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Israel Studies Review 30(1), 42-65
Outsmarting the Nation, Together:
Subversive Virtual Fraternity in Israeli Men’s Magazine Blazer
Steven Fraiberg and Danny Kaplan
Abstract: This study examines the reconstruction of a virtual Israeli male fraternity in Israel’s only men’s lifestyle
magazine, Blazer. Modeled after the global “new lad” magazine format, the Blazer text engages its readers by
forging a homosocial joking relationship. Focusing on a satire dedicated to Israel’s Independence Day, the study
delineates a series of parodic discursive techniques employed by the narrators to deconstruct and appropriate
traditional Zionist myths on which the Israeli state was founded. The Blazer text thus mobilizes a key cultural
trope known as the anti-freier frame (i.e., avoiding being a “sucker”) implemented as a series of combina, a
cunning manipulation to outsmart the system. The Blazer text rearticulates the relationship between self and society
based on a local version of “Yuppie” value system. We argue that this frame, while ostensibly rejecting collectivist
values, serves as a critical lens for connecting Yuppie masculinity with its Sabra predecessor and consolidating a
revised form of national solidarity.
Keywords: Freier, Masculinity, Nationalism, Parody, Yuppie, Zionism, Men’s Magazine, Homosocial
In recent decades, Israeli society has undergone a gradual cultural transformation from collectivist ideals to a
liberal value-system, with the individual at the center-point of life shaped by global, particularly American,
influences. This transformation is epitomized by a growing legitimacy for a consumerist lifestyle locally referred to
as “Yuppie,” as well as with the economic success of Israel’s high-tech sector. Israel’s only men’s lifestyle
magazine, Blazer, itself a product of media globalization, provides a critical lens to address these cultural shifts
from the perspective of young, middle-class men. Focusing on a special issue (May, 2004) dedicated to Israel’s
Independence Day, this study examines how Blazer writers employ parodic discursive techniques to deconstruct
and appropriate Zionist myths on which the Israeli state was founded, and in so doing consolidate a revised form of
national solidarity based on a newly-established “Yuppie” value system.
This inquiry is situated in the context of media and the production of masculinity in the public sphere. Since the
1980s, new formats of men’s lifestyle magazines have appeared in Britain and the United States and spread rapidly
across borders. Although a rich body of literature explored the implications of this global media trend in terms of
heightened consumerism and its impact on Western representations of post-industrial male identity, body image,
and gender equality (Benwell 2004; Edwards 2003; Jackson, Stevenson and Brooks 2001), less attention has been
paid to how this global model is set in localized cultural contexts (e.g., Song and Lee 2010) and particularly to the
way it engages with national solidarity.
As found in other studies of men’s lifestyle magazines (e.g., Jackson, Stevenson and Brooks 2001; Talbot 2007),
Blazer’s extensive use of humor creates ambivalence and appears to reject collectivist norms, and at the same time
generates a male “discourse community” between participants and audiences (Benwell 2003: 44). We argue,
however, that this exclusive literary public sphere negotiates not only alternative masculine identities but also
serves to reproduce and reinscribe national narratives. In particular, the cynical stance adopted by Blazer narrators
builds on a widely circulating trope within Israeli society identified as the “anti-freier frame.” As a key cultural
symbol (Ortner 1972), the term freier refers to a person who has been screwed by the system and is associated with
emasculated performance. Bloch (1998: 200) noted how not being a freier has recently emerged in Israeli discourse
as a source of bonding among individuals who share a sense of distrust of the system: “Nowadays, when the greater
good of the nation is no longer the greatest concern of its citizens, overcoming rules in Israel -- or not being a freier
-- has itself become a unifying factor.”
Building on previous theorizing by Roniger and Feige (1992) and by Bloch (1998; 2003; Bloch and Lemish
2005) we analyze the productive rather than merely subversive function of the “anti-freier frame.” Employing
Bakhtin’s dialogic framework (1981), we delineate how the Blazer text employs various mechanisms of humor and
parody associated with masculinity and homosociality (male-to-male social bonding) to ridicule, deconstruct, and
appropriate Zionist narratives. In so doing, we untangle how the text negotiates the anti-freier frame and reveals as
one of its underlying strategies a related cultural trope of the combina, a cunning manipulation to outsmart the
system. We argue that even as the anti-freier frame ostensibly rejects collective shared values and threatens social
integration, it consolidates a revised form of Israeli Zionist ideology by reconstructing a virtual version of male
Israeli Masculinities and the Anti-Freier Frame
The Zionist revolution projected an imagery of the “New Jew” that, unlike its Diaspora predecessor, was
engaged in labor, agriculture, military prowess, and volunteerism as well as group sociability, all viewed as crucial
for nation building. Originating in the agrarian and socialist ideals of the first waves of settlers, these values were
epitomized by a hegemonic male imagery associated with the Sabra generation as the first Israeli born Zionist
pioneers, especially those from the acclaimed kibbutz background (Almog 2000; Kaplan 2006). Sabra lifestyle and
values have been partly challenged since the late 20th century by a rising Israeli elite associated with an urban-
professional Yuppie lifestyle premised on a pursuit of material possessions, interest in up-to-date global trends, and
adoption of western free-market and democratic-liberal values. The Yuppie male is characterized by a white collar
profession, university education, fashion consciousness, fitness, recreational pursuits, and general proximity to
liberal-thinking elites, especially of the more rarefied sort in the arts. Providing an alternative form of hegemonic
masculinity that has challenged Sabra masculinity, the adoption of Yuppie cultural values is the product of three
major ideological convergences in Israeli society: globalization, free-market capitalism, and western democratic-
liberal values (Almog 2004).
