Cultural experts have long stated that television in general and reality shows in particular act as an "opium for the masses." Yet in Israel — as is the case in so many matters — the opposite seems to be true. Over here, reality acts as a sort of stimulant, not a sedative.
The year 1995 was when the Israeli consumer was officially born. This was when Israel's National Health Law allowed citizens to choose their own national health fund. It was also the year when the cellular market opened up to competing new companies. Two years prior, Israel granted many new academic establishments the option of offering recognized undergraduate degrees, which led to the establishment of several new colleges across the country. All these changes exposed Israel to many new financial institutions — national health funds, colleges and cellular companies — all of which were vehemently fighting over the public's heart and wallet.
The expansion of Facebook's social network solidified consumer camaraderie by giving them a platform to spread their opinions and experiences using different products and services. Other websites enhanced this form of online sharing, namely YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.
The age of reality TV has supplied consumers another platform with which they could discuss their lives. The participation so many people in reality shows that required them to share intimate emotional details, familial experiences and personal encounters in front of the general public, solidified a new age in Israel: There was no more shame and concealment. Instead, it became legitimate for everyone to express their individuality, including whatever trials and tribulations they had faced.
Contestants on shows such as "Master Chef" and "Kochav Nolad" (Israeli Idol) reveal personal stories from their past that were once considered taboo; on makeover shows, participants confess to negative feelings about their own bodies; parents would share their secret frustrations and failures with Israel's "Super Nanny"; couples would take self-proclaimed relationship guru Alon Gal into their bedrooms and talk on camera about the intimate details of their relationships, as spouses and parents, sharing with the nation stories of self-image and emotional capabilities.
Celebrity reality shows have been the herald of prime time self exposure. The average viewers were happy to discover that famous people experience fear and frustration, just like they do. The ratings monster has grown to such insatiable proportions that these days, if a contestant refrains from exposing some negative aspect of his behavior, personality or life, his chance of winning evaporates.
Today's cultural icons are not people we would consider role models: a reformed criminal; a model who does not know the words to the national anthem; a person whose enormous cellular bill drove him into debt. These people and their compatriots stand in opposition to familiar stories of former days, when people would try to impress others with their accomplishments, while they attempted to hide their hardships. Today's culture is based in publicly confessing your weakest points, including any financial difficulties you may have. Such cultural trends have all most likely contributed to the current social protests.
Yaarit Bokek-Cohen is a sociologist at the Ariel University Center of Samaria.