In the collective narrative of humanity, there are few character story revelations & motivators verily insightful than what is known in the content world as ‘backstory’: What is known to the rest of us as ‘how my parents and upbringing is to blame for everything’.
For a culture that is fully invested in the family affair, it is sometimes jaw-dropping how extremely blazé parents can be about how their choice of words, actions & reactions can impact their children. Especially when synonymously coupled with how quickly they are to reminisce on their own young lives to explain or excuse their thoughts, feelings & actions.
It is also somewhat curious to understand why, then, when traditionally we are a people who are constantly referring & referencing origin, background & the past as well as seeing our childhood/family as direct narrative extenders to our present current selves; are we awful at anchoring the stories we produce on script & screen to rich characters with insightful backgrounds.
Arabic characters’ we watch on TV often feel like puppets mobilised to fulfilling the plot-lines. Or, worse – the story being told starts five minutes after what is potentially the most interesting thing about the character’s arc has already happened.
There isn’t enough Arabic content being made that purposefully focuses on & intentionally tells the story of characters & the unravelling of their emotional journeys in the present tense nor about the human condition as it unfolds under the constraints & opportunities of circumstance. Often ideas are expressed in the “…and then” storytelling. “This happened, then this happened, then this happened”. Compounding action after action without justifying the motivations of these set of actions nor leaving room for the emotional ramifications. And by omitting the causality & not being interested in the human impact, these narratives are deleting the “but then this happened, therefore this changed,” so essentially removing the opportunity for stories to have any loops, jeers & surprises and cancelling any chance for what we are watching to feel truly convincing.
In a region where today – in the grimy present – with millions of people, thousands of unique experiences, hundreds of realities & lifestyles, why are there only tens of stories being told & a handful of ways we are telling them. When we should be so desperate to share in our similarities & empathise with each other’s difference – why isn’t the backstory: the individual and collective “how it all started” family affairs, breakdowns and breakups, tears and joys, love and loss, actually what our TV series overflowing with? Why aren’t we interested in the human condition or in each other?
In the mid-noughties (2000’s), Syrian TV drama did begin to tamper with these notions & genres & some cool things were transpiring on screen in the years leading up to the ‘the revolutions’ (2011). But since then it really appears like we have reverted back into super-safe, super-plot, storytelling. So, maybe this a reflection of our collective current psyche or mood. Maybe we don’t understand ourselves nor each other at all & don’t know what to say or where to start.
(Photograph of scene with Amal Arafeh from Ghizlan Fi Ghabat El Thi’ab)
How have we come this far removed and alienated from one another that we don’t know how to expose & reveal who we are, how we feel, & most importantly – why we do the things we do. Why we stay or leave, why we lie, cheat, or beg; why we devote or commit, why we are devout, why we are not, why we laugh, cry and die. It seems our scripted narrative is at least twice removed from our reality; utilising tools such high-drama and low-comedy to conceal the blunt and static stories extending from the characters that implement the plot rather than motivate it. The “this happened then this happened…” quickly leads up to a deflating nothing really happening at all.
So perhaps its time we do what good storytellers often do: start from the very beginning. Start from where it really matters. Start from wherever and whatever that story that tells us how the hell we wound up this way lays.
Something tells me there will be blaming of parents…