Practical jokes and pranks are funny. Or so it seems. Millions are made by TV shows that shock hapless victims into behaviour they never dreamed to display outside the privacy of their own homes. Audiences are riveted by reality shows the world over as the underbelly of society gets dragged in front of a camera to show off how bad it can really get. And we gleefully watch, congratulating ourselves on being miles above those swearing, smacking and slapping their way across our screens.
As time passes, creators of these shows are hard pressed to find new ways to repeat the same trick and as a result the concepts sink deeper into the mire of inappropriate and embarrassing. And this is where we find ourselves this Ramadan, as we settle on our couches to enjoy the tradition of watching the plethora of especially produced TV series that flood the ether.
Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against watching TV and years ago I enjoyed the exploits of Hag Mitwally as much as the next person. Hidden-camera shows have never been a favourite of mine. I can’t help rooting for the unfortunate victim and often end up cringing with embarrassment and shame on their behalf. I stopped watching this kind of entertainment years ago, short glimpses of YouTube clips that friends would put in front of me only affirmed my conviction that it just wasn’t for me.
Being entertained by the misfortune of others is nothing new – the expression ‘Roman holiday’ coins it nicely. Taken from a poem by Lord Byron, it describes the fate of a gladiator who expects to be butchered to ‘make a Roman holiday.’ Romans enjoyed watching men hack each other in pieces and lions tearing Christians to shreds. The bread and games that kept the common man happy were not complete without some violence.
The modern day arena is a small TV studio on an Egyptian cable channel and the game is classic hidden-camera-fun, taken to a whole new level. The show is pre-recorded and features a wisp of a woman interviewing a celebrity in a talk-show setting. The guests think they are visiting a German channel, as they have been ensured by the producers when they were invited. Leading questions entice the celebrities to give their opinion of all things Israeli and once they have expressed themselves, no holds barred, a pretend caller reveals the hapless actor, comic, or whatnot the show airs on an Israeli channel.
And then the, what is supposedly, fun starts. Heated discussions and anger on being misled are to be expected and fair enough. A skinny young man shows up to fan the flames further in what is a pretend commercial break, deliberately pushing every conceivable button of the irate guest.
Throwing parts of a set around, physically assaulting a producer and smacking a female presenter in a corner is apparently funny. Standing ovations from the abused crew and congratulations on patriotism of the violator are deemed appropriate. People keep telling me it is hilarious. Personally, I don’t think hitting a woman is okay. Ever. Physically assaulting anyone is unacceptable. Even my dark, sarcastic sense of humour cannot find the fun in any of this.
Preying on stereotypes, deeply held beliefs and ugly emotions such as hatred and misogyny are a sure way to provoke heated arguments. The bigger the emotions, the more people will watch. The powers that be decided it would be an appropriate show to air in this month of fasting and reflection.
And there I was, thinking that part of Ramadan was being pure in intentions, thoughts and actions. I guess as a foreigner I just do not really understand these things.