Syrian Soda

…Is a very bright orange. I’m not sure drinks here are allowed to be such a vibrant-not-found-in-nature shade of orange anymore.

Of course being British I don’t say soda, I say pop and this post is about some of the pop culture I saw in Syria.

No need to say there was a soap about a man called Mohammed and a woman called Nour. Even though it’s finished, the merchandise is still everywhere and there’s a big rush to translate new Turkish dramas. I saw one (forget the name, it’s about a woman who is terminally ill and trying to find a new mother figure for her children), very glossy, very secular Turkey. Interestingly, there are now lots of adverts of Turkish holiday homes too.

To make a big generalisation, Syrian dramas are set in one of two time periods 1)Now 2)When under french colonial rule. The moustache count is much higher in the latter. The same actors appear in many different shows, regardless of their scenery gargling. One man in particular must either have friends in high places or know the terrible secrets of friends in high places as he’s in almost everything, despite no discernible acting talent whatsoever.

Syria, like many other countries uses soap as a vehicle for discussing social issues. The perils of black magic was the theme of the very campy “Layl wa Rajal” (Night of Men) and one drama even tackled the issue of living with H.I.V. Sadly it featured a scene where the little boy brushes his teeth with his H.I.V positive father’s toothbrush. His granny sees him and fearing he might have become infected, she proceeds to run about in the street in her nightie for a bit (while screaming) and then tries to stab herself in front of the aforementioned grandson and assorted family members. One hopes that this was follows by a piece of exposition explaining that no, you cannot catch H.I.V from sharing a toothbrush, but sadly I wasn’t able to watch any further.

Unfortunately there is still some pretty hideous racial caricatures being shown (I saw blackface AND yellowface) and equally disturbing, women being hit and this not being viewed as domestic violence. Sorry, but even if the character has murdered her own step daughter, she should not be shown getting slapped about.

After prolonged exposure during a long car journey, I sadly have to conclude that Arab pop = crap. By mere mathematical rules, some of it must be good. I guess I just didn’t get to hear it. No wonder Fayrouz is still viewed with such reverence.  Plus she still has her own nose, which is an increasing rarity in some circles.

English language films with subtitles are shown a lot. Amusingly, any swearing is not translated but it’s not bleeped out either, no matter what time the film is shown. I think I inadvertently watched what was possibly one of the worst films ever made.  Called Doppleganger with Drew Barrymore in the lead role (who must be eternally thankful that you can make such awful films and not end up working in McDonalds), it was so bad, I was expecting to see the shadow of a man flanked by two robots (now there’s a show they should bring back).

As far as televisual beauty goes, long, long, straight black hair and plum lipstick with matching eyeshadow, appears to be a popular choice and this make up is to be worn on screen at all times, even in bed. T.V men tend to favour a lot of hair gel. The pillow cases used on tv soaps must get absolutely filthy. Women do look like they are allowed to chew, swallow and naturally digest their food, which is definitely a big difference from U.K and especially U.S tv. I hope it lasts.

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11 Responses

  1. Salaams.

    LOL.

    “The same actors appear in many different shows, regardless of their scenery gargling. One man in particular must either have friends in high places or know the terrible secrets of friends in high places as he’s in almost everything, despite no discernible acting talent whatsoever.”

    This pretty much sums up the Mexican tele-novella scene as well. My other complaint about them (Mex tele-nov) is that the men are all so ugly, LOL. And the women are so overly dramatic. Pretty much, I guess I am too old to be enamored by pop culture anymore. Except America’s Next Top Model, which I find I am increasingly annoyed with myself for not weaning off of as it is absolute trash.

  2. Ha! Thanks for this look into Syrian dramas, interesting and sad about the HIV misinformation and racism. I’ve watched the Turkish one about the terminally ill woman “Lahzet Wada3” I’ve never been into Arabic shows but this one pulled me in. I have to really pay attention to understand what they’re saying and it can be overly dramatic (there has to be a a few scenes each episode of someone crying alone for a while) but I want to see how it turns out. Any idea how long it goes on for?

  3. “equally disturbing, women being hit and this not being viewed as domestic violence.”

    One big problem I have with entertainment in the US (among many) is that a woman being stalked is not always played as a woman being stalked, it’s played for laughs or a sweet guy trying to get through to an obstinate girl. Yuk. Interesting analyses.

    and hey, you been tagged; http://parallelsidewalk.wordpress.com/2008/10/25/girls-whats-my-weakness-memes/

  4. Salaam Alaikum,

    Aaminah – Actually, dubbed Mexican telenovas are popular here too.

