The Art of Thinking Well

Richard Thaler has just won an extremely well deserved Nobel Prize in economics. Thaler took an obvious point, that people don’t always behave rationally, and showed the ways we are systematically irrational.

Thanks to his work and others’, we know a lot more about the biases and anomalies that distort our perception and thinking.

Before Thaler, economists figured it was good enough to proceed as if people are rational, utility-maximizing creatures. Now, thanks to the behavioral economics revolution he started, most understand that’s not good enough.

But Thaler et al. were only scratching the surface of our irrationality. Most behavioral economists study individual thinking. They do much of their research in labs where subjects don’t intimately know the people around them.

It’s when we get to the social world that things really get gnarly. A lot of our thinking is for bonding, not truth-seeking, so most of us are quite willing to think or say anything that will help us be liked by our group.

This is where Alan Jacobs’s absolutely splendid forthcoming book “How to Think” comes in. If Thaler’s work is essential for understanding how the market can go astray, Jacobs’s emphasis on the relational nature of thinking is essential for understanding why there is so much bad thinking in political life right now.

Jacobs makes good use of C. S. Lewis’s concept of the Inner Ring. In every setting — a school, a company or a society — there is an official hierarchy. But there may also be a separate prestige hierarchy, where the cool kids are. They are the Inner Ring.

There are always going to be people who desperately want to get into the Inner Ring and will cut all sorts of intellectual corners to be accepted.

As Lewis put it, “The passion for the Inner Ring is most skillful in making a man who is not yet a very bad man do very bad things.”

People will, for example, identify and attack what Jacobs calls the Repugnant Cultural Other — the group that is opposed to the Inner Ring, which must be assaulted to establish membership in it.

Other people will resent the Inner Ring, and they will cut all sorts of intellectual corners in order to show their resentment. These people are quick to use combat metaphors when they talk about thinking (he shot down my argument, your claims are indefensible). These people will adopt shared vague slurs like “cuckservative” or “whitesplaining” that signal to the others in the outsider groups that they are attacking the ring, even though these slurs are usually impediments to thought.

Jacobs notices that when somebody uses “in other words” to summarize another’s argument, what follows is almost invariably a ridiculous caricature of that argument, in order to win favor with the team. David Foster Wallace once called such people Snoots. Their motto is, “We Are the Few, the Proud, the More or Less Constantly Appalled at Everyone Else.”

Jacobs nicely shows how our thinking processes emerge from emotional life and moral character. If your heart and soul are twisted, your response to the world will be, too. He argues that by diagnosing our own ills, we can begin to combat them. And certainly I can think of individual beacons of intellectual honesty today: George Packer, Tyler Cowen, Scott Alexander and Caitlin Flanagan, among many.

But I’d say that if social life can get us into trouble, social life can get us out. After all, think of how you really persuade people. Do you do it by writing thoughtful essays that carefully marshal facts? That works some of the time. But the real way to persuade people is to create an attractive community that people want to join. If you do that, they’ll bend their opinions to yours. If you want people to be reasonable, create groups where it’s cool to be reasonable.

Jacobs mentions that at the Yale Political Union members are admired if they can point to a time when a debate totally changed their mind on something. That means they take evidence seriously; that means they can enter into another’s mind-set. It means they treat debate as a learning exercise and not just as a means to victory.

How many public institutions celebrate these virtues? The U.S. Senate? Most TV talk shows? Even the universities?

Back when they wrote the book of Proverbs it was said, “By long forbearing is a prince persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone.” These days, a soft tongue doesn’t get you very far, but someday it might again.

The New York Times

How a Projector Can Substitute for a Television Set


New York – I have fantasized about turning a part of the basement into a media room where I’d play “The Godfather,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “The Best Years of Our Lives” on continuous loop. But where to start? Chris Heinonen, the audio visual staff writer at The Wirecutter, The New York Times site for evaluating products, has tested all the options.

Could I realistically substitute a projector for a flat panel TV and be happy?

It depends on how you watch. If you don’t usually watch TV shows during the day and usually only put it on for movies or streaming, and can close the curtains and block the light, a projector can produce a much larger image for less money.

How do projectors compare in price?

