Thursday, August 14, 2003

Reverse Culture Shock

When I first heard the expression “culture shock” many years ago, it was in reference to what friends told me I could expect on my first visit to Israel after never before having been out of the continental United States.

Lately, though, it's culture shock in reverse: the experience now seems more applicable to my return visits to the U.S. And right now, on an extended summer sojourn in the States, I feel like a fish without a country: an expatriate who's come back to visit the homeland...and doesn't recognize a thing.

Oh, the institutions I grew up with are pretty much the same, and I can handle the natural evolution of automotive design and regional architecture.

But hey, what’s up with the sex?

I mean, was it always so pervasive? OK, we watch reruns of Friends on cable in Israel just like our bretheren "back home." And we get the same movies, so it’s not like I live some kind of super sheltered life. But nothing quite prepared me for the head-on confrontation, the in-your-face essence of sex, Southern California-style, 2003.

What am I talking about?

Exhibit A: the first night we were in the States, I turned on CNN and heard a report about something called Nude Paintball. You know what paintball is, right? It’s where individuals or teams chase each other with rifles that shoot paint rather than bullets. There are already a half a dozen paintball facilities in Israel.

Well, apparently, some guy in Las Vegas is now charging men up to $10,000 to chase down naked women in a forest outside of Vegas. The women receive $2,000 to participate, $2,500 if they evade capture. You can read all about it on the guy's website: Hunting for Bambi.

There were subsequent rumors that the whole thing was a hoax to sell adult videos, but still…

Next up, my wife Jody bought a copy of her favorite magazine: Oprah. Now mind you, this is not Playboy, Penthouse, or even People. She buys it for the insights not the celebrities. But what does she read not less than five minutes after opening it up but a story about the latest trend in aerobics: the strip tease workout.

According to the Oprah flash, women are now flocking to get their daily exercise learning the bump and grind techniques of the strip club.

In case that wasn't evocative enough, let me get a bit more graphic: not content with just doing stretches and squats, women in these classses are simulating lap dances and hanging from polls while literally taking it off (the classes are for women only, though I’m sure some guy from Las Vegas will figure out a way to charge men $10K to peek).

OK, maybe these two stories were more aberration than mainstream. But how then to explain the page after page of plastic surgery ads screaming out at me from the LA Weekly, an entertainment magazine I innocently picked up to find the closest show times for Disney's new animated flick “Finding Nemo.”

I now know, through just casual observation, that the price for a no-scar “breast augmentation” miraculously performed via the belly button (huh?) or armpit (ouch!) can be had for a mere $2,999.

Breast lifts and tummy tucks are more pricey at $3,999 while a new nose comes snorting somewhere down the middle at a mere $3,499.

There’s liposuction at $849, lip augmentation for $999, maximum strength botox (why would anyone get the minimum strength?) at $99 per area (but watch out for the small print - there's a two area minimum) and a wide variety of laser hair removal (including male chest hair for $249).

And can anyone tell me what the heck is vaginal rejuvenation?

On TV I can't seem to find anything other than these new fangled reality/dating shows. They're on one after another on every network, with names like Who Wants to Marry My Dad and ElimiDate. The raunch factor has been ratcheted up so high audiences will bolt if the couple doesn't sleep with each other before the show's 22 minutes are up.

Whatever happened to the innocent double entrendres of 1970's The Dating Game with Jim Lang, my generation's guilty pleasure?

Now don't get me wrong: I love America and the vast majority of our summer vacations here reminds me of all the positive values the U.S. stands for. It's always a blast (and often a relief) to visit the old stomping grounds where so much is still familiar. And to be fair, it’s entirely possible that the same stuff – and more – is going on in Israel as well.

It’s just that I don’t hear about it so much.

Part of it is the Hebrew – I can much more easily zone out through a commercial not in my native tongue.

Part of it is the more modest nature of Jerusalem – city bylaws actually forbid oversized billboards; I wouldn’t be surprised if things were more LA-like in Tel Aviv.

Part of it, too, is the fact that there is simply less media space in Israel. We have a hundred channels of digital cable…but not a thousand. And we only have two official commercial television stations which seem more interested in deploying oversized tongues to tantalize me into buying more yogurt than to pitch me on how to increase my….well, I get enough of those by email.

However, innocence has its price. The other day I found myself singing along to a catchy jingle on the radio. It sounded like a perfume or facial ointment. For some reason, I had the presence of mind to ask a Hebrew speaking friend exactly what this product was.

Apparently, “Clinica-On” is a medical facility that specializes in treating sexual dysfunction.

Next thing you know, I’ll be lazing in the park, happily humming a little ditty that, unbeknownst to me, is actually an ode to bigger better botox.

Extra strength, of course.

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