On Media / Pop Culcha

Jewish World Review May 24, 2000/ 19 Iyar, 5760

Sarah Cohen

The banality of evil redux

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- NOT LONG AGO, The New York Times alerted us to what it portrayed at the time as a national crisis. The front-page article's headline: "Blackout Of ABC On Cable Affects Millions Of Homes."

The ominous flexing of corporate muscle was evident in the facsimile of the message that appeared in place of ABC programs on Time Warner Cable in New York: "DISNEY HAS TAKEN ABC AWAY FROM YOU." It had all the urgency of "The Japanese have bombed Pearl Harbor!", or, at least, "The Russians are coming!"

The high stakes became apparent from the accompanying reportage, which outlined the financial and political issues involved. They were reiterated in an editorial elsewhere in the paper entitled "The Blackout Battle".

Ensuing days brought waves of anger from outraged viewers who would have to start their days without "Good Morning America", muddle through without ABC News, and, most alarming of all, find meaning in their quotidian existence without the insights and enrichment of Regis Philbin in "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire."

This was indeed a bitter pill to swallow, and the millions affected voiced loud protest until the mighty colossus of Time Warner finally capitulated, restoring normality and peace of mind to the deprived masses.

A story deemed of nearly equal value by the venerable Gray Lady of journalism - placed opposite the Time Warner article "above the fold" - bore the headline "First of Iranian Spy Suspects Is Tried and Confesses on TV." Before I could bring myself to read the details, I was riveted and shocked by the accompanying photo.

It was an image of the suspect, Hamid "Dani" Tefileen, flanked by a grim-faced captor wearing five-o'clock shadow and a black shirt. Tefileen's despairing, defeated face was one of a man who has looked in the mirror and seen death staring back. In a detail rich in cruel irony, he was clad in prison garb depicting rows of tiny scales of justice. The Iranian Jew had confessed - like other captives would in later days - to the charge of spying for Israel, a confession made without the presence of his attorney or any foreign diplomatic observers.

The scenario was eerily reminiscent of Stalin's show trials of the 1930s, in which the verdicts were decided, and "confessions" obtained after the fact to justify them. As the week unfolded, the Jewish media reported extensively on the efforts of Jewish communities around the world, as well as reactions within the suspects' own communities. I saw photos of various protests, as well as heartrending images of prayer vigils in the ancient and venerable synagogues of Iran.

The placement of the two stories side by side seemed a most eloquent editorial about the world in which we live. The contrast virtually thundered, as the numbing banality of lives made empty without "Dharma and Greg" rivaled the life and death drama of my Jewish brothers half a world away. It evoked depictions of ancient Rome: sate the masses with bread and circuses, and feed the prisoners to the lions.


ABC addicts had risen up over their deprivation. And I felt outrage of my own at a world in which their story received equal billing to that of innocent men on trial for the crime of practicing their religion. Walt Disney and Time Warner versus thirteen innocent lives. Despots and tyrannies may wax and wane, but the show must go on.

The real, if unintended, New York Times story that morning was about the banality of evil.

Sarah Cohen, part of Am Echad Resources writers group, is a teacher and writer in New York. Click here to comment.

05/18/00: Kissing the Intellectual Goodbye
03/13/00: Unorthodox Coverage
02/16/00: Heller's Legacy Poses a Catch-22
11/29/99: The corrosive nature of fame
11/06/99: Humanizing Hitler
9/21/99: Spock's spectacular voyage
5/26/99: America's new anti-Semites
5/06/99: New York (Times) Jews
4/29/99: To tell the truth
3/17/99: Beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder


© 2000 Am Echad Resources