Mass Mediations: New Approaches to Popular Culture in the Middle East and Beyond

By Walter Armbrust | Go to book overview

EIGHT
Consuming Damascus
Public Culture and the Construction of Social Identity
Christa Salamandra

If you enter the Old City of Damascus at the Eastern Gate, walk a few yards along A Street Called Straight, and turn down the first narrow alley on your right, you will find, jutting out from among the inward-looking Arab-style houses of this quiet residential quarter, a sign advertising “Le Piano Bar. ” Enter through the carved wood door, walk along the tile-covered foyer, under the songbird's cage, past a display case strung with chunky silver necklaces, and step up a stone platform to the raised dining room. Here wellheeled Syrians sit at closely spaced tables, drinking 'araq and Black Label whiskey, and eating grilled chicken or spaghetti. Each of the walls around them is decorated in a different style. One features a collection of Dutch porcelain plates set into plaster. On another, strips of colored marble hold a series of mosaic-lined, glass-covered cases displaying wind instruments. Another features two floral wrought iron–gated windows draped in a locally produced striped fabric. Wrought iron musical notes dance on another wall. At the front of the long, arch-divided room is a huge mother-ofpearl–framed mirror. Set into the top of the mirror is a digital billboard across which the Piano Bar's menu and opening hours float repeatedly. The proprietor sings “My Way” and other Frank Sinatra favorites to a karaoke backup tape. When he finishes, video screens tucked into corners feature Elton John sing-alongs. On some nights a pianist and clarinetist play Russian songs as patrons clank wooden castanets.

Public cultural forms such as the Piano Bar play a part in the construction of social identities in Damascus. In one sense the Piano Bar is merely in the Old City; in another sense, no matter how unlikely, it is of Old Damascus. The localization of transnational cultural forms such as restaurants and television programs involves an imagined idea of the city and its past. Some cultural forms, like television programs, are easily available to all.

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Mass Mediations: New Approaches to Popular Culture in the Middle East and Beyond
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents v
  • Illustrations vii
  • Preface ix
  • Note on Transliteration xi
  • One - Anxieties of Scale 1
  • Notes *
  • Two - Creating Arab/american Identities in a Transnational Domain 32
  • Notes *
  • Three - Persian Popular Music from Bazm-E Qajariyyeh to Beverly Hills Garden Parties 61
  • Notes *
  • Four - Transgender Pop and the Polysemiotics of Sex, Nation, and Ethnicity on the Israeli-Egyptian Border 88
  • Notes *
  • Five - Local Egyptian Performers Between Regional Identity and International Markets 120
  • Notes *
  • Six - Moroccan Music and Euro-American Imagination 146
  • Notes *
  • Seven - Reimaging Egypt's Lost Community 161
  • Notes 179
  • Eight - Public Culture and the Construction of Social Identity 182
  • Notes *
  • Nine - Mediating Modernity in Lahore 203
  • Notes *
  • Ten - Realism and the Transnational Imaginary in Turkish Popular Culture 224
  • Notes *
  • Eleven - The Egyptian Print Media's Carnival of National Identity 243
  • Notes *
  • Twelve - Hollywood and Revolution on the Nile 269
  • Notes *
  • Thirteen - Commercial Egyptian Cinema Before the 1960s 292
  • Notes *
  • References 329
  • Contributors 355
  • Index 359
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