El Jadida - Taking our cue from the Frankfurt school’s anti hegemonic political stance against the consumerist de-educating culture of capitalism, we approach these critical times and cultural disorientations in Morocco by inquiring into the reasons behind the shift from previous organic cultural models epitomized in production of knowledge, science, labour and courage to current hybrid cultural idols of leisure and consumption inspiring retreat from political risks and resistance. All this occurs in the absence of national policies dealing with how media organizations should address the cultural issue and the political dangers to be inevitably concomitant with a blind consumption of foreign imported cultural products.
El Jadida – Taking our cue from the Frankfurt school’s anti hegemonic political stance against the consumerist de-educating culture of capitalism, we approach these critical times and cultural disorientations in Morocco by inquiring into the reasons behind the shift from previous organic cultural models epitomized in production of knowledge, science, labour and courage to current hybrid cultural idols of leisure and consumption inspiring retreat from political risks and resistance. All this occurs in the absence of national policies dealing with how media organizations should address the cultural issue and the political dangers to be inevitably concomitant with a blind consumption of foreign imported cultural products.
We argue that there should be a serious national debate upon the kind of media we need in order to establish a democratic social formation and face the multidimensional challenges of the modernity shock. How does Moroccan politics actually approach media communication? Do we have a clear theory of how media should operate in Moroccan society? Authoritarian policies in media management based on top-down instructions and censorship are bound to decline in a public sphere where the internet revolution has emancipated the world of information from state control and ushered users in new forms of social communication.
Most developing countries whose policies are awakened to the political dangers of the acculturation issue, especially in Asia and South America, have adopted social responsibility and developmental theory in which the media performs the role of improving national culture and language. They have developed national policies in which the media plays a seminal role in social and educational development, thus trying to grow their productive economies and resist the cultural influence of Western imperialism.
In the past, western colonialism began with amassing army divisions to attack and invade the rest of the world. This occurred in the nineteenth-century European conquest of Africa but today’s western colonialism does not need much powder and human waste, though the case of the Middle East tells us otherwise, because the economic and cultural invasions are to an advanced point very much effective. The work of multinationals crossing the boundaries of countries and continents and the concomitant mass culture may channel dominant ideologies and orient subordinate societies’ consumerist attitudes.
There is more than one way to colonize a country. If we take the example of Turkish economic investment in Morocco and the boom of the touristic traffic between the two countries, we notice that Turkish films have played a more advantageous role than Turkish politics in hypnotizing a large segment of Moroccan population into the consumption of Turkish products. The best illustration of this Turkish cultural manipulation of the unkindled and uncultivated masses is the hypnotic receptivity of the bourgeois Turkish style by the Moroccan audience. It must be clear at this point that the Turkish mass culture is but a mere reproductive carrier of western culture rather than being in itself an original imperial cultural power. The Turkish films have disclosed the appeal to the Western-influenced bourgeois’ fashion dress models just like in the case of the actress Tuba Buyukustun known in the Arab World for her performance as Lamees, whom many Moroccan girls have not only imitated in hair style and fashion dress but also copied her corporeal mannerisms.
There is also the recent spread of Turkish no-frills, low-cost supermarket chain BIM in Moroccan cities where you can witness crowds of consumers, principally housewives, hypnotized by the Turkish style of life, jostling against each other on Fridays at door thresholds before the opening hours to find their way inside the Turkish stores. If Chinese dealers managed these discount retailer stores, they would certainly not have this consumer rush after their products though ironically most Friday cheap utensils exhibited for sale in Turkish stores are made in China.
Turkish salons are another recent innovation in Morocco. Moroccan furniture suppliers and salon planners exhibit house furnishings from salons to bedrooms in a Turkish style to meet the rising demand for this new popular fad. Of course, we believe in democratic sentiments of taste but we have witnessed a hasty gullible modification of many customers’ shopping schemata that may jeopardize the local meanings, resources, skills, experiences and social uses of the domestic salon (salun l-beldi). The same observation applies to Moroccan clothing fashion now twisted by Moroccan couturiers in a Turkish direction to satisfy the thriving demand for such vestures. This shows the danger of cinema. Its popularity makes it a dangerous source of pleasure indeed. It involves surrender under specific social conditions to the cheapest emotional appeals, which insidiously diffuses foreign and alien hegemonies associated with its compellingly vivid illusion of actual life as presumptive familiarity.
