Pushing the Envelope, or the Agenda?

After watching the new season of the massively popular show Tash Ma Tash, I think it is safe to say that, on its fourteenth consecutive season, the show is still going strong as ever: pushing limits and breaking taboos, dealing with sensitive issues in a way unheard of when it comes to local media and entertainment business. However, the long journey was not always rainbows and butterflies. For Abdullah Al Sadhan and Nasser Al Qasabi, lead actors and producers of the show, have faced many challenges, obstacles and hurdles over the years, but they have managed to overcome all of that, to gain the place where they are standing today: the most important duo in showbiz in Saudi Arabia.

But early on they had to stand in the court against the director of seasons 1 and 2 A’mer Al Humoud, who claimed he owned an equal share in creating the show as the duo, saying they had no right to replace him as director, and that they have to give him credit as one of the creators of the successful show. Clearly Al Humoud wanted a slice of the pie, and probably he deserved one, but due to the absence of functional intellectual property regulations in the country the case did not seem to come to an end, while the two parties kept on attacking each other in the media all the time. Nevertheless, the quality of the show was not affected by the legal war.

This year, Al Humoud convinced executives at LBC to produce what he called The Original Tash Ma Tash, to rival his old partners. I think LBC made a big mistake, not just by producing the show that comes with a heavy baggage using newbie actors, but also by choosing to air it in the same time the real Tash Ma Tash is aired on MBC. I don’t have any official ratings information, but I can predict correctly that not even a tiny fraction of the viewers have decided to turn to LBC instead of MBC.

Another issue Al Sadhan and Al Qasabi has to deal with was a fatwa issued a few years ago condemning Tahs Ma Tash and its creators, and warning people from watching the show. Those who issued the fatwa and those who supported it have justified their stance by saying the show is making a mockery of religion and religious people. I beg to differ. If there was any mockery of religion in this case it is the fatwa itself and not the show.

People should understand that if a religious man was portrayed in a comical way during the show it is the negative behavior of the religious man that is criticized and meant to be laughed at, not religion or being religious. People should differentiate between religion as something sacred and those who speak in the name of religion and claim to represent it while their words and actions tell otherwise. The problem with some of the religious elite here is that they believe they are Islam, and I think time has come for someone to wake them up and tell them they are not. As far as Al Sadhan and Al Qasabi were concerned, they have dealt with this fatwa properly, imho: they have ignored it and kept on doing what they do best, which is entertaining people by tackling issues they care about the most.

Like any other successful business, Tash Ma Tash has grown over the years, and naturally its cost has become bigger and bigger. The budget has become very big that the former producer of the show, the Saudi Ministry of Information was no longer able to handle it, so the creators had to take their show somewhere else. Middle East Broadcasting Center, or simply MBC, a Saudi television network based in Dubai, opened their arms to welcome the show. They had to pay a large sum of money, but they were pretty sure about the quality and popularity of the show, and the faithfulness of its fans.

Moving Tash Ma Tash to MBC was a good deal for everyone, except for the Saudi TV of course: MBC can attract huge amounts of money from sponsorship and advertising to compensate their investment, the creators will have better ability to make what they have in their minds into reality, and the viewers can expect and enjoy a show of higher quality. Another advantage of moving the show out from MOI was getting rid of restraints associated with government funding, especially censorship. It is well known that MOI have banned some episodes in the several past years, although Al Sadhan and Al Qasabi never publicly complained about it, and when asked about it they always reply that the number of banned episodes was very small.

The effect of the move has become very clear during this season, with many episodes that caused mixed feelings among Saudis. The issues tackled, and the way they were demonstrated, have touched people from inside, sometimes shocking them, and sometimes just making them laugh, but above all highlighting these important issues and making them visible to everyone in the society. An episode such as “Irhab Academy” which makes fun of recruiting young men for terrorists is a good example for raising awareness to this worrying matter, while the episode titled “Sour Al Harem” was a clear warning sign against the strict segregation of sexes.

And to expose the Saudi hypocrisy, leave it to Humoud and Mohaimeed. The two guys go to Cairo on a secret sex weekend away from their wives, and while they are enjoying their time in a nightclub one of them says, “this is really great, but God forbid to have such thing in our country,” and the other replies, “No, we have our ‘khusousiya’.” On another episode, the same guys decides to go to Beirut, but with their wives this time. While planning the trip, Mohaimeed tell Humoud to wear pants and shirts instead of thobes when they go to Lebanon. Humoud did not like the idea, and went asking his friend: “int 3almani?” (are you a secular?) I also liked this episode based on a true story, which is about a couple who lived happily for six years until a judge divorced them because the wife is tribal while her husband is not.

Some people have complained that Tash Ma Tash does not offer any solutions for these issues, and to those I say it is not the job of Al Sadhan and Al Qasabi to solve the issues, but rather those in charge, whether they were government officials, religious leaders, or anyone else. I believe that the first goal of such show is entertainment and not lecturing people on what they should, or should not, do. Some argue that it is better to solve our issues between us instead of exposing ourselves in a TV show like that, but I think this is mainly due to the same Saudi hypocrisy portrayed in the show: “even if we have issues, let’s not discuss them publicly,” they say, as if we shoved them under the carpet they will magically solve themselves somehow.

