Sunday, February 21, 2010

Bad TV

To all of the loyal readers out there in Hubbard Nation, I apologize for the long delay between posts. I’ll try to make up for it by writing a small novel here. I really don’t know where to begin, so I guess I’ll just pick up where I left off and talk about a couple of my new favorite TV shows.

First, I have to explain that there are almost no good actors in the Arab world. The worst actors in Hollywood are considered demigods in Amman (case in point: Jason Statham’s Transporter series is huge over here). Jordanian TV is no different and as a result most of it is imported—either from America or Europe (with Arabic subtitles), the Gulf states (via satellite channels like al-Jazeera, al-Arabiya, etc.), or from Turkey. My new favorite program, Masrooah Warad (literally, “Crying Flowers”), falls into the latter of these categories. It’s a soap opera, but with a twist: all of the males are in the Turkish mafia. It airs every day of the week including the weekends, so the plots are pretty thin on substance but heavy on drama. For example, this past week one of the “good” mafia guys (I really understand very little of what the characters say, but the acting is so over-the-top that you can instantly tell who is good or bad) named Amar was caught in a love triangle with Nermeen, the main female lead who looks like Penelope Cruz and has already captured my heart. The third leg of the triangle was Nermeen’s husband, whose name I can’t remember but who is in a rival gang. Anyway, about twenty minutes into the hour-long episode, Nermeen’s husband catches her and Amar sneaking around and shoots both of them. He takes Nermeen in his car to help her (because even though he shot her in a moment of rage, he still loves her), but leaves Amar for dead. The rest of the episode periodically cuts back to Amar, who is trying to crawl toward his SUV and reach his cellphone to call 911. At least ten times, Amar collapses in exhaustion only to try again minutes later. I laughed at the absurdity of it all and gave up with about five minutes left in the episode. Three days (also meaning three episodes) later, I was watching with my family and was astonished to see that Nermeen STILL HAD A GUNSHOT WOUND IN HER STOMACH. Apparently, her husband had taken her to a field (because that’s the first place you take a shooting victim) and, after a dramatic 5-minute monologue, left her for dead as well. She had to crawl through the woods for three days before finding a truck driver to take her to the hospital. And, as the girls in the audience were quick to point out, her hair and makeup was still perfect.

To make things even more interesting, the program is entirely in Arabic, which is dubbed over the original Turkish. Unfortunately, either the voice actors or the video editors sometimes decide to just mail it in and don’t even try to match the audio to characters’ lip movements. So during a pivotal scene, there will be audio when nobody on the screen is actually talking. Mix this idiosyncrasy with the incessant dramatic silences of a soap opera, and you have unintentional comedy at its finest. This is why I love Masrooah Warad—that, and the fact that almost everyone follows the show every night because it’s on during dinnertime.

My second new favorite TV show is actually a channel, called Zweidna Baladna (something like, “Our Music, Our Country”). It’s entirely Jordanian-produced music videos, but 90% of the footage is provided by the Jordanian Army and/or government. So the final product is pop music set against images of artillery demonstrations, soldiers marching, helicopter assaults, and every other kind of military exercise imaginable, plus the occasional video of King Abdullah speaking or greeting people. It’s very... Soviet, and the Cold War-era nationalism is weirdly mesmerizing. The only thing I can compare it to is watching a History Channel feature on the USSR, but that doesn’t do Zweidna Baladna justice—the History Channel uses old images, but Zweidna Baladna is a living anachronism. I really want to track down some bootleg DVDs for both of these programs so I can bring them to the states, but I don’t know how easy that will be—most of the bootlegs for sale on the street are of American movies.

Anyway, part of the reason I missed three episodes of Masrooah Warad was because I had an insanely busy weekend. Thursday after class we went out to a dance club. Zack, Luke, and I were rocking some pretty flamboyant clothes we picked up at the 5-dinar store—I believe I was wearing a 100% polyester gold and black pinstriped shirt, and Zack and Luke had similarly ridiculous outfits—and we got photographed for an Amman-based magazine called Layalna (“Our Night”). The camera flash only accentuated the sheen of our shirts, so we looked like 1970s boxing promoters. I really hope the magazine doesn’t publish these photographs because they could sink my future political career before it even takes off. Even before we got photographed, the club was a ton of fun but pretty expensive, so I don’t think I’ll be going back anytime soon. It was worth going once, though, if not just to have my first encounters with sloppy-drunk Jordanians (Not to brag, but I got hit on in stilted Engrish by a girl who was wobbling back and forth. Of course, her 5’4”, 180-pound frame awkwardly balanced on top of four-inch heels might have had something to do with this, too. Also, when I ducked in the bathroom to escape her, I saw an Arab dude on his knees puking into the toilet. His buddy just looked at me in exasperation and we both laughed. Good times.).