People may not know that a cultural product like the American tin of coke is much more powerful than a gun. A gun may kill you but you can die in dignity without succumbing to the colonizer, but a tin of coke is a magnetizer; it neutralizes resistance and naturalizes domination. It controls social antagonism by deadening and stupefying protest to the extent that people may not even notice, when their freedom disappears from them. We do not consume “raw” products untouched by human hands; they are all cooked and shaped by cultural designs and schemata. They are images. We consume images colored by the lens of cultural kaleidoscopes. A tin of coke produced and distributed by American organizations and structures may construct its faithful customers into cultural identities packaged in cola brands. In other words, drinking coke becomes a style of life with unremitting films, pervasive advertising, and de-educating music commoditizing the whole Western/American package of cokalization.
Going beyond Matthew Arnold (1822-88), the organic intellectual of nineteenth century England, who established a cultural agenda that gained preponderance till the 1950’s, and who called for “the best that has been thought and said” to cultivate the masses on civilization, we rather believe in – a bottom-up approach — the educational potential of peoples’ organic culture inclusive of its intellectual tradition, and we believe that if we do not evolve a self-reflexive cultural knowledge in Morocco to cure the ills of unrestrained materialism and self-complacent philistinism, there will be no intellectual awakening and many Moroccans will continue in blind consumption of hybridized mass cultural forms and remain cultural dupes, hyenas in the Moroccan local parlance. They are called hyenas because most of them live culturally unaware of power relations, benumbed and helpless in front of cheap mass cultural temptations. They are also called hyenas because they are defeated by commoditization. They are inspired to consume but dispirited to protest, detached from all signs of responsible thinking; hence captured in the capitalistic anti-democratic labyrinths without refined taste and with a habit of fantasying, addiction, self abuse, poor plebiscite vote, which all may lead to maladjustment and masturbatory manipulations.
Hyenas are recent cultural inventions in Morocco. They are the byproduct of globally expanding multinational economic structures with an ensuant parasitic mass culture that has recently conquered Morocco in tandem with the advent of Satellite TV and internet revolution. Morocco has witnessed an unrelenting erosion of its organic cultural legacy. The rituals, music, improvised theatrical street performances and other organic cultural practices have all regressed ceding the terrain to imported hybrid mass cultural forms. The organic music of the peoples, as an example, is now commoditized in cheaper hybrid melodies with the purpose of hypnotizing the masses and keeping them under control.
Moroccan society has unfortunately made an unusual deviation from organic cultural production by the people incarnated for instance in al-halqa and popular theatre, a public space for narration and intellectual entertainment, to public landscapes of addiction where theatre buildings are closed or demolished and turned into shopping centers, and where advertising cultural commodities ensure hyenas’ containment. To our dismay, the cultural resources of the past which could endow Moroccans with a spirit of resistance to domination (Kharbousha’s songs for example) have been gradually converted into a mass cultural commodity terrain on which the Makhzen is waging a successful anti-intellectual Cold War of containment. Can anyone imagine that the Moroccan taste, once cultivated by the genuine resistant melodies of al-aita and l-Ghiwan, is now degenerating into a cheap petrifying form of folk art (Daoudiya’s song “atini saki” is a recent example), mere repetition that leads its audience to delight in recognition of the familiar advocating a psychological regression to infantilism.
As a matter of fact, culture industry has caused a lot of harm to our popular culture. It has killed the cultural models of the past revolving round labour, piety and knowledge. The organic culture of the people used to recount biographies of notable religious scholars, thinkers, discoverers like Ibn Batuta, saints, and holy warriors (mujahids) like Abdelkrim al-Khattabi. Nowadays, our contemporary culture changed direction towards movie stars, sports figures, and entertainers. The change reflects a shift from economy of production to that of consumption and leisure. Biographies of saints did put emphasis on the extraordinary nature of those cultural models, on the miracles they achieved for society, and on the cultural innovations they bequeathed to humanity. Now, life stories talk about ordinary lives of leisure cultural models including information about the brand of cigarettes or the type of car they own. How can such ideologies of cheap entertainment institute for us high cultural models of bravura, risk-taking and labour that we badly need to carry on building our society and economy?