Central to these cultural shifts is the rapid expansion of Israel’s high-tech sector, replacing prominent Zionist
images of kibbutz farmers and combat soldiers with that of high-tech workers as the new pioneers of Israeli know-
how and capability, placing Israel on the twenty-first-century global map. This is not to deny the role of the
military in this transformation. On the contrary, military and high-tech social networks are closely intertwined, as
evident in popular stories and lore about famous Israeli start-up companies that were established by “army buddies”
(Fraiberg 2010). These success stories have become ingrained in the national imagination, as evidenced by the
popular television show mesudarim about four post-army friends who sold their high-tech start-up and moved
together into a mansion. Literally meaning “we are set,” the term mesudarim also connotes coming out on top by
way of a combina manipulation, as we elaborate below.
We suggest that the tensions between the liberal-individualist values associated with a Yuppie lifestyle and the
collectivist values of Sabra masculinity can be partially analyzed in the context of the gradual emergence of the
anti-freier framework. The term freier, broadly glossed as “sucker,” refers to a person who has been screwed by the
system. Although the original meaning of the term, derived from the German frei (free), is a person standing
outside of social constraints, it was inverted in the colloquial Hebrew of the Sabra generation to ridicule European,
predominantly German, immigrants whose culture was marked by over-formality, punctuality, and civilized
manners, in sharp contrast to Sabra informality and disorderly creativity. In this context, being a freier indexed
naiveté, accepting people and situations at face-value, and having the wrong definition of the situation (Roniger
and Feige 1992).
In subsequent decades, however, the implications of being a freier expanded to the individual’s wider
relationship to the social system. It indexed a crisis of confidence in the socialist government and echoed the
gradual shift to a liberal-individualist value system. The freier’s naiveté became associated with a person “doomed
to be cheated and instrumentalized by others’ shrewdness and [their] willingness to take advantage of his/her
efforts towards the maintenance of cooperation and the common good” (Roniger and Feige 1992: 297). The
emerging anti-freier frame, already found in cultural depictions of Sabra group sociability from the 1960s (Talmon
2001), can be linked with the imagery of the hevreman, the easygoing team player who inspires his friends by
engaging in “cool” activities “involving risk taking and mischievous deeds” (Kaplan 2006: 61). Hevreman
sociability favors both individual and group needs over official and rigid ideological commitments (Talmon,
2001:133). Gradually, the desire not to be a freier became so compelling that “mere invocation of the ‘f-word’
apparently suffices in order to promote certain actions” (Bloch and Lemish 2008:342). Central to this naturalization
of the anti-freier frame has been its connection to hegemonic masculine norms in Israeli society. The freier
connotes “many traits stereotypically associated with women, ranging from passivity and obedience to the law, to
innocence and weakness” (Bloch and Lemish 2005: 39).
A closely related key symbol evolving more recently in Israeli culture is the term combina. Derived from the
English word “combination,” it indicates a strategy or set of strategies (combinot) for outsmarting the system, a
skillful and cunning manipulation of elements in which the deal maker comes out on top, maneuvering and
outsmarting existing rules in order to attain personal goals. We describe how the Blazer text offers its male readers
a way to secure a revised sense of Israeli masculinity by employing combinot and publicly avoiding the freier label.
While scholars tend to privilege a reading of the freier frame as undermining or dissolving any ethical stance based
on a sense of the collective (Bloch 2003), we argue that it may actually point to the preservation of a strong sense
of collectivity, yet one that rearticulates the relationship between self and society based on a new value system
associated with Yuppie masculine culture.
Men’s Magazines and the Staging of the Homosocial Joking Relationship
Men’s lifestyle magazines emerged as a new or revised genre predominantly in the UK and the US beginning in
the 1980s, merging elements of traditional special-interest magazines for men (e.g., cars or sports) with a self-
conscious engagement with male identity. The representations of masculinity in these publications were
constrained by changes in the political economy of journalism. With growing pressures of consumerism, free
market economy, and the advertising industry, magazines depended on big circulation figures and targeted a
relatively broad male readership, mainly of single, affluent, urban, heterosexual men in the twenty-five to thirty-
five age range (Talbot 2007).
To overcome feminine connotations associated with the notion of “lifestyle” and particularly the consumption of
fashion and grooming products (Edwards 2003), the magazines branded a style-conscious male consumerist
identity associated with “metrosexuality,” sporting fashionable clothes and accessories and highly attentive to
An alternative, backlash male identity known as “the new lad” emerged in the 1990s, epitomized by the launch
of the British magazine Loaded. Laddism rejected the lingering connotations of postfeminist political correctness
associated with metrosexuality and reasserted a youthful revised form of traditional masculinity that emphasized
hedonistic consumption, bachelorhood, objectification of women, and indulging in stereotypically masculine
interests, such as sports, cars, and video games (Benwell 2004; Jackson et al. 2001). Although the new lad formula
palpably returned to a more sexist view of gender, its jocular and ironical tone militated against taking any position
seriously (Benwell 2004). This formula was adopted by numerous new publications, most notably Maxim and
FHM, which gained rapid success in the United States and travelled internationally, each publishing local versions
in some 30 countries across the globe (Gauntlett 2008).
