Posted by on September 24, 2012 in Blog

By Emily Jabareen

2012 Fall Intern

People are exploding on the street! Though no amount of pent up stress can ever induce such a result, the producers of the popular Syrian drama “Buqa’t Al-Daw” (spotlight) thought it a befitting plot to shed light on the eruption of the Syrian revolution. Buq’at Al-Daw has been known for pushing the limits in its coverage of issues normally floating outside governmentally-conscribed borders of scrutiny. The popular satire, running since 2001 and now in its ninth season, has traditionally provided Syrians an unconventional “release valve;” combining a potent mix of humor and bitter reality in a searing analysis of Syrian social and political currents. The show is also a big hit with a large segment of Syrians living outside the country.

For Syrian Americans, the cherished productions of Syrian drama are a way to maintain connections with historical roots. Depictions of old ‘byoot shamiyeh’ (Syrian houses) with open courtyards and scenes of neighbors coming together for a ‘sahra’ over a table filled with traditional Syrian foods have popularized Syrian dramas with a unique cultural tone. The Syrian drama industry has also been widely exported to neighboring Arab countries as a staple of Ramadan evening programming, a hallmark of regional dramatic achievement.  

This year, however, Syrians experienced Ramadan under completely different circumstances. With a violent revolution still raging, claiming the lives of Syrians daily, the fantastic sparkles of drama have lost much of their luster, deposed by the dramatic realities unfolding on the ground. Even Buqa’t Al-Daw, once bravely treading the fine lines between artistic expression and sedition seems mild by comparison. With the ongoing violence, Syrians pay no heed to the fear underlying social structures of old. Syrian artists and journalists opposing President Bashar Al-Assad have ripped the proverbial edges of the envelope altogether and have moved on to bold declarations of dissatisfaction.

A new mode of artistic expression has emerged, one operating outside the geographical and conceptual borders of Syria. In the Prince Claus Fund Gallery, Amsterdam, a “Culture in Defiance” is taking hold. The event, organized by Syrian artists committed to “continuing traditions of satire and art” adds a new and lively repertoire of defiance to the manifesting, albeit brutal, struggle for freedom in Syria. Perhaps the most notable piece is Masasit Mati’s puppet show “Top Goon: Diaries of a Little Dictator,”  which depicts current Syrian leader Bashar Al-Assad as a fumbling buffoon, stumbling about in an incoherent effort to maintain power. The show is vivid and captivating, and portrays in stark scenes the grim truth of violent government suppression.

It is no wonder then that such expressions have left previously respected shows like “Buqa’t Al-Daw” feeling a little cold and out of touch. As the Syrian revolution continues to break with and shatter social and political norms, artistic expressions that do not follow the trend are slowly being washed away. Though “Buqa’t Al-Daw” attempts to access people’s frustrations through the episode, the show ends apologetically. An odd contraption is developed to relieve people’s stress and prevent them from spontaneously imploding on the streets. The revolution is not recognized as a legitimate means to change, and the show ends on a dispiriting note.

The contrast between artistic forms figuratively exploding onto the scene in response to and in tandem with the Syrian uprising and conventional Syrian dramas, leaves doubt as to whether more timid traditional portrayals of literal explosions will continue to hold sway with Syrian Americans. Syrian drama is already on the decline. Only 23 new dramas were produced in 2012, a drastic reduction from the usual 30 to 40 productions. Egypt, along with Gulf countries refused to purchase new Syrian dramas this year, accusing the industry of supporting the government.

Most Syrians living abroad, including Syrian Americans, have also showed signs of abandoning the Syrian silver screen, preferring to follow live news feeds emerging from Syria with possible news of family and loved ones. In light of events, it seems Syrian Drama can no longer occupy center stage until the curtains are drawn on the Syrian revolution.

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