Wednesday, August 18, 2010

If It's Ramadan, It Must be Tash ma Tash Season: Social Satire or Carnivalesque?

Tash ma Tash Season 17

Tash ma Tash (no big deal) is such a staple of Ramadan television fare that many of us who have never seen it on television are aware of it and have seen it on video. The serial uses humour to comment on social mores and laws in Saudi Arabia to great comedic effect. While some episodes and seasons have been rather staid, others have resulted in great controversy. This season, 17, episode 4 on "Multiple Husbands" or polyandry has been particularly stirring the ire of the religious scholars, and the counterarguments of the more progressive. What is more disconcerting is that this time it seems as if many men are not so amused.

The episode, which may be downloaded for free here*, is a role reversal whereby a Saudi woman of independent means takes 4 husbands adding them sequentially, then determines to take a 5th requiring the 4 contemporaneous ones to draw lots to determine who shall be the divorcé. As soon as husband number one, the last to draw lots, is determined to be the unlucky fellow, she pronounces "Taliq, Taliq, Taliq" and divorced he is.

The wife in this case is the domineering one, heartless about her pitiable husbands' jealousies and lamentations, or preferences to keep the numbers down. She insults them, pushes them, and roughly separates the ones who are getting pushy with each other. They in turn gossip about and play nasty tricks on the newbie. When really annoyed she deprives them of their "turn".

Of course, she drives, and they sit in the passenger seat. Nonetheless, she wears her abaya cast loosely over her wedding gown each time she brings back a new husband. In the end the episode is revealed to be a film, and a film audience including the director, and with the actors present, discusses it. Both the film within the episode, and the "filmmakers" get a standing ovation.

Although humour and satire can be potent, it struck me that the annual Tash ma Tash comedic critique functioned much like the Carnivalesque does. The Carnivalesque refers to the festivities during Carnival in Medieval and Renaissance times, and still in certain celebrations, when the world is essentially inverted. Masters became servants, men dress and play the roles of women, and vice versa, humans imitate the animal world an dressed costumed as such; feasting and libations replace normal work and austerity, and sexual inhibitions are loosened.

Battle of Carnival and Lent, Pieter Brueghel the Younger

While the Carnivalesque gives the participants a sense of role reversal and the potential for a new order, it ultimately functions as a social safety valve. It allows people to let off steam, have a bit of fun, dare to dream, before the status quo returns.

During the Carnival while there were genuine role reversals for the day(s) the participants remained mindful of what boundaries were not to be breached. The reversals and demands on the master-servants were codified and sufficiently benign not to provoke reprisals on return to the real world order. Tash ma Tash for all its courage remains sufficiently benign not to be completely censored or forced off the air. The use of humour is one protection, as is the device of a fiction within a fiction, in this episode on "Multiple Husbands". Furthermore showing polyandry is at one remove from addressing polygyny as a Saudi problem, rather than tackling the problem head on. There is controversy but no direct hits so to speak.

I am curious as to what Saudis may think of this theory, which has been applied in literary, historical, anthropological, and sociological studies, and whether it applies to Tash ma Tash. Or is that too pessimistic a view? Does the Carnivalesque, and Tash ma Tash itself open minds to other ideas and critiques of social structures, that later germinate in the actions of the more progressive members of society?

Others are welcome to comment as well, including sharing their experiences of carnivals or the role of satire in effecting social change, or stimulating critical thinking.

Further reading:

There are relevant articles in Arab News, and in Al Arabiya; as well as posts on Saudiwoman's Weblog, and Crossroads Arabia.

The Carnivalesque is a term first coined by Russian literary theoretician Mikhail Bakhtin and applied to the work of French Renaissance writer François Rabelais, and nineteenth century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky, as well as the archetype of the fool through literary history.

Tash ma Tash 17 has caused other controversies, notably in its portrayal of positive Muslim-Christian relations and against corruption in Saudi Arabia.

Your comments, thoughts, impressions, experiences?