An $800 projector can give you a 120-inch image, while a TV that’s 80 inches costs nearly $4,000. Projectors wash out badly with ambient light, unless you have a screen designed to prevent that, but they can cost more than a projector. Our recommended screen is about $190 for a 100 incher, last time I checked, so it’s still much cheaper. And you can get blackout curtains for around $50 or so a panel. (We have a guide to those as well.)

Some people don’t bother with a screen — they’ll just use their wall. The image isn’t as good, but some people would rather have a giant image for movies and be able to put the projector back in the closet when they don’t use it instead of having a huge TV taking up space.

I want to make clear that you can’t just put a projector where you had a TV and expect it to replace a TV in all situations. Any projector will usually fall short in terms of contrast ratio — the ratio of black to white — unless you’re spending at least $2,000. But, and this is key, you don’t see the benefits of that contrast ratio unless your room is completely dark with no ambient light. If there is any light in the room, it will wash out the black on a projector.

Which is why our favorite $2,000 projector is recommended for dedicated home-theater rooms. In a living room, you wouldn’t really see the benefits.

What do you recommend for a living room?

We really like the BenQ HT2050 projector that sells for around $740. It is really bright, runs quietly, and it is much more accurate for colors than many of its competitors. The more expensive models from BenQ offer slightly better image quality, but not enough to justify the price increase.

And if I do convert my basement to a theater?

The Sony VPL-HW45ES is our current home theater recommendation. For around $2,000, it has contrast ratios almost five times better than the BenQ because the blacks are much darker. It also has very accurate colors. As a result, the image just pops off the screen. It is also more adjustable so it’s easier to find the perfect position in any room.

How did you test these things?

The testing room is in my house. It was a bit of a requirement when we went home buying last year.

I have a completely light-sealed testing room, with a 92-inch screen. I didn’t make the room an all-black cave or anything. It’s a neutral gray like you’d find in a lot of modern homes. I installed a blackout roller shade in the window, put up trim pieces on the sides of it to cut off any extra light, and then covered the window on the door. I really need to replace it with a windowless one.

I do a lot of measurements on the projectors with devices that gauge their brightness, the accuracy of the colors, and even how well they play video games. And I watch lots of movies that I’m really familiar with to see how they perform, especially ones with dark shadows or high-contrast scenes like “Skyfall” and the final “Harry Potter” film.

Those are the hardest things to display well. I’ll also test in the same room with the lights on.

Did you get big comfy chairs, too?

I actually used to have home theater chairs that reclined, but I found them to be annoying in the end since it meant my wife and I were in separate chairs watching a movie. Now it’s just a sofa.

The New York Times

Samsung in a New Era in Home Entertainment


Samsung Gulf Electronics has officially launched their highly anticipated QLED TV during an official official launch ceremony at its Experience Store in the Dubai Media City, on 23 May.

Samsung showcased a product demonstration with all the TV innovations that they have brought upon for its media guests.

The event also expanded upon the latest innovations in Quantum Dot Display technology and the major differences in display technologies, which Samsung is characterized by.

Samsung’s latest QLED TVs were designed with the consumer in mind and focusing on addressing three key consumer points through the solutions known as” Q Picture, Q Smart and Q Style”.

The ‘Smart Hub’ interface is now extended to smartphones through Samsung’s new and improved ‘Smart View’ application. The app now provides a comprehensive overview of all available content through the app’s home screen.

Smart Appliances to Invade Houses Soon

Singapore- People can now prepare themselves to control functions of appliances they use every day for food storing, cleaning, and entertainment through messages.

They will be able to talk with their TV to change voice and picture settings, even in Arabic. In fact, these appliances are ready and close to invade the Arab and global markets, as announced at the Samsung Electronics Middle East and North Africa (MENA) Forum held in Singapore, with the attendance of more than 400 media figures and distributors from the MENA region.

The forum has asserted that smartphones will soon become a primordial device to control home appliances and adjust their functions according to the user’s desire.

During the forum, Choong Ro Lee, the president of the Samsung Electronics Middle East and North Africa office, stated that over the years, Samsung spoke about its vision of the Internet of Things, and it continues to defy the barriers to ensure our evolution in the IoT space by introducing new products with great elegance and distinguished performance.

During the forum, Samsung unveiled several key products, including the new QLED TV display lineup, which allows the user to control it with manual and voice commands.

