Performing Baghdad: Reality TV & Arab Modernity

Curator's Note

After Shada Hassoun, a 26-year-old woman won the pan-Arab, Lebanese-produced reality TV show Star Academy in April 2007, it was found out that she had received more than 7 million votes from within Iraq. Though she grew up in Morocco where her mother is from, she embraced Iraq, her father’s native country, in her Star Academy performances. As a result, Iraqis, all Iraqis, embraced her. Iraqi Shi’as claimed her as one of them; so did Iraqi Sunnis and Kurds. In the final weeks of the competition, Iraqi blogs were ablaze with patriotic pride, and the state television channel Al-Iraqiyya broadcast promotions asking Iraqis to vote for her. This triggered harsh reactions from religiously radical elements of the Iraqi insurgency, who blasted AL-Iraqiyya and Shada for "mis-representing" Iraqi identity and Iraqi women. This is but one episode of very public expressions of patriotism in various parts of the Arab world in the context of pan-Arab reality television shows pitting contestants from throughout the Arab world. I am investigating this fascinating phenomenon in my current book project, in which I am analyzing the Arab reality TV controversies as an arena where a specifically Arab modernity is being elaborated and contested. In the case of Shada’s victory, various ideological, commercial and affective forces led to her embrace as an emblem of Iraq transcending ethnic, religious and class lines—Shada boasts that her favorite hobby is jet-ski. The clip shows her performing the song Baghdad by the Lebanese diva Fairuz, with back-up from her Star Academy fellow contestants, a mourning wrapped in a celebration.

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