Benwell (2003; 2004) described how men’s lifestyle magazines thrive on the construction of an exclusive male
“discourse community” premised on shared cultural references, humor, and creative language, facilitated by a
heightened interpersonal engagement with reader responses and contributions as well as visible editorial
involvement with the stories and features. By consistently employing a teasing form of banter and irony that evades
stable meanings and disclaims allegiances to particular ideological positions, the men’s magazine discourse
generates an evasive masculinity, continually oscillating between a form of triumphant heroism and cynical anti-
In a similar vein, Talbot (2007: 52) suggested that men’s magazines offer their readers a highly reductive
“phallacious fraternity,” a solidarity built on the assertion of shared values including “ways of simultaneously
performing friendship and transgression in the form of ritual abuse and other humor, offensiveness and taboo
breaking.” This male humor and banter is outwardly aggressive but inwardly dependent on shared understandings
with the person under attack, thus working as a way of affirming an intimate bond while appearing to deny it
(Easthope 1992). A similar tension between competition and solidarity has been observed in the male “joking
relationship” within the face-to-face homosocial group (Lyman 1987). In particular, Kaplan (2005) studied the
dynamics of male “public intimacy” as Israeli men negotiated their friendship ties in semipublic homosocial
settings (school, workplace, military), delineating a provocative “code language” that teases the participants and
leads them to engage deeper in the social interaction, generating a dynamic of seduction. Often unintelligible to
outside spectators, these emotionally ambivalent interactions produce an effect of intimate exclusivity and acquire a
public “stamp” of a deep fraternal union.
Extending these observations from the interpersonal joking relationship to the virtual ties between writers and
readers in Blazer magazine, this study takes a closer look at the discursive techniques employed in this virtual male
fraternity and examines how it relates to Zionist national solidarity. To this end, we adopted a Bakhtinian dialogic
approach to the study of the text. This approach considers how all voicing involves the revoicing of the words of
others, attending to the way that words enter into “a dialogically agitated and tension-filled environment of alien
words, value judgments, and accents, weaves in and out of complex interrelationships….” (Bakhtin 1981: 68).
Central to this approach is the use of various parodic operations that challenge the authority, legitimacy, and access
to a text and serve as a powerful tool for critiquing and unmasking hegemonic discourses, an issue that is
particularly pertinent to masculine performance.
Closely related is Bakhtin’s use of the carnivalesque, turning the social order topsy-turvy and inverting official
roles through “the dual act of decrowning and ridiculing an authority” and “crowning and celebration of a mock
carnival king” (Kleppe 1993: 438). These ritualized role reversals are accomplished through a style of “grotesque
realism” (Bakhtin 1984: 21) consisting of jokes, curses, slang, tricks, and scatological references that ridicule
authority and unmask it through processes of revoicing.
Blazer is to date the only regularly circulating men’s lifestyle magazine in Israel, published since 2001 by the
largest local media corporation, the Yedioth Ahronoth group. Blazer’s format is similar to those of other men’s
magazines. Its sections include features, letters to the editor, articles on sports, movies, travel, politics, and a
satirical advice column on sex. A systematic investigation of Blazer issues up to 2009 delineated how the magazine
engaged with masculinity in relation to the following topics: humor, friendship and group bonding, family and
parenting, women and relationships, and military culture (Pizov 2010). Pizov’s study also underscored how the
culture of consumerism depicted throughout the magazine is oriented toward a male Yuppie lifestyle, addressing
high-end leisure activities and products, e.g., posh dining out, exotic vacation destinations, luxury cars, and pricy
watches. At the same time, as found in other men’s lifestyle magazines (Benwell 2003; Edwards 2003), Blazer
satirizes the Yuppie lifestyle in order to avoid the partly feminine and gay connotations of consumerism,
particularly with respect to grooming products. It also teases its readers, who tend to be younger and less affluent
than the kind of men who can expect to maintain a standard of living associated with Yuppie patterns of
consumption (Pizov 2010).
Similar to the “new lad” formula of men’s magazines studied by Benwell (2003), Blazer’s extensive use of
humor creates ambivalence and appears to reject collectivist norms. According to the editor-in-chief, Lior
Na’aman, the magazine’s self-proclaimed philosophy is to disrupt the norms and expectations of traditional print
journalism as a means to symbolically resist the dominant order: “Each month we slaughter sacred cows without
thinking twice. There are all types of rules in newspapers----titles, leads (highlighted quotes), secondaries
(subheadings--)--we decided to fuck everything” (Hadar 2006: para. 22). He further notes that they are “completely
without an agenda…I do not come here to educate the Israeli male. If a man takes Blazer to the toilet with him, that
is the biggest compliment I can receive. Bathroom time is quality time” (para. 13). Moreover, if the magazine has
any purpose, it is to unmask warts of all individual actors and the imperfection of the system as a whole: “Everyone
can have hemorrhoids. Even Bridget Bardot” (para 56). Although Blazer’s professed editorial position seems to
reflect the absence or rejection of all ideologies, as this strategy plays out in the text, we unpack how it nonetheless
bears implications for the construction of a revised Zionist national ideology.
