Twelve people gathered at my place last Wednesday for the first session of a three-month “good vibes experiment.” It started at around 7 pm, because most of us partake in 9 - 6 bad vibes experiments on a daily basis. While it is not entirely true that every job in the world is an emotional extermination, it remains undeniable that the time, place and etiquette constraints of jobs, in general, are quite sadistic. It’s also noteworthy that the time, place and etiquette constraints of everyday are as heartless, sidelining spontaneous thrusts of joy – accidental road trips – and dubbing them acts of rebellion.
Arab political satire did not start with Bassem Youssef. Satire and humor is part of the historical Arab political heritage. Khalid Kishatainy even wrote a book on Arab political humor. Egyptian political cartoons and popular poetry were used against ruling regimes for over a century. But Bassem Youssef brought something new to Arab political satire: he invaded the TV medium rather effectively.
Last Thursday, Nidal al-Achkar appeared on a trivia show on a local Lebanese television station to promote her play, “Al Wewiyeh’ that is currently running in her Al Madina Theater. She praised herself, her director and her co-star and deemed the performance a must-see, “I call upon all of the Lebanese to come watch the play. For people who can afford a ticket, pass by Al Madina Theater to get yours, and for those who can’t, just tell the ticketing office that you were invited by Nidal al-Achkar.” I decided to take that offer.
It is almost touching. The US government stresses that it does not interfere in the affairs of Ukraine and Venezuela. The release of the phone conversation between Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nuland and the US ambassador to Ukraine came as an embarrassing exposure of US lies and claims. Even the Washington Post (one of the key government mouthpieces on foreign policy among US dailies) had to admit the obvious: that the two officials were “laying bare a deep degree of US involvement in affairs that Washington officially says are Ukraine’s to resolve.” Typically, the US government changed the subject, and while grudgingly acknowledging the authenticity of the recording, blamed the Russian government for the taping. In Venezuela, the US government maintained the same claim of non-interferences and called on the Venezuelan people to resolve their differences.
In Lebanon, domestic abuse remains unpunished. Women are murdered, silently and then crowned with hashtags, before they rapidly lack the needed vigor of a trend and die again. That short duration between their real death and their second death is normally called an “Awareness” campaign. During this interval, you see them on the television and using your remote controls, you change the channel and push them away. On the Internet, you pull them back to life with a hashtag. You go viral and then they die again. A hashtag doesn’t make you a good person, not even if it’s an awareness campaign you believe you’re riding. It doesn’t baptize you from not doing anything to make criminals accountable for murder.
Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote an article for the New York Times in which he implored academics to play a bigger role in public life and debates. Kristof is right about that although I disagree with all his other diagnoses and prescriptions. It is remarkable that academics in the US have no connection or interactions with the public at large. In fact, academics are increasingly trained and socialized to disdain communication and interaction with the masses. Academics pride themselves on perfecting academic jargon to such a degree that style and form become more important than substance. There are social science fields that are more guilty than others: political science maybe the worst as the the field becomes more and more quantitative and the illusion of “science” in politics (something that Hannah Arendt frowned upon) has led to borrowing theories and paradigms from economics to attain more academic respectability.
During New York City’s mayoral campaign last year, Democratic and Republican candidates Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota expressed their support for city schools closing in recognition of the Islamic holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.
The building under construction across my balcony has now reached my floor level. The exaggerated plantation I have installed to buffer its generous dust and noise contamination cannot save me from it anymore. Reality is not the most entertaining and/or cooperative game people have to play, so even from within the exaggerated denial I have installed to buffer me from the inevitable, I did see this coming. I’m not special, we all see this coming by now: The looming point in time where it would take a strenuous field trip to see the sky from Beirut.
Last Saturday, I had the luxury of watching two performances in Beirut. At 5 pm I watched a pre-run of Zoukak’s “Heaven,” a show you will be able to attend at their studio in Beirut next week. At 8:30 pm I attended a dance performance titled “Fatmeh,” choreographed and directed by Ali Chahrour at Masrah al-Madina, a show that will have stopped running by the time this text is published. At 10:30 pm I was walking in a fading Hamra toward Regusto, an Armenian bistro, to grab one, two, or three glasses of Arak, thinking that we are not OK.