New air conditions will also be capable of evaluating the entourage’s temperature and regulate their function automatically, which is expected to reduce power costs by 72% and protect the user’s health at the same time.

These new innovations come shortly after a hard phase Samsung faced with the explosion of Galaxy Note 7 batteries and the recall of the device from global market. However, the company said it will always be eager to develop more advanced electronic devices with the newest techniques that serve users.

BBC Faces Viewer Disappointment after Losing ‘The Great British Bake Off’ to Channel 4

London-British broadcasting channel BBC faces a wave of viewer contempt after one of its hit reality TV shows, “The Great British Bake Off”, was sold to Britain’s Channel 4.

BBC had launched the cook off series in 2010, after which was met with great success becoming a nationwide hit and winning many world-class awards. The cast to the reality hit show were made into international stars.

Channel 4 announced the move in a statement on Monday that said it had signed a deal with the show’s producers, Love Productions, and will begin broadcasting the show in 2017.

Both companies emphasized that Britons would still be able to watch the show without cost, but they will now have to contend with commercials. The BBC is publicly funded and does not have commercials, nor does the show’s American home, PBS, where it is shown under the name “The Great British Baking Show.” It is also available in the United States on Netflix. BBC justified the £25 million shift saying that financial resources are limited.

“The Great British Bake Off” follows a group of amateur bakers as they execute increasingly complex recipes and is noteworthy among reality shows because its contestants are uniformly pleasant and likable. It is devoid of both the interpersonal drama and the cash prize that are the hallmarks of American reality TV. There are no screaming fights, just spongecake.

What is more is that Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc will be stepping down as hosts of “The Great British Bake Off” when it moves to Channel 4. The two have presented the show since it launched in 2010, alongside judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood.

Despite the excuse of lacking funding, a wide controversy arose on whether BBC actually struggles to sustain the success of its hit shows—“Top Gear”, a fast-paced and stunt-filled internationally popular motor testing show, had its ratings drop after BBC’s board decided on switching up the shows front, Jeremy Clarkson with Chris Evans. To many viewers, Clarkson and his team was the “show” itself and not simply the cast.

Al Jazeera America to Shut down by April 30

Al Jazeera America to Shut down by April 30
Al Jazeera America to Shut down by April 30

Less than three years after its high-profile launch, Al Jazeera America, the cable television news outlet owned by Qatar-based Al Jazeera Media Network, is shutting down its cable news channel despite spending heavily to break into the US market.

The U.S. cable network will cease operations by April 30. CEO Al Anstey said the business model “is simply not sustainable in light of the economic challenges”.

Back in 2013, Al Jazeera bought Current TV, a U.S.-based television network owned by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore and his business partner Joel Hyatt, to launch Al Jazeera America for $500 million. The new network was supposed to be a more serious and profound alternative to CNN and Fox News.

The Qatar-based broadcaster disbursed millions of dollars bringing in top US journalists; however, it struggled to attract viewers to its news programmes

Moreover, the network was almost immediately confronted with challenges as distributors, including Time Warner Cable Inc (TWC.N) and AT&T Inc (T.N), argued that they had contracted with Current TV and not Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera promised to expand its existing international digital services in the United States, after the channel shuts down in April.

The network will present more details about the expansion of its digital services in the United States over the coming months, it said.

Al Jazeera America was available in about 60 million American homes. The channel reached an average of 19,000 viewers each day in 2015, far less than its competitors, Politico noted.

In addition, the channel struggled with internal turmoil, including multiple discrimination lawsuits that ended up ousting its founding CEO.

Lebanese anchorwomen cause a stir in Egypt’s media

Egyptian TV presenter Faten Abdul Ma'boud (R) and Lebanese TV presenter Liliane Daoud  (L). (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Egyptian TV presenter Faten Abdul Ma’boud (R) and Lebanese TV presenter Liliane Daoud (L). (Asharq Al-Awsat)
Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat—A new wave of Lebanese TV anchorwomen, sporting a more relaxed and outgoing presenting style, are appearing on Egyptian satellite TV channels, sparking a new debate about the competition between foreign and homegrown media talent in the country.

