GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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From Sitcoms to Snapchat; the evolution of the visual home space in Kuwait
Paper Proposal Text :
Films produced within the Arab world particularly by Arab filmmakers have always provided scholars a window into social life and its transformation from tradition to modernity. Film also serves as an important medium for the analysis of Arab domestic space since it pierces an eye into the interior of the family space that is otherwise guarded by silent walls. The paper will trace the evolution of the cinematic home space and its social formulations as represented by a number of Kuwaiti sitcoms produced in and about Kuwait, its neighborhoods, and family life since 1964, the year Kuwait’s Ministry of Information was established, until the outbreak of the Gulf War in 1990. In so doing, the paper expresses the degree to which these televised articulations of the home used established traditions to reinforce particular nationalistic paradigms with specific assignments for each gender.

For example, by the mid 20th century the television became a popular commodity found in every household, mainly used for entertainment. Aware of the social and political influence that this new form of media could have on its vast audience, the newly found Ministry of Information invited a large number of experienced Arab directors, producers, set designers, and scriptwriters to Kuwait. The State, during this period, took on the role of the educator and under this rubric produced sitcoms with the themes of tawiyya - i.e. spread social and ethical instructions of how one should live in a modernizing world, portraying images of the ideal modern Kuwaiti home, the role of the model wife, husband, and child- each with its established gendered, normative, and prescribed role.

After the Gulf War in 1991, Kuwait’s political, economic, and social landscape was greatly wounded. The parliament took on new conservative members that further impacted the governmental infrastructure and the agenda of the Ministry of Information. Much of the Ministry’s informed Arab experts, that served the state for thirty years, were evacuated and replaced by young Kuwaitis. New censorship laws emerged, and the Ministry no longer depended on its own resources for the production of sitcoms but now outsourced much of its projects to private companies.

In this period, sitcoms started to take on a new flair, the earlier comedic nature of production were abandoned, and highly melodramatic themes with long overlapping narratives became the dominant storyline. New characters and topics started to appear i.e. the broken home that included alcohol and drug additions, jail time, physical abuse, and marital infidelity. Many Kuwaitis felt that sitcoms no longer reflected what they thought themselves or their ‘traditional norms’ to be, consequently assessing the productions as being ‘exaggerated, misinterpreted forms of reality.’ Subsequently, sitcoms lost their social influence especially as new forms of media entered the Kuwaiti landscape.

With the emergence and vast use of the Internet in the 1990s Kuwait’s media scape started to take new form. This transition away from the Kuwaiti television stations reaches its peak in the early 2000s when social media enters the scene through popular networking services such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Whatapp, Instagram and most recently video messaging application Snapchat. With its "Stories" functionality, Snapchat allows users to compile snaps into a "story" that can be viewed by other users in chronological order, with each snap available for 24 hours after its posting. This inspired a new visual category as many Kuwait men and women started to make public videos of themselves, in their home space, which included their living rooms, bedrooms, kitchens, and at times their bathrooms. In these videos, topics vary but are often of mundane issues such as makeup tutorials, restaurant reviews, travel information, house décor suggestions, and moral and ethical advice. Because recording your self and publishing it for anyone to see was a taboo in Kuwait only some years ago, those that did, gained instant fame. Here Snapchat, in its function as a video I argue enters and challenges State influence that was previously achieved through sitcom production. Today, Snapchat stars, or Fashinistas as they refer to themselves, such as Bibi AlAbdulmohsen, Fouz Alfahad, Fatima Almomen, Yelda Golsharifi, Ascia, and many others are hired by hundreds of business both national and international for advertising anything from food to home furniture.

Based on a study published August 2015 by the Department of Statistics and Research at the Faculty of Science in Kuwait University, 94.5% of Kuwait’s population are users of social media on an average of 5.05 hours daily by females and 4.58 hours daily by male users. The study also states that 92% of users have depended less on traditional sources of media such as newspapers, radio, or television and instead have used social media as their main source of information. Is also important to note that 70% of the users stated that social media had effected or changed their religious, political, and social views.
These statistics alone illuminate further on the degree to which Kuwaiti television lost its capacity to attract audiences let alone affect their views.

Comprehending the vast influence of social media the State begins to take action once again. In the second media summit that took place in Kuwait April 2014, the Minister of Information Sheikh Salman Al Hamoud Al Sabah states that “Kuwait is the first in the Gulf region in social media usage and it has become a key component for providing and delivery information to people.” According to Sheikh Salman, the media revolution in Kuwait in the late 1990’s was a quantum leap for social media, which affects the entire society; he contends that this change also “affects the national identity of individuals and the society in general.” He thus explains that the government has established a media environment project and an integrated media system that connects between the government and private media. He concludes in his speech that through this project, “Kuwait looks at private media outlets as key partners.”

With the growing importance of social media in the Gulf and in Kuwait in particular, an articulation and comprehension of its influence is warranted. Today, video application such as Snapchat greatly impacts and challenges mainstream State-driven visual production that now scrambles to reframe itself within this new paradigm. Not only does Snapchat unveil the ‘real’ house, a sacred private space, previously inaccessible, it also presents us with new less monitored values of the family and its home space.