Mass Mediations: New Approaches to Popular Culture in the Middle East and beyond. (Book Reviews: General)

Article excerpt

ARMBRUST, WALTER (ed.). Mass mediations: new approaches to popular culture in the Middle East and beyond. xi, 378 pp., illus., bibliogr. London, Berkeley: Univ. California Press, 2000. [pounds sterling]15.95 (paper), [pounds sterling]35.00 (cloth)

With studies of Middle Eastern history viewed from the bottom up, and of mass education, enjoying growing attention in recent decades, the role of communications technology and media as vehicles of anti-regime discourse and civic pluralism has received considerable impetus. Mass mediations argues that popular culture creates 'new scales of communication and new dimensions of modern identity' (p. 26), and the contributors to this stimulating volume focus on recorded and live music, television, cinema, and the print media. The articles, all of which discuss the book's central argument that modernity need not be associated with either nationalism or globalization, deal with diverse contexts spanning the Muslim world from Morocco to Pakistan, and the diaspora in the United States. In addressing these issues, the authors confirm Daniel Miller's thesis that the 'global' is locally appropriated in specific ways and is not necessarily dominant.

I cannot here do justice to the wealth of material provided by the different authors. Four examples will have to suffice. Focusing on Arab Detroit, Shryock considers whether 'the transnationalization of popular culture' (p. 33) is a response to economic and political changes which detach people from their places of origin. The television programming enjoyed by Arab immigrants is imported from different Arab countries but the shows are locally produced. The result is the creation of Arab identity by nationalist-inspired TV impresarios in a transnational domain. Simultaneously, US government-funded English language programmes with a multicultural agenda serve to turn the various Arab nationals into 'Americans of a recognizably ethnic sort' (p. 57). Shryock proposes that Gellner's thesis about the nexus between the rise of nationalism and mass media applies to Arab Detroit, but argues that the Arabic-speaking mainstream defines its place between different states rather than within a single one. This qualificati on is relevant, but it must be borne in mind that Gellner was not concerned with ethnic minorities living in multinational states. In any case, what kind of Arab nationalism do Syrian soap operas, Egyptian movies, and Iraqi sports programmes nurture in Arab Detroit?

In her subtle analysis of Egyptian singers, some of whom produce recordings for sale in Paris, Zirbel shows how both they and their European audiences participate in debates over 'authentic' Egyptian culture. Relative to the nationalist era, the heyday of the performing arts, recent economic deterioration and growing moral conservatism have caused the decline of the Cairene musical community. …