Media experts informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the influx of Lebanese TV anchorwomen is part of a successful attempt to boost television viewership. However, the rush by some of Egypt’s most prominent satellite TV channels to employ Lebanese anchorwomen and female TV presenters is leading to complaints that the new arrivals are sidelining their Egyptian counterparts. Among the new Lebanese faces on Egypt’s TV screes are Raghda Shalhoub, a new addition to Al-Hayat TV, and Liliane Daoud, who was recently hired by ONTV.

Analysts say that many TV executives believe Lebanese broadcast journalists like Shalhoub and Daoud are viewed by the Egyptian general public as being more exotic, particularly in terms of their onscreen sense of style, while the Lebanese Arabic dialect is also perceived as being more glamorous by Egyptian viewers.

The latest trend has created controversy in the North African country, with some Egyptian anchorwomen complaining they will be forced to compete with the Lebanese newcomers by copying their style.

Other analysts attribute the new trend to purely financial reasons, arguing that the new wave of Lebanese anchorwomen and TV presenters—who are predominately relative newcomers to the industry—are generally willing to work for less money than their homegrown counterparts.

“A satellite channel is essentially a business enterprise and Lebanese anchorwomen accept lower pay compared to others,” a senior executive at a private Egyptian TV channel told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the TV executive added: “They are ready to work at any time, and are willing to go out in the field and present from the ground. As for Egyptian presenters, time is a major problem since they follow strict working hours.”

However, despite playing up the financial factors, the executive acknowledged that Lebanese female TV anchors “hold a special appeal for the [Egyptian] public.”

Faced with competition from their Lebanese colleagues, Egyptian TV anchorwomen may feel obliged to ape the presenting style and fashion choices of the Lebanese newcomers, warned Faten Abdul-Ma’boud, who works for Egypt’s state-owned TV channel.

She told Asharq Al-Awsat: “The presence of Lebanese [female presenters] on satellite channels is not a problem. The problem is if Egyptians start copying their style of dress and presenting.”

“The way Lebanese anchorwomen dress is incompatible with the conventional dress code the Egyptian viewer is used to seeing,” she added.

Abdul-Ma’boud expressed fears that superficial considerations are becoming an increasingly important factor on Egyptian TV.

Ever since TV became widely available in Egypt in the early 1960s, female presenters have adhered to a conservative on-air dress code. While this has varied throughout the years under different political administrations, Egyptian TV has generally held firm to the same standards.

“Many Egyptian households may not accept the ‘Lebanese style’ which they are not used to seeing on Egyptian screens. Imitating this style may work for light entertainment, but will not be possible for news broadcasts,” Abdul-Ma’boud told Asharq Al-Awsat.

However, Farouk Abu Zeid, the head of the media department at Egypt’s Misr University for Science and Technology, said that questions relating to fashion and wardrobe choices were secondary concerns when it came to TV presenting and that the most important thing is for TV presenters—whatever their nationality—to adhere to professional standards.

He told Asharq Al-Awsat: “So long as satellite channels broadcast to audiences abroad, any presenter, no matter what nationality they hold, has every right to work and appear on screen.”

“It makes no difference to me who the presenter is . . . What is important is that she is successful and capable of communicating ideas,” he said.

Abu Zeid played down fears that Egyptian media cadres are being sidelined, arguing that the number of Lebanese TV presenters in Egypt is too negligible to pose a threat.

“The argument that Lebanese anchorwomen could pull the rug from under the feet of local TV presenters is an over-exaggeration. There is no problem; the number of Lebanese [TV presenters] working in Egypt currently stands at just between 20 and 30,” he added.

According to Abu Zeid, the practice of hiring Lebanese staff will have a “positive impact” on the Egyptian media and offer an opportunity to boost competition.

“It is a chance for [Egyptian and Lebanese TV presenters] to influence each other. Mutual influence makes competition stronger,” he said.

Lebanon’s Ramadan TV dramas compete with World Cup

A scene from the series The Accusation, starring Myriam Fares. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
A scene from the series The Accusation, starring Myriam Fares. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

Beirut, Asharq Al-Awsat—For once, the heated rivalry between Lebanese television channels during the holy month of Ramadan, set to begin at the end of June, seems to be absent, a direct result of its coinciding with the FIFA World Cup in Brazil this year.