*A special thank you to Saudi Jawa for emailing me the link to the free download. Downloading takes time (if you are using the free option, but it is worthwhile even if you don't understand Arabic--the visuals are clear).


coolred38 said...

Good stuff. I find Arabs in general cant find the humor in things concerning themselves. When you can laugh at yourself your half way there to change.

So say I.

Another thought. How come South Park, a social satire CARTOON, gets threats etc for daring to go where nonMuslims shouldnt go...but the creators of Tash MaTash havent? At least not that I know of.

Arianna said...

Thanks for the links, Chiara. What I find so telling is that humanity has been warring since we were living in trees. Our closest relatives, the chimps also make war, although they tend to completely wipe out rival troops. Human males have always been killed during war, often leaving a surplus of women many of whom were considered the spoils of war and were married off to the conquerers. Yet, most human societies have not employed polygyny—serial monogamy and mistresses, perhaps, but not polygyny.

Throughout the modern world, polygamy for both genders is illegal. Yet, the Muslims cling to the polygyny tribal customs of the ancient Arabs, despite the fact that only 12% of Muslims are Arabs. This behavior could be compared to that of a recalcitrant teen, who engages in all sorts of personal and societal destructive behavior, yet insists that, “This is good!” These days, there is a shortage of females all over the world, due in large part to selective gender abortions, female infanticide as well as death of women in childbirth. Already we are seeing Chinese peasants kidnapping brides. Many young men in India cannot find a bride. S. Koreans import foreign Asian brides, while in the West, many people simply remain single, since this is no longer a stigma.

Both women and men can support themselves via productive work. Therefore, women in the West are no longer dependent on men for their sustenance. Of course, working is something that many Saudi women do not want to do. I recall reading a number of articles wherein Saudi women were quoted as saying they wanted western rights and all the “rights” that Islam gave them. They didn’t want to work, but they wanted to be free to galavant about. An excess of young males, who cannot find one wife, much less several does not bode well for peace.

On a personal note, I cannot imagine sharing the love of my life with another woman, in spite of the fact that as the “only” wife the primary burden of caring for home and family falls to me. Since we live in the West, unlike many Saudis or Gulf Arabs, we do not have servants. I have often said, “I need a wife,” because then, I would get more creative work done, since the “wife” would take care of life’s minutiae, like compiling the shopping and guest lists for this week’s dinner party, preserving the bounty of the gardens and finding the matching socks in the laundry.

As to having several “husbands,” that might not be a bad idea: One for love, another for intellectual stimulation, another for hard labor and Mr. Fix-it type jobs, the fourth for companionship. . . Hmmm, this has possibilities. ;) OTOH— Imagine being old and having 4 even older codgers to care for as the sole wife. Statistically, married men live longer, while married women do not. OK, never mind! I think serial monogamy is a better idea.

The late anthropologist Margaret Mead felt that 3 marriages were about right given the long life-span of modern humans. The first for lust, the second for children and the third for companionship in old age. I’ll drink to that! lol

It is a mystery as to why Muslims, in particular Saudi Arabs want to keep half the population from being productive since the greatest resource is human capital. ”Every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man. “ Margaret Mead

Wendy said...

@coolred - I would think the difference is that with Tash ma Tash the Saudis are making fun of themselves. It is always okay to make fun of oneself but not okay to make fun of others. Having said that the threats and uproar over South Park was ridiculous. Freedom of speech should still reign.
Arianna, you are so right and polygamy certainly is practiced by many cultures and not restricted to Muslims.

Chiara, I think that Tash Ma Tash is so very healthy!!!

Anonymous said...

I think I read about the 4 wives episode on Crossroads Arabia - very funny! I hadn't heard of Tash ma Tash before that, but I think it's refreshing.

As Coolred said, being able to make fun of yourself is probably the best way to get positive change (both on an individual level and on a national level).

I also agree with Arianna that the reasons behind the legalisation of polygamy during the advent of Islam, no longer apply and therefore should be banned.

