Arabic content, equality, online Arab content, women

All Good Things Come in 7s. Not Really, But this List Does!

YoutTube

So. I spent the summer reaching the finales of ALL my favourite shows & then staring into the abyss, feeling empty & aimless not knowing quite what do with my eyes and ears.

See, my summer evenings were more homebound than I had originally envisaged – never mind that they were spent in various cities – all tempting with their share of debauchery to be had – but not by me. Instead, I found myself often hysterically clicking episodes on OSN Play, praying they are ones I had missed or new ones that have miraculously appeared; knowing full well in my heart of hearts that these are the very pen-ultimate and ultimate episodes that struck panic in my gut as I finished watching them the week before.

So…you can imagine my delight at stumbling upon new content I wish I had been across all year! And I’m not even talking about Netflix & Chill, nor about HBO, primetime or even the talkies people! I am talking about DIGITAL. From ARABIA! This really cool stuff, that is mostly funny and at times insightful, was and is being consumed on my iPhone on very low volume as I lay fully clothed on top of my bed (horror!) waiting for signs that my daughters have fallen asleep so I can go downstairs, feign interest in being an adult for 10-minutes before collapsing on the couch, lamenting all the work, DIY projects & self improvement exercises that I am not going to be doing that night at all.

To list but a few (well, seven to be precise) & in no particular order – except that they’re chronological, based on my stream of consciousness:

1- The Other Stories Project. Mostly an Instagram Stories feed that re routes you to the original project, The Other Stories Project is a very evocative, lyrical but extremely accessible and simple storytelling platform. Saudi Fatima Al Banawi, a multi-hyphenated-artist come actress, goes to different, often remote, parts of her home-town of Jeddah and gets people (namely female) to write one-page stories that she shares, curates and adapts into narratives that are both intriguing and relatable.

2- Barakah Yuqabil Barakah (Barakah Meets Barakah). Speaking of Fatima (see, I told you there is a logical flow to this list) her acting debut in Barakah Yuqabil Barakah delivers to us a Saudi rom-com coming of age first-time film that comments on the stale state that millennials in the Gulf state(s) find themselves in. This flick is clickable & ready to watch on iTunes.

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Still image from Barakah Meets Barakah with Fatima Al Banawi & Hisham Fageeh

3- Shaffaf. Yet another Saudi surprise (I’m on a roll) comes in the state of YouTube series called Shaffaf where a young, satirical and very dynamic presenter interviews people on timely, often awkward or funny, topics and truly marks often quite revelatory insights with humorous but never obnoxious undertones. The one on mens rights is a favourite, so is the one on women’s rights but perhaps funniest is the episode on Kuwaiti musalsalat.

4- Marwan Younis / Begad. This Egyptian advertising & music enthusiast is seriously funny in his serial commentary on the good, but more so the bad & the ugly, in Arab (mostly Egyptian) audiovisual content. Anything from videos gone viral, to bootleg music videos (who could forget the one that maimed our video streams this summer) & advertising campaigns, this man hilariously spins into a funny but true series of smilies, metaphors & anecdotes. He even sometimes features his very cynical & sarcastic mother. Begad appears as videos on Facebook.

5- Brown Book. Some of you may be familiar with this beautiful bimonthly publication featuring curated content on everything ‘other’ yet prolific in art, design & culture from the Middle East. Originating from the UAE, perhaps one of its most tactile and consumable content are the short films offered on people & places of the region that are short & sweet audiovisuals full of inspiration & intrigue. Brownbook.tv is truly a gem easy to ingest & shouldn’t be missed.

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Still image from brownbook.tv film with Salma Tuqan

6- Kerning Cultures. This is a bit of a cheat, because it is not exactly a viewable narrative, but! It is entertaining as it is informative non-the-less. This podcast out of the UAE is investigative journalism at its most lyrical, & what more can you ask of a podcast (yas! a podcast!) that takes the time to tell you about everything from the charming backstreets of post – revolution Tunis to the traditions that migrate with those forced to leave their home. Kerning Cultures goes the extra mile for those who may not be able to listen but are willing to read by provides a full transcript of each episode!

