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Title: Home under siege : Bab al-Hara, televising morality and everyday life in the Levant
Author: Nassif, H.
ISNI:       0000 0004 5992 7732
Awarding Body: University of Westminster
Current Institution: University of Westminster
Date of Award: 2015
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This PhD research investigates the role of television in representing the past and constructing an idealized society using a case study of a phenomenal Ramadan drama series, Bab el-Hara. The television drama, a Syrian production, was funded by the pan-Arab satellite conglomerate, the MBC group, and it is set in a fictitious Damascus of the 1930s under the French Mandate. The series, airing its seventh season in Ramadan, 2015, succeeded in achieving pan-Arab fame and gave a boost to the “Damascene Milieu” drama genre. The study approaches this television phenomenon ethnographically, looking at the fiction's implicatedness in the everyday life of viewers and makers in Damascus and in Beirut, through a multi-sited approach investigating content, context and agency, engaging in questions on space, morality and patriotism. The objective is to investigate audiences, text and makers as distinct yet connected sites of meaning. This context based analysis of Bab al-Hara takes place against the backdrop of 2010/2011; the liminal state of a Levant entering deeper into a complex local, regional and international power struggle. The everyday life of Bab al-Hara’s viewers was characterized by a general sense of loss and mistrust, and an unclear and threatened future. Contrastingly, Bab al-Hara provided the nostalgic promise of ontological security, grounded as it was in the courtyard houses of Old Damascus. The Damascene courtyard house constituted the spatial anchor for an idealized moral past, an ahistorical Damascusfocused Arab cultural history, and an imagination of the domestic as sovereign. It thus promoted a view of the neighbourly, the city and the country as a system based on kin, or the family, as the frame in which to understand the collectivity. Bab al-Hara's cultural, moral and spatial telos, a fusion of religious and nationalist worldviews, amongst others, is negotiated by Bab al-Hara’s viewers. The older generation, with situated experience of the social relations during the 1930s, and the younger generation that is appreciative of the virility of the “real” Bab al-Hara man that they no longer encounter in their everyday life. The multiple generational readings in regard to the absent idealized strength and authority, became a dominant reading in relation to chastity and unity as two idealized values that are necessary to conserve, but that are facing serious challenges in the everyday. Bab al-Hara idealizes a moral domestic society that is set in the past and it aims to advance a discourse on unity and patriotism. In so doing, however, it only exposes the weakness of the national project. The Syrian social upheaval in 2011 shows how unity and patriotism as the binaries to sectarianism and treason, have not succeeded in protecting the inner domain of the house from external invasions or internal divisions. In fact, accusations of treason, instead of forcing the outsider to the outside and building solidarity within, accentuates mistrust between the insiders and reveals the power and the limits of t h e Bab al-Hara imaginary of a kin based collectivity, and the omnipresence of imperialism.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available