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A Cross-Cultural Catalyst

In 21st century American society, there seems to be a growing infatuation with technology and mass media in the midst of natural disaster and terrorist attacks. Specifically, Americans seem to be inundated by so much television that they no longer have the capacity to think outside the box, and would rather be immersed in the idiot box than in a good book or a news paper. Mr. Murray, Washington bureau chief for CNBC and the Wall Street Journal columnist (Hess 275), remarked on his frustration with television and its effect on the public during a heated debate among several of todays experts, in the book The Media and the War on Terrorism.

I am constantly amazed at how little depth you can achieve even with a full hour of television to play with every night and with a pretty sophisticated and intelligent audience relative to the average TV audience. I am amazed and frustrated and shocked at how much more I can do with an 835-word column. (Hess 289) Is it the medium of television which lacks the capacity to transmit knowledge, or is it the viewers inability to constructively comprehend what is being interjected into their intellect?

In his article, To Analyze a Video Text, Robert Scholes invites and challenges his readers to critically analyze video text and to look beyond the pleasure and surrender created by these cultural narratives. Scholes warns that it is very hard to resist the pleasure of this text, and we cannot accept the pleasure without, for the bewildering minute at least, also accepting the ideology that is so richly and closely entangled the story that we construct from the video (622). The ideology presented in television is entrenched by the cultural values of American society (Scholes 620).

These video texts confirm viewers in their ideological positions and reassure them as to their membership in a collective cultural body. This function, which operates in the ethical-political realm, is an extremely important element of video textuality and, indeed, an extremely important dimension of all the mass media (Scholes 620). He further explains that we are dealing with and archetypal narrative that has been adjusted for maximum effect within a particular political and social context (Scholes 622) and that by getting the story, we prove our competence and demonstrate our membership in a cultural community (Scholes 621).

All the meaning that viewers are able to construct from the video text highly depends on cultural framework (Scholes 620) in which the perceiver is engrossed. Not by analyzing one twenty-eight second video advertisement, but by determining the effects television has on American society, it can be concluded that the cultural context television is depicting is very unhealthy. It has been published that 56% of Americans who are heavily in debt also watch too much tv (Schor 45). In her article, Whats Wrong With Consumer Society?

Schor analyzes such trends. One research paper that she sites claims that television shows are a really great idea source for [finding things] to get or buy (Schor 44). This concept is further reinforced when she brings up her prior research, which revealed that one hour of television watched per week, on average, contributes to a $208 per week spending increase (Schor 45). It can be sent that exposure to television really exacerbates this cultures preoccupation with consumption.

Richard Harwood, Pollster, explains in the PBS documentary, Affluenza, that 60% of all Americans say that our children are not just materialistic, but very materialistic from advertising (Affluenza). This is no accident, this is just what corporations are paying their advertising executives for. Also featured on Affluenza is a spokes person for the Kid Power Conference at Disney World, he explains In boys advertising it is an aggressive play pattern anti-social behavior in pursuit of a product is a good thing.

He even goes on, to objectify children further, by encouraging eager note taking conference goers to participate in the process of branding children and owning them in that way (Affluenza). The portmanteau word, affluenza, as sited by DeGraff in wikipedia, is defined as a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more (Affluenza). The epicenter of this cultural disease lies within the idolization of consumption.

The effects of equating personal happiness with purchasing material possessions and consumptions (Consumerism), no doubt eventually leads to the measurement of economic productivity and growth [as] the purpose of human organization and perhaps the purpose of life itself (Productivism). With such a productivistic mentality, one believes all growth is good and starts to champion profit above all else. As far as television goes, among the most profitable genre of programming is children oriented, especially when it comes to the international market.

Therefore, American television is focused on disseminating its ideological values through society by effecting the most impressionable and vulnerable people, the children. Children, who are especially susceptible to surrendering to the pleasure of the video text, are taught to be selfish and materialistic and to embrace all the affluenza ideology, as represented through the ideals portrayed on television. If Americans have an understanding that television corrupts their youth, then what about people of other cultures who are far separated from the cultural contexts of which television is so dependent?

Foreigners, with traditional values, who analytically criticize western video text feel that the high degree of cultural export through the business and popular culture[among other mass media, television] threatens their unique ways of life or moral values where such cultural exports are popular (Cultural Imperialism). The modern use of television in Egypt is quite rampant. In the villages of Upper Egypt, where the anthropologist Lila Abu-Lughod conducted a study in the mid-1990s, she found most households had a television set (Thomas).

Like most media conglomerates, Egypts state run television facilities are the center of audiovisual production in its geolinguistic region (Thomas). In fact, this was the first Arab country to launch an international broadcasting service for the Arab world (Thomas). Since its inception, television has played an important role in modern Egyptian society. The person who brought television to Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, also founded and served as leader of the Free Officers Movement[, which] was the real force behind the coup (Gamal Abdel Nasser”) known as the 1952 Revolution, in which the British-backed monarch was overthrown.

