Localisms and Regionalisms

[from "Turks Put Twist in Racy Soaps," NYT, June 17, 2010]

In today's NY Times, there's a fascinating article about the success of Turkish soap operas in the Arab world. Trying to account for the success of the programs and what they might mean about global and globalized culture, Michael Kimmelman writes:
If [the success of these shows] seems like a triumph of Western values by proxy, the Muslim context remains the crucial bridge. “Ultimately, it’s all about local culture,” said Irfan Sahin, the chief executive of Dogan TV Holding, Turkey’s largest media company, which owns Kanal D. “People respond to what’s familiar.” By which he meant that regionalism, not globalism, sells, as demonstrated by the finale of “Noor” last summer on MBC, the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based, pan-Arab network that bought rebroadcast rights from Mr. Sahin. A record 85 million Arab viewers tuned in.

That said, during the last 20 years or so Turkey has ingested so much American culture that it has experienced a sexual revolution that most of the Arab world hasn’t, which accounts for why “Noor” triumphed in the Middle East but was considered too tame for most Turks. Even Mr. Sahin wonders, by contrast, whether the racier “Ask-i Memnu,” a smash with young Turks, threatens to offend Arabs unless it is heavily edited.

What's particularly interesting about the article is the distinction it draws between regionalisms and globalisms. Instead of signaling a commitment to some kind of global lifestyle (one implicitly Western), these soap operas - and their reception in the Arab world - signal a regional commitment. With more time, it might be interesting to try to link the popularity of these shows (and these notions of regionalism and globalism) with Anna Tsing's recent work - "The Global Situation" and "Inside the Economy of Appearances" in particular.

But as a brief conclusion, the NYT piece prompts us to think about the local variations and practices through which 'culture' is produced and comes to matter. And further: How are cultural productions like these soap operas also commitments to a particular way of thinking about the world, of drawing boundaries that help to constitute categories of 'us' and 'them'? Certainly not anything I have an answer for, but something to continue thinking about.


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