Reality Television and Arab Politics: Contention in Public Life

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What does it mean to be modern outside the West? Based on a wealth of primary data collected over five years, Reality Television and Arab Politics analyzes how reality television stirred an explosive mix of religion, politics, and sexuality, fueling heated polemics over cultural authenticity, gender relations, and political participation in the Arab world. The controversies, Kraidy argues, are best understood as a social laboratory in which actors experiment with various forms of modernity, continuing a long-standing Arab preoccupation with specifying terms of engagement with Western modernity. Women and youth take center stage in this process. Against the backdrop of dramatic upheaval in the Middle East, this book challenges the notion of a monolithic “Arab Street” and offers an original perspective on Arab media, shifting attention away from a narrow focus on al-Jazeera, toward a vibrant media sphere that compels broad popular engagement and contentious political performance.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“[Reality television] in Arabia is especially popular, as elsewhere, with women and younger viewers…The cumulative effect of this kind of television, Kraidy argues, is to stimulate, across the entire region, a fierce debate about the meaning of modernity and the role (for good or ill) of television in pushing the boundaries of permissible discourses and behaviors, and thus contributing to changes in social attitudes and relations…Kraidy’s pioneering study of the impact of Arab RTV entertainment genres is an important contribution to our understanding of the global impact of media and communication and deserves the widest possible readership across the humanities and social sciences. It is an exemplary study of the real and surprising complexities of societal modernization in today’s fully globalized and mediatized world.”
– Paddy Scannell, University of Michigan, Political Communication

“Kraidy demolishes the notion that Arab television is all about news programs, and everything else is ‘mere entertainment.’ Reality Television and Arab Politics leaves no doubt that entertainment must be taken seriously. This book is indispensable for the study and teaching of Arab media.”
-Walter Armbrust, St. Anthony’s College, Oxford University

“What a splendid book! With a focus on the reality TV genre, Marwan Kraidy offers a wide-ranging analysis of Arab media in a process of dramatic change, highlighting how they in turn contribute to the dynamics of political, social and cultural transitions. These media take on profound relevance in regard to democratization, evolving notions of collective and individual identity, and perceptions of modernization. In a series of fascinating case studies, he traces the reception of pan-Arab reality TV programming, elucidating audience patterns, responses from political and religious elites, and the often intense ‘culture wars’ that emerge between various factions. In the process, we learn a good deal about Arab politics and culture, as well as specifics about these societies and the sharp contrasts between them: Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Dubai. Not least we are offered insights into the complex character of Islam, and the some of the key issues that it is facing, especially in regard to new media cultures. This volume should attract many readers from a variety of disciplines. Kraidy writes with a fine style, and his text is both lucid and engaging. The case studies are structured almost as mini-thrillers. He tells a compelling story with each one – and in the end leaves the reader very edified.”
-Peter Dahlgren, Lund University, Sweden

“Marwan Kraidy is the best analyst of television we have. Perhaps his greatest expertise is to do with reality television and the Arab world. So when he puts these elements together, the result is riveting. More than that, it provides an essential guide to the future of media and cultural analysis more generally, because Kraidy has an eye for the large canvas as well as the minute detail. A remarkable work.”
-Toby Miller, author of Makeover Nation: The United States of Reinvention

“We’ve all heard about the satellite news revolution in the Middle East, but Marwan Kraidy shows the revolution on the ground. Reality TV simultaneously evokes and mirrors the ambitions of Arabs to become modern on their own terms. Kraidy’s broad narrative sweep reflects the desires of those who use reality TV to achieve power, money, and fame; he analyzes just as acutely its viewers and fans whose aim is to find unspoiled heroes and alternative universes where cherished values are untarnished by religious and political cant.”
-Mary Ann Tetreault, Trinity University, Texas

“This important book introduces a much needed internationally comparative dimension to the analysis of the global trade in reality television formats, as well as providing a detailed, nuanced, and exhaustively researched account of the production and consumption of reality TV in the Arab world. Marwan Kraidy demonstrates the dramatic socio-cultural impact of reality TV in this context, outlining a far more complicated and politically contingent role than is usually understood by Western accounts of the format.”
-Graeme Turner, University of Queensland, Australia

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521749046
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 11/30/2009
  • Series: Communication, Society and Politics Series
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 270
  • Sales rank: 1,161,256
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Marwan M. Kraidy is Associate Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Pennsylvania. Previously a Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and Director of the Arab Media and Public Life (AMPLE) project, Kraidy has authored Hybridity, or, The Cultural Logic of Globalization (2005) and co-edited Global Media Studies: Ethnographic Perspectives (2003). He has written widely and contributed frequently to media discussions of Arab media and global communication, mostly on National Public Radio.

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Table of Contents

Introduction: beyond al-Jazeera; 1. Screens of contention: the battle for Arab viewers; 2. Voting Islam off the island? Big Brother in Bahrain; 3. The Saudi-Lebanese connection; 4. Contesting reality: Star Academy and Islamic authenticity in Saudi Arabia; 5. Gendering reality: Kuwait in the eye of the storm; 6. A battle of nations: Superstar and the Syrian-Lebanese media war; 7. The 'new Middle East'? Reality television and the 'independence intifada'; Conclusion: performing politics, taming modernity; Appendix.

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