Moroccan Noir: Police, Crime, and Politics in Popular Culture

Moroccan Noir: Police, Crime, and Politics in Popular Culture

Moroccan Noir: Police, Crime, and Politics in Popular Culture

Moroccan Noir: Police, Crime, and Politics in Popular Culture

Synopsis

Facing rising demands for human rights and the rule of law, the Moroccan state fostered new mass media and cultivated more positive images of the police, once the symbol of state repression, reinventing the relationship between citizen and state for a new era. Jonathan Smolin examines popular culture and mass media to understand the changing nature of authoritarianism in Morocco over the past two decades. Using neglected Arabic sources including crime tabloids, television movies, true-crime journalism, and police advertising, Smolin sheds new light on politics and popular culture in the Middle East and North Africa.

Excerpt

I BEGAN WORKING ON this book over a decade ago, when I lived in Fez. While shopping at a local bookstore, I discovered a wonderful new literary form—the Moroccan Arabic police novel. Modern Arabic literature is rich in narrative experimentation but there is little genre fiction. Considering the highly negative image of the police in Arab society, it should come as no surprise that novelists ignored police fiction. In fact, by the late 1990s, the Arabic police procedural did not even exist outside Morocco. And that made the novels that I discovered in my local bookstore that much more interesting. What was happening in Morocco that led writers to depict a cop as a sympathetic figure at the center of a novel? Why did the genre exist in Arabic in Morocco but nowhere else in the Middle East or North Africa?

As I read these novels, I began noticing a connection between them and the crime articles in Morocco’s new independent press. Like the novels, the crime stories in the country’s highest-circulation newspaper at the time typically took the perspective of the police and used fictional narrative techniques to depict real-world criminal investigations. It hardly seemed like a coincidence that police fiction was emerging in Moroccan Arabic newspapers only a year or two after it first appeared on bookstore shelves. I immediately wanted to know why journalists of the new independent press had decided to narrate the details of real-life crime and punishment in a style that seemed consciously to mimic the country’s new police novels.

I became even more interested in the link between the police novels and the increasingly commercial mass media when I discovered that the television stations were making movie versions of the novels. Novels have a very limited readership throughout the Arab world and Morocco is no exception. Selling only a few thousand copies makes a novel a bestseller. By producing the police novels for the small screen—and in Moroccan, not Standard Arabic—the television stations made police fiction accessible to millions across the country. Moreover, the police movies, with their taboo themes and modernist audiovisual techniques, represented a striking break from the conservative television programming of previous decades. After seeing police fiction in novels, newspapers, and now television, I asked myself why it was suddenly becoming so popular in Morocco in the early 2000s. Why was police fiction spreading so quickly in the mass media? And what was the connection between these new images of the police in popular culture and large-scale changes taking place in the mass media and politics at the time?

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.