Actually, I agree with every word of Arianna's post.

Regarding the South Park death threat controversy - the whole thing looks really fishy. The organisation behind the threat is basically a ten man band led by a hardcore Orthodox Jewish Zionist turned hardcore Orthodox Muslim Islamist. Talk about multiple personality disorder!

Susanne said...

I read about this previously and found it a brilliant idea! What a good way to see how the other side views what you do. I know the majority of men do NOT have multiple wives, but for the few that do and the fewer who treat their wives like cars that have lost their appeal and need to be traded in for newer models, this should be a slap in the face!

And God forbid a Muslim think a Christian has a few good qualities! (And vice versa.) :-)

Thanks for sharing!

Majed said...

Marriage in Islam is a leagally and socially binding contract between to a man and woman, generally in contracts it is very common and lawful even in the most(modern)communities that the stronger partner is allowed to dictate his terms and whether someone accept it or not man is and will always be the dectating element in any human society. unfortunately just like animals.
as it is well known any contract can be terminated, simply when a partner is no more intersted or just feel that he want to walk out.
Yes in modern societies many women are able to support themselves so if they do not like to share their hasbands they can islamically get divorce (terminate the contract from their side)so not need to raise hell about it,there is always exit. and those who can not support themself can survive it.
but i would like to add that in islam even though polygamy is only (Jaaiz)something like allowed not as a way of life and it is restricted to certain cases, unfortunately some people especially of Tribal backgrouds practice it to compete with each other and to boast manhood and size of families.
Banning Polygamy is out of question, what is permitted by Allah should not be banned by man believe me it will soon come in handy after world III, and they will say we should allow and left the ban. Instead they should be progressive and allow plyandry and let us see what muslim women will call who pritice it.

Anonymous said...


Slavery was permitted by Allah. I don't think you'll find many Muslims who'll say it was wrong to ban it.

Majed said...

Thank you for reading my comments, i know my english is weak but i hope people understand what i mean to say.
But, what polygamy has to do with slavery after all that is said about marriage contract?
and of course i am totally against slavery, unfortunately it is still practised in its original form in some places and in many different forms in many other palces and people are making fortunes out of it.
So it cant acutally be banned, it is like stop possessing your own slave but you can always hire other people `s slaves.
I hope you will go through this link i feel that it can talk for me.

Wendy said...

Finally watched it and even though I don't understand Arabic it was very easy to follow. This is why I like soaps in other languages BTW. It was very good and I will have my husband watch it so he can translate the talk after the show for me.

Chiara said...

Thank you all for your comments!

Coolred--interesting! I find Arabs individually and collectively have a great sense of humour, including self-deprecation. I would say more that fundamentalists of any genre don't. I agree that humour serves to foster change, often because it allows one to say things that couldn't be said in seriousness. Tash ma Tash at one point had problems staying on air, and I believe at that time there were threats to the principal actors. Perhaps someone else knows better.
Thanks again for your comment!

Arianna--Polygyny is very much a minortiy phenomenon in the Muslim world and in Saudi Arabia where the figures range from 2%-12% depending on region. They probably vary depending on socio-economic status as well. I agree that I personally wouldn't want to share a husband, but that polyandry makes an amusing THOUGHT! LOL :)
Thanks for your comment!

Wendy--I agree that Tash ma Tash seems very healthy, as a social release, a social critique, and a model of how to do it relatively safely. I do hope that some people, particularly the young, gain an insight from watching it that leads to greater awareness of alternative modes of thinking to the mainstream and that such awareness translates eventually to change. Glad you liked the episode. I agree that soaps, and comedic sketches are great for understanding because the plot lines and characterizations are broadly drawn. Thanks for sharing and getting back to us.

Shafiq--Thanks for your comment, and check youtube for older episodes with English subtitles sometimes. Interesting about the South Park threats. ALl it takes is one extremist, and individuals (often with a certain personality style or disorder) sometimes go from one extreme to the other, like Barbara Amiel Black who went from street marching Marxist to extreme capitalist (Lord Black of Crossharbour's wife, and the pro-Israel right wing journalist whose indiscretion resulted in the recall of the French ambassador to Britain). Thanks for sharing your impressions, and your comment!

