Today at The Annenberg School for Communication, Penn University I`m gonna present my work on “Wilada min al-khasira” (Birth from the Waist) season three.
I`m posting the abstract of the talk here below, hopefully this should be published very soon. I`ll make sure to share info and links here.
This colloquium looks at the political economy of cultural production in Syria and at the power relations that shape it, within the country and in the broader Arab region; discussing how they might shift, recombine and adapt in the context of a three year old uprising turned into an armed conflict.
“Wilada min al-Khasira” (Birth from the Waist) Part Three – a Syrian TV drama from the 2013 Ramadan season – offers a privileged site for the analysis of these power relations, both for its plot which revolves around a peaceful protest movement soon turned into an armed struggle between corrupted and obscure powers, and for its exceptional context of production, where Syrian drama makers have to act simultaneously as observers and participants to events that are still unfolding.
In particular, the talk looks at the multiple strategies employed by these drama makers to cope with the complexity of a cultural text that aims at reaching out to a broad domestic audience with opposed views and contrasting positions vis-a-vis the responsibilities of the crisis in Syria and its possible solutions. Yet, at the same time, it has to operate as a commodity to be acquired by Gulf buyers and consumed on the Pan Arab market. Syrian drama makers have to engage with the multiple consumers of the cultural texts they produce by constantly shifting between the domestic and regional layer, where the relationship between Syrian and Gulf political elites has dramatically reconfigured as a result of Syria`s uprising. They are faced with the necessity of mediating between their need to survive both financially, as players in a profit-oriented market; and as citizens, in a country where the daily violence of the civil war and a stronger security grip have made life unbearable.
Dr. Della Ratta will argue that, while trying to cope with its multiple identities and consumption sites, “Wilada min al-Khasira” fails to fulfill the promise of edginess that the previous two seasons of the TV serial and the first episodes of part three seemed to suggest. In its efforts to reach out to several audiences and to serve both as a commodity and as a venue for contrasted visions of the nation and of a national project to come together, “Wilada min al-Khasira” ends up sending ambivalent messages shaped on a phony patriotism and a romanticized idea of the “people” as the only way out from a crisis where the parties are equally corrupt, violent, and driven by personal and material interests.
To this extent, “Wilada min al-Khasira” is unlikely to be described as a post-uprising serial, as it fails to suggest novel ways of thinking and looking at cultural products in the context of political unrest. On the contrary, this TV drama seems to reproduce a pattern in Syrian cultural production towards “tanwir” – enlightening the masses and driving social progress through edgy media content – which has failed to fulfill its promise of reformism; as much as the Syrian president’s much promoted vision of gradual political reforms seems to have succumbed to a security-minded strategy vis-a-vis the crisis. Yet, the research interest in “Wilada min al-Khasira” lies precisely in its unpacking the ambivalence of “tanwir” and of Bashar al-Assad`s era, and reflecting the frustrations of Syrian cultural producers for having failed ideas of unity, multiculturalism, non-sectarianism, that were widely promoted in the past decade through seemingly progressive media content.