a reality TV show.

Shula Zaken – former adviser to ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert imprisoned following the same corruption scandal that led to the downfall of her boss – has so far participated in two reality TV programs since her release: “Goalstar” and “Big Brother”.

An employee of President Orly Revivo’s residence, the first woman to accuse incumbent President Moshe Katsav of rape, is seen at a press conference, June 28, 2007. (Yael Tzur / Flash90)

Meni Naftali – the former manager of the Prime Minister’s residence during Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure and who subsequently became one of his fiercest critics and failed to witness the prosecution – took part on the adventure of “Survivor VIP.” “

Azzam Azzam, this Israeli Druze who had been convicted in Egypt for spying for Israel and imprisoned there for eight years before being released in 2004, also participated in “Survivor VIP.” “

Shula Zaken, November 3, 2014 (Gili Yohanan / POOL)

And – this is one of the most shocking examples – Orly Revivo, which had been known for years under the letter “Aleph”, who was the main plaintiff in the case against former President Moshe Katsav who had been finally convicted of raping her, appeared in “Big Brother VIP.” “

It’s no surprise that such figures accept – or seek out – the opportunities offered by reality TV. After becoming famous, after gaining notoriety, it can often be difficult to find a stable job because of the public gaze.

But TV stations take the risk of appealing to these same personalities because their faces are precisely familiar to viewers.

Meni Naftali, the former manager of the official residence of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, arrives at his defamation trial against the Netanyahu family in Herzliya court on December 2, 2019 (Avshalom Sassoni / Flash90)

Every night, more than 25% of Israeli households with a television watch the news. With wars, elections, terrorist attacks and endless political scandals, many Israelis have become accustomed to being glued to the small screen. And in such a small country, information that would be purely local hardly exists. The most important news of the day in Eilat is probably also the major news of the day in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Kiryat Shmona.

That’s right, I could tune into American reality TV for entertainment – but in Israel, reality TV has a geographic element. I can’t watch Married at First Sight without learning which participant went to the same high school as a friend, and which other knew my cousin’s wife. Even I, an immigrant, have at one point or another come across a familiar face during the “Master Chef” or “The New Star” auditions and, for those born or raised in Israel, this probability is even greater.

The dynamics of the Israeli entertainment industry – often referred to as “the swamp” – are fluid. With less population base than in Western countries, it seems Israel has a few celebrities, or around 10% of Israelis are “famous”. Reality TV stars become celebrities, celebrities appear on reality TV, and viewers continue to devour all available information about them.

But let’s not make the mistake of taking them as role models.