Dramas of Nationhood: The Politics of Television in Egypt Review

Dramas of Nationhood: The Politics of Television in Egypt
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Dramas of Nationhood: The Politics of Television in Egypt ReviewI have no firsthand knowledge of Egyptian TV dramas, and I read this book as an introduction to Egyptian contemporary society. This is a serious scholarly work, based on extended fieldwork and with firm grounding in cultural anthropology. At the same time, the book is inspired by a feeling of sympathy and respect for the many women that the author interviewed or spent time with: village dwellers in Upper Egypt, household maids and nannies in Cairo, as well as professionals engaged in the making, diffusion or commentary of TV dramas.
Abu-Lughod treats the relationship between television and its viewers as an encounter mediated by class, gender and national ideology. The world that her viewers inhabit is often light-years away from the urban middle class lifestyle and modern values that are reflected in melodramas. These two worlds sometimes collide, as when television serials raise contentious issues such as rural backwardness, women emancipation or the influence of radical Islam, themes that echo differently among secular producers and their underprivileged audiences. But more often than not, women viewers develop a sentimental attachment to the lively characters and roller-coaster plotlines that become part of their everyday life.
There are at least three ways that TV melodramas help produce a sense of nationhood and contribute to the shaping of modern subjects. First, by riveting the whole population to their TV sets at certain hours of the day, regardless of class, gender or regional affiliation, they provide a unifying tempo and a common set of reference that become an inexhaustible source for gossip and everyday conversations. Second, more than Latin America's telenovelas, these melodramatic dramas are often closely tied to political and social issues. According to Abu-Lughod, they serve as a vehicle for an ideology of developmentalism that idealizes education, progress and modernity as a solution to the nation's backwardness. This national ideology is currently on the defensive, assaulted by the thrust of Islamism and globalism that offer competing visions for Egypt's future, but it still dominates the national media and inspires many TV writers and directors, who like to think of themselves as being the voice of the people. Third, Egyptian dramas are not only a national phenomenon: they are also watched enthusiastically across the Arab world, propelling local actresses to international stardom and giving Egyptians a sense of national pride and moral superiority.
For those who despair that Hollywood or the American television industry dominates and defines globalization, the success of Egyptian melodramas suggests that nationhood is still a pervasive force that shapes individuals' sense of being and belonging.Dramas of Nationhood: The Politics of Television in Egypt Overview

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