Thursday, November 7, 2013

Could Israel Become a Cultural Superpower?

My latest article at The Tower, on why Israel's growing media presence around the world could make it the world's next cultural superpower.

Despite its high international profile, Israel has always been a somewhat provincial county, with a domestic culture largely unknown to outsiders. The classic pieces of Israeli pop culture, such as the comedy group Ha’Gashash Ha’Hiver, Eretz Israel and Mizrahi music, and the classic bourekas movies, remain ubiquitous in Israel—most Israelis can quote lines from them at will—but almost nowhere else. Everyone in the world knows who Brad Pitt is, but no one outside of Israel knows Yehuda Levi, his rough Israeli equivalent. Indeed, when Yair Lapid suddenly emerged as Israel’s newest political star, the global media proved completely ignorant of a man who had been one of Israel’s most famous media personalities for decades.

But this may be changing, and very quickly. Over the past decade, Israeli films, actors, television shows, celebrities, and music have spread and, more importantly, been embraced around the world. This includes films like Walk on Water, Fill the Void, Ajami, Or, and the cinema of Amos Gitai, which have won international prizes and foreign distribution, often with considerable success. There are television shows like Betipul, remade almost word-for-word as HBO’s In Treatment, and Hatufim, whose American remake Homeland is a runaway success; game and reality shows have also been reproduced and remade in numerous other countries.

Actors like Noa Tishby, Ayelet Zurer, and Mili Avital have appeared in American and European films, become stars, producers, and conduits through which the Israeli film and television industry can reach into foreign markets. Zurer in particular has met with significant Hollywood success, co-starring in Steven Spielberg’s Munich, as well as blockbusters like Man of Steel.

Even more surprisingly, musicians like the heavy metal band Orphaned Land and Mizrahi singer Sarit Hadad have become popular in countries that have historically been ambivalent or violently hostile toward Israel, garnering fans from nations like Turkey and Syria.

While it is too soon to know for sure, it increasingly looks like Israel may well be on the road to becoming a cultural superpower.

Continue reading at The Tower