7 – Hay El Matar. Ok fine, in the interest of full disclosure, this too is a form of audio content (audio narrative, scripted series, musalsal to be exact), but much like the entry above, it too has a stylised site to help make the listening journey have tactile a feel to it. Hay El Matar is a Syrian audio musalsal that comes in episodes that are around 15 minutes long & make for a great head-phoned break from the hustle and bustle of our messy lives. Telling a story of other messy lives, those of often young & memorable characters, at the brink of deciding whether to stay or to leave (some don’t have the luxury of choice) their small neighbourhood in war-worn Syria. With high production quality & contemporary, cool storytelling, this new rendition of an old tradition captures the imagination & will get you hooked.

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Cartoon capture from Hey El Matar website

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Arabic content, Arabic Drama TV, Arabic TV, Uncategorized

Blaming Our Parents, Teachers & First Loves Is A Story That Never Gets Old – So Let’s Tell It Goddamit

In the collective narrative of humanity, there are few character story revelations & motivators verily insightful than what is known in the content world as ‘backstory’: What is known to the rest of us as ‘how my parents and upbringing is to blame for everything’.

For a culture that is fully invested in the family affair, it is sometimes jaw-dropping how extremely blazé parents can be about how their choice of words, actions & reactions can impact their children. Especially when synonymously coupled with how quickly they are to reminisce on their own young lives to explain or excuse their thoughts, feelings & actions.

It is also somewhat curious to understand why, then, when traditionally we are a people who are constantly referring & referencing origin, background & the past as well as seeing our childhood/family as direct narrative extenders to our present current selves; are we awful at anchoring the stories we produce on script & screen to rich characters with insightful backgrounds.

Arabic characters’ we watch on TV often feel like puppets mobilised to fulfilling the plot-lines. Or, worse – the story being told starts five minutes after what is potentially the most interesting thing about the character’s arc has already happened.

There isn’t enough Arabic content being made that purposefully focuses on & intentionally tells the story of characters & the unravelling of their emotional journeys in the present tense nor about the human condition as it unfolds under the constraints & opportunities of circumstance. Often ideas are expressed in the “…and then” storytelling. “This happened, then this happened, then this happened”. Compounding action after action without justifying the motivations of these set of actions nor leaving room for the emotional ramifications. And by omitting the causality & not being interested in the human impact, these narratives are deleting the “but then this happened, therefore this changed,” so essentially removing the opportunity for stories to have any loops, jeers & surprises and cancelling any chance for what we are watching to feel truly convincing.

In a region where today – in the grimy present – with millions of people, thousands of unique experiences, hundreds of realities & lifestyles, why are there only tens of stories being told & a handful of ways we are telling them. When we should be so desperate to share in our similarities & empathise with each other’s difference – why isn’t the backstory: the individual and collective “how it all started” family affairs,  breakdowns and breakups, tears and joys, love and loss, actually what our TV series overflowing with? Why aren’t we interested in the human condition or in each other?

In the mid-noughties (2000’s), Syrian TV drama did begin to tamper with these notions & genres & some cool things were transpiring on screen in the years leading up to the ‘the revolutions’ (2011). But since then it really appears like we have reverted back into super-safe, super-plot, storytelling. So, maybe this a reflection of our collective current psyche or mood. Maybe we don’t understand ourselves nor each other at all & don’t know what to say or where to start. IMG_2787

(Photograph of scene with Amal Arafeh from Ghizlan Fi Ghabat El Thi’ab)

How have we come this far removed and alienated from one another that we don’t know how to expose & reveal who we are, how we feel, & most importantly – why we do the things we do. Why we stay or leave, why we lie, cheat, or beg; why we devote or commit, why we are devout, why we are not, why we laugh, cry and die. It seems our scripted narrative is at least twice removed from our reality; utilising tools such high-drama and low-comedy to conceal the blunt and static stories extending from the characters that implement the plot rather than motivate it. The “this happened then this happened…” quickly leads up to a deflating nothing really happening at all.

So perhaps its time we do what good storytellers often do: start from the very beginning. Start from where it really matters. Start from wherever and whatever that story that tells us how the hell we wound up this way lays.

Something tells me there will be blaming of parents…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arabic TV, equality, raising girls, Uncategorized, women, Women on TV

This Revolution Should Be Televised: In Search of [the Right] Heroines Part 7,567

Much like life, TV viewing sometimes begs the question: If you have to choose – would you go for content that is authentic or idealistic?

In life, what to do when living authentically doesn’t comply with the very trendy notion of impersonating how you ideally want to be? My peers will know that this notion of “fake it till you make it”, or rather, “fake it till you become it”, has gotten me obsessed and slightly jarred!