There is also the argument that Tash Ma Tash, especially this year, is being biased to the conservatives and pushing for a liberal agenda at the expense of a society that is not only conservative but one that “others are expecting it to be conservative,” to quote Abdullah Al Ghadhami. Since the creators of the show have never declared their political and/or social ideology, all what we have here are mere assumptions. I think such argument is caused by the feeling of all Saudis, whether they were conservative, liberal or otherwise, that Tash Ma Tash belongs to them, all of them.

I don’t think that anyone has imagined the show would ever become in the center of a debate between people here, but I think it is a good thing, the debate that is. We would disagree on many things regarding the show, but I think we all can’t imagine Ramadhan without Tash Ma Tash. I mean, if you don’t watch it, do you consider yourself a Saudi?

16 thoughts on “Pushing the Envelope, or the Agenda?

  1. Tash Ma Tash has really developed as a show from just basic comedy to comedy with merit and issues.

    If watching it makes you Saudi, then I count me in.

  2. Fantastic post. I think what makes Tash even more attractive is that its become more “globalized” regionally. I remember that I could never understand the accent of some of the older episodes, and the fact that there is filming in Beirut, Egypt, etc, adds a fantastic cross-cultural comparitive on how different each country in the Middle East really is.

  3. Hi am from Riyadh, after hearing all the praise for the Tash ma tash, am curious to watch the show. Do you know the availability of the show with english subtitles?

  4. Great post.
    I’ve been a fan of “Tash Ma Tash” for years, and I really enjoy the humour and the way issues are handled in the series.

    I also agree the launch of “Original Tash Ma Tash” is a very dumb idea.

  5. It a great article ..

    Tash Ma Tash is RAMDAN show .. and i agree with you in all what u wrote but, i think they have to create new characters different from FUAAD and ABU ALI.. and the comedy in the show is less…it’s becoming clowning show ..
    I think something is missing this year and they have to found it !!

  6. I watched no episode last year .. this year I got a chance to watch about 5 of them .. and I still consider myself a Saudi!.

    The episodes I have seen this year were very weak .. I just wondered if they are serious calling this a show and that if it really has all of this popularity!. As Randa commented “it’s becoming clowning show”.

    I don’t think that TV shows are made to come up with solutions.. The good thing about Tash is that it is helping in creating this dialogue among Saudis to either agree or disagree.. and come up with reasons for why or why not ..

    On a final note ..a show being on TV for 14 years .. you either become much better or have no more ideas. In the case of Tash, I think that they are more of the second!.

  7. For a society reluctant to discuss major changes and in constant fear of the government, the makers of Tash have brought a voice for the people. Although the actors don’t fix the situations and show the people the way to go, they leave that to the people to think for themselves which is a great idea in itself…lest people start copying the actions of the two main characters.

  8. لشعوري بأني أعبر بطريقة أفضل باللغة العربية، سأرد بها..

    أعتقد أن (طاش)، واحد من الأسباب الكثيرة التي تزيد من الفرقة بين شرائح المجتمع السعودي، فضلاً عن أنه لم يقدم نقداً حقيقياً للأوضاع الراهنة، بقدر ما كان يسخر من الفئات المختلفة للشعب.. بدء من المواطن البدوي البسيط، إلى الوزير (طبعا الوزراء الذين لا تلحق أسماءهم آل سعود)..

    موقفي الرافض لـ(طاش) ليس لأني أعتقد أن هناك من هو فوق النقد، كما يظن الذين يرون أن طاش يستهدف الدين والشريعة، لكن لأني أؤمن بأن هناك فرقاً أدق من الشعرة بين الفن الساخر، والتمثيل المستخف بالآخرين..

    كما أريد أن أنوه، بأني سعودية رغم عدم متابعتي لطاش منذ موسمه السابع أو ما قبل! :)

  9. Wonderful post, ahmed.

    I still think there’s more to be said. Especially in the Irhab academy epi. They should have highlighted every clergyman’s obsession with little boys’ posteriors, (lol can you imagine fouad’s reaction to a big hairy asking him to bend over, the poor dear) and in the Cairo epi they should have stressed the drunkardness and the abundunce of Saudis and saudis only.. et cetera.

    Nevertheless, they deserve a standing ovation for whatever social ills they have tried to treat thus far.

    Oh yes, and to address a few concerns:
    to those who think that 6ash further seperates us as a society with thier fixed characters I say, yeah right. The fact that we all watch this show and laugh at one another is telling.

    As for those who call it repitition I say, I concur. Except I believe it was intentional. The characters the audiences love and welcome to their homes every Ramadhan, in different situations treating all sorts of social ills.. how can you not love this show?

  10. I’ve never seen the show, not being an Arabic speaker, but I agree that it is not the job of a satirist to provide solutions. Once attention is drawn to a particular area, it can make people aware of something they were not aware of before, or perhaps it will be like the snowflake that starts an avalanche and those who follow will be able to offer solutions.

    Also, if one is afraid of something, mockery and being able to laugh at it will forever remove the fear. If Saudis wish to live in a society free from some of the aspects described in the post, acknowledging their presence and ridiculing them is an important step to being rid of them imho.

  11. (طبعا الوزراء الذين لا تلحق أسماءهم آل (سعود

    هديل, طيب و حلقة عدنان, شخصية “يوسف الجراح” اللي كان ينادي عدنان “أبو بندر” كل شوي… موب هذا أمير؟

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