Our Ancestors, Our Heroes: Saudi Tribal Campaigns to Suppress Historical Docudramas
Working Paper #49, Summer 2012
Abstract: Scholars of Arab media have explored key aspects of Gulf-Levant media integration in the wake of the privatization of Arab media over the past several decades. Their studies tend to characterize the controversies that arise from this integration in terms of the relative influence of Islamist or religious values on producers and consumers. Yet behind these Gulf-Levant tensions, this paper will argue, there is also a different cultural logic at work, one that engages other dimensions of culture apart from the religious, and concerns the relationship between documentation and authority in a once predominantly nomadic society. This logic was brought to the fore in the controversy over the Syrian-produced, Gulf-financed, Ramadan television series Finjān al-Damm (“Cup of Blood”). The Finjān al-Damm controversy speaks to a number of concerns that are crucial for understanding social and political life in the Arabian Peninsula today. These include the nature of censorship in Saudi Arabia; the nature of citizen activism in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf monarchies; and the Saudi state’s attitude toward tribalism. Underlying these concerns, the Finjān al-Damm story underscores a new consciousness about the relationship between documentation and authority in societies transitioning from predominantly oral to textual cultures.
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