As a product of media globalization, Blazer foregrounds a predominantly western-style, Anglo-American
cultural orientation. This can be illustrated in the way English language is used in the text as a vehicle for
appropriating global trends and models. To begin with, the title chosen for the magazine, “Blazer” is imported from
English as a loan word into colloquial Hebrew, and signals how the men’s elegant and trendy suit jacket replaced
the simple and sloppy appearance of earlier generations of Israeli men associated with the Sabra style. Global
influences are further illustrated by a characteristic cover page featuring the American actress Uma Thurman (see
figure 1). Four of eight headlines on the cover relate to American culture and one to European basketball. We also
find a complex blending of global flows into the local Israeli contexts with a quiz for the reader to determine if he
were a spy, the invocation of the Ten Commandments, and the word freier in the subheading “Is John Grisham a
freier in comparison to you?” In this way, the magazine editors mobilize the term freier as a way to reposition and
legitimize a local, Israeli version of Yuppie masculinity as an identity modeled on global consumerist culture and
set against the backdrop of Sabra imagery and military masculinity, as we further elaborate below.
Figure 1 Blazer Cover Page, Issue May 2004
The numbered headlines on the cover correspond with the translations below.
1. The Asylum: Things that a Man Must Know about the Moto GP
2. Test Yourself: Are You a Spy?
3. Uma Thurman Kicks Ass in “Kill Bill 2”
4. Singles Night: We Taste 11 Types of Single Malt Whisky. The Conclusion: We have the Best Job in the World
5. Is John Grisham a Freier in Comparison You? Give an Ending to Our Thriller—and Take 5 DVD Movies as a
6. Thou Shalt Not Steal? Yonaton Sheym-Or Offers a new Interpretation of the Ten Commandments
7. “Gihad America”: Ofer Shelach on the Surprising Similarities between Bush and Bin Laden
8. Our Basketball is Dead: And Our Three Teams in the Top European League Won’t Change That
Editor-in-chief Na’aman described the external influences on the magazine: “I always was a freak for magazines,
mostly Esquire, which in my opinion is one of the flagships of the global magazines” (Hadar 2006: para. 20).
Although Blazer publishes “serious” articles dealing with public affairs along the lines of Esquire, a highbrow
American publication and the oldest publication in this field, Na’aman notes that the Israeli magazine mainly
follows the path of Maxim, the most successful men’s magazine in the American market modeled after the “new
lad” format, which is replete with “cutting edge, innovative, and running gags” (para. 16). The editor also called on
his mastery of the American publication market in order to defend the gratuitous usage of scantily clad women on
the covers of Blazer, claiming to have read 40 American magazines and noting how “not a single one of them does
not have a woman on the cover” (para. 5). This vividly illustrates how the Blazer producers presuppose an Israeli
audience that accepts the way things are done in America as a warrant for its own preferences.
Finally, addressing military discourse is another important aspect of the Blazer text, echoing its centrality in the
wider Israeli society. Pizov (2010) found that while Blazer writers and columnists tend to endorse military
masculinity and presuppose the importance of military service, they often take a critical stance against the military
system as a whole, drawing attention to the complex position of the individual soldier, his emotions, and his moral
Tomer Klingerman, Blazee’s associate editor, maintained that the magazine is filling a space left by the gradual
changes in the realities of universal military service and the strong male bonding experience that it once offered,
particularly in the form of miluim, the yearly requirement for Israeli men to perform a month of military reserve
duty (Hadar 2006): “Blazer is the miluim that 90% of us no longer do (para. 71).”
Comparing a Yuppie lifestyle literary enclave to national military service is possibly not as far-fetched as one
might imagine. Sion and Ben-Ari (2007) discuss the participation of middle class Israeli men in reserve combat
duty as driven by a rhetoric of self-actualization grounded in consumerist values of physical appearance and
leisure, no less than on values of national identification. They further suggest that the use of this homosocial
enclave to negotiate masculine concerns is not that far removed from a particular trend found within the global
men’s movement of middle class men’s “weekend warrior” retreats (Kimmel and Kaufman 1994). Taking on this
notion that Blazer may partially substitute for the disappearing role of miluim as a prime homosocial enclave in
Israeli society, we explore how this literary male public sphere offers its readers a way to reconstruct an imagined
community, and in so doing negotiates wider transformations in Israeli-Zionist collective values.
Mastering the Master Narratives of Israeli Society
Our analysis centers on a special eight-page spread of Blazer’s May 2004 issue, an ironic tribute dedicated to
Israel’s Independence Day (see figures 2 and 3). In light of the significance of this commemorative day for the
negotiation of national identity, its representation in Blazer magazine is especially illuminating for our present
purposes. As the most celebrated and sanctified of Israel’s national holidays, Independence Day serves as a prime
target for Blazer’s philosophy to “slaughter sacred cows.” Moreover, contributing to the text’s relevance for
locating the re-articulation of Israeli homosocial relations in broader social, economic, and historical contexts, the
spread is designed as a timeline of Israeli history since it achieved independence in 1948. An accompanying legend
explains that each year is split into two narratives, the official “history” and the “history managed by Blazer.” In
effect, the Blazer editorial team announced that they are playing with the narrative and rewriting the official stories
of the state.