    Mamamona – The biggest mystery about “Lahzet Wada3″ is why does Zeynab ( the replacement mummy figure) always wear thick white tights with brown boots? My S.I.L and I were baffled by this.

    Dave – You remind me of a post I need to get around to writing. Yes, I agree with your point though.

  5. Mystery Science Theater 3000!!!!!!!!

    Thats all I have to say.

    I miss that show.

    Ps- Syria=Egypt=the Middle East in its entirety. I feel you.

  6. Oh Aaminah- my Egyptian husband knows lines from Ruby and Gata Salvaje. Seriously, I saw Gata Salvaje myself on TV. No podemos escapar!

  7. Salaam Alaikum,

    Molly – I’m glad you got the reference. They should reform, just to do that Doppelganger film, it really does deserve it.

  8. Interestingly enough, there’s been a lot of speculation about the necessity of the ‘new’ soaps, be it the one you mentioned about AIDS or others that focus on issues such as drugs, boy/girlfriends, extramarital sex, and other societal issues. Those opposed to them have gone so far as to compare the negative influence they have with ‘Western shows’ (and if you know Syrian culture then you know that that’s as condemned as it gets).

    Personally, on the one hand I do realize that they are addressing very concrete problems that plague Syrian society. On the other, I’ve seen the negative influence they can have on this ‘new’ generation that wants desperately to escape the authoritarian rule of their parents yet have no knowledge of any of these issues. Then, all of sudden, they’re confronted with these ‘free’ Syrians that deal with their problems by getting tattoos, doing coke, moving in with a boy/girlfriend, or sleeping around. This group in particular has no way of reconciling what they see on TV with their real lives, and they end up lost between two worlds. And it doesn’t help at all that the ‘Islam’ their parents proffer to follow is riddled with inconsistencies and twisted to meet their own ends. (So this doesn’t seem like one huge stereotype, I’m talking about a specific group of Syrians. Some, that are trying to implement a right sense of Islam in their lives, forgo the TV entirely. Others don’t really care.)

    It’s like this Egyptian movie a few Syrian friends bought over on our ‘Girl’s Movie Night.’ Four guys that do it all – drugs, sex, alcohol, watching porn… the works. Then one friend gets run over while he’s out buying alcohol, and all of a sudden it’s Helllllooo Amr Khaled!!! About 15 minutes worth of shots of the remaining 3 friends at the mosque praying, listening to Amr Khaled, and at Islamic lessons. Then the movie ends with them having drinks at the top of a Ferris Wheel. Like.. wow. That really taught us all a lesson. Afterwards I noticed a shift in one of the younger girls in particular. She’d been uncertain about Islam in the beginning, and this movie drove her all the way back. It was as though she’d lost her confidence that Islam had the answers to her struggles.

    So I don’t know. I’ve yet to form an opinion on the positive vs. negative influence of these shows. But I do think it’s an issue worth considering. *shrugs*

    ps. Sorry for the really long and ramble-y comment! I was planning on writing a post on this sometime, and then came across yours and thought might as well do it! I wouldn’t have been able to sum them up as well as you have (too true and funny!) but I thought I’d lend my 2 cents on the ‘deeper implications’.

  9. Salaam Alaikum,

    Souvenirs and scars – Thank you for such a detailed comment. As I am only giving a visitor’s perspective, it’s great to hear a Syrian view.

    I agree with the concerns about the soap’s treatment of issues. It’s one thing to discuss social problems, but another to normalise certain behaviours. For example showing that marital infidelity wrecks lives is good, but to show people having affairs as a normal event is definitely not.

    I think it’s very hard for Syrian youth as there are so many conflicting messages. Plus, so much of what is shown on tv is a lifestyle that they will never afford. That could possibly explain the success of Bab Al Hara and similar shows, they hark back to simpler times.

    I love ‘Hellloooo Amr Khaled!’ I will use that in future.

  10. I really dont have much 2 say except for:
    – turks and arabs are not the same, therefore what you see as overly dramatic is the norm for turks. I am iraqi turk and some of my friends are arab, we see the differences between us in our society and culture, but we put it past us and are close based on what brings us together
    – safiya outlines: lol zeinab actually wears jeans and dark tights and not always brown boots and white tights.. in fact today she wore irresistably cute red heels and skinny jeans 🙂

  11. Salaam Alaikum,

    Welcome to my blog nana. Actually it was the Arab soaps that I found to be overly dramatic, in comparison, the Turkish soap was restrained and well acted.

    I’m glad to hear about Zeinab getting other clothes to wear. White tights are a friend to no one.

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