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.
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).