Viewers in Lebanon, who were anticipating the usual full roster of Ramadan dramas this year, were left disappointed when many channels decided to reduce their output out of fear the shows would clash with the hugely popular World Cup matches. Since only one network, Samaa TV, has rights to broadcast the matches in Lebanon—of which there are 64 in total—this has resulted in an overall dearth in shows announced this year.

Networks such as Al-Jadeed, MTV Lebanon, and the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation (LBC) decided to air fewer dramas this year to save on costs. Future TV was the exception, however, deciding to air a number of entertainment shows this Ramadan in addition to its usual selection of soap operas, in order to attract more viewers.

Two of the dramas showing on Future TV this Ramadan are Words on Paper and Collar Girls. Words on Paper, directed by Mohamed Sami, stars Lebanese pop star and actress Haifa Wehbe and Egyptian actor Maged El-Masri. The plot revolves around a married woman who falls in love with another man who is later murdered, making her the primary suspect in the case.

Collar Girls, directed by Mohamed Zuhair Rajab, was the most expensive production of the season. Starring Mona Wassef, Rashid Assaf and Dima Kandalaft, it depicts a series of stories in which private and public affairs come together, combining themes of betrayal, love, freedom and injustice.

Future TV’s entertainment shows this Ramadan include Stand-Up Comedy, A Mood of Laughter and What’s Up?, all of which will be broadcast during the first half of the month. Stand-Up Comedy, hosted by actor Michel Suleiman, injects laughter in the form of imitations and dubbed-over scenes from Lebanese soap operas; Mood of Laughter is a live show in which an audience guest is hypnotized and encouraged to speak about their dreams—to humorous effect; while What’s Up? sees stylist Lama Lund and a team of beauty experts offer up solutions to people desiring a radical image change.

One of this year’s biggest productions, Al-Jadeed TV’s The Accusation, stars Lebanese pop star Myriam Fares. It tells the story a Lebanese woman who travels to Cairo to work in a cotton textile factory to support her family and then falls prey to a gang involved in drugs and prostitution. She is rescued and plots her revenge, but later discovers the leader of the gang is her lover’s father. Here she finds herself caught between the devil and the deep blue sea—between her own experience of injustice, which causes the death of her agonized mother, and her love for her abuser’s son.

Al-Jadeed will also screen three Syrian-produced soap operas: The Sieve, The Scream of a Soul, and Rings. The Sieve, directed by Naji Ta’ama, focuses on the struggle between good and evil and the miseries and the injustices that afflict others as a result; The Scream of a Soul, directed by Saifuddin Al-Sebei, is made up of six stories each consisting of five episodes, and centers upon an open discussion of marital infidelity.

The MTV drama What If? also tackles the subject of marital infidelity, examining this phenomenon in different cultures and societies. Another drama showing on MTV, Ten Young Slaves, is influenced by the work of British novelist Agatha Christie. It tells the story of 10 strangers lured to a remote island, but with a killer among them.

Unlike some of its rivals, television channel LBC made the firm decision this year not to enter the annual Ramadan rivalry between networks in Lebanon due to the clash with the World Cup this year. The network chose instead to continue its screening of The Brother, which first aired nearly a month ago. It will also screen the sixth season of the hugely popular soap Bab Al-Hara and a new series, Bride and Groom. Bab Al-Hara, set in Damascus, sheds light on the city’s values as well as the firmly established customs and traditions in Syria. In the series this year a number of Syrian actors, such as Ayman Zeidan, are expected to make a strong comeback.

So despite the relative shortage in shows this Ramadan, Lebanese viewers should have plenty to enjoy on television as they settle down on the couch with family and friends after breaking their fast to share some well-earned minty tea—and if that does not satisfy them, there is always the drama of the World Cup.

Syrian war takes center stage on Ramadan TV series

In this picture taken on Wednesday July 24, 2013, Lebanese and Syrian citizens gather at an outdoor coffee shop, as one of the Syrian popular series Al-Wiladah Men Al-Khasira (Birth from the Waist), is broadcast on a giant screen, in Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
In this picture taken on Wednesday July 24, 2013, Lebanese and Syrian citizens gather at an outdoor coffee shop, as one of the Syrian popular series Al-Wiladah Men Al-Khasira (Birth from the Waist), is broadcast on a giant screen, in Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
Beirut, AP—Blasts echo in the distance as two longtime friends and neighbors sit along a narrow street in old Damascus chatting about Syria, when one of them calls the civil war raging in their home country a “crisis.”

