Let me make this clear right off the bat. I don’t watch much TV. Ever since I got back to Jordan I’ve been avoiding it like the plague. Don’t get me wrong, I have a TV in my room but it is dedicated solely to movie watching, which I do plenty of. But no actual satellite TV programming watching.
I do however have run ins with the TV. My retired parents watch a lot of it so it’s usually on during the evening and I’ll sit with them every now and then for obligatory family time purposes.
The news is usually their favorite thing to watch. They’ll watch the news on Al-Jazeera, Al-Arabeeyeh, and then the local news of practically any Arab country, including Jordan, Syria, Morocco, Sudan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Lebanon. But that’s a complaint for a whole other post.
Because every now and then I’ll run into them watching an actual Arab television show. Now I usually have a mental allergic reaction when watching these shows. Most are quite pathetic, and my parents consider me a killjoy as I’m prone to constantly point out the mistakes made throughout these shows, out loud.
And I mean I’ll criticize everything I hate about every scene and every shot. The lighting, the directing, the way characters turn their backs on each other like it’s a soap opera. To unlikely plots, scenarios, situations and absurd characters. And of course, redundancy. The same story, the same story, the same story. Different names and faces, but the same story, the same story. Rinse and repeat.
Even my criticisms have become redundant.
Some of these shows are social commentaries. They are designed to be too preachy in the most unsubtle of ways. The protagonist struggles and finds a way through tradition, religion, society or whatever it is that’s out there and trying to get him.
Emphasis on “him”.
For this is the centerpiece of my latest criticism.
The overwhelming absence of strong female roles who are in fact the protagonists, the heroines.
Female roles in these shows can be whittled down to the following:
1) An old woman who is a mother and wife and stays home most of the time trying to marry off one of her daughters or sons.
2) A young girl in university who is “seeing” a fellow classmate and planning to get married. They usually share soft drinks by the Nile river and talk about how they’ll go about getting married, which makes the whole scene wholesome.
3) A young girl whose father or mother plan on marrying her off to someone she doesn’t want to marry. This is a Bedouin classic and will sometimes feature another young man who the young woman truly loves, and will fight for her love.
4) Then there’s the young girl who is either in university or just graduated and has most of her scenes taking place at home, in her pajamas, or walking to work. This is the young girl who is eye candy for the protagonist young man wanting to marry her.
Every woman and every girl is done up in full make up. Whether rich or very poor. Whether living in a palace or a tent. Full make up. And usually, the silliest lines will be given to women.
All of the female roles are either young women wanting to marry, destined to be married, or old women marrying the younger ones off. Their roles are either as students or housewives. If their character happens to have a job, it’s usually a secretary (who will eventually be married to the boss or the boss’s son).
Oh, and of course there’s always the rich young man who wants to marry the young girl but, naturally (just like in real life), she’s in love with the poor man.
In the very, very rare case of a woman being a strong independent individual, high-level management working woman, who is also a mother and a wife, well, she’ll also be a bitch. They’ll make her the meanist person alive. Because surely a woman who tries to take on so much will be driven to bitterness and madness.
The other night I sat down next to my parents as they were watching some Syrian drama. During the show, I noticed there was this one woman who must’ve been in her late 20’s, unmarried and living with a relatively poor father in a household of 2 or three other younger female siblings. She was beautiful; didn’t wear too much make up, no hijab, educated, wise and a working woman. Her poor, relatively conservative father, is even proud of her. I was almost taken aback, and intrigued to continue watching. As the show continued I was frankly impressed. She was courageous and even didn’t take crap from anyone. Something must be wrong, I thought to myself. This woman is breaking barriers here. It’s too good to be true. The producers and writers are destined to be accused by conservatives of brainwashing young girls into thinking, you know, they could actually be someone.
Lo and behold I was right. It was too good to be true. The woman gets fired and tries to hide it from her poor father, semi-dependent on her income. The father ends up beating the crap out of her and sending her to the hospital. While she wallows in a hospital bed with her bruises and black eyes, other characters are busy pleading with the father to “forgive” the daughter and seek her out. He’s stubbornly resilient to the idea and whenever he walks into his house the other daughters are scared as hell. Eventually he does go to the hospital and begs his daughter’s forgiveness. It was a heartfelt moment. I mean between the sentimental music, the father choking on his tears and the daughter’s face turned away with him, with a single teardrop streaming down the side of her eye; it really invokes something from the viewer. And when she forgives him and they hug, it’s like a real genuine moment.
But then I suddenly stood up and realized that had this been an episode of “Law & Order”, this is right about the scene where the father gets hauled off by the police in handcuffs screaming out “I didn’t mean to!”. The whole beating-the-girl followed by seeking-redemption was so off beat and irregular, especially in the midst of a scene that begs the audience to stand up and applaud the reunion.
My point is, TV is a tool of social change. Shows shouldn’t be just about a reflection of various stark realities and social tragedies that swim beneath the surface of our own social discontent. It should be aimed at changing minds. It should push the envelope. If people are so heavily influenced by the television culture, why not use it to change minds? If people can’t be equal off screen, at least present them as such on screen. What’s the worse that could happen; being accused of not being true to reality? It’s television!
And now that I’m on the subject, it’s not just female roles, but actual social issues. Stop being so preachy. Present scenarios that offer solutions. Talk about the taboo subjects. Why is every episode about some business conflict? Why are all the characters busy trying to get married? Talk about honor crimes, terrorism, extremism, actual realistic political corruption.
Talk about the pertinent issues, but don’t turn them into clichÃƒÂ©s and say you just did.