Figure2 Timeline cover page with Israeli Model Moran Atias
The authors play with the national narrative both verbally and visually. Central to the narrators’ performance is
the manner in which they self-reflexively draw on the ideological function of photojournalism, as a practice that
displays the seemingly natural order of people acting together in the world as means to construct dominant national
narratives (Hariman and Lucaites 2007). By denaturalizing this social order and exposing asymmetrical power
relations, the narrators challenge authoritative national imagery. As a powerful illustration of the strategies and
tactics deployed by the narrators, the cover page of the timeline reorders iconic Israeli images, among them first
Prime Minister Ben Gurion and military hero Moshe Dayan, gathered for an emergency war-time meeting (see
figure 2). The narrators insert into this frame the Israeli pin-up model Moran Atias, seductively facing the viewers
and displaying a tattoo of an internet corporate logo around her navel. Through these semiotic acts, the viewers are
seduced into an alternative narrative, centered on hedonistic pleasure and consumption. As the narrators reposition
the figures in the historical scene, the narrators are pulling the strings and symbolically appropriating power
through the reconstruction of a “puppet state.” They are in effect appropriating the narrative as a new authority.
In what follows we identify several related but analytically separate moves central to this performance. These
moves should be understood as densely networked and multi-layered, as key to the anti-freier ethos is the ability to
manage, handle, juggle, and combine multiple factors simultaneously. In this manner, the timeline serves as a
critical text for teasing out the strategies, tactics, rhetorics, and mechanisms undergirding the re-articulation of the
literary male public sphere.
Figure 3 Timeline Map (First Section)
Slippage in the First Person Plural
A central technique employed by the narrator is the adoption of a slippery, evasive voice that oscillates between
the individual and collective. The timeline begins with the following introduction (see figure 2):
‘Israel is in our hands!’
In the beginning, we sat on Independence Day next to the television, and arrived at the conclusion that there
were a lot of big screw ups in the creation of the state--wars, bombs, Kiriyat Gat, and stuff like that. Anyway
we decided to write about how we were able to manage the business. In short, you need to read this.
Humorous communication often involves deliberate miscommunication, exploiting the polysemous nature of
language and its partiality, i.e., it never means exactly what we intend it to mean (Cintron 2003). This slipperiness
of language is common to the male joking relationships, for instance when employing curses and derogatory
nicknames as ambivalent markers of close affection (Kaplan 2005). Blazer employs a similar slippage in its artful
use of “we” to (mis)communicate the multiple meanings of collective identity. The dramatic opening “Israel is in
our hands!” is a paraphrase of the historical exclamation “The Temple Mount is in our hands!” inscribed in Zionist
collective memory when Israeli paratroopers seized east Jerusalem in 1967.
As part of the master narrative of nation building and self-sacrifice, the first person plural “our” in the original
phrase implicates the national collective incorporating the whole Israeli public, including the narrators and the
readers. However, in the paraphrased utterance there is a slippage in this signification of the pronoun “our” and the
text can be read as if the history of Israel is now in the narrators’ hands. They are playing with the narrative and
rewriting the official stories of the state. The shift from the national “we” becomes evident in the consecutive
sentence “we sat on Independence Day” where the meaning of “we” narrows down to refer only to the narrators (or
to the narrators and readers).
The narrators’ “conclusion” that there were “a lot of big screw ups” in founding the state is intended to shock
and wake up the readers: the real crisis is not that Israel is in danger of being annihilated, but that the citizens have
been buying into the narratives fed to them by the government. Moreover, the shift in the next sentence to a
vocabulary of “management” and “business”-- idioms associated with neo-liberal corporate vocabulary--may be an
ironic commentary on the failed socialist ideals of the state. The final sentence “you need to read this” seems to
make a clear separation between the narrators and readers. The narrators (i.e., “we”) have insider information and
the readers (“you”) need to be re-educated, not about the Zionist narratives of the state, but on the ways that they
have been lead into a blind alley--in essence, that they have been freiers.
However, given the heroic circumstances of the War of Independence, the excerpt also invokes the moral
exemplar of military commanders who lead their troops into battle with the distinctive call “Follow me!” that has
become a motto of leadership in Israel’s combat heritage (Almog 2000: 130). In this case, it is the Blazer editors
that assume command in the field, rousing their audience to follow their lead. This scenario of a close-knit group
following their commanders generates implicitly another subtle slippage in the use of the first person plural. It
partly collapses the space between the narrators and readers, as in the phrase “how we were able to manage the
business” and merges them into a unified group. The narrators are in a sense inviting the readers to take part in the
revised Blazer version of Israeli history, one in which they would no longer be freiers. In this they form a
subversive solidarity, forged not by the works of official collective memory but by collectively tearing it apart.
The Homososcial Emasculating Game
In addition, the narrators construct a competitive framework in which they position themselves as victors with
the opposing parties on the losing end, stripped of their dignity and manhood. Bloch and Lemish (2005) described
how taking actions to avoid the freier label is associated in contemporary Israeli society with honor, machismo, and
competition, and is tantamount to proof of manhood. One of the ways that the anti-freier asserts his masculinity is
by “playing a zero-sum game” (Bloch and Lemish 2005: 41). He can win only when his opponent loses, in other
words, when his opponent is emasculated. In a similar fashion, Blazer narrators repeatedly emasculate the heroes
and protagonists of Israel’s official history.
In the official history of 1960, for instance, the narrators go back to the mythic figure of Bar Kochba who led a
revolt against Rome in the second-century C.E:
Official: A collection of letters of Bar Kochba is discovered in an archeological dig in the Judean desert.
Unofficial: We discover that most of the letters to Bar Kochba opened as follows: ’Drag queen, what kind of
name is Bar Kochba?!’
The Zionist movement reclaimed Bar Kochba as a powerful symbol for the struggle over Jewish national
sovereignty going back to Roman times, a struggle of the few standing against the many. In the unofficial history,
the narrators strip away this myth along with Bar Kochba’s masculinity as they rewrite the narrative and reinvent
the content of the Bar Kochba’s letters discovered in the caves overlooking the Dead Sea. They replace Bar
Kochba’s voice with their own as they taunt the figure by referring to him as a “drag queen” and ridicule his name.