“It is called a revolution!” the other shouts. “If you are one of those who believe in a foreign conspiracy, then move away from here,” roars the man, whose son has been detained by regime forces for nine months for taking part in pro-democracy protests.
The first man retorts that he is sitting in public property and has the right to call it whatever he wants.

It’s a scene from “We Will Return Soon,” one of at least three Syrian soap operas airing during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan that deal primarily with the Syrian civil war.

The shows, spotlighting a conflict that has killed more than 100,000 people and uprooted millions of others from their homes, have captivated millions of viewers across the Arab world. Other Syrian soap operas broadcast during Ramadan also address the war though it’s not their main theme.

Some of the series are pro-regime and managed to film in Syria, while other series critical of President Bashar Assad’s brutal military crackdown had to be filmed in studios in neighboring Lebanon or Gulf Arab countries. Still others tried to achieve a delicate balance between the two.

With emotions running high among Syrians, reaction has been mixed. A few have called for the programs to be boycotted, particularly those deemed supportive of the regime. But for many Syrians, and especially the hundreds of thousands of refugees in other countries, the shows are a reminder of the lives they left behind.

“These shows make me miss Syria and its people,” said Shadi Attasi, a 35-year-old Syrian from the central city of Homs who fled the war and now lives in Dubai. “They also make me sad because while this is only acting, a lot of people in Syria are living this exact scenario of violence and injustice.”

During Ramadan, Muslims fast during the day and sit down for an elaborate meal in the evening. Arab satellite channels broadcast special Ramadan programs and soap operas each night, trying to hook families who have gathered to break their fast.

Syrian soap operas have gained major popularity in the past few years, rivaling Egyptian dramas that had long dominated viewership across the Arab world. Among the most successful was Bab el-Hara, or “The Neighborhood Gate,” which follows families in a Damascus neighborhood between the world wars, when the French ruled Syria and the local population chafed under foreign control and yearned for independence.

This year’s Syrian soap operas mark a stark departure from the past, dealing with themes and using language unthinkable before the uprising began in March 2011 against the Assad family’s decades-old iron grip rule.

The new TV series also depict some security officers as corrupt and ruthless human beings who live well beyond their means and order troops to kill with no mercy.

One popular series, “Birth from the Waist,” is openly critical of security agents, even showing a security officer ordering his men to “open fire at the dogs,” in reference to anti-regime protesters. The show, which airs on several Arab satellite channels but not on Syrian state-run TV, is about widespread corruption in Syria as well as the uprising and security crackdown.

Many producers have been unable to move inside Syria, forcing them to set up studios elsewhere.

Much of the country is now carved up between rebel and government-held territory. Crossing from one area to the other is often a perilous journey and may take hours if not days. Those that have been produced in Syria are approved, pro-regime series, and at least in one case, the army has assisted in providing cover.
The Syrian Village, near Damascus, where many series including “The Neighborhood Gate,” were filmed in the past few years, was damaged in the fighting. Rebels took it over from government troops earlier this month.

The war has taken on increasingly sectarian overtones, polarizing Syrians into supporters and opponents of Assad. Assad’s regime denies there is a popular uprising, calling it instead a foreign conspiracy backed by Israel and the United States.
In the Ramadan series this year, actors often appear to be cast as characters with likeminded views.

Syrian actress Kinda Allouch has backed the opposition since the start of the crisis. In “We Will Return Soon,” which tells the story of a Syrian family that fled to Lebanon to wait out the war, Allouch’s character proudly proclaims in several episodes that she backs “the revolution.”

Duraid Lahham, Syria’s top actor who touts a nationalist line, also stars in “We Will Return Soon.” His character rejects the idea that what is happening in Syria is a revolution, referring to rebels as “armed men.”

In “Birth from the Waist,” Abdul-Hakim Kuteifan, who is known to be a strong supporter of the opposition, plays the role of a corrupt security officer whose office is adorned with a poster of Assad. The series was reportedly banned from filming in Syria.

