International Writers Magazine:
it or not we are cultural receivers, and I dare say, if western
audiences were exposed to "our culture," the influence
would be much more balanced; and they, western audiences, would
become cultural receivers too, willing to accept alternative cultures,
alternative point of views and alternative film.
As an Arab and a
Muslim, I am actually besotted by Western culture although in this day-and-age
I might feel somewhat ashamed to say it. But this is the truth not only
about myself but also by a lot of my compatriots who dwell on films
from the West, namely Hollywood, and to a lesser extent films made in
Britain, if they could get hold of them as they sadly dwindle by the
But this is the situation as it exists today. Watching western films
is to be seen different from American politics, the country where most
of these movies are produced in. Watching European films is a rarity
still, and today English hegemonizes our viewing habits.
No matter how you try to get away from it, you get back to the Hollywood/British
pictures as if they are around the corner or as quickly as they boot
you in the back, for today such is the nature of globalization you cant
get away from.
It doesnt of course mean that you are less of a good Muslim, but
what it means is that there is a sort of blending going between my culture,
and the dominant culture, between my identity, and the imported identity
that is willingly thrust upon me, and which I feast my eyes on with
With me, a man in his late 40s, that sort of blending could be a little
disconcerting when I watch my 20-something daughter viewing things which
I wouldnt necessarily approve of, or see my 12-year-old son glued
to a movie that is totally alien to our "Islamic" culture.
But then I think, it is up to us as parents to take our socializing
role more seriously and allow for a constructive social blending between
our eastern culture and the western expose which we are constantly subjected
to, and if I may say like, and with the rest of my family liking as
The other day, we satme, my wife and daughterto watch a
relatively old 1990's film by Jack Nicholson called As Good As it
Gets. It was a Nicholson vintage, not only for its sinister aspects,
but for the laughter it produced as well the good dialogue some of which
I didnt necessarily approve because of the somewhat open and abrasive
style of language and because of my daughter watching.
I always used to think of myself as liberal and progressive and suppose
still do, but for my Muslim children, who pray five-times-a-day, I am
a reactionary which I hate to be labeled as that because of the political
connotations of the word.
Nevertheless as a good Muslim I keep questioning whether I should be
watching stuff like this, this time I didnt ask, what I did was
to sit and watch the film, which many of my compatriots usually do,
and if they dont like the film well, its not really related
to religion, but to the dialogue which needs you to have a good command
of the language and perhaps of the idioms and culture it has labeled.
The storyline and the eccentricity of the man who comes out as a crazy
but lovable character, makes the viewer all eyes and ears, with the
language and facial expressions carrying you through.
This is what we do in the Arab world, we are constantly glued to our
television sets, and sometimes cinemas, watching western films with
adventure. It has become a cultural link and extension. Despite our
moderately good English, we also read the subtitles included that tell
us what is going on but not totally, deleting the swear words for instance
and/or the sexual expressions, which sometimes I thank God they do!
On another level, the cultural link does not mean weve lost our
own "Islamic/Arab/Third Worldish" point of views, far from
it. What it means is that we want to watch good quality stuff that quite
a lot of the time we do not have access to, and despite locally-generated
Ok, sometimes there might be trashy pieces of film, but that also means,
and like western audiences, we switch off, or switch to other channels
to look for other films from Hollywood or other forms of entertainment.
And in between other trash, we more than likely find other stuff to
Also, we, "Islamic/Arab/Third Worldish" are also more open
than western audiences but this is maybe because the cultural link is
a one-tunneled affair. Like it or not we are cultural receivers, and
I dare say, if western audiences were exposed to "our culture,"
the influence would be much more balanced; and they, western audiences,
would become cultural receivers too, willing to accept alternative cultures,
alternative point of views and alternative film.
In the past1980s when I was watching in the UKChannel 4
attempted to show films, including Arab, that depicted alternative cultures,
some were Egyptian, Algerian, and Moroccan. I remember thinking I wanted
to see films by Duraid Lahham, the Syrian political satirists, who in
the 1970s, was making fun of the Arab situation.
But the problem with the showings in general is they were consciously
catering for minority viewers, those especially be looking for such
things, whereas the objective should be today to show alternative cultures
to mass audiences whether they are British, Americans, Canadian and
so on and create better links of bondage that would go beyond political
narrow-mindedness and show there is a continuum of humanity among the
races of the world.
But critics might then jump on a different wagon and say showing alternative
film may not be popular with the English-speaking world audiences simply
because they are not used to subtitling as we are, say in the Arab world,
and thus would not watch the films, dramas or documentaries that are
in different languages.
In all fairness, that could well be the case as well. In the West, audiences
have become for want of a better word, "sophisticated" and
their attitudes molded to accept certain modes of watching. They have
been conditioned to have a limited time span where subtitling would
delay, serve an obstruction to the picture and the sound that is upfront.
Because these audiences live in the countries where these high-powered
films have been produced, there developed no tradition of attempting
to understand alternative cultures through film as is the case in Muslim/Arab/Third
© Marwan Asmar Feb 2008
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