From the perspective of traditional masculinity, they are stripping Bar Kochba of dignity and honor, and by
extension stripping the nation’s honor.
This emasculating game is accomplished within the frame of a joking relationship in the homosocial group
(Lyman 1987). This becomes evident in the slightly more subtle emasculating technique used in the 1948 excerpt
addressing Ben Gurion:
Official: David Ben Gurion announces the birth of the Jewish state in the land of Israel. The War of
Independence finishes with 6,000 dead, approximately one percent of the country’s population.
Unofficial: We announce that Ben Gurion is a koala bear. He is annoyed, chases after us with a cane and
misses the historical announcement. The British mandate remains another few years. Tons of Guiness beer
for everyone. The British kick the Arab asses for us.
Whereas in the official narrative Ben Gurion is presented in the subject position of the sentence, highlighting his
active role in the course of history, in the unofficial narrative, the actors are inverted and it is the narrators that
seize control of the discourse. Ben Gurion becomes the object of a pun set in the context of a male group joking
relationship. He is unexpectedly transformed into the comic, child-like, and powerless image of a koala bear. The
use of ridiculing nicknames is a central mechanism of homosocial humor contributing to the group’s sense of
cohesion (Collinson1988; Author 2005). Ben Gurion, however, loses his cool and mettle, becomes annoyed, and
chases after his provocateurs. Losing one’s cool and showing frustration is a prototypical emasculating behavior,
reflecting loss of control and an inability to be man enough to take a joke (Lyman 1987).
This short text is deeply blended into Israeli men’s homosocial culture. It invokes the male oral tradition of
telling half-true, half-imaginary tall tales that goes back to Sabra hevreman socialization with the narrators cast as
cool hevremen engaging in mischief to impress the readers cast as their buddies.
This sense of group participation may bring about yet another slippage in the use of the personal pronouns “we”
and “us” that open and close the excerpt. At first, the “we” seems to index only the actions of the narrators. But in
the closing sentence, “the British kick the Arab asses for us,” the readers get to be aligned with the narrators against
the national enemies, as well as against the official state narrative. This dynamic of “us” versus “them” that
complements the joking homosocial setting serves to pull the readers and the narrators back together into a
At the same time, the repeated fluctuations and ambiguities in representing the first person plural shapes the
narrators as unpredictable characters that cannot be completely trusted. As we describe in the next sections, this
devious position is consistent with Blazer’s extensive use of combinot, outsmarting the system as a means to enact
and legitimize a revised form of hegemonic masculinity.
Maneuvering Around the System
The narrators try to exploit loopholes in the system as they work around official regulations. Eschewing
the freier position by exalting their ability to become free riders (Roniger and Feige 1992: 297), the anti-
freier employs combinot, finding loopholes to pass off his responsibilities or leaving himself with a back
door through which he can escape at the last minute (whether it be from a contract, verbal agreement, or
precarious situation). We see this attitude in the rhetoric of the unofficial narrative for 1970:
Official: The population of Israel reaches three million.
Unofficial: This year is ass boring. If nothin' is gonna happen, then we're on vacation until 73. What
the hell, we worked like donkeys (asses) for 22 years.
The narrators use their fictional “exploitation” of appearing to work so hard to reconstruct the unofficial
history as a ruse to getting out of more work, rewriting the rules of the timeline by unexpectedly deciding to
take a break and evade writing several consecutive excerpts. By such maneuvering and taking advantage of
an opportunity in the system the narrators avoid being freiers and consequently make the party on the other
end--in this case the national history--a freier.
A related combina approach appears in the years 1955 to 1957. According to the official narrative in
1955, the southern Israeli town of Kiryat Gat is founded. In 1956, the narrators in the unofficial narrative
undo the official history whereby Israel occupied for the first time the Gaza Strip (but soon withdrew
following international pressure). Then, in 1957 the narrators use their own maneuver during the previous
year to exploit another opportunity: “If we already have time and do not need to withdraw from the Gaza
Strip, since we never entered it, we will take advantage of the opportunity and withdraw from Kriyat Gat,
which was established two years before.”
In this manner, the narrators take advantage of the loophole they have created to make more mischief and
avoid the unnecessary effort in sustaining the new town of Kiryat Gat. This sarcastic reference furthermore
points back to the aforementioned introductory text, where the same town was mentioned as one of the
screw-ups in the creation of the state.
Improvisational Rule Breaking
Finally, the narrators brazenly violate basic laws and commonly held assumptions and beliefs as they
improvise solutions and make up their own rules. Early Zionist leadership acted under an urgent sense of
crisis with a narrow window of opportunity to attain national goals, perceiving the historical moment as a
time for grand human action bordering on the supernatural. This attitude legitimized state-building missions
that transcended rational predictions and ignored legal or political obstacles on the ground (Chowers 1998).
In the name of this state in-the-making, the pioneers engaged in illicit activities and quickly improvised
solutions to create facts on the ground in an expedient fashion, making due with whatever means and
resources were necessary (Danet 1989). This positive value assigned to improvisation continues until today,
but is increasingly criticized for favoring short term maneuvers at the expense of long term planning. A
good example for the ambivalence surrounding this form of improvised rule-breaking can be found in the
Official: The first submarine of the navy, the “Crocodile,” arrives in Haifa port; the Habima is announced as
the international theater of Israel; Heichal Shlomo is inaugurated, the location of the rabbinical authority.
