An Arabic TV show that has made me seriously worry about Arabs

31 Aug

I know that there are plenty of far greater things to worry and write about in the Arab world right now but I feel that plenty of people have that covered. I feel more compelled to write about this TV show that has made be seriously worry about the state of the Arab world in a different kind of way. This programme is called “Al Zaffa” or “The Wedding Procession” and is a fake situation, hidden camera type show but its super slick and on at prime time on MBC, one of the most popular Arabic TV channels.

Each episode starts off the same: A wife is sat down for a fake interview with the presenter in the middle of a hotel lobby. The presenter repeatedly asks rude and provocative questions, mocks what she says and derides the way the woman looks in a really unpleasant way. Obviously the point, and it works, is to get the women really riled up. When the woman reaches this state, it is time: one of the producers tells the presenter he has to stop the interview because a wedding procession is coming through the hotel lobby. So they wait, and in comes the wife’s husband, dancing with a fake bride with the whole wedding fanfare and we see the fallout as the wife realises the groom is her husband. Look perhaps you can argue that watching an already angry and upset women reacting to her husband humiliating and betraying her is a light hearted situation (sorry but I don’t think it is) but what happens next is frankly shameful.
As the woman confronts her husband,the presenter, and honestly I’m getting angry as I write this, actually starts shouting at the woman to come and finish the interview because she was paid to! Then, the fake marriage officiator who is also part of this posse also gets involved and also starts angrily shouting at the women for holding up proceedings! Rudely and horribly. Really really horribly with no hint of humour. So you have the husband, the fake bride, the presenter and the officiator shouting at this poor woman who is already in a state of high distress.

Not only do they shout, they mock. The band starts playing again, they all start dancing and the presenter even starts dancing in front of the woman to provoke her further. In one episode, a woman said she wanted a divorce and the presenter and officiator started singing and clapping, “All things must come to an end”. And in a couple of episodes, the women have actually collapsed. This is when I wonder if perhaps instead of looking at political solutions for the Arab world, we should start looking at solutions for our psychological problems. If you lament the absolute horror of the Arab world right now but you enjoy this programme then realise there is an issue. You need to look in the mirror and say “I should not enjoy watching emotional abuse of these people to the point of physical trauma”. Start small.

And you know there was also a horrifying programme during Ramadan? In this one, Arab celebrities are made to think that that the boat they are on has capsized, they are literally grabbing at the boat to hold on (and it lasts for absolutely ages), think they are surrounded by sharks, see their boat companion fall off and drown, only to see blood and a dismembered leg floating to the surface soon after. I admit that I laughed at this point; I just couldn’t believe how far they went. It’s horrible, the celebrities seem genuinely frightened they are going to die and I am genuinely frightened for my soul.

Through all this, I just can’t help but wonder whatever happened to good old fashioned tricks like talking on a massive mobile phone in the cinema? Or a panda in a zoo that’s actually a man dressed in a panda costume?* Or if MBC struggle to come up with original ideas for pranks that don’t psychologically harm their victims, I have genuinely wasted hours of my life watching poor souls trying to pick up some cash on the floor that’s being pulled on by a piece of string. I’m not proud of it, but it’s happened, and it’ll probably happen again.

And I’m not a judgey person, really. It’s important to me that I give people the benefit of the doubt, that I understand people come from different cultures and walks of life, but if you enjoy “Al Zaffa” and see nothing wrong with this, I am judging you, with my eyes. And you know, my eye contact with people isn’t so good, I get a bit nervous so then my pupils start to dart around in opposite directions to each other but I will practice so hard. And if I met you on the street, I will stand sideways to you so that at least one of my eyes is boring into you and you will crumble under the weight of my judgement. If we partake in a collective wrong in Arab society, however small, then we owe some personal responsibility to the state we are in today.**

*Dom Joly, you genius.
**I wonder how legitimate it is for me to be critical of “our” state, seeing I have lived in the Arab world for less than 2 years of my life but I reason that even if we consider me not to be, my parents are legit Arabs, my extended family and loved ones are Arab in the full sense of the word, and so I have grown up with the concerns and worries of them and feel personally invested. A sympathetic outlook to a world that is more difficult that mine is necessary but so is calling out something that might not be as obvious when you’re in that situation, isn’t it? I think the position of Arabs-not having grown up in the Arab world and what their contribution should look like is a debate for another day.

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