Xmas in July

We get US TV programs late in Israel. Not all of them. However, when it is a series that is broadcast here in the daytime, chances are that people in the US saw it quite a while ago. And that is why today while I was sweating on the stationery bike at the local health club, I saw Dr. Phil’s Xmas show (part 2 of 3) from 2005. Yes, you got that right. We had Xmas on the 8th of July in Modi’in.

Everything from here on in, as you may have guessed, is old news. For you. For me, it was quite a revelation.

On this show, they were distributing toys and other play equipment to children who had been involved in Hurricane Katrina. Since I arrived in the middle of the show, I saw only the following: Dr. Phil and Robin distributing to the children ALL of the toys on the gift list that each child drew up for him/herself; an announcement that all of the children would be going to Disneyland; and their opening a gate behind which were a myriad of additional toys (including a laptop computer, electric cars, bicycles, etc.) that every child would get.

I saw the children grow more and more excited. I saw the parents with tears in their eyes. I stared incredulously.

I think I am no longer part of American culture. I found the over-the-top commercialism of it all sickening. I saw people in ecstacy over material goods. I saw people blessing Dr. Phil for being a true humanitarian. I couldn’t believe it.

What were they doing for these children? Were they replacing a loved toy lost in the flooding? a favorite book? or were they drowning out the child’s feelings of loss and sadness by overlaying a material goods ecstasy? Were they saying to these children, “here, now you can’t feel loss and pain any more because you now can fill yourself with all of these things.” Is the way to happiness and fulfillment through thousands of dollars of gadgets and toys? What about Dr. Phil’s advice to parents of children in crisis situations he gave on the very same show, “Keep a child’s world consistent; have consistent rules, expectations, bedtimes…” Is that what this was? Was there any sense of proportion to all of it?

And what did this show teach America?

It’s interesting to me. Israel has become more and more westernized during the time I have been here. To some extent its values have changed, but here, when faced with very similar circumstances (last summer’s Lebanon war when citizens of the north had to flee their homes for safety) the benefactor who took on the job of caring for the families provided air conditioned tents and showers, wholesome food, laundry services, entertainment and movies, classes and activities for adults and children. In addition, the refugees also received health services and psychological counseling.

And that seemed right.

It makes me wonder. Did people in the US seeing that show have the same reaction that I did? Or am I living in a culture that is really very different?

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