Unofficial: We try the “Habima” as a submarine. It doesn't work. We announce the “Crocodile” as the
international theater of Israel; we come to the builder of Heichal Shlomo and convince him that we are from
the future and that it is better to use pal-kal.
The focus in these excerpts is on the unimaginable ways that disparate items are mixed or stuck together. Names,
objects, and events from the official history are recombined in a haphazard fashion in the unofficial history. Events
are taped, stapled, pasted, and mashed to indicate the ways that deals are put together in a combina manner, as the
Habima theater is used as a submarine, while the first submarine of the navy is used as an international theater. The
message is that such sloppy, hasty planning “sinks” these projects. The material pal-kal is the building material that
resulted in the notorious collapse of the Versailles wedding hall in 2001 in Jerusalem killing, twenty 23 and
injuring 356 (Hasson 2007). The shoddy construction and building violations became a hallmark for the criminal
implications of improvised combina culture.
Although in this context combina is seen as a derogatory term and considered a corrupt behavior, the narrators
are far from rejecting it. Rather, they seem to subscribe to the Zionist heroic tradition of improvised rule-breaking
when they outdo the official history in pulling off combinot. Thus, they “convince” the contractor to use pal-kal, in
effect sealing the fates of more combina victims. Moreover, in another example from 1950, their wheeling and
dealing along the lines of the anti-freier stance is transformed into an outright heroic position directed against
government officials and politicians. It is here that one also finds the narrators’ deadliest humor, as they target the
members of the Knesset;
Official: The Knesset moves to Jerusalem. The right of return, the promise to each Jew of the right to
immigrate to Israel, passes in the general assembly.
Unofficial: The Knesset travels to Jerusalem, doesn't find it, takes a right into Ma'ale Adumim and falls into
the Dead Sea. Everyone dies. Especially members that oppose the sale of alcohol, they die twice. The Right
of Return, the promise to each Jew of the right to go up on [a pun on the verb “to immigrate”] female
immigrants who arrived in the last year passes in the general assembly.
In this entry Israeli politicians are portrayed as lost in opposition to the anti-freier who is bold, confident, and
certain of his direction. This ineptness results in drowning in the Dead Sea. Haphazardly making up their own rules
as they write the story, in this example the narrators violate not simply social rules but the laws of nature, as the
members of the Knesset that oppose the sale of alcohol get to die twice. In epic texts, men transform into heroes by
performing supernatural deeds, often of an extremely violent nature. As Bloch (2003: 140) writes, “Obeying the
law is one of the ways in which many respondents have described what it means to be a freier.” By violating all
laws, even the laws of the universe, the Blazer narrators transform into doubly masculinized anti-freier heroes.
Finally, the connection between masculinity, heroic deeds, and violation become explicit in the final segment,
where the narrators swap the right of each Jew to immigrate to Israel (the term in Hebrew is la’alot or “to go up”)
for the right “to go up on” newly arrived female immigrants. The process of initiation to a new form of non-freier
hegemonic manhood is ultimately accomplished by connecting the violation of social norms with the potential
physical violation of women.
Outsmarting the Nation, Together
As Blazer narrators swap official Israeli history for the unofficial history, they take up and transform national
narratives and in so doing index tensions between local Sabra and Yuppie male identities. In mapping out these
moves, we have described how the narrators employ a series of parodic operations associated with masculinity and
homosocial bonding, ridiculing and appropriating authoritative discourse in a manner that recalls Bakhtin’s (1984)
utopian conceptions of the carnivalesque and grotesque realism. In the act of attacking authority the narrators
position themselves in role of the hevreman, the charismatic group leaders engaged in mischief-making to impress
their buddies (Author 2006: 61).
Blazer magazine is a prototypical example of media globalization in men’s lifestyle magazines. Its subversive
rhetoric, cynicism, and evasive anti-ideological stance is reminiscent of the ways that men’s magazines in Britain
and the US, particularly of the “new lad” variety, are noted to oscillate between a stance of heroic and anti-heroic
masculinity, even as they reinscribe male dominance in the form of certitude and new sexism (Benwell 2004;
Jackson et al. 2001). Blazer follows this trend in codifying common apprehensions over loss of masculine privilege
with the global rise of feminism. It also follows other men’s magazines in commodifying what Jackson et al. (2001:
22) described as “men’s current gender troubles, opening up the potential for radical change but using humor, irony
and other devices to distance men from any significant commitment to personal or collective change.” We argue,
however, that the Blazer text does more than that. Its preoccupation with local cultural tropes--particularly the anti-
freier frame and the combina strategy--does not simply reject accepted social norms and evade questions of gender
equality but in effect recruits its readers to a distinct social order, one that is associated simultaneously with
individualism and with nationalism.
The Blazer text mediates between these two poles by enacting a virtual male fraternity. We highlight four
aspects of this seemingly subversive male performance. First, in making its parodic operations, Blazer narrators are
showing their mastery of the master narratives within Israeli society. As they play with lines and literally play with
the timeline, they embody the Sabra ethos of walking “the thin rope between the permitted and the forbidden”
(Almog 2000: 110). This mastery demonstrates an effort to control the discourse, portraying a stance of emotional
control, cocksureness, and sense of invulnerability associated with hegemonic military masculinity and reminiscent
of Sabra socialization (Ben-Ari 1998; Almog 2000). This stress on military performance is deeply infused into the
Blazer text, possibly as another way to secure an aggressive hegemonic masculine identity given the feminine and
gay connotations of life-style consumerism (Edwards 2003).
