by Daoud Kuttab
A major social Fault line was suddenly revealed this past week when the online film content giant Netflix debuted its first Netflix original Arabic series “Jinn.” The series filmed in Jordan largely with Jordanian talent tells the story of teenagers from a private school in Amman as they are confronted with the mysterious world of genies.
Almost every relevant body in Jordan was forced to react. The attorney general, the mufti, the Media commission, the Royal Film Commission and the wide network of social media activists all became emotionally involved. Many argued vehemently in opposition to the series because of the lewd language and the sexually suggestive scenes including the fact that a 16 year-old Jordanian young woman was seen kissing a boy on the screen. It made little difference to many that the program was listed as 16+ and that the series itself was restricted to subscribers to the pay online network.
The fault line that was uncovered by this series has a lot to do with the age old Arab/Muslim concept of ‘aib’ or shame and ‘sutra’ ie coverage. The concept is no matter how wrong an act is done it is somehow forgiven if it is kept under wraps, but if God for bid it is made public, all hell breaks loose and the public cries that this is incompatible with Arab culture and morals.
For decades Arab script writers were forced to tone down their efforts because of the self-censorship that these twin concepts of ‘aib and sutra entailed. Legal and regulatory laws were enacted to ensure that nothing violates Jordanian/Arab/Islamic culture and traditions.
Radio and TV licenses make the need to respect “Jordanian culture and traditions” a condition of continuing the licensing. Same applies to cinema and other artistic production. Censorship is applied to movies with scenes cut out in order to be given the permission to be shown causing some movies never to be shown in Jordan. But while the regulation has eased on foreign made films and television programs, the fact that a kissing scene was in which Jordanian students were involved hit the panic button to many. High school students were seen drinking and smoking while on an overnight trip to Petra, a fact that caused many to claim that this is not a reflection of life of high school students, a claim that many have debunked.
What the Jinn series has uncovered are two worrisome facts. One, that many in Jordan are living in denial, often not knowing or wanting to know what is happening with their own children and the youth in general. At the same time, it revealed a schism that reflects the hypocrisy of many who have no problem with drama programs on tv or cinema showing sexually suggestive acts but have a huge problem when the participants are Jordanians. And while the entire series was harshly and unjustifiably trashed by many (often using worst language than what they were complaining about) another worrisome issue was revealed namely that the female characters received much more criticism than male characters as if the kissing scene (which was the most talked about) didn’t occur between two people!!
The schism that the JINN program has revealed sends dangerous signs that require some serious though about the future of Jordan and its social fabric. Are we moving too quickly towards globalization with all that its entails as the way to lift the country out of its economic woes or are we ready to slow down or put a stop in terms of the liberalization that globalization brings with it and for which no local remedies or enforcement mechanisms are available.
A third way is available namely that if as a society the issue of globalization is upon us and there is no governmental or regulatory remedies for it, we need to return to basics. We need to put a lot more effort into our educational system, our religious teachings and what happens at home. Parents, caregivers, educators and people of the cloth can no longer ignore the reality that is upon us and must tackle it with honesty , transparency and with tolerance. This is not a problem that has to be handled with a sledge hammer. We need to spend more times with our children, we need to know much more about the lives of our teenagers and we need to be a friend and guide rather than an absentee observer that wakes up one day and is shocked by what they see or hear on an internationally owned company that no legal or regulatory force can stop. This is the big challenge in the years and decades ahead and the sooner that we wake up to it the better.