Muslim Voices — Hybridity
0:00:06:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: Welcome to Muslim Voices. I'm your host, Rosemary Pennington. In ancient times, a chimaera was a mythical beast - a hybrid creature. It had the body of a lion, a tail that was basically a snake and a goat's head sprouting out of its back. Oh, and it also breathed fire. There's a modern version of the chimaera, although not in animal form and certainly not fire breathing. Today's chimaeras tend to be the cultural kind and are the focus of scholars who study the idea of hybridity. At its heart, cultural hybridity is related to globalization. It states basically that virtually all culture is the result of mixing. There's not a place on Earth where the main culture doesn't have traces of some other. The University of Pennsylvania's Marwan Kraidy studies hybridity with a special focus on the Arab world and spoke about what he's found.
0:01:01:>>MARWAN KRAIDY: One of the interesting things is that reality TV was one of the most - has been for since 2004, one of the most popular kinds of programs. And these are shows that are typically brought in as a format from Europe, from the UK or from Holland which were the big - which are where the big format houses are. And then they adapted in Arabic. So you have the Arabic version of Big Brother. You have the Arabic version of Pop Idol, which we know here in the U.S. as American Idol. And they are adapted - typically, they are adapted in Lebanon. Some of them in Dubai but for the most part in Lebanon, and then they are broadcast via satellite to 22 Arab countries. And what I was interested in finding out number one was why were these shows so controversial? Because they were. There were basically kind of moral panics around them, arguments, some op ed pages, talk shows, governments establishing new media policies to kind of get these shows off the airwaves, stuff like that. And one of the reasons was because of the way they are a hybrid arrangement. So they are shows that are done in Arabic in the local language. However - and they feature local participants because people who are in them tend to be from the Arab world, from Saudi Arabia, from Morocco, from Lebanon. However, what opponents saw in these shows was a hybrid creature of local language, local participants with foreign values and foreign lifestyles. And so that's why this kind of hybrid was very controversial. It was opposed. And one of the results, one of the most fascinating results of this opposition is that you saw that increasingly reality shows tend to appeal to local values. So we saw a lot of poetry - reality shows focused on poetry. And poetry is a very important part of Arab culture. There were some shows focused on prayer and recitation of the Koran, which is - obviously resonates with religious people. And now there's a new show called Stars of Science that basically young kids, young people compete with scientific experiments. So this is seen as something that's using a format that was opposed, because it was seen as foreign and meaningless, for positive meaningful objectives.
0:03:16:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: Listening to you talk about hybridity reminds me of the debates over cultural imperialism that were taking place not all that long ago. And I'm wondering how would you explain to people the difference between cultural imperialism and hybridity? How is hybridity not just another form of cultural imperialism?
0:03:38:>>MARWAN KRAIDY: It's a different kind of cultural domination and cultural imperialism. I'll give you a couple of examples. One of the ways in which - you know when Herbert Schiller and his colleagues wrote about media and cultural imperialism in the '70s and the '80s, you had a very direct way in which Western governments, especially the U.S., would support some friendly governments and would also kind of impose programs through a variety of political and economic instruments on other countries. What you see now is a bit different. It's still a kind of obviously a lopsided arrangement, but it's a bit different and in a couple of ways. The first way is that it's true that a lot of these reality shows kind of reflect a high commercialization, a set of values, you know, individual competition in a very ruthless way, stuff like that, that people identify as kind of typically U.S. values. At the same time, the big format houses are not in the U.S., and this could be you know being too picky about how to splice this. But the big format houses are - there's Endemol. This is the largest, I believe. It's in Holland. The other one is in the U.K., and the bottom line is that it's really not the U.S. dictating its values as much as it is the global economy, which is to a large extent dominated by the U.S. and by U.S. firms. But - so these shows are not - you know they are in the Arabic language. They are adapted. They are done by local channels. They are produced by local channels whereas in the past, for instance, you used to see - I don't know - whether it was Dallas or then 10 years later or 20 years later Baywatch. Those were made in the U.S., imported and then dubbed and shown on national television channels all over the world. Nowadays the shows that dominate primetime all over the world tend to be local shows - many of them adapted from global formats. So it's - there's a different - there are kind of nuances of how the West is still a very dominant cultural and economic force but it's done now relatively indirectly through local and regional media industries.
0:05:50:>>ROSEMARY PENNINGTON: Marwan Kraidy is an associate professor in the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication. He's written two books touching on cultural hybrids - "Hybridity: The Cultural Logic Of Globalization" and the more recent "Reality Television and Arab Politics: Contention in Public Life." This has been Muslim Voices, a production of Voices and Visions in partnership with WFIU public media from Indiana University. Support comes from the Social Science Research Council. Music was provided by Animus. You can find Muslim Voices on Twitter and Facebook as well as subscribe to our Podcast in iTunes. There's a blog at muslimvoices.org.