Privacy has long become a thing of the past. While in earlier times we would collectively keep our dirty linen in closets and laundry baskets, in recent years it seems to have become the norm to share the most embarrassing and private moments with all and sundry. From celebrities sharing painful stories of abuse to reality TV shows; as people we seemed to have lost any sense of shame and embarrassment.
Talkshows from the US are syndicated worldwide and we can feast our eyes in cringing embarrassment as partners confess to infidelities on air, and the likes of Jerry Springer in pseudo-commiseration pat the hand of the eternally humiliated while introducing the neighbour, co-worker, best friend or family member who has partaken in the betrayal.
As time goes on TV channels find ever new angles to continue this degrading form of entertainment; there are shows where men find out if they are the father of a child, where couples talk about their marital problems while Dr Someone offers sound advice, but not before every excruciating detail is shared with the watching public. Seeing others embarrass themselves on air is popular, and there is money to be made of those that lack sound judgment.
When I first moved to Egypt my television offered three channels only and none of the kinds of shows as mentioned above. That is not to say that all was well in the ether but it was of a very different nature.
Old black and white movies showed women of high society in stylish, knee length dresses with plunging necklines, while their poorer sisters wore galabeyas and colourful scarves wrapped around their heads. An argument between father and daughter or husband and wife would often be settled with a resounding smack in the face, which I found disturbing and upsetting but the women on film seem to take in stride.
Men sported large moustaches and square bottles of Johnny Walker Red Label were frequently shown in scenes of social gatherings. These images are in stark contrast to what we see on the streets today.
Every weekend one of the state run channels would show an English language movie and it used to be my treat of the week. It was not until I watched a movie I knew well that I noticed the scenes that had been obliterated by the censors, but since they just included the often gratuitous grasp and grunt scenes it did not bother me that much.
I found the concept of censorship baffling but it was not until I saw the movie Philadelphia that I realised how intrusive and extensive censorship really was. All references to HIV, AIDS and homosexuality were ruthlessly removed, leaving us with a 47 minute tale where Tom Hanks died of a mysterious disease, sued his employers for reasons never explained, had a friend played by Antonio Banderas and Denzel Washington portrayed a lawyer who had a phobia for shaking hands.
This may be a while ago but things have not changed; only a few weeks ago a talkshow host quit his job on air after the owners of the channel refused one of the opposition leaders to appear on the show.
In the past few years satellite dishes have mushroomed on the roofs and balconies around the country. Arabic soaps and talkshows flood televisions and local versions of international concept shows quickly follow their foreign cousins with mixed results.
An Arabic version of Big Brother was not a resounding success since the rules of propriety were strictly upheld, resulting in stilted and boring versions of the shenanigans of their foreign counterparts that attract so much of the audience abroad. Ahmed Springer has not arrived on the scene yet, but I fear the worst.
Of late, several private channels have been added to the hundreds of available options, often broadcasting programming dedicated to a single topic or vision, from deeply conservative views to bellydancing 24/7. Music channels play habibi and wahistini songs in endless loops and owners of channels promote their own products through endless advertising campaigns.
On Wednesday one of these music channel owners launched a new ad, but unlike the others that promoted movies produced by one of his other companies, this one was a very public announcement of a very private matter. The ad announced in detail the financial arrangements and a copy of the official document of the owner’s divorce from his now ex-wife.
I have friends who were dumped by SMS shortly before their nuptials, who found out their engagement was off by a change in relationship status on Facebook but the ad that was broadcast yesterday takes the cake in callousness, revenge and humiliation because of the sheer number of people who saw it passing by on TV.
I miss the days when those that ruled the airwaves retained a basic modicum of dignity and dirty laundry remained unaired.