Problems on hold
This is not the first time I feel I have to comment on the TV shows which storm our living rooms during Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast from dawn to sunset and indulge in feasting and entertainment during the non-fast hours. Hence the wide popularity of evening TV shows in Ramadan, so much so that producers carefully work on them well in advance, given the goldmine that these shows virtually are. It must be acknowledged, however, that some of these shows constitute an outright breach of viewers’ rights. Yet they obviously escape drama and variety show censorship, and also human rights and consumer rights activists.
Some two years ago I wrote on the decline in standard of variety shows which were growing increasingly superficial yet continued to be screened as harmless entertainment. The matter is not about entertainment, though, but about material that serves to corrupt public taste and awareness and render the public brainless. I attempt no criticism on the artistic or technical level; this is neither my role nor specialisation. But it shocks me that producers underrate the intelligence of viewers to the point of mistaking triviality for entertainment.
We have always heard of official censorship authorities that scrutinise drama and variety shows and approve them for public screening. Did these authorities approve the Ramadan shows that have no substance and which boast plentiful violations and ethical decline? Did not these shows alarm those concerned with consumer or human rights?
We are all familiar with light prank shows, such as the “hidden camera” in which someone is unwittingly exposed to an unexpected or surprise situation while, unknown to him or her, a hidden camera captures his or her reaction. Once this happens, the individual is told of the camera; more often than not this results in laughter on all sides, the individual on whom the prank was done as well as the viewers. Mind you, the viewers laugh at the situation not at the person subjected to the prank. Over the past few years, however, such shows lost their harmless fun and resorted to ghastly set-ups that terrorise the guests and place them at great risk, only for viewers to laugh at them. One of this year’s shows, for instance, runs along the theme of ‘playing with fire’. Any alleged fun, creativity, or skill in these shows is lost on me. This is ethical degradation that thinks nothing of exploiting guests’ fears and jeopardising their dignity and safety to extort cheap laughter out of viewers.
The shows in question have turned into episodes of disgrace and terror. In an attempt to make the shows more appealing and exciting, their producers lured public figures to play the role of guest victims instead of ordinary individuals. This in itself raises not a few eyebrows, since no one appears to understand whether the guests are truly unaware that they would be victims of a wicked prank, or are generously paid to play this role. A standard episode requires the victim to feign bewilderment, shock and terror at the horrifying situation the show puts him or her in, then display a rush of wrathful hysteria on discovering he or she were victim of a fake situation. At this point the viewer is treated to an avalanche of obscenities and physical assault against the show presenter sufficient to make the victim liable.
Let me point out that these episodes are not aired live, lest anyone think they come as a surprise to any official concerned; they are pre-recorded and have been fully prepared with the required multiple cameras and lightning and sound systems into the bargain.
It surprises me that this kind of degradation has as yet warranted no question in the House of Representatives on the shows and the satellite channels that ecstatically produce and market them? Is no one alarmed at the impact of these shows on children and youngsters who might mimic such disastrous ‘pranks’ in real life? Human rights and consumer rights bodies must confront these slanderous shows that thrive on victimising guests and deceiving viewers.
I have one more concern which, even if less serious than that of the prank shows, is still thoroughly annoying. By this I mean the advertisement hysteria that dominates TV during Ramadan, and which spans more than half the broadcasting time. The ads impose themselves on the viewer and cruelly interrupt his or her viewing sessions. It has reached the point where ads constitute the major part of broadcast material, with drama, news or talk shows all taking back seats. A caricature by renowned cartoonist Maher in the Cairo daily al-Ahram on 11 June aptly scorned this situation. Maher expertly used a play on words between the Arabic words ‘nuisance’ and ‘advertisement’ which have the same spelling but for one letter. His cartoon reads: “We’ll have a drama break then go back to the Ramadan ‘nuisances’—not ‘advertisements’.”
26 June 2016