Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Israeli Cell Phone Commercial

While looking for some sort of cheap cell phone to use in Tel Aviv, I stumbled across this recent "Cellcom" commercial that has caused quite a stir in Israel and among Arab activists.

I'm not quite sure what I make of it myself. Certainly, the fact that we can't see the other side of the wall is very interesting. While I don't interpret the intent of the advertisement as sinister, I seriously doubt that Cellcom is connecting people on both sides of that wall. Some of the commenters, probably correctly, argue that a Palestinian who got close enough to the wall to kick a soccer ball over would have already been shot. The wall itself is the cause of a serious humanitarian crisis. The Palestinian "economy," if you can justify the use of the word, was designed to be entirely dependent on Israel in order to prevent any basis for a future Palestinian state. Sealing off the territories from the economy of Israel has sealed off a large number of Palestinians from making a living. That wall represents more than political separation. It represents very real economic deprivation. Malnutrition is a serious problem for the Palestinians.

Certainly, the problem here is one of imagination. The commercial gives us some clues about "Josef Q. Public" views himself. The view is almost identical to that of a suburbanite in the United States. Of course, suburban identity works because of its lack of an "other." To be a happy suburbanite, you can't imagine yourself as the source of oppression. In a sense, that identity rests on not seeing the other side of the wall. So much in politics rests on the management of time and space. As I get older, I find more and more uses for Foucault.

Michael Dewar, Michelle's good friend who has given Craig and me a lot of good information about getting around Tel Aviv, told us that the gay community in Israel is the one of the few places where Arabs and Jews get along. It makes sense. If we believe Kinsey, roughly ten percent of American men, at least, experience only homosexual attraction and an other twenty percent fit along the gamut of bisexuality. Assuming that Kinsey uncovered a biological regularity, that means fewer than one in three guys is a potential fuck and a number of these guys are not in the regular hook-up market. If we believe that Arab and Israeli queers are as sexed as American queers and we believe that a good fuck is a good fuck, it makes all the sense in the world that Arab and Israeli queers would get over it. The market is too small to entertain prejudice. Surely any guy can see the logic in landing the next fuck. Feminists don't get this, but the penis can be a remarkably democratic organ. It's really the other brain that is steeped in prejudice.

A year or two ago, when I first started planning this trip, Ellis Goldberg, my committee chair, suggested that it might be rather hard on me emotionally to be in Israel, given the Israeli openness to homosexuality in comparison to the sort of denial most Arab societies have with respect to homosexuality. Indeed, I imagine that closedness is an other factor that makes for this "peace between the queers." It must be very hard to maintain a gay community in Arab Middle East. Yeah, it makes sense to hang out in the Israeli gay neighborhood when you can't have one of your own. But it's hardly free of political complication, is it? Sex is never free of political complication.


StLee said...

Amazing ad Talal. Very interesting. It made me think of the story of the WWI trench warriors singing "Silent Night" to one another and then playing a game of soccer in no man's land on Christmas Eve. Don't know if this story is for real or some sort of historical "urban legend". Either way the scene could make for a good 60 second spot too. Maybe Adidas "Nothing is Impossible", Nike "Just Do It - lay down your arms and play ball" or maybe KBR "We can have a good time too".

Cuphound said...

As far as I can tell, this Cellcom commercial is for real. Craig and I currently have Cellcom sim cards in our cell phones, although this commercial did not prompt that particular purchase. My good friend Grace telling me that Cellcom sim cards work in T-Mobile phones was the deal clincher.

An ex-colleague of mine was fond of the WWI soccer story on Christmas Eve. Of course, the troops could see one another. I think that was a real moment. I think this was a saccharine bourgeois commercial. It is, nonetheless, sociologically interesting.

That said, I may have been wrong about Cellcom not providing service to both sides of the wall. I have to look into that.