Susanne-It is a very nice role reversal! And true the interfaith episode should be lauded not condemned but would be reviled by extremists on both sides. Thanks for the comment!

Majed--Thank you for sharing your views and knowledge on this. In my experience more Muslim men are willing not to practice polygyny, and remain monogamous, than are willing to ban it. It seems they like the option, even if they choose not to exercise it. I do think that the conditions set in the Quran, lead away from polygyny, and towards monogamy. Besides, most men find one set of inlaws quite enough! :)
Shafiq will probably respond for himself, but I think his comment was more: slavery is permitted by Allah but we don't practice it, and have made human laws against it; and so we should/ could for polygyny. In practice Muslim majority countries could keep the option, but make it difficult to practice. In the end human hearts will prevail.
Thanks again for sharing your views!

Haitham هيثم Al-Sheeshany الشيشاني said...

this was wonderful to read, comments were rich too -to say the least-
we don`t own a TV; but tash ma tash and the like r things to hear bwt nonetheless.
thanks again.


Majed said...

The seeds of Abolishment of slavery are there in Quran unlike polygamy.
Even though nowhere it is clearly mentioned in Quran that slavery is prohibited, just like Alcohol consumption because these both things where so deeply rooted in human communities, and any direct and instant involvement by Islam in abolishing slavery and banning alcohol would have been like a coup de grace to the change islam was seeking to make,the majority of people back then, even if they had sniffed such an intention, would have not even bothered themself to hear what it has to say in the first place.
That is why Islam had to be very careful in dealing with these to two issues, and was wise enough to be gradual in driving people away from them because most poeple back then drank and owned slaves and many societies ` existence was based on slavery like the Roman and Egyptians and Arabs where no better.
Regarding how islam dealt with slavery: it first started with drying out the sources of slavery by restricting it to war prisoners and prohibited slavery through debt default and kidnapping. as for war prisoners (was only reciprocal dealing with enemies and comes under concept of treat other as they treat you) so it depends on what arragments the parties at war lay out for themselves even though Allah recommended muslim in case of war prisoners to be kind to them and release them for free after the war or otherwise take ransom if they needd money as in Quran 47:4 ( when ye meet the Unbelievers (in fight), smite at their necks; At length, when ye have thoroughly subdued them, bind a bond firmly (on them): thereafter (is the time for) either generosity or ransom: Until the war lays down its burdens. Thus (are ye commanded): but if it had been Allah.s Will, He could certainly have exacted retribution from them (Himself); but (He lets you fight) in order to test you, some with others. But those who are slain in the Way of Allah,- He will never let their deeds be lost.)
and another Surah Allah (SWT) Tells muslims that emancipating a slave is a hard thing to do But if one wants to please Allah he should do it
and there are also many sins like manslauther,perjury and sleeping with wife while fasting in Ramadan and some other sins that reqire among other options to free a slave in atonement.
so with one inlet for slavery with too many outlets slavery eventually was doomed to be ended or was to be hardly noticeable also what the Prophet, peace be upon him in order to encourage people for buying slaves and set them free, said: If a believer sets a slave free then God will set him free of hell fire on the Day of Judgment.
polygamy does not force a woman to stay with her husband is she does not want to share him with others and polygamy is nothing compared to slavery and banning (polygamy) such thing would be like the catholics banning divorce where only option to get another wife was either to kill once wife or prove adultry i think i would rather marry on her. you know even though polygamy is allowed in Islam
according to the 1961 census polygamy was actually less prevalent among Indian Muslims (5.7%) than among several other religious groups. Incidence was highest among Adivasis (15.25%) and Buddhists (7.9%); Some Indian communists like Ram Puniyani claim that Hindus had an incidence of 5.8%.


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