Monday, August 20, 2012

Next on Tap for Ramadan TV--The Real Housewives of Riyadh?

I'm sure the NYT's Alessandra Stanley is not on the Wahhabi payroll. But given the jocular way in which this piece is written, and its gobsmackingly sanitized content, it would be quite understandable if that's what you concluded after reading it:
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Women are driving in Saudi Arabia.
Not on the streets. That would be illegal. But on a recent episode of “Hush Hush,” a new comedy on Saudi state television, a lilac sedan comes to a halt and a woman climbs out of the driver’s seat. A group of goofy, lascivious men (three stooges in red-checked kaffiyehs) try to pick her up by offering to repair the car. From beneath a black hijab and opaque abaya, glints of the woman’s contempt show through. “Who says my car broke down?” she says coolly. “I’m waiting for my friend.” A matching Barbie-pink car pulls up and two women glide away, leaving the Saudi dolts deflated and agog.
It’s a fantasy, of course, a comic trial balloon. “Hush Hush” was created for Ramadan, the Muslim holiday season that ended this weekend, and the state-sanctioned sketch makes the case for female drivers in a jokey way that heartens modern-minded viewers without provoking traditional ones. The woman is never shown actually driving; the camera cuts away before she grasps the wheel. It’s the kind of ellipsis that American television once used for homosexuality; you didn’t actually see it but you knew it was there.
Yeah, I'm sure that's exactly what it's like. And that comedy about Saudi chick driver and the group of goofy, lascivious men--do my ears deceive me, or does that sound like something that might have appeared on The Benny Hill Show, back in the day (without the burqa and with more cleavage, I mean)? But tell us, Alessandra, what else is on the tube during Ramadan?
Even on state television gentle social satire about Saudi life is permissible and also welcome during Ramadan, a monthlong religious celebration when people pray, fast all day and then feast throughout the night. It’s a festive season that also serves as a sweeps month: TV ratings peak because people stay home and watch with their families, avoiding foreign shows to focus on Arab television. Especially in Saudi Arabia, which has the highest advertising rates in the Middle East, Ramadan prompts an avalanche of new dramas, comedies, talk shows and game shows. Because people are fasting during the day and obsessed with food, there are also lots of cooking shows, including “Saudi Chefs,” which stars two young, quirky alumni of “Top Chef Middle East.” 
Ramadan is also when Saudis talk, blog and tweet about what they are watching, and it’s a broader and spicier array of shows than outsiders might imagine. 
Taboos and a vigilant religious police force control public behavior but they don’t shackle viewing habits nearly as much. Through satellite dishes and the Internet, Saudis have access to the wide and wanton world: racy Turkish soap operas, violent action movies, sexy Moroccan pop singers and episodes of “Gossip Girl” and “CSI.” Their own programming tests the fault line between modernity and tradition; in a rigidly controlled country television is the arena in which small rebellions can be staged and festering tensions addressed...       
Okay, I've changed my mind. I think Alessandra is on the Wahhabi payroll. I have a hard time believing anyone could churn out this piffle--a total whitewash of one of the globe's most repressive regimes courtesy its embrace of sharia--unless some Saudi moneybags was behind it. ;)

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