Governments talk about winning hearts and minds as part of their “soft power” (as opposed to the hard power of military engagement). But the term, coined by political scientist Joseph Nye in 1990, is really more appropriate to what entertainment media organizations do: after all, soft power is all they have. If movies and TV shows, social media and books don’t both capture and reflect the hearts and minds of the people they’re designed for, they crash without a net. Entertainment is second only to religion in creating shared cultural currency–and it’s much more fluid. Understanding what makes people laugh, sing or dance along (or what infuriates and repels them) tells us–so goes the theory–far more than any survey assessing political alignment or gender bias or race relations. Archie Bunker revealed things about a country the way a Gallup poll never could.
Northwestern University in Qatar and Doha Film Institute have been studying entertainment in the Middle East since the Arab Spring. The most recent info is gathered from interviews with more than 6,000 people in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Qatar, Tunisia and the UAE. Very different people in very different places, but anywhere between 56% (Tunisia) and 82% (Saudi Arabia) want more regulation of romantic content. Similar numbers want regulations on violent content. Binge-watching TV is happening here too–almost half the women reported watching two or more shows in a sitting. Sports online is big–with 31% willing to pay to watch it. Religious programming during Ramadan is as all-pervasive in Middle East media as MLK mentions on PBS during Black History Month in the US. The rub? 79% want entertainment to do more to preserve cultural traditions, while 70% want more cultural integration with modern society. There’s actually a solution, pioneered in the West, for this seemingly implacable contradiction: multiple televisions.
–More at mideastmedia.org