Friday, September 24, 2010

Ramadan primetime

[I'm taking an Arabic course, and one of our recent assignments was to watch and comment on this video. It was a really interesting experience. Here's the part of my personal response that I actually wrote down:]

I found this video segment fascinating. There are so many things to comment on that I'm not sure what to put in this post. There is an image that particularly struck me and which I think captures the central contrasts in the video: a satellite TV dish in the foreground, and a weathered pyramid in the background, against a cloudless blue sky. This image juxtaposes the old and the new, the monumental and the trivial, the artistic and the technological. These juxtapositions run through the video, because the video speaks about the modern incarnation and experience of an ancient tradition that is still vibrant but which has changed immensely since the days of its inception.

These contrasts are particularly powerful because of the remarkable contrast inherent in Ramadan itself. Ramadan originated as a religious discipline and festival together, characterized by spending the day in fasting and the nights in feasting. Fasting is self-denial in a primal and powerful form, whereas feasting is a celebration that sets moderation aside for the sake of something greater. Today, so many other layers of juxtaposition are also included in Ramadan, particularly in the television of the season. Religion and entertainment rub shoulders. The local community experience of watching TV in a room together melds with the global community experience of talking to your mother in Cairo who has been watching the same silly soap opera as you, for this special month. That ridiculous soap opera stands next to the serious social commentary of Ahoor Al Ayn, a show to bond over but also argue over.

The primetime TV experience of Ramadan seems to supplement the religious tradition in many enjoyable and worthwhile ways. But at the same time, modern life inevitably detracts in some ways from older ways. The TV programs allow for globally shared storytelling, but at the cost of eliminating the local and personal storytelling that used to be so prevalent in cafes during this season of communal celebration. The price of global bonding is the loss of specific local bonds. The tradition of storytelling lives on, but the storytellers, as people you could actually run into on the street, die out. You can probably tell that I find this sad.

But at the same time, there are lots of things to admire about Ramadan primetime. If a society is defined or revealed by its television shows, I might rather be part of the society of the Ramadan primetime shows in this video than with the society of the primetime shows that appear on my television.

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