Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Language, Literature, Arts -- Arab Comic Strips: Politics of an Emerging Mass Culture by Allen Douglas and Fedwa Malti-Douglas

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

Language, Literature, Arts -- Arab Comic Strips: Politics of an Emerging Mass Culture by Allen Douglas and Fedwa Malti-Douglas

Article excerpt

Arab Comic Strips: Politics of an Emerging Mass Culture, by Allen Douglas and Fedwa Malti-Douglas. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1994. xiii + 227 pages. Notes to p. 245. Sources to p. 257. Index to p. 263. $39.95 cloth; $19.95 paper.

Studies of popular culture are still relatively rare in the field of Middle Eastern studies. Examinations of the political and social impact of comic strips are even rarer. Hence, the appearance of a comprehensive and insightful study of this genre is a welcome addition indeed.

The discipline of Middle Eastern studies in the West has often been resistant to incorporating new theoretical and conceptual paradigms. Arab Comic Strips provides at least one indicator that this trend has begun to change. The study reflects the influence of both political economy and postmodernism. The former's influence can be seen in the authors' focus on mass culture and "history from below," while the latter's manifests itself in the authors' use of semiotics and their eschewal of any linear model of social change or totalizing discourse.

The strengths of Arab Comic Strips lie in its comprehensive treatment of the genre it scrutinizes. The authors present extensively detailed studies of comic strips that range from Iraq and the Gulf to North Africa and France. Further, the strips they select cover a wide thematic and ideological terrain. Pan-Arabist, Islamist, hybrid Western-Arab, and radical leftist strips all receive in-depth analysis. Through this analysis, the reader gains great insight into political and cultural debates specific to particular regions of the Arab world. The juxtaposition of strips representing different thematic, ideological, and geographical perspectives constitutes comparative analysis at its best.

Following a brief introduction, the study begins with a discussion of the Egyptian comic Miki as a "mixed form" that uses foreign characters but places them in indigenous settings. The authors point to the emphasis on pharaonic rather than Islamic motifs as Miki's effort to promote a more secular and Egyptian-centered cultural perspective. The next two chapters focus on two of the most prominent Arab leaders: Gamal Abdul Nasser and Saddam Hussein. Here the authors present a sophisticated analysis of the way in which the visual representation of the two leaders works to enhance their stature. In chapter five's discussion of the Egyptian leftist Ahmad Hijazi, the reader is exposed to the cartoonist's trenchant critique cf Egypt's business elites, of the mass media's "use to infantilize and control the Egyptian population," and of hierarchy and authority generally. In chapter six, Islamic strips produced in Egypt, such as Zam Zam, al-Muslim al-Saghir, and al-Firdaws, provide a penetrating look into the attempt of Islamist forces to socialize Egyptian children and the populace at large.

These strips stand in sharp contrast to those Syrian strips presented in chapter seven, which are produced by the ruling Baath party. While the Islamist strips focus on the family and personal values, through al-Tali'i and 'Usama the Syrian strips privilege the state, emphasize the "modern and technological," and tout President Hafiz al-Asad as the "father-leader. …

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