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The Politics of Media

Session XI-15, 2022 Annual Meeting

On Sunday, December 4 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • Many Iranian cultural products about the Iran-Iraq war which could be considered as counter-memories do not operate and have not been produced outside of the general horizon of the "sacred defense". Many of them, even in a marginal way, are part of the sacred defense discourse but have problematized it through various, dispersed, and subtle means of transgression while at the same time they have contributed to the reinforcement of some other aspects of the official memory by reflecting, responding to, and reappropriating dominant components. By way of a comparative study of the works of late and early Iranian cinema of "sacred defense", this paper aims to map the internal dynamics of the official memory of Iran-Iraq War. It explores the negotiations of meaning and power inside the “sacred defense” discourse in order to demonstrate the effects of multiple and subtle acts of transgression and defiance on the cultural memory of Iran-Iraq war in Iranian society. Late sacred defense cinema is evidently much less engaged in refashioning prior elements of commemorative Shi’ism, and slightly and subtly shies away from all sorts of propaganda that once characterized the genre. Moreover, It reintroduces key elements like trauma, mourning and nationalism in ways that are out of keeping with the early state-backed representations of the war. As a result of a continuous process of commenting on, reproducing and replacing the previous scared defense stories by the new stories, in other words, the continuous process of “remediation”, sacred defense as a site of memory has remarkably transformed in the long run and in a way that is threatening to its core tenets. In other words, as an analysis of many works of late sacred defense cinema demonstrates, state-backed attempts to propagate the memory of the “sacred defense” at times end up undermining the legitimacy of the state, as the ultimate goal of propagating the official memory of war, rather than consolidating it.
  • This paper analyzes media content about theologically charged rhetoric used by Egyptian Islamists after they came to power in post 2011-Egypt. Many believe that satirist Bassem Youssef was central in turning public opinion against the Islamists. This research is based on 60 structured interviews I conducted with Muslim Egyptians (ages 20 to 35) between 2018 and 2019 and an analysis of Bassem Youssef’s show “al-Barnameg.” When Muhammad Mursi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader, was elected president in 2012, opponents of the Brotherhood felt emboldened to challenge and mock the new president and his decisions. The revolution and Mursi’s inability to control the airwaves allowed for freedom of the press to flourish, despite ultimately hurting the Brotherhood’s image. My interlocutors noted that the media, both traditional and social, made them aware of Mursi’s perceived political ineptitude and lack of charisma. Bassem Youssef, described as Egypt's Jon Stewart, played an important role in raising awareness about the missteps of the Islamists. The visuality of the Islamist beard, on which Youssef capitalized throughout his show, became symbolically important. The beard and what it represented reflected a serious political and social reality: a palpable divide between those who referred to themselves as Islamists and anyone who opposed them. Youssef made fun of bearded Muslim preachers and politicians mercilessly, much to the delight of his audience. He exposed the Islamists’ and their supporters’ use of religious discourse to legitimize Mursi’s rule (Armbrust 2019). Youssef’s show made some of the disappointing and shocking statements made by Islamists memorable to many people, including my interlocutors. Some of those moments were further immortalized on social media in short soundbites that people shared. Gordon and Arafa (2014) argue that Youssef’s “orientation is clearly secular,” but I contend that he did not shy away from his identity as a Muslim. Youssef wanted to shame the Brotherhood’s bearded supporters for preaching one type of outward religiosity but displaying another when their political interests were at stake. Youssef’s disappointment in, perhaps even disgust with, the Muslim preachers who openly attacked their opponents, reflected the negative moral emotions many of my interlocutors also harbored toward the preachers in the aftermath of the Islamists’ short political tenure and the ultimate defeat of the revolution.
  • The present study’s aim is to examine short narrative texts, jokes, and flash fiction written or performed by young Kuwaiti writers, artists, bloggers, and social media influencers, with focusing on texts that include hidden messages reflecting their reaction to the pandemic—whether positive or negative. In addition, the study will investigate the self-narration, representation, and the differentiation between the “I” as Kuwaiti citizens and the “Other” as foreigners who live in the Kuwaiti society and who has been treated as the ‘imagined enemy’ who was the main cause of the COVID-19 pandemic during the last three years. This study draws on reader response theory by Todd Davis and Kenneth Womack, and humor techniques from N. Roukes’ Humor in Art book to analyze the writer-message-reader matrix. It examines elements of sarcasm and irony, as these are not so much verbally expressed as subtly suggested. Hence, this study focuses on two functions regarding people’s behavior and sociability, namely humor for a positive purpose and advocacy to confront fear and anxiety by mocking a position, political decision, or a certain social reaction. For that purpose, I chose to analyze jokes distributed via social media and a Kuwaiti artist’s Bader bῑn Ghaith cartoon drawings. The methodology of this paper is to observe hidden messages as kind of psychological stress relief through humor during the pandemic (e.g., published narrative texts on Twitter and Instagram) that carries justified components of aggression, as Freud described it, noting that humor can be analyzed via two key components: (1) instinctive material, usually sexual or aggressive, and (2) the formal structure or technique providing excuses or social tolerance for provoking such taboo and socially suppressed feelings. Such jokes allow others to share unacceptable tendencies in twisted ways, and an aggressive person may express his or her feelings of humor rather than expressing them explicitly. In conclusion, we can examine humor as an expression tool related to a particular social activity or event and the surrounding environment. Additionally, the extent to which society receives humor can be viewed as a type of collective expression. For example, a person not only tells the joke to himself but must share it with others who can absorb and decipher its meaning to complete the joke’s position and intended purpose.
