Academic journal article Shofar

Masquerade and Bad Faith in Peeping Toms

Academic journal article Shofar

Masquerade and Bad Faith in Peeping Toms

Article excerpt

This essay argues that Uri Zohar's Peeping Toms (1972) presents an economy of voyeurism and fetishism that unveils the tragic nihilistic existence of the Israeli male in the post-Zionist world. In doing so it describes the sexual and existential misfortunes experienced by the Israeli male protagonist, who uses the phallus-a signifier much appraised by Zionism-to veil not only castration but also the void left by the dissolution of the Zionistic collective ideology. This dissolution created a state of alienation, rendering the individual totally unable to examine (or re-examine) his values. The compulsive attribution of personal responsibility to a higher power, consolidated by the collective ideology based on a heterosexual masculine model, generated a deterministic and fixed male state of mind. Peeping Toms displays a high awareness of this problem through various cinematic devices, while emphasizing the inability of the post-Zionist generation to contend with it.

Doomed

Although it is possible to consider Zohar's Peeping Toms as the first film of a trilogy,1 it is somewhat difficult to assign it to any specific Israeli film caregory.2 The film is about nihilism, but it cannot be categorized with, for example, Ne'eman's "Nihilistic Cinema,"3 whose protagonists "refute the established notion of patriotic death by reevaluating its connotation with Israeli society."4 Peeping Toms does not deal with either the military or the Israeli-Arab/Palestinian conflict, and its heroes are no soldiers in combat, but bums. The film parodies and deconstructs the Zionist master-narrative5-the national revival associated with bodily, physical regeneration-and in doing so it reveals what was missing from it: individual values, a spiritual infrastructure. Daniel Boyarin describes how the Jewish ideal of the spiritual "sissy" (the non-homophobic gentle and feminized male) was taken over by a new heterosexual masculine model, in the wake of the two most influential projects of the fin de siècle-psychoanalysis and Zionism. For Freud, Boyarin contends, "Zionism is . . . a mode of repressing, of overcoming his Jewish homosexual effeminacy,"6 whereas for Herzl, Zionism is a colonial mimicry that stems from self-hatred. For Herzl, as for Freud, being a nation like any other nation ultimately means to mimic all male gentiles, be men like all Other men-manly (physical and heterosexual). Michael Gluzman complements Boyarin's research by showing how in the wake of the invention of the homosexual/heterosexual opposition (connected to the rise of the discourse on sexuality), the male Jewish body was perceived not only as feminine but also as presenring a challenge to the very anatomical distinction between male and female. Boyarin laments the loss of the "alternative Jewish form of maleness . . . known as Edelkayt (literally "nobility" but in Yiddish "gentleness and delicacy"!)," whose "ideal subject was the Yeshiva-Bokhur (the man devoting his life to the study of Torah)".7 Gluzman, on the other hand, focuses on the various ways that Jews assimilated the antisemitic and debasing (even pathological) association of the Jewish man with femininity and homosexuality. In doing so, he explains the background to the obsession of Zionism with "healthy" masculine bodies.8 Woefully, the phallocentrism of the Zionist ethos implied not only a loss for Jewish women, but a loss for men too, indeed for the nation at large, which failed to read the reality of Palestine.

The problem of the reading of the reality of Palestine by Zionist pioneers, as revealed in the 1980s films, is addressed by Ne'eman9 in terms of not having asked the proper questions: "The Jewish hero, whether he is a pioneer arriving in post-World War I Palestine (Unsettled Land) or a middle-class farmer in a Jewish village in 1980s Israel (Hamsin) or a military-government officer serving in the occupied West Bank (Smile of the Lamb and A Very Narrow Bridge) . . . , constantly fails to inquire the meaning of what he sees in what he perceives to be a wasteland. …

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