On Friday, after some much-needed sleep, I woke up early to go to the Friday market, which is a famous place where you can buy almost anything for ridiculously cheap prices. I picked up Zack in a taxi and we headed toward the center of town (fun GAWD: Worcester Ballad or “woost al-balad” means downtown). But when we got to the market, there was only an empty parking lot. Well, the parking lot wasn’t completely empty—it was actually ringed by taxi drivers and transport companies offering rides to Damascus, Beirut, Baghdad, and Saudi Arabia. In terms of sketchiness, the place was about on par with a Greyhound terminal, which isn’t that great of an endorsement. But I had no interest in traveling outside the country—I was just trying to buy some clothes for my upcoming homestay with the Bedouin. Luckily, Zack and I wound up getting a ride from Luke’s host dad Amar to the more touristy shopping district. Amar is a chain-smoker who works security for the king, and aside from my host dad he may be one of the most imposing guys I’ve met in Jordan. I was just excited to meet someone with the same name as the guy on Masrooah Warad; in America, this would be the equivalent of freaking out after meeting a guy named “Tony” because you saw an episode of The Sopranos. Amar negotiated with shopkeepers so we could buy dishdashes (traditional white Bad’ia robes) kaffiyas (red and white checkered headscarves), and all of the other stuff we will need for living in the desert for five days. Thanks to him, we managed to avoid paying “white people prices” and got all of the clothes we needed for 16 JD. Of course, I promptly turned profit to loss by spending 20 JD on the biggest Aladdin-style knife I could find (the thing is about as big as my shin, with a massive handle carved from sheep horn. Probably my best purchase so far).

Luke’s dad was also hilarious the whole time. He speaks almost no English, and Luke speaks very little Arabic. Actually, that’s not quite true. It’s more like Luke, a 6’2” blond kid, gets a kick out of being the whitest thing for miles around and enjoys accentuating the contrast between his pidgin Arabish and his host dad’s perfect Arabic. Amar gives it right back though—whenever there was a lull in conversation in the car or the market, Amar would just turn to Luke and say “sabah al-khayer” (which means “good morning”) in the most condescending tone he could muster. Amar is a nice guy, though—he invited us to his house that night to smoke hookah, which we did after a game of pickup soccer. On a side note, almost the entire time I saw Amar, he was smoking either hookah, cigarettes, or both. Luke says Amar approaches four packs a day, plus hookah, plus something called zarghoul (black tobacco with hookah coals on top, smoked through a hookah. It packs the biggest head rush I’ve ever experienced and is probably about as healthy as eating tar). Judging from what I’ve seen, Amar is not alone—smoking is the vice of choice here. It makes sense if you think about it—since drinking is forbidden by Islam, people just substitute smoking instead. Still, if the Arab world ever gets its tobacco settlement, every major cigarette company would instantly go bankrupt.

Also on Friday, I met my language partner Bashar. SIT provides language partners, usually university students, to meet with us outside of class for extra Arabic practice and also for the kind of language education that teachers can’t always provide. In our first meeting, he taught me a few very creative curses—like Spanish, Arabic swears are simultaneously incredibly foul and strangely poetic. Because Hubbard’s Adventures strives to be a family-friendly blog, I won’t provide any examples, but suffice to say that Bashar will be an excellent resource for broadening my Arabic horizons.

In between all of this, I finished some homework. School is already kind of a drag, though. The way I see it, academics shouldn’t occupy too much time during study abroad because the entire point of being abroad is to do things you can’t do in the U.S. I can do Arabic homework anywhere, but I can only travel and explore and use Arabic in the Middle East. I am excited for my monthlong independent study project (ISP) at the end of the program, though, which I’ll write about in my next post.

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