  • This paper will present a comparative reading of two Beiruti newspapers to illustrate how a diverse set of actors competed and collaborated with each other to develop novel discursive paradigms in late Ottoman Beirut. The first major wave of mass-circulated newspapers in the Ottoman Empire appeared in Beirut in the 1870s. This paper analyzes two of the most prominent newspapers in Beirut, the well-known al-Jinān, published by Nahḍa luminary Buṭrus al-Bustānī, and the lesser-known al-Bashīr, a reactionary periodical edited by Louis Cheikho, a Catholic priest and philologist at the Université Saint-Joseph. It will compare how these two very different newspapers covered the major European political events of 1871: the Paris Commune, the Carlist Wars in Spain, and German unification under Bismarck. Although they ostensibly claim to provide an impartial news chronicle to their readers, their coverage of these events is deeply biased along ideological lines. This dissonance provides an insight into the narrative emplotment encoded in late nineteenth-century Arab/ic intellectual history and interrogates notions that the printed word heralded a “Liberal Age” in the Arab world. Instead, newspapers largely catered to existing communities and ontologies, as entrenched power-brokers simply co-opted the new technology to advance their own partisan agendas and alternative facts. Between the lines, the emergence of a distinct anticolonial sensibility can nevertheless be discerned. Both progressive and conservative newspapers strongly condemned Habsburg military incursions in the Balkans on the basis of a shared anti-European Ottoman solidarity that transcended the political ire, even as they promoted economic liberalization in Beirut as a strategic means of local resistance against the Ottoman sultan. This paper argues that the disruptive new technology of mass journalism had a powerful impact on the city's media environment, both challenging and reinforcing existing power hierarchies.
  • In this intervention, I will examine the independent film Ashab…wa la ‘Az (Dearest of Friends 2022) an Arabic Netflix adaptation of the Italian movie Perfect Strangers (2016), and the controversies ignited on social media due to its engagement with controversial issues such as: infidelity and homosexuality. The film struck a cord with the Egyptian viewers for its frank depiction of infidelity, the secret lives individuals have in their cell phones, and what they perceived as the normalization of homosexuality. Despite the fact that the movie was produced by Front Row company, rather than an Arab production entity, and aired on Netflix (an independent American company), cries were abound demanding its removal from the Egyptian airwaves. There were calls for banning its airing in the Egyptian media, a lawsuit to ban its circulation, an emergency statement from the Egyptian congress, and a proposed law criminalizing homosexuality. The social media campaign against Ashab…wa la ‘Az took issue with the character of actress Mona Zaki taking off her underwear off camera. In addition to frankly addressing premarital sex, infidelity, and homosexuality, viewers critiqued what they dubbed as the systematic attack on Arabic societal values and morals. There was little mention, of course, of a three-decade old movie Al-Sadah al-Rijal (Respectable Men, 1986) in which the character of Mahmoud ‘Abd al-‘Aziz takes off all of his clothes without any public outcry. I argue that critics of this film and proponents of conspiracy theory, which first circulated when the LGBT flag was displayed in public in a Lebanese band “Mashru’ Leila” concert performance, often resort to this tactic when the typical cinematic formula that depicts same-sex individuals in a comical or villainous light is broken. This shift to a more humane, well-rounded depiction of these historically ostracized figures, gives a variegated depth to their personae. The generated empathy to these LGBT strangers of the Arab house creates fear and a sense of anxiety that films such as Ashab…wa la ‘Az unleashes in the collective Arab psyche.
  • Media, journalists, and writers were suppressed for decades in Iraq. Freedom of media and expression were severely limited. Censorship was top priority for the governments in Iraq until 2003. This article is designed to investigate and analyze the development of media in Iraq since 2003. With the beginning of the new era, diversified media and free press and expression thought to be one of the most distinguished achievements in the country. As institution, the media reflect the status of political perspectives, debates, and the economic developments, and social movements in the country. The data of this article come from interviewing 10 journalists, 5 Television news managers, 5 media writers, and the examination of media archive in various libraries in the country. The current study is a secondary data analysis of three developmental waves of 2003-2007, 2007-2015, and 2015-2021 for media growth in the country. Exploring the Iraqi media landscape over the three waves is associated with the degree of people involvement in politics and social movements. The agenda setting theory and its main propositions highlights how the Iraqi public utilizes the press, television, and social media to determine the political, social, cultural, and religious importance of an issue. Data analysis and interviews revealed how the public assign certain values to various issues and topics according to what media decide to cover and discuss. One leading question among other critical questions is which are the thematic agendas and how did they progress in the Iraqi media?