Author Archives: Caitlyn Doucette

Street Jokes, Polysemy, and Intertextuality

Nukat al Shari3a (Street Jokes) is a program shown on Jordanian television that follows host Mohammed Lahham as he travels through both Palestine and Jordan asking people he meets on the street to tell him a joke. The show is currently in its second season. This is a link to the source I found out about the show from, a blog that helps Arabic students to gain proficiency in dialect through vieweing various media forms:
I find the link above to be really interesting for a few reasons. In response to one child’s joke, the host replies “Like!” in English and gives him a high five. Though the entire show is in Arabic, the host chooses to break this linguistic precedent and use the English word ‘like,’ to invoke the facebook practice of ‘liking’ content published by friends. The polysemy of the video sends an interesting message about the demographics that the show is trying to reach; it would be a really interesting study to look at what type of audience is watching the show regularly, how much English they may speak, how familiar they are with facebook, and whether the reference was understood. The fact that people residing in other countries often perceive facebook as inherently connected with the English language is also an interesting fact.
Another video actually contains a reference to the Zenga Zenga video that we watched in class. Though I’m not entirely sure about the Arabic in this portion of the video, it seems as though the host asks a man to tell him a joke, to which he eventually replies, “zenga zenga!” and continues to recite a few notable quotes from the clip. The show plays on this reference and plays the song over clips of the host interacting with Palestinians with editing effects that reflect the original youtube sensation. This small digression demonstrates how important a role intertextuality can play in humor and media in general.
Though they do not usually have English subtitles, you can view more of these videos by searching for ‘Mohammed Lahham’ on youtube.

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Ali Farzat and the Syrian Regime

Ali Farzat’s cartoons are characteristically printed without captions. This feature allows him to critique authoritarian regimes more generally, but it also allows the reader to interpret for his- or her-self where the cartoon takes place and, I believe, leads to a more lasting personal connection to what is being expressed—everything becomes more reminiscent of situations the readers themselves have been involved in. This combination of room for interpretation surrounding the author’s core message and the anonymity of faces (no specific leaders are pointed to in this series of cartoons) likely allowed Farzat to escape the most dangerous levels of backlash from government officials when his earlier works were published.

Figures 17 and 18 emphasize the cartoonist’s ability to alter the abilities and functions of the human body. By drawing a character with a tape recorder for a head, Farzat simultaneously decreases the figure’s humanity and suggests that he is merely a tool used by the flawed regime to spy on its own citizens. The fact that the two men on the right side of the panel are hunched over and maintaining eye contact suggests that they could be arguing about something important, hence explaining the bureaucrat’s keen interest in discerning the topic of their conversation. In Figure 17, this time the citizen is dehumanized as an airport security officer goes beyond checking the passenger’s bags and attempts to read his thoughts and true intentions. He’s reduced to nothing more than a potential threat to the authority of the regime in this specific cartoon.

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Art of Healing

As I mentioned in class last Thursday, while studying abroad in Amman, Jordan last semester I had the chance to attend an exhibition of paintings made by Iraqi torture victims through the course of their participation in The Center for Victims of Tortures’ art therapy program.

Our class discussion that day revolved around the role of the state in discouraging and delegitimizing art that portrayed the darker aspects of life in Iraq. The role of the Iraqi state in stifling this type of darker art was diminished in this case as it was displayed in Jordan under the auspices of an international organization. The Jordanian state may even have had an interest in promoting this specific exhibition as a means of propagating its image as a progressive regime among the Arab states.

After reviewing a few of these paintings, I noticed that they seemed a bit more varied than the works we viewed in class that were produced within Iraq; some are certainly just as dark, yet many boast the inclusion of symbols of hope. This, I think, comes from the fact that the individual artists behind the paintings are creating their work under the care of individuals encouraging them to look toward a brighter future.

To be perfectly honest, at first, the fact that an exhibition was being held to view this type of art struck me as strange. Isn’t therapy a very personal venture? Who is the actual audience that will view, interpret, and be influenced by the art? The exhibition was held in a wealthier area of Amman, and a fellow American student and I were the only people in attendance for a full forty-five minutes. And after perusing photos of the gallery online, I noticed that all viewers that were photographed were very clearly either upper-class Jordanians or Westerners. This initially makes me think that that the intent is to reach human rights activists residing in Jordan, but I can’t help but wonder why victims of torture that haven’t spoken up yet were not at least a portion the target audience for viewing of the program’s final result.

The Center for Victims of Torture website can be accessed through the following link:

An informational video about the exhibit can be viewed here:

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