Academic journal article Jewish Film & New Media

The Colors of the Israeli Mirror

Academic journal article Jewish Film & New Media

The Colors of the Israeli Mirror

Article excerpt

A woman wishes to change her looks, both her body and her face, and the process is flaunted on the Israeli television screen. This metamorphosis unfolded throughout all the episodes of the Israeli reality show The Mirror, hosted by Orna Datz and broadcast on Channel 10 in the fall of 2006. The program offered a filmed journey during which the participants, most of them female, underwent a series of plastic surgeries meant to embellish their appearance, boost their self-confidence, and, as stated in the program's opening, "launch them on a new path."

What is The Mirror's significance in Israeli media, and what Israeli aesthetic values does it tout? Who can be recreated through the television on the wall as "the fairest of them all," and what is the significance of documenting the ugly duckling's metamorphosis into a gorgeous swan? In other words, how do aesthetic terms of physical beauty and ugliness interact with political and emotional questions typical of Israeli culture, and what happens when the coveted metamorphosis, apparently the province of fairy tales only, barges into reality?

Like other popular spectacles, this television program thrives on technological, physical, and emotional manipulation in order to validate conventional knowledge and to steer and regulate the collective constitution of the gaze at and from the Israeli body. To the participants it offers a coveted model of legitimate physical appearance that promises access to resources of public visibility-not only because they appear on television but also because plastic surgery sparks in them a visual narrative of success, acceptance, and legitimacy. By the standards of the program's underlying visual values, their beauty is enhanced. Yet this system of values, which has obvious ethnic, national, class, and gender implications, disseminates among its viewers a double-edged knowledge: of both the nature of the "proper Israeli beauty" and what lies beyond it-beyond the screen and the visibility it provides, beyond "proper Israeliness."

The discipline of visual culture, through which we will examine The Mirror and its meanings, seeks, among other issues, to understand the defining codes of who may see and who may be seen in public space and, in the process, to qualify the institutional distribution of the resources that bestow legitimacy on shows of bodily visibility. There are no "natural" rights of seeing and visibility, states Irit Rogoff in her ground-breaking article "Studying Visual Culture."1 They are intertwined with the political discourse and the ideological climate within which visual images shape collective consciousness, thus allowing communities to understand the world and to tell their stories. As an investigative mechanism that confirms, evaluates, and conceptualizes, the visual gaze is inseparable from political and ideological dynamics, as well as from models of subjectivity, which often control the gaze and determine the knowledge it provides.2

It is the epistemological authority embedded in the other's gaze that constitutes subjectivity.3 Thus, within social relations, physical appearance, including its visual aspects and aesthetic judgments, is informed by ethical and moral meanings.4 The body's public display invites a gaze subjected to the cultural enforcement of value judgment. Foucault showed "how deployments of power are directly connected to the body,"5 displaying the rules of legitimacy, order, and law that link physical appearance to the distribution of symbolic capital. And Naomi Wolf notes that "the beauty myth is always actually prescribing behavior and not appearance."6

Using the information conveyed by physical appearance, the viewer distributes emotional and cognitive resources-such as trust, the desire for closeness, fear, aversion, or indifference-by locating the bodily spectacle along such axes as young-old, male-female, masculine-feminine, beautiful-ugly, attractive-re- pulsive, black-white, healthy-ill, upper class-lower class, and familiar-unusual. …

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