Good News from Iraq (Fake news edition)
Somehow it's fitting that the only good news to come out of Iraq recently is the fake news. The New York Times reports on a satirical news show that debuted on the Iraqi sattelite station Al Sharqiya at the beginning of Ramadan. This being Iraq, the show's title is somewhat darker than "The Daily Show"-- it's called "Hurry Up, He's Dead".
Nearly every night here for the past month, Iraqis weary of the tumult around them have been turning on the television to watch a wacky-looking man with a giant Afro wig and star-shaped glasses deliver the grim news of the day.
In a recent episode, the host, Saad Khalifa, reported that Iraq's Ministry of Water and Sewage had decided to change its name to simply the Ministry of Sewage — because it had given up on the water part.
In another episode, he jubilantly declared that "Rums bin Feld" had announced American troops were leaving the country on 1/1, in other words, on Jan. 1. His face crumpled when he realized he had made a mistake. The troops were not actually departing on any specific date, he clarified, but instead leaving one by one. At that rate, it would take more than 600 years for them to be gone.
The newscast is a parody, of course, that fires barbs at everyone from the American military to the Iraqi government, an Iraqi version of "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart." Even the militias wreaking havoc on Iraq are lampooned.
[. . .]
The newscast opens with an explanation of the show's underlying premise: it is the year 2017 and the main character, Saaed, is the last Iraqi alive. He is lying face down on a beach with a red suitcase next to him. When he comes to, he is quickly encircled by beautiful women.
Cut to a scene of Saaed clad in a black T-shirt imprinted with "2PAC," showboating in front of a white stretch Humvee limousine with dancers cavorting all around.
The show's raucous theme song, which has become a popular cellphone ring tone here and is sung by children in schoolyards, laments that it would be better to be a lowly cat on the street than an Iraqi: "No one asks the cat where you are from, which party you're from, whether you are an Arab, a Kurd, a Sunni or a Shiite."
He sings on, "I am the last Iraqi alive, but I still do not own a house," a reference to the country's acute housing shortage.
The twenty minute show was originally intended to have a limited run during Ramadan, but has proved so popular that Al Sharqiya is considering giving turning it into a weekly program. There are problems, of course. Al Sharqiya already has an uneasy relationship with the Iraqi government. As the Times notes, it "has at times run afoul of the government for its regular news coverage". Whether the government will be more open when it comes to satirical news, remains to be seen.
There are some topics that have been deemed too controversial to air. An episode that Mr. Sudani wrote ridiculing the Saddam Hussein trial was dropped because producers were afraid it would anger loyalists of the old regime and the current government.
Hopefully, the show will survive. A willingness to embrace satire would be one sign of progress amid the gruesome chaos. And given the show's focus-- "the gallows humor with which many Iraqis now view their lives — still lacking basic services and plagued by unrelenting violence more than three years after the American-led invasion"-- it's unlikely to run out of material anytime soon.
(via This Modern World)
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