Nasser gained power in the following years as the second President of Egypt, (Gamal Abdel Nasser”) and soon signed a major contract between United Arab Republic (Egypt) and Radio Corporation of America (Boyd 33). RCA installed a complete system and granted the Egyptian Government ability to create its own programming (Boyd 34). Although the United Arab Republic did not participate in the first stage of globalization [which others] tend to experience [as] a wave of western programming (Thomas), television service was a definite sign of American influence.

Nassar was unique among Middle East leaders, because of his commitment of financial resources to television (Boyd 33). He fully employed this medium as a social-political tool as his government had full control over the programming and often gave broadcast priority to his own public addresses (Boyd 36). A political group at the time, The Muslim Brotherhood, was opposed to western influence (Muslim Brotherhood), and consequently viewed life depicted on television as a direct conflict with traditional Islamic moral values. They upheld television as the most imposing threat to their own culture.

This organization originally supported and cooperated with Nassers government (Muslim Brotherhood), but their issue with western influence eventually led to complications between the Islamic fundamentalists and Nassars government (Sayyid Qutb). The important theoretician of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood[,] Sayyid Qutb[,] fused together the core elements of modern Islamism (Sayyid Qutb). For Qutb, Islam is a universal system of life and meant for the whole world (Khatab 342), and aimed to bring together all mankind into one moral and spiritual framework guiding people to be mutually assistant to one another on a universal scale (Khatab 345).

Qutb believed Islam to be supra-national ( Khatab 343), in that it is the primary identity of all human beings of different ethnicity, languages, territories and beliefs (Khatab 342). This means that the nationality of all human beings at birth is Islam (Khatab 342) whether they are enlightened or not. The term jahiliyyah, was originally implemented to denote the state of ignorance rampant before the world of Islam (Khatab 346).

In todays context it is considered to be an ailment, or disease of the mind, possessed by people who participate in capitalistic social institutions (Jahiliyyah), much like affluenza. Because this force poses such a threat to fundamental Islamic traditions, it has led to the permission of real Muslims to attack Muslims who have succumbed to Jahiliyyah (Jahiliyyah). This way of thinking fueled the Muslim Brotherhoods justifications in its intent to overthrow Nassars government by assassination, as a means to limit or cease the social poisons forged through the cultural imperialism of television.

Nassar used the national anger against the Muslim Brotherhood [following his much debated assassination attempt] that resulted in his program to eradicate the group (Muslim Brotherhood). After its second time being outlawed, 4000 of its members including Qutb, were incarcerated and tortured. This treatment strengthened Qutbs stance that the Egyptian State was totally invalid and needed to be overthrown. Later he was tried for treason and summarily executed for his crimes of plotting against the Egyptian government (Sayyid Qutb).

After Qutbs, death his teaching continued to influence others who perpetuate the battle against this gauntlet. His ideas lived on in one such follower, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who in the 1980s journeyed to Afghanistan to participate in the mujahideen against the Soviet Unions occupation [and] met Osamma bin Laden (Ayman al-Zawahiri). These two eventually organized the group, al-Qaeda, who was blamed for the demolition of the World Trade Center buildings in 2001. It has been noted that the attacks of al-Qaeda motivated in part by a reaction to perceived US imperialism (Cultural Imperialism).

It is widely accepted that the representations of people or animals are forbidden by the prophet, Mohammed, (Adams 10) who Muslims base their religion on. When a strict interpretation of the Koran, like the one al-Qaeda uses, is applied television can be seen as the great Iconoclast; television programming threatens the very threads of traditional religious societies by portraying and glorifying conflicting ideals, such as affluenza. Since it is the bringer of the idolatrous worship of consumption, which is defiantly not of any monotheistic god, television champions a value system in which mankind is a selfish creature.

From their fundamental Islamic point of view, this backward way of thinking threatened to destroy the shared values that held society together (Power of Nightmares: Part III, The Shadows in the Cave). The very things that, on the surface, made the [US] look prosperous and happy, Qutb saw as signs of an inner corruption and decay And he became determined [from very early on] to prevent this culture of selfish individualism [from] taking over his own country (Power of Nightmares: Baby Its Cold Outside). What is being battled by al-Qaeda terrorists is a war of ideologies.

They view the culture and values, portrayed on television, as such a threat to their supra-natural solution for humanity that retaliation becomes a necessity. Because of their nature, terrorist attacks often make the evening news in America. However, the terrorists stance and the issues which they are combating do not. Most Americans have no interest in Islam; this is most evident by the fact that out of 774 interviewers, only 10 can speak Arabic (Hess 2-3). The real problem is that Americans are unable to constructively criticize ideologies portrayed in television (Scholes 623) since they are so desensitized by it (Thomas).

Terrorism makes news but what is the news made of? Scholes warns that the conservative agenda for this country has been conspicuously anticritical, [and that] in this age of massive manipulation and disinformation, criticism is the only way we have of taking something seriously (Scholes 623). Americans who have trouble understanding the reasons for growing Anti-Americanism abroad, should begin by taking a critical looking in their own living rooms. Perhaps, eventually, they will see beyond the illusion created by the boob tube and seek the true understanding which lies beneath the pleasure and surrender of the video text.

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