Produced by the Department of Media Relations & Publications

Understanding Arab Media

October 15, 2008

In this segment, Lehman Anthropology Professor Christa Salamandra discusses her most recent trip to Syria, her book on Damascus, and the current state of Arab media.

4 Minutes 2 Seconds

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Hi, this is Sarah Sumler, a Multilingual Journalism major at Lehman College. In this segment, Lehman Anthropology Professor Christa Salamandra discusses her most recent trip to Syria, her book on Damascus, and the current state of Arab media. She is currently researching the Syrian television drama industry.



Well, this book was based on and drawn from my dissertation research for my Ph.D. at Oxford University. And it's based on fieldwork that I conducted in Damascus in the early 1990s. And I was looking at-- I was interested in social distinction. And I was looking at ways in which different groups distinguish themselves from other groups. Particularly among elites. So inter-elite social distinction.

And I discovered that a lot of the ways in which people would describe themselves in others-- in a society in which-- in a polity in which-- social distinctions are, in fact, taboo. So it was valuable difficult for people to voice these distinctions. Which, nevertheless, became more and more prevalent.

One chapter of that had to do with Ramadan. Which is a time when this sort of distinctive Damasceneness was at its height, or reaches its height. And that happens every year. One way in which this Damascene identity gets expressed is through drama series that are aired-- thirty-episode drama mini-series that are aired consecutively each night during the holy month.

And that chapter interested me so much, that I decided that when I go back to write a second book or to do research that I would focus on the drama production industry. Anecdotally, from what we all experienced, people watch these obsessively.



When and why did you first visit Syria?



I first visited Syria in the summer of 1985, after completing a course of Arabic study in Cairo. So, I was just there for a few days. But the place captured my imagination such that I decided that I would go back and do serious research there.



What are some of the differences between Arab and American media?



You have the proliferation of trans-national media. I think most American media is strictly American. And what's really become to dominate the airwaves in the Arab world are the Pan-Arab stations.

Now, each individual country has its own satellite television station, which then gets beamed across the Arab world. And to poor communities, here-- even here in-- in the Americas. But what people watch most frequently, from what we can tell-- are the semi-private and private stations.

These are the stations that have the most money to buy and produce materials with valuable high production value. But they don't really have so many series, like we do, that, you know, that have seasons. They have the 30-- 29 to 32 episode mini-series. And that's kind of the dominant genre.



And how has globalization and the internet impacted media in the Arab world?



It's all about globalization, basically. Because trans-national media is now the dominant media form. People are not really watching national media to the same extent. So you might argue that the Arab language airwaves are much more globalized than the American airwaves. I mean, we're really still seeing American production predominantly.

As far as we can tell, the majority of Arabic speakers have satellite access. They have access, not just to Arabic language media. But then, once they have dishes, they have access to European and American media as well.



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