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Syrian Soaps and Longmore’s Telethon Dilema (A revised post)

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Hey, y’all! While checking out the BBC News website this afternoon, I came across this video about Syrian soap operasthat are beginning to “confront taboos and spark debate.” Below is the site’s summary of the video.

Ramadan is a time for prayer and reflection but it is also the most popular season to unveil new TV dramas in the Middle East.

Syrian soaps have become popular across the region in recent years due to their realistic plots which have also caused controversy.

Religious leaders in Syria have already called for one soap to be banned this year due to its hard-hitting storyline.

Lina Sinjab reports from Damascus.

Surprisingly, one of the examples of soaps that confront taboos are two soap operas that “talk about people with special needs.” The interviewee adds, “We didn’t talk about that before.” The video isn’t solely concerned with disability topics; however it is interesting to note the context in which disability appears here. A description of the taboos says that  they are “difficult to touch” in a public setting. Other examples of taboos in soaps are gay characters or characters critical of radical Islam.

Thoughts? This reminds me of our readings about the history of disability, specifically Western disability, and how the topic was/is a taboo and was/is associated with other taboos such as sexuality, ideology, or religious dissent.

Also, I’m curious to see if the portrayal of “people with special needs” on these Syrian soap operas is cliche, realistic, or a mixture. Perhaps the answer is obvious; they are, after all, soap operas.

As a psych major with an interest in cross-cultural psych and stigma associated with psychology, this video really gave me a lot to ponder.

Have a great weekend! Guess I just confirmed my nerd status by posting on a Friday afternoon. ; )

**BELOW you’ll find additional thoughts that I had on this topic after reading Longmore’s “The Cultural Framing of Disability: Telethons as a Case Study.” I originally posted this as a comment (also below!)***

…after reading Longmore’s “The Cultural Framing of Disability: Telethons as a Case Study,” I would argue that representations of disability on soap operas are similar to those on telethons.

Specifically, these representations share Garland-Thompson’s sentiments that “…The dominant mode of looking at the disability in this culture is staring” (502). Staring is precisely what people do when watching these representations on television. This staring, as Garland-Thompson theorizes, carries a lot of weight and “constitut[es] the starer as normal and the object of the stare as different, it creates disability as a state of absolute difference, rather than as simply one more variation in human form” (502).

As stated in my original post and as evident in the news clip, the object – disability in our case – created as a state of absolute difference is similar to the other “taboos” mentioned in the video (homosexuality, etc.) Just as Longmore argues in his article, these representations are very problematic because television “seems to posses even more truth-value than photography” (504).

Just as concerning is Longmore’s argument that “live television seems to posses even more truth-value than photography” and that “the seeming veraciousness of television masks the extent to which the makers of live TV manufacture the ‘reality’ of the present” (504).

When soap operas or telethons are some of the only representations of disability in a culture, then there is a risk that the very conveyance of this topic (television media) can skew the reality of disability.

Any ideas for improvements?

Written by Robert

August 27th, 2010 at 4:29 pm