By Ouidyane Elouardaoui
By Ouidyane Elouardaoui
Morocco World News
Santa Barbara, May 22, 2012
American television series have aired in Morocco since the late eighties. The first two were Santa Barbara (1984, NBC) and The Bold and the Beautiful (1987, CBS) shown in 1989 on the second Moroccan television station known as 2M. American TV serials, including recent ones like Desperate Housewives (2004, ABC) and Ugly Betty (2006, ABC) have been traditionally censored by 2M’s executives so that they can fit within Morocco’s social norms.
Censorship regulations are manifested through the intensive editing of culturally offensive scenes that usually include any intimate encounters between female and male characters. However, the local interference also often alters essential dramatic characteristics of the purchased series. In fact, the mediocre public reception of several American TV serials aired on 2M is strongly related to the rigorous censorship that deprives the shows of their most appealing features. I analyze the problems associated with censorship by providing textual examples that illustrate the limitations of the censorship process. My findings are also based on interviews conducted with 2M’s head of programming.
2M has purchased the famous drama series Desperate Housewives though the staff had doubts that it would resonate with local viewers. This is due to its unfamiliar portrayal of gender relationships, as it depicts the life of four married couples who embrace different personal traits that do not echo with the social customs of Moroccan spectators. For instance, Lynnette’s struggle as a housewife is not easily understood, let alone sympathized with, since the issue of a woman quitting her work for family considerations is not conflicted for the typical Moroccan viewer.
In a Muslim social context, it is rather seen as a considerate, yet an expected act. On the other hand, viewers might feel astonished at Gaby’s multiple extramarital affairs and explicitly expressed promiscuity that is considered a taboo, especially if it is presented from a female point of view. Bree’s bizarre and unemotional character would not be appreciated by the majority of the Moroccan audience who would, for example, question her extreme coldness at the news of her husband’s death. Moreover, the series does not only tackle marital relationships but also portrays relationships that are taking place outside the frame of marriage. This is not smoothly digested by local viewers who perceive of non-marital relationships as culturally disgraceful.
However, 2M approved of buying it for the sake of furbishing the image of the channel because of the series’ notable worldwide popularity. Instead, 2M opted for censoring all the scene and dialogue segments that might be perceived as locally subversive. The examination department (département de verification) at 2M has censored all the culturally profane segments that include sex and romantic scenes. 2M’s censorship of many intimate scenes contributed to the unpopularity of the series. Desperate Housewives is an emotional soap opera that focuses on the problems of a number of couples who reach a sort of a compromise at the end. 2M’s censorship of all the intimate scenes between the couples deprived the audience of a detailed knowledge of the characters’ motivations and emotions. This has strongly affected the viewers’ understanding of the main plots. The main issue is that criteria for profanity include scenes where characters kiss or intimately hug, and generally any physical intimacy is strictly censored.
This exaggerated editing is due to the fact that in Morocco, like the majority of Arab countries, watching TV is a collective act in which all family members gather to enjoy their favorite series. This context for viewing necessitates such an approach. For example, if male figures in the household feel offended by particular scenes in the series, they might just switch off the channel on the pretext that these series import Western values that are anti-Islamic. Similarly, in her study of the adaptation of The Simpsons in France and Japan, Shari Ross Altarac mentions the fact that the Arabic version of The Simpsons is the one that has undergone the biggest amount of modifications worldwide. She says “nowhere has The Simpsons undergone more transformation than in its Arab market adaptation. Religious elements that are an integral part of the series have been eliminated–Krusty is no longer Jewish, Apu is not Hindu” (Ross Altarac 92).
However, it should be emphasized that 42% of 2M is privately owned and is believed to embrace a more liberal agenda than RTM (the first national TV channel), which can be discerned in its programming line-up. Music program contests, shows that air the latest local and global music videos and game shows are staple shows on 2M. Still, the degree of 2M’s ability to challenge social and political taboos is debatable. The fact that an important portion of 2M is still owned by the state and it is both a satellite and terrestrial channel necessitates the scrutiny of its programming by government officials, particularly those that discuss controversial local political and social issues or those that pertain to censorship regulations regarding imported media.