I did feel better when my super smart friend clarified that, actually, the origination of the phrase comes from Social Psychologist Amy Cuddy who was more precisely talking about how our body language can kick our hormones into action and alter how we feel and how we appear. And I get that particular reference to how gesturing your body to act and feel confident can exude confidence and arrange future tackle tactics. I also can also understand how, another theory, that imagined happiness or success by way of daydreaming, for example, can earmark the right goals and align one’s stars.

But for me, dreaming of and embodying how one wants to be is one thing; but to get the inner self and her feisty sister, ego, to comply or catch up with the “fake” self one is emulating is quite another. I don’t know if I buy into the idea that I should smile my way through an emotional wreckage nor can I. But should I be challenging that default setting? According to what I have been reading – and as reaffirmed by a friend who is an avid listener to BBC’s Desert Island Discs – the most inspiring and successful women heroines we look up to – Swear. By. It.

For TV, I think the jury is still out on authentic vs idealistic. But for me, I find authentic drama realistic characterisations and their somewhat experimental and raw narrative arcs far more satisfying these days (aka since I got older and chronically sleepy) than the escapist alternative I was happy to go along with in the past (when I was young and perky). And it is for that reason and many others that I am finding it difficult to watch Arabic content even during its season d’etre – Ramadan.

As someone who has spent endless hours watching and catching up with Arabic series over the years (2001 – 2015), this pains me to my core. I am someone who irrationally, but willing stayed up till 3am binging on episode after episode of a series I started watching on TV on holiday at my mom’s; and wound up watching on my own on some obscure website while in bed laying between my two daughters, headphones jammed in my ears on super low volume, knowing that I have to be up on mom duty a mere three-hours later. Cut to a few years later – I now cruise through drama after drama on the myriad of Arabic channels, only to give up and sign into OSN Play, Netflix or iTunes (mine or that of a friend’s) to watch something American or British.  I do relate to some the female characters who, mind you, are not even written by or for my age group – more so than I do in Arabic ones that have been written supposedly, allegedly specifically for someone like me!

Yes, I am aware that according to blanket profiling, I am a late thirties mother of two who is the main purchaser of domestic goods badly advertised within these supposedly well positioned shows. But I can’t stretch my imagination or be forgiving anymore! It’s too much hard work for little gratification.The reason I don’t relate to the heroines or supporting female characters in Arabic drama  may appear to be about a grid of intercrossing variables; but truly it is about a set of two possible scenarios:

1- They are not written by women, nor by men who know the first thing about women (not in the slightest at ALL really).

Or, 2- they are written by women who are placing a lot of responsibility and burden on their shoulders to represent; to fit a lot of female related issues and questions into the little opportunity they have been bestowed. They resort to stuffing the mother-load into these female characters that end up being a very saturated version of anything relatively resembling the real. So we wind up with the bleak reality of slim pickings between flaccid idealism and pastiche realism.

The pendulum is drastically swinging between escapist idealism and slit-wrist versions of authenticity. Tick tock, tick tock. It really does feel like ticking time bomb sometimes and I hope it blows up soon and we can get back to the drawing boards and have a second change at this women in dramatic roles business. (An Article in Assafir last year make some interesting suggestions.) 

And of course there are exceptions by way of some Syrian drama a few years back (and NO! Not Bab el Hara, get over it already) and Egyptian drama since 2011. And, of course a lot of this has to do with the ills of drama writing in our region across the ball; and yes, maybe even men are struggling to find someone to look up to or relate to in Arabic series as well. But, it truly pains me that with all the raw talent that we have, with all the challenges and brilliantly inspiring journeys women in our part of the world often face – that I need the likes of HBO’s Girls or (slightly more age appropriate) Big Little Lies, NBC’s This Is Us, even Netflix’s House of Cards, to get my dose of what I’m going to call aspirational reality.

After all, isn’t drama meant to provide us with insight and give us relief, balancing the act of elevating us from our grubby life while reflecting some of it back at us? So I guess in the authentic vs. idealistic tug of war, I am saying what some (OK probably a lot of) frazzled female audiences like me are craving the aspirational variety: we are seeking the thrill of the intriguing and the cathartic.

Hopefully, just like in life, TV will soon catch on to the biting actuality that a mini revolution is going on where women are no longer waiting to be catered to; they are going ahead and forging platforms and content for themselves (and somewhat liberated men). I just can’t wait for us to start seeing our TV screens getting a makeover the way the screens of  our phones, laptops and movies are slowly but surely doing.