The latest news to come out of Iraq shows just how far the country has come in embracing western culture and entering the free world. In this case Western culture doesn’t mean Shakespeare and fine wine and freedom doesn’t come with a guarantee good sense or dignity. In fact, what they have chosen to spend the coin of freedom on is that most ubiquitous export of the West, American Idolor something very much like it.
American Idol is broadcast all over the world in scores of languages. The producers have set up versions of the show in every major country, and in those countries where the television market isn’t large enough to support the name brand version, local producers have put together their own conceptual clones of the hit show.
Iraq has been getting American Idol in various incarnations from satellite TV for a couple of years, and it is apparently enormously popular, as is the Lebanese clone version Arab Superstar – and we all know how photogenic the Lebanese women are from their recent protest marches.
Cashing in on Idol-mania, the enterprising producers at al-Sumeria TV have launched Iraq Star, which has brought 2000 young Iraqi men and women to a makeshift television studio in Baghdad’s Babylon Hotel, where they went through the grueling first auditions with severe criticism from Iraq’s answer to Simon Cowell, and where surviving contestants will continue to compete on episodes broadcast daily until the best are sent to a glorious final showdown at a Beirut casino hotel.
Iraq Idol has a younger age cut-off than the American version and most believe that the leading contender is Bilal, a 12-year-old boy from Mosul who writes his own original songs about the hardships of life in Iraq – actually bringing the judges to tears at a recent performance.
By all accounts the show is enormously popular, keeping Iraqis glued to their televisions every night at nine and very thankful that power generators are back to their pre-war output so they can actually watch TV at night. That this kind of show is so popular despite the moralistic preaching of Mullahs and the hardships of life in Iraq shows that cultural normalization and the simple pleasures of the lifestyle enjoyed in the more moderate parts of the Arab world has a great appeal in Iraq. They could do a lot worse than to take the popular culture trends of the cosmopolitan Lebanese as their model.
When a nation embraces the spirit of American Idol can freedom and prosperity be far behind?