Unlike many countries around the world, Desperate Housewives received a very modest popularity among Moroccan spectators. Apart from the impact of censorship, I might also argue, from my experience as a viewer of 2M and other national and regional TV channels, that the unpopularity of the show can be partly the result of the previous exposure of many niche viewers to the series on the Dubai-based MBC satellite channel which is widely available in the Middle East and North Africa. Yet, this is not a very convincing argument because French is a far preferred language over English in Morocco, which means that viewers would obviously favor watching the series on 2M than on MBC in which it is shown in English with Arabic-subtitles. However, Desperate Housewives had not been one of 2M’s transplanted American series hits though 2M insisted on airing its three seasons from 2005 to 2008 for the reason of burnishing 2M’s image internationally.
In the same vein, 2M has censored all the culturally objectionable scenes and conversations in Ugly Betty. 2M has purchased this series assuming that its prevailing humorous tone would guarantee high viewership. However, the unexpected emergence of a transsexual character in the middle of the first season, who would still appear in subsequent episodes, forced 2M to cancel the whole show after it had already aired twelve episodes. Though this might have financially damaged 2M, the decision to ban the whole serial was indisputable. It has been confided to me that this awkward situation was the result of the examination department’s lack of vigilance. The continuing presence of the transsexual character should have been flagged by the examination department before the purchase of the series, because the problematic character stands as a hindrance against the series’ possible adaptation to the local culture. These two examples, in particular, draw attention to the limitation of the adaptation process. Censorship led to the modest success of Desperate Housewives and the cancellation of Ugly Betty.
Interestingly, in order to avoid dealing with these challenges, 2M frequently imports American series of the action genre. The head of programming at 2M informed me that these series are the most loved genre for the majority of Moroccan viewers. The evidence that this particular genre attracts a large number of viewers is also substantiated by the findings of the Moroccan rating company, Maroc-Métrie. These series in fact cannot all fit under the category of the action genre. For example, there are series that are more drama-oriented like Shark (2006, CBS) and others that embrace prominent crime ingredients like The Shield (2002, FOX). Additionally, Medium (2005, NBC) is primarily a supernatural series that is designed to attract fantasy fans. However, 2M has its own method of genre classification with regard to American serials. Any American series that is devoid of romantic plotlines and that center on the themes of adventure, investigation, mystery, and crime is categorized as action series, or what 2M calls in French, les séries policières.
Unlike the case of drama series aired on 2M, the majority of action American series have been able to secure a great deal of popularity among the Moroccan audience. The limited censorship of scenes in this type of American series grants the viewers nearly a complete access to the series’ events, which further facilitates the building of emotional attachment between loyal spectators and fictional characters. In addition, the scheduling slots for these series have also enhanced their success as they are always shown at primetime which is 9pm. My discussion of the adaptation process of American series on 2M illustrates the limitations of 2M’s censorship practices. Ugly Betty was canceled due to the unfeasibility of adjusting its textual elements that were found to be strongly conflicting with the values of the target culture. Similarly, Desperate Housewives lost an important degree of its appealing qualities owing to overdone censorship, which resulted in the series’ unpopularity among Moroccan viewers.
Ouidyane Elouardaoui is a Fulbright PhD candidate in the Film and Media Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She received her Master’s in English Language and Culture with focus on media and film in Morocco in 2008. Her current research interests include contemporary Arab media, melodrama, and spectatorship, as well as television, globalization, and modernity. Her publications include “Mexican Telenovelas in Morocco: The Localization Process and its Limitations” and “Arabs in Post 9/11 Hollywood Films: A Move toward a more Realistic Depiction?” which appeared in the International Journal of Amity School of Communication and Purdue University e–Pubs. Many of her essays have also appeared in the late Casa-Analyst newspaper.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy.
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