Najdat Anzour, one of Syria’s best-known producers and most acclaimed directors, was widely criticized earlier this year for entering the Damascus suburb of Daraya under army protection to shoot his latest series, “Under the Homeland Sky,” at a time when the area was under government attack.

Some activists even said that the army stopped its military operations in the suburb for two days in order for Anzour to finish filming part of his series. The series is now airing on state TV and several other pro-regime stations. It shows, among other things, how Syrian female refugees are exploited sexually and forced into prostitution.

“Just because they saw some soldiers with us, they (opposition) believed that we are glorifying the victories of the army in Daraya,” Anzour told The Associated Press in a recent interview in Damascus.

“It is not a big deal to film in Daraya,” he said. “Daraya is Syrian territory. It is not Israel.”

Hassan Youssef, a Syrian script writer and cultural journalist, said it was too early for the country’s war to be discussed in soap operas.

“I believe that a reading of the national crisis that we are passing through needs time. … It stems from an entire history and it is difficult to treat it (casually) through artistic works,” he said from Syria, where he is based.

“Still, I raise my hat for all those who produced and wrote this year” despite the difficulties, he said.

Amr al-Azm, a Syrian academic in the United States who is also an opposition figure, began a campaign on social media calling on people to boycott soap operas made by regime supporters.
“When my family and I turn on the TV and see it is a Duraid Lahham program, we switch off the channel,” he said. “It is a form of civil disobedience.”

But his boycott call rings hollow for many Syrians, who are desperate for a taste of their homeland.

A Syrian woman now living in Beirut, who declined to be identified for fear of drawing attention to herself, said she’s hooked on the soap operas, although watching them breaks her heart.
“Every day I watch TV, I remember my Syria and I cry.”

Opinion: Syria’s pain is absent from its screens

In only the first two weeks of Ramadan, more than two thousand Syrians fell, some as victims of bombardment and others in massacres or during fighting.

It is the same tragedy that the Syrian people have been drowning in for nearly two and a half years, but Syria’s agony is no longer an significant happening nor a figure nor an image. This adds to the frustration of the Syrian people and increases their sense of disengagement towards their ordeal and lack of interest. Now, the month of Ramadan television dramas have come to ignite Arab public opinion and give the Syrian people another reason for bewilderment and confusion.

These dramas have brought the Syrian reality back to the spotlight. This includes outlets funded directly by the regime and clearly reflecting its point of view. It also includes work funded by the private sector with reflects professional acting and production that does not take a clear position, which is also indirectly in the interests of the regime.

In the series Sana’oud Ba’ad Kaleel (“We Will Return Shortly”), there is no revolution in Syria and the events that occur are only a backdrop for the stories of the main characters. The script identifies the situation in Syria, via the pro-regime actor Duraid Lahham, as a “crisis” with a focus on nostalgia, longing, and grief towards the nation.

In some Syrian areas under the regime, public cafes are prohibited from displaying the series Al-Wilada min Al-Khasira (“Birth from the Flank”). It is considered the most daring and controversial in depicting the Syrian reality, and entails a big mystery that will only be resolved in the last episode, though it is gradually becoming clearer with every episode.

Though the production addresses issues related to abuse, suppression, security, detention, torture, and intelligence, a list of issues the Syrian people have experienced, the program received official authorization from the Syrian authorities and most of its employees are publicly loyal to the regime. Therefore, it isn’t surprising that the revolution is portrayed as evil, thereby considering the regime with all its mistakes the best for the Syrian people.

In fact, social networking websites have displayed the puzzlement and divided opinion of viewers about the Syrian dramas this year, which have diverged from the way they used to be. But which is more grave: the real drama experienced by the Syrians or the drama they escape to within these series?

There is no doubt that the television programs funded by the regime are seeking to subtly tamper with the mood of the audience, a method the regime has proficiently used in the past ten years. In this sense, there are “pro-regime dramas,” and the opposition haven’t produced a drama of their own.

The ability to influence though drama is a weapon of the regime only. Paradoxically, though the regime has managed to infiltrate Syrian screens, the opposition’s actors and stars are absent from this competition.

This will have an impact on public opinion against the cause of the opposition, supported by screens that displayed the revolution and its victims in a way that supports the culprit.

Once again, the regime succeeds in infiltrating the public via the loose realm of drama.