Second, Blazer textual performance and the relationships that it engenders with its readers should be read as a
public display of male homosociality. This mediated relationship is played out in the open, in front of various types
of spectators cast as friends, acquaintances, or accidental by passers-by and strangers. This includes other writers,
in-group and out-group readers, women, the national enemy, and ultimately the actual national narratives addressed
and confronted by the narrators. The text itself is often incoherent, senseless, and unintelligible not only to
outsiders, but, partly also to the male homosocial “confidants.” The humorous interaction does not by itself create
meanings, but rather plays them off, using the meanings previously implicit to present a novel, situational one (Fine
1984: 97). Precisely because the text is ambivalent and suspends a clear-cut interpretation of its intentions by the
readers, it teases them and seduces them to engage deeper in this virtual interaction. Taken together, through this
complex interplay between exclusion and inclusion of writers and readers, the Blazer text produces a forceful
“public intimacy” based on homosocial joking interactions (Author 2005).
Third, Blazer’s activities should be seen in light of a wider ongoing restructuring of Israel’s public sphere
whereby top to bottom state-induced initiatives to engineer national narratives--whether through state media, the
educational system, or military socialization--are consistently replaced by bottom-up, commercially-induced
initiatives by private actors (e.g., Kaplan 2012; Meyers, Zandberg, and Neiger 2009). The collective rites of male
sociability mediated once in public squares and military units are increasingly practiced in the privacy of men’s
Facebook networks and online magazine applications running on their personal smartphones. The question to ask is
not whether such new forms of mediation weaken collective solidarity but how they “talk” solidarity differently.
Finally, this emergent male fraternity is not only subversive but also productive in providing alternative ways to
consolidate a sense of national solidarity, albeit one rooted in an individualist, Yuppie value system. Roniger and
Feige (1992: 299) note that the crystallization of the anti-freier frame and de-centering of national narratives in
Israeli culture indicates “a loss of a unitary voice, a more pluralistic conception of the collective project and
reflexivity towards the ultimate values of society.” Some interpret this widespread diffusion of individualism
associated with globalization or “Americanization” as symptomatic of Israel’s “weakened social solidarity” (e.g.,
Segev 2002: 49) and consider the anti-freier frame in particular as essentially a rejection of collective values (Bloch
2003). Following Herzog (1992), Bloch further suggests that, contrary to its American counterpart, Israel’s newly
adopted version of individualism lacks important dimensions of liberalism and borders on egotism, as Israelis’
rendition of the American dream consists of the pursuit of prosperity and personal advancement but with no
obligations about respecting the rights of others or concern for the common good.
We contend, in contrast, that Blazer narrators employ the anti-freier lens, not as a critique of the national
collective but as means to legitimize a transformed Israeli male identity premised on a self-conscious, individualist
Yuppie lifestyle situated in liberal ideology and consumer-oriented culture. The anti-freier frame is used as a
critical lens for connecting the Yuppie identity with its predecessors, as means to reinscribe a sense of national
belonging. Despite its subversive rhetoric, by celebrating and capitalizing on male homosocial public discourse, it
serves to align Yuppie values with Zionist identification.
In closing, we would like to illustrate how this interpretation goes beyond a literary male public sphere and is
indexed in the language of high-tech culture. In June 2013, the Waze social GPS program developed and
manufactured by an Israeli start-up team was sold to Google at the highest price to-date for a smartphone
application (Ritell and Sokolov 2013), providing yet another story bolstering Israel’s newfound status as an
innovative “start-up nation” (Senor and Singer 2009). In terms of Israeli Yuppie cultural discourse, what is
particularly noteworthy is the Waze GPS company motto “outsmarting traffic together.” While devoid of the
manipulative, scheming associations captured by the combina trope, this motto underscores how outsmarting the
system may have productive and cooperative implications.
We suggest that a similar collectivist interpretation underlies Blazer’s use of the anti-freier frame. The narrators
employ the anti-freier lens not as a “break” from Zionist narratives, but as a means to situate and establish within
the collective national heritage a transformed Israeli male identity, premised on Yuppie individualist lifestyle. In
terms of Israel’s political culture and dominant civic discourses, this revised framework is still very much a
continuation of the politically mainstream position associated with a “republican discourse of citizenship,” one
which views citizenship in terms of active participation in the pursuit of a common good (Shafir and Peled 1998).
Blazer’s subversive solidarity looks critically and cynically at the previous collectivist-socialist version of the
common good--the “system” that sucks and the “suckers” that participated in it. But as it strives to replace the
dominant value system with a Yuppie individualistic “twist,” it hardly abandons the idea of the common good of
Steven Fraiberg is Assistant Professor in the Department of Writing, Rhetoric, and American Cultures at
Michigan State University. His research looks at language and cultural shift within Israeli society and how wider
global flows are being taken up, resisted, and transformed in local contexts. His published scholarship includes
several articles from a six month ethnographic study of the Israeli high-tech industry.
Danny Kaplan directs the masculinity track in Gender Studies and is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of
Sociology and Anthropology at Bar Ilan University. He is interested in the study of nationalism through the prism
of friendship and has conducted research on Israeli masculinity, militarism, and the media. Kaplan is the author of
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