The YouTube Salvation
Last week, many Kuwaitis were either shocked or thrilled by a YouTube video showing a group of young actors getting attacked by some unknown man. The video was uploaded anonymously but since state security men dress casually, people interpreted the video as being footage of a man from Kuwait’s interior ministry attacking the actors for their brave (or off-limits, as some find it) critique of socio-political issues in Kuwait.
Those who are xenophobic and/or in favor of playing the role of “morality police” were happy to believe that those young men were put out of action, while those in favor of free speech were highly disappointed. The latter found the video as evidence of how the government intimidates people for being openly and constructively critical of issues such as racism and corruption. It turns out the video was in fact just staged by the group to generate reactions. Here’s the video:
This group of actors is called “Sheno Ya3ny” which can be translated as “What’s that?” or “So what?” They are all involved in some sort of neo-comedy and film-making projects that are well-acclaimed in the young artistic scene in the Gulf. One of the beautiful features of this group is how diverse they are as they include Kuwaitis, Palestinians, Bedoon (stateless), and others. Their politics is bluntly stated being against any sort of discrimination in race, religion, or sexuality. One of my favorite episodes is this one which shows an Egyptian migrant worker being insulted by a bunch of Kuwaiti young men. The episode beautifully ends by saying “we, the minority, apologize to migrant workers for the acts of the majority.”
This second video is critical of what can be called “disguised unemployment.” The state in Kuwait is forced to find a job for every citizen unless he chooses to work in the private sector. This phenomenon is common, given how people prefer the advantages and the easy tasks that come with working in the public sector.
The show always refers to Kuwait as “Tulaytila,” which is the Spanish city Toledo, and perhaps the reason they took this name is because of a Kuwaiti high school that of the same name. The group is interested in making fun of Kuwaiti politicians and their first videos came out during the last Kuwaiti elections. The group, like many other artists, do not find themselves standing with the opposition as they are more concerned with gaining more individual freedoms than the conservative-Islamist official opposition.
This doesn’t mean that these young men are in favor of the government. So, they are left out with art as being their only political and creative action with which to criticize the discrimination and corruption in society and the system. Since censorship gives them no space, the group chose YouTube as their platform as it has been successfully helping many young men and women all over the Gulf to voice out their opinions (especially in Saudi Arabia).
Both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have large numbers of social media users and this explains how these YouTube shows get millions of views despite being limited in production means. All those shows emphasize the attempts of escapism that a young generation in the Gulf is practicing; to escape the mainstream TV audience to another that can relate more to their works, opinions, and critiques.
More importantly, they are escaping the censorship and bureaucracy that controls humanities and arts in the region. We are in the age of the YouTube salvation where artistic young people challenge all sorts of taboos to create a more conscious generation of viewers that might one day integrate their works and views in the mainstream culture the way many indie or underground works around the world turned popular and became needed for pressing the hidden buttons.