Over the decades since television became a major element in the daily lives of people, it has been customary for the Egyptian media, Watani included, to closely follow, analyse, assess, and report on “Ramadan drama”. Ramadan is the Muslim holy month of fasting from sunrise to sunset; and has become famous for an expansive range of TV drama, talk shows and light material produced to entertain viewers who normally sit before TV screens once they break their fast and well into the evening.
Today’s issue of Watani carries reviews and critiques of this year’s most viewed Ramadan drama. The series al-Ekhtiyar (The Choice), was highlighted as the gem of 2020 Ramadan productions. Directed by Peter Mimi and starring Amir Karara, al-Ekhtiyar tells the story of Ahmed al-Mansi, Armed Forces commander of the 103th brigade, who was martyred in a terror attack against a military checkpoint in Rafah in North Sinai in 2017. This outstanding production masterfully combined reality drama with historical authenticity.
The topic of Ramadan shows drew my attention to two issues disregarded by all relevant authorities, despite being objects of severe criticism by viewers, critics and experts. These issues concern prank shows and televised advertisements. Yet the repeated bitter, scathing public criticism, year in year out, has led to no official action whatsoever.
Advertisements, as we know them, are marketing tools that aim at attracting consumers to specific products or services. The key word is “attraction”. Has this definition become outdated? Has a new school of advertisement resorted to so-called ‘innovative tools’ that, by my standards, serve to alienate the viewer? New advertisements make no mention whatsoever of the product or service advertised; the viewer merely hears some comment, rhyme or song to disconnected video footage that stays away from citing the product advertised. Only at the last moment is that product mentioned. Worse, advertisement sessions are unruly and make no sense. Why should an advertisement run once, twice, and even three times during the same advertising slot in the midst of a show? Given that viewers resent lengthy advertising that ‘ruin’ shows, how can the tedious repetition of an advertisement over the span of a few minutes attract consumers?
Another advertisement-related issue, is that the advertising content—the songs or videos—is often indecent. Yet they are allowed to barge uninvited into the privacy of homes as families, young people, or children unwittingly watch favourite shows. The havoc they wreak on values and ethics is nothing short of criminal.
‘Prank shows’ on another hand, notorious in Ramadan, represent another problem. I see them as crimes not shows, crimes ignored by relevant authorities. They are seemingly produced for amusement and fun, but have turned into black comedy because of the idiotic but vicious pranks that terrorise the guests, rather victims, and which always result in torrents of verbal indecent, unethical response. Is the abuse of guests the epitome of media drama? Has it become—Oh my God!—a method of drawing laughs and applause from viewers? Trouble is that every year we discover that the pranks have been agreed upon a priori between the show producers and the guests. So the real victims are the viewers.
I might have liked this article to go down as a complaint or plea addressed to the Supreme Council for the Press and Media, the Supreme Council for Culture, the Minister of Culture, the Minister of Education, and the Culture and Media Committee of the House of Representatives. But I feel furious and dismayed at their silence and apathy. Let me in this context print a declaration by a high-ranking media figure who was asked to give his opinion on prank shows:
“During these hard times of COVID-19 economic fallout, we try as much as we can to be tolerant with shows and ads, and not to add to the burdens of producers. We also take into account the dire need of viewers for amusement [under home confinement conditions]. However, this should not stop us from standing against poor, offensive content. We do not rush to penalise producers; we nurture and encourage good competition. We suspend abusive ads.
“Prank shows are placed under scrutiny owing to the negative effects they can have on Egyptian families; they are not very welcome on screen. But the rule is that if a show refrains from obscene insinuations and abusiveness, it passes. We must mention, though, that their poor influence exceeds their entertainment value.”
Beautiful declaration! Yet the advertisements and prank shows continue.. and the idiocy and mischief persist.
14 June 2020