I mentioned yesterday that I had been profiled in Variety. It isn't online, alas, but it's based on a chat I had with Steven Kotler, and it runs on page A1, continuing onto page A10, of their March 27 special section on "Mideast TV". It has a picture of my book rather than of me - no doubt a wise choice - and a picture of Nancy Ajram alarmingly close by. Fame and fortune and pop tarts...
Anyway, here's the opening of the piece:
In the 1970s and '80s, Arab television was a staid affair. Repressive regimes stocked the airwaves with political puppets towing the party line. But then came Al-Jazeera.
Marc Lynch, an associate professor of political science at Williams College, spent six years translating nearly 1,300 hours of Al-Jazeera programming - focusing on the five most popular talkshows. The results can be found in his book "Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, Al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today."
"It's a great model, but maybe too great," says Lynch. "The days of Al-Jazeera's monopoly are over. They now face strong competition in nearly every market. There are dozens of stations that have sprung up that buy into Al-Jazeera's approach and are competing for their audience."
Lynch has said that Al-Jazeera is fundamentally about argument. It seems as if argument - be it haggling in the bazaar over goods or discussing political theory in universities or cafes - is intrinsic to Arab culture and is the key to Al-Jazeera's success.
.... "It changed the culture of the entire Middle East. Suddenly everyone had access to the news, and all of those arguments that used to take place in private burst into the public sphere. Now you almost have to disagree to be an 'Arab' - which is important since it's such a key idea in democracy. Satellite TV has rearranged all aspects of Arab life."
I also put in a plug for the Nancy-Haifa wars:
Al-Jazeera certainly has a relentless dislike of the status quo, especially the political one, but it's not as much of a hard driver for social change, for better treatment of women, for gay rights, for sexuality and so forth.....
"What really seems to be driving social change is reality TV and music videos," Lynch says..... "If Americans saw how sexy these music video clips by singers like Haifa Wehbi or Elissa get, they'd be shocked. These music videos and reality TV shows can be really sexually bold and show women in all kinds of strong roles.... They've become incredibly popular in the last few years. Those shows and videos offer all kinds of alternatives to the Islamist project and let young Arabs really engage with a more open pop culture."
There's a bit more, but I don't want to be violating copyright or anything until they actually post it online. The rest of the special section is also quite interesting, with profiles of MBC, religious satellite TV stations and music videos (what I've taken to calling the "Rotana-Risala Axis"), reality TV, al-Jazeera and al-Jazeera International, LBC, and more.
Nothing about that alleged TV pilot "The Aardvark," though, and no mention of Joss Whedon, David Duchovny, Catherine Zeta-Jones, or Eliza Dushku. Hmmm... is that kind of suspicious? What are they trying to hide?