Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Beacon No. 95: A Bit of Layalina

THREE YOUNG ARABS SADDLE UP FOR A (TELEVISED) ROAD TRIP ACROSS AMERICA.


Len Baldyga forwarded a link to Layalina TV's biweekly press review, which is worth a look to get a broad overview of what Western and Arab programmers are doing in one another’s domains.

Layalina, an American TV production company with a blue-chip board, hopes to present some reasonable voices and cross-communication between the Muslim world and the West. For years now it has geared up to produce programming like On the Road in America, and you can watch a highly polished trailer for this show—in production this summer—on Layalina's Web site. (It may take a while to load, but be patient.)

This "semi-reality" show—I'll have to ask my former TV-producer wife exactly how far that tag lets you stray from actual or even scripted "reality TV" reality—involves three Arab men brought to the U.S. for a road trip. The lads start out in Manhattan, which generates the trailer’s best line: One Arab visitor says, "I used to think that the majority of people in America were Americans, but it looks like only 50 percent are Americans and the rest are foreigners."

The trailer’s first stop on the American mainland is Indianapolis, home to a substantial-looking mosque and, later on, some friendly bread-breaking with young American men and women. After this, the three travel to and between many other American cities a la Travels with Charley, right down to a dumpy-looking RV that could almost be Steinbeck’s Rocinante.

They (and the producers) are acutely aware—with their dark skin and trailing camera crews—that they are role models for Arabs in the U.S., and when the series is released one can look for many frank exchanges of views with Americans like the one that takes place at the Madeline Island (Wisconsin) Library. (All three men seem to have some facility with English.)

It’s all very nice to create a show for Middle Easterners showing Americans as tolerant, diverse, et cetera, but ultimately it’s the same message the U.S. has been sending for years. If communication is two-way, though, I’d like to see Layalina reverse its formula.

In the future, the company should produce a similar show with three Americans who have some facility with Arabic traveling around the Middle East. (Include a woman, please.) It would be expensive; the permissions from country to country would be a nightmare; and certain sites would simply be off limits, especially Mecca, to non-Muslim Americans.

But I think the gain in putting a face on the Arab world for Americans all too willing to think every face is obscured by a kaffiyah or a burqa would be immense. Middle Easterners would also gain when the show was broadcast in their region because it would capture—however politely—Americans’ preconceptions about the Arab world through their visceral reactions to it.

1 comment:

chakman said...

The same company already has.

visionairemedia.com

Apparently "on the road in America" became a sleeper hit on MBC.

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