Clinton's Sax, the Mukhabarat and Reality TV


A shopping mall explosion, gay rights movement and gym-produced rock-hard abs are just a few of the Top 25 trends to hit India in the past decade, according to Resident Editor of the Times of India, Vikas Singh.

In his entertaining annual round-up article, Singh also elaborated on his inclusion of the rising trend of reality TV in India:

‘The burgeoning number of reality TV shows–390 in 2009 alone (94 on Hindi channels and 296 on regional channels)–vindicates the growing belief that fact is stronger than fiction.’

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I briefly mentioned the reality singing show Singapore Idol back in November and the winning contestants’ subsequent rise to household name status. With India, too, in the game, it seems the genre continues to infiltrate Asia (With the exception of Japan, where live ‘reality’ variety shows have actually been popular for decades).

I’ll be asking our India correspondent a bit more about this later this month. Meanwhile, though, this reminded me of a book released this month titled Reality Television and Arab Politics. In it, Marwan M. Kraidy, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania, examines the reality TV phenomenon. And he raises some compelling ideas pertaining to the Arab world, including his assertion that, ‘the realms of politics and entertainment have become increasingly related in mass mediated societies.’ He cites former US president Bill Clinton playing the saxophone on TV in 1992 as a perfect example of the fusion of politics with mass entertainment.

But Kraidy also warns over the tendency to associate such programming with increased freedom, noting:

‘In an age of the 24-hour news cycle, when Arabs are being subjected to a combination of American plans to re-shape the Middle East, activists understand and exploit the fact that a television camera can protect them, at least temporarily, from harassment by the mukhabarat (intelligence services) and assorted state apparatuses.’

Becoming a TV star to avoid state persecution? Now that has my mind reeling.

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