Violence as Humour in Arabic TV Shows

Friday 8 May 202001:30 pm

Every year, with the onset of Ramadan, we await new TV shows that gather families in one of the most memorable bonding experiences around the Arab world. My family is no exception; after Iftar every night, we tune into the local TV station, Ro’ya, which broadcasts for a mostly Jordanian audience. Throughout the shows that we watch, I have noticed an alarming pattern: some of the shows we watch include scenes in which violence and aggression is played out as a joke.  

One show in particular, Watan Ala Watar, a comedy show, often portrays beating or screaming as funny. In this season’s eleventh episode, the final scene shows the father screaming at his own son, after which the episode ends. Episode 7 shows the protagonist running after his parents with the intention of beating them. The punchline in both of these episodes is the violence itself; an act of assault! This type of comedy isn’t limited to Watan Ala Watar. For example, Deya Elayyan, a Jordanian comedian famous for his Snapchat stories, filmed a skit where the ending punchline shows him screaming and about to beat his own wife.

Such “jokes” are problematic and cause great harm. For young audiences at a vital stage in their life where they will develop how they interact with others around them, these scenes teach them that violence is ok and fine. The media they consume now will affect the relationships they will develop later on in life. In those future relationship, they may resort to aggression and violence and end up harming others around them and become potential abusers.

 Why is violent content considered acceptable by Arab societies , but a kissing scene is considered immodest and a bad representation of our culture and norms? How did we ever end up in a society where love is immoral and violence is normal and funny?

Additionally, by portraying abusers on media, we are glorifying them and encouraging them to continue with their abuse. Abusers could use these shows as an excuse to continue with their behavior, and these shows become a safe space where they are reassured that what they are doing is not wrong. Also, through these media outlets we are sending an unwanted message that abuse is normal. Ultimately, this feeds into a vicious cycle causing innumerable amounts of new victims every day.

Even for audiences who have never experienced abuse, such content desensitizes them to violence. Think about how many kids being screamed at by their mother we’ve seen in the streets. It has become such a prevalent scene that we don’t think of as wrong anymore. The same logic applies to watching violence. The more we consume it, the more apathetic we become towards it. This, in turn, means that we are less likely to help victims of abuse since we might think that what they are going through is not that big of a deal.

Some, however, will argue that such violence in TV shows could be necessary for plot purposes. I fully agree with this point. The abuser could receive punishments for his or her actions later on in the show. A show of this sort informs the viewer that abuse is evil. However, in such shows where showing violence is “necessary”, it is very important to show disclaimers in the beginning. In the two examples mentioned above, disclaimers couldn’t be found anywhere, and Watan Ala Water is broadcasted as a family friendly show.

It puzzles me as to why violent content is considered acceptable by the society of the Arab World, but a kissing scene between two actors is considered immodest and a bad representation of the society. How did we ever end up in a society where love is immoral and violence is normal and funny? In a region where one in three girls have experienced physical or sexual violence, according to UN Women, media content promoting violence is plain unacceptable. Violence is never an answer to the difficulties in life, and the use of violence should never be portrayed as an action lacking repercussions. In order to fix this issue, we need content that promotes care and love, so who will be the first to create it?

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