Syrians and the “surplus” of Syrian drama

Ramadan started few days ago, and this is a very different one this year. Over the past years I`ve tried to report as much as I could about the most interesting TV drama productions in the Region and to discuss important issues related to musalsalat industry in the Arab world (financing, advertising etc). But this year is different. And even for professional media analysts it`s still very hard to watch Ramadan musalsalat without thinking of the events unfolding in the Region, particularly in Syria.

These days Ramadan is celebrated all across the world and Damascus, the hub of Syrian TV fiction production -and my second home, too-, is witnessing clashes in the streets, bombing, shelling.

While watching the Syrian musalsalat production for 2012 -which I will try to review in a later post-  I can`t help going back with my memory to an episode of comedic musalsal Buqa`t al-Daw (Spotlight), the famous Syrian TV drama which sprouted from the very brief opening of the Damascus Spring 2000-2001. Everybody, at the time, had strong hopes that the country would go under serious reforms, both economic and political. The Damascus Spring was soon over but the musalsal went on, for many seasons (it has now reached its 9th).

The episode I would like to tell you about is called Al-sirr (The secret) and was part of Spotlight`s season 7 (aired two years ago, in 2010, before the uprising started). 

A meeting is held between Syrian officials and representatives of foreign countries from the five continents in order to exchange experiences in managing a country`s economy. The foreigners are very interested to learn how Syria can manage its economy so well. Syrian officials are keen on explaining their secret which lies in the “excess value”, “surplus” (qyma za`da). A scene features a citizen who has to submit documents to a public official. The official cost of this operation is 50 Syrian Pound but the citizen pays 950 Syrian Pound in excess (qyma za`da), in order to have the public employee speeding up his documentation.

In the following scene a mazot seller meets up with a citizen shivering for the cold. The mazot is sold above its real price, so the excess value which was paid in the former scene has been re-gained. This is the shared chain (silsila mushtaraka) that lies at the basis of economic circulation in Syria. Syrian officials that are featured in the musalsal proudly explain that this “secret” (the title of the musalsal episode is al sirr, the secret) finally secures economic balance, as everybody pays the qyma za`da in order to get services, while the state pays nothing.

The musalsal concludes that the production of state economy (intaj al iqtisaad al-dawla) is based on what the citizens produce (intaj al muwatin): this process triggers a virtuous circle where the citizen, even if only paid 200 dollars monthly, will make profit at someone else`s expenses, and the latter will do the same, until the chain will be complete. Within this informal economy a citizen can earn even 10 times more his official salary, without being a burden for the state.

Through comedy and laughter, the musalsal reminds citizens that they are all part of the system and complicit with it. Corruption can be denounced and individuals can be removed, but resisting the system that generates that corruption is useless, since everybody is part of it. Every citizen is a gear of this mechanism and contributes to its survival; as the system`s survival is intertwined with personal survival.

This is how Syrian citizens have been constantly reminded, as audiences of tanwiri (enlightened) inspired media content like Spotlight and many other Syrian “neo-realist” musalsalat, to be culpable of perpetrating the social diseases that afflict Syrian society. 

How different it is to watch al sirr right now, in 2012..

Syrian people have become aware that denouncing corruption was a trick perpetrated by the system itself, helped by seemingly progressive media content. Let`s not forget that the production company who has been producing Spotlight for 9 years, Syrian Art Production International, is owned by Mohamed Hamsho, former Syrian MP and involved in different business deals with the Assad`s family.

Encouraging laughter over social and political problems was a way to relief Syrian citizens but also to remind them that any form of resistance was impossible, as they were complicit with the corrupted system and its rotten mechanisms. If there is an already accomplished result of the 2011 Syrian uprising, it is that Syrians have clearly refused these accusations to be a gear of the corrupted system. They have refused to be assimilated to it as its natural component. They have said no to corruption as a  part of their daily lives and their society`s life.  

Syrians won`t be laughing again.

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