Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Beyond the Al-Jazeera: The Social and Political Impact of Arab Entertainment Television

March 6, 2006

The Woodrow Wilson Center – American University professor Marwan Kraidy spoke at the Wilson Center Monday on “hypermedia space” and the political impact reality TV shows have on Arab society.

Reality TV draw an audience made up predominantly of women and youth, Kraidy said. Reality shows act as a catalyst to excite interest in public events but they are also controversial. Arab entertainment television has spawned a “swallowing of time,” in Kraidy’s view. People sit for hours in front of their TVs, but what they are taking in are state competitions and political battles played out through reality shows.

Hypermedia space, or the seamless integration of big and small media, is both interactive and mobile. Kraidy explained an example of hypermedia space, using cell phones to vote for candidates from the TV shows. Hypermedia space is based on TV’s “transformative narratives of social and political mobility.” Kraidy also stated that “it is a catalyst for debating sensitive topics and provides an idiom of contention.”

The three top reality television shows of the Arab world are Superstar, Big Brother, and Star Academy. After Superstar 2 (An American Idol equivalent) aired, a Lebanese candidate on the show was welcomed by the country’s highest government officials. Governments of Arab states are heavily involved in these shows, Kraidy says, because if the contestant from Syria wins, then Syria has won - period. Governments have asked their citizens not to vote for other countries or not to vote at all.

Kraidy hinted that Star Academy’s theme song (to the tune of “Let the Sun Shine”) is itself political. The song, about truth and freedom, brings youth together in quest for democracy. Kraidy said tools like this “provide a language in which to aid democracy” in the Arab world. But in regards to the shows’ political impact on the Arab world, Kraidy stated, “I don’t think it is democratizing it, but it’s chipping away at the structure.”


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