The cable television and online streaming explosion has produced a golden age of visual, fictionalized, but ripped-from-the-headlines story telling. Some religious and political conservatives may disdain the liberal-leaning views that many of the shows unabashedly embrace, but for those who create the programming it's an unprecedented era of opportunities.
It's also an era of unprecedented, and often confusing, crossover between news and entertainment. From shows dramatizing or spoofing Washington politics, to those cherry-picking storylines from current international intrigues, it’s often hard to tell the two apart, where fact takes leave and artful fiction enters.
As traditional news platforms continue to implode -- and loose their ability to devote adequate resources to in-depth, reporting-based investigative journalism -- it’s a trend that, for the foreseeable future, is likely to continue, for better or worse, but more likely the worse for informed civic debate.
Personally, I find great artistic merit in many of these shows. I also appreciate their willingness to highlight some of the social ills that plague our -- and virtually every other -- nation. That and because I relish a well-written and well-acted product. It helps to remember that I'm an ex-Los Angeles reporter who spent time on the Hollywood TV and film beats, and who also briefly worked in the feature film industry.
Still, I limit my watching because, well, because the shows are binge-watching addictive and I don't want to spend too much time watching TV, no matter how good and entertaining it may be. I’m old-fashioned. I’d rather waste time reading non-fiction, which my reactive mind argues is somehow healthier for me. But that may just be my generational snob appeal.
In a sense, all the fictional dramas I’m drawn to are some writer’s fantasy, but I tend to be drawn to the show's based on the possible, meaning that while I have little interest in a “Game of Thrones,” a series such as “Big Love,” the departed HBO show about polygamy-practicing, fringe Mormons, quickly sucked me in because of my interest in religious groups and the show’s artistic mastery (and a fantastic cast).
Likewise, my deep interest in Israel’s fate and that of the Middle East in general, has drawn me to the Netflix (in the U.S., anyway) show “Fauda,” which I have allowed myself to devour in binge-size bites.
“Fauda,” an international hit available in some 190 nations and territories, is an Israeli-made show built around the exploits of an undercover Israeli unit that specializes in operating in hostile Arab areas, where it arrests, or simply kills, those designated as “terrorists.”
One of the show’s creators is a former member of such a unit. The other is an esteemed Israeli journalist who has long covered Palestinian affairs. Hence, “Fauda” has a ring of authenticity that can trick undiscerning viewers into assuming it's all true, which is obviously not the case.
“Fauda” (an Arabic word for “chaos”) is a brutal show about a brutal reality — the ongoing, always smoldering and sometimes flaring, conflict between Jews and Arabs over what for the Abrahamic religions is the Holy Land. Click here for background on the show, in which the actors speak only Hebrew and Arabic (episodes with English subtitles are also available).
As you might expect -- because anything that touches on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is immediately politicized -- the show has fans who criticize it for its depiction of its Palestinian characters and its failure to focus more on what critics view as oppressive Israeli policies toward that Palestinians.
In fact, the international, anti-Israel BDS (boycott, divest and sanction) movement has called for a boycott of “Fauda” for its alleged “racist” and “normalizing” treatment of what it refers to as the “occupation.”
In short, just as with news stories produced by the elite international press, every scene of “Fauda” is debated by the conflict’s many partisans. There’s been no shortage of mainstream news media stories and opinion pieces both knocking and praising the show.
Here’s a recent example of what I mean about essays knocking the show. This one’s from Foreign Policy. The writer is identified as an Israeli Palestinian, meaning an Arab who lives within Israel. And here’s another essay also written by a Palestinian that takes a gentler stand toward the show. This piece is from The Atlantic. Nor have pro-“Fauda” pieces been absent. Here’s one from Britain’s The Spectator.
(Reality check: "Fauda" was created by Zionist Israelis for Zionist Israelis, its original audience. Seems pretty obvious to me which side the narrative might lean toward.)
In a very real sense, the opinions voiced about “Fauda” are no different than the sort of angry back and forth about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that dominate other media platforms.
Nor is the debate much different than the rancor that is the general hallmark of today’s media environment, regardless of the subject disagreed over. Instead of arguing whether Fox or CNN came closer to the truth of a story, the argument has simply expanded into the realm of fictionalized story telling.
Having sufficient media literacy to read between the lines of a print or broadcast news media story is tough enough.
Deciphering fact from fiction in a TV series rooted in a real-life conflict is harder still.
It’s another challenge in this age when growing numbers of (young, in particular) people are abandoning traditional news sources and instead are making political and other decisions based on information gathered from social media sites, TV and radio talking heads who are entertainers as much as news commentators, late night comics, YouTube, and the like.
I think “Fauda” is powerful TV. But it should not be mistaken for real news about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Nor, it must be noted, should those who prefer shows produced by Palestinians and other Arabs that touch on the conflict, or Jews in general, read too much “truth” into what they choose to watch.
From what I’ve seen and read about, most of their dramatized output about the Israeli-Palistinian conflict is government-approved, poorly disguised propaganda.
As the news business has become more opinionated, so too has the entertainment business become newsier. Infotainment’s been around awhile. Is this the start of it's golden age?