We may argue that entertainment ideologies contribute in sustaining asymmetrical rapports of domination in society, and reinforce containment policies by bewitching and captivating the masses, luring them away from their social and political concerns. Let us see how football is consumed on the Moroccan cultural scene. At present, Moroccan cafés are the new domestic stadiums for the growing massive audience of this sport. Most cafés purchase access to BeIN Sports global network channels owned by Qatari investments and fix big screens to their walls that display international football matches on a daily basis. Football entertainment in Europe is growing to be multinational capital investment and is exported worldwide. Morocco in this respect emerges as a fertile market ground to grow a large segment of football audience and fans. In fact, European football contributes to a very great degree in maintaining social stability in Morocco by offering masturbatory pleasure to a rancorous army of the unemployed. A subculture of football is growing in Morocco. Youths exchange videos, chat on football issues, meddle in players careers and gossip about game plans. A great portion of their lives seem to be consumed on café chairs, sports screens, and cigarette butts and coffee spoons. Many are growing well versed in football talk nevertheless politically unaware and less concerned with social issues.
Football in general has become a stratagem of governance used in conjunction with other maneuvers to maintain social equilibrium. In the Arab World, some rulers have moved it to the front burner in order to captivate the masses; they may cut down expenses on social welfarism and downsize education budgets but always sustain and consolidate the infrastructure of football. For them, the national team is the higher stake. If it wins a continental football match, all the praise and glory go to the ruler, his pictures roaming the streets along with national flags unifying society together in an illusionary victory commoditized as a historical achievement. In the past, rulers changed history by virtue of an economy of production based on science, innovation and war. Today’s Arab rulers may achieve victory in football games and emerge as conquerors and victors if their national teams win continental championships. What a degradation of local cultural models?
A lot of Moroccan youths fancy their cultural idols in football players, sports athletes or music stars. There is even a culture industry specialized in manufacturing cultural idols. Arab Idol and Studio 2M, as examples, commercialize the illusion of fast stardom and fame to an audience discontented by economic and political injuries. Youths can join for few weeks after which they may become stars in the world of music if they win the competition being granted accreditation by a minority of old-timers policing the art. Such programs appear to entertain, create suspense, and arouse heart-throbbing excitement but they commoditize both program entertainers and their audience. Studio 2M, for instance, with all its stars, equipments and theatre space, is immersed in warm purple paint color, which indicates that it is commoditized by the operator INWI, also the program subsidizer. The effort the singers and the rest of the stage crew put in the program, the phone calls that the supporters make, all the effort and tension the participants and audience live are cashed in by the telephone company. After all, the singer candidates are ensnared in a commodity form trafficked for profit by the sponsor. This is what inspires the Frankfurt school theorists to argue that culture industry or mass culture manipulates social agents and strips them of any likely form of resistance. And if they ever dare to be involved, they can only be engaged as commodities in pseudo-resistance.
So, we ask the question: how can we build a productive laborious responsible society on prioritizing cultural models of consumption? Football and Music idols are pressure cooked in fast recipes for consumption by cultural hyenas who may imagine by virtue of such hallucinatory satiety a similar fast stardom and magical rotation of destiny. They are thus socially constructed into compliant political subjects easily incorporated in the system. They unconditionally surrender themselves to the hypnotic state of cultural entertainment. But let us remember that containment is never defeat.
Moroccan society can only be saved with the use of a revolution from below to prevent anarchy. A reform given is better than a reform taken or won by force. If we give much importance to the education of the masses via inculcating an institutional domestic culture for citizenship which they can internalize in the informal context of daily living and invest in its local meanings and familiar practices, the plebeian social subjects may be enabled to delve in responsible thinking and self critique. In contrast to the Frankfurt school, we have confidence in the masses’ ability to resist many of the benumbing manipulations of mass culture. The latter imposes pseudo-resistance but it is not passive resistance at the bottom of social space.
As Paul Willis and I insisted on in previous articles, the seeds of rebellion and anti-hegemonic disposition still lurk beneath the organic cultural models. They are always available for new cultural attachments under new social, political and economic conditions. The resistance and self-hood remain as resources for alternative kinds of expression under new forms and within new conjunctures. Moroccan organic culture is rich in rituals, myth, aphorism, music, customs and cultural narratives which may empower the social agents not to remain all the time under the opium effect of mass culture but they can dodge it by living elsewhere with different habits, discourses and signifying practices that may dislocate them from the labyrinth of mass culture, opens new horizons and trajectories for them in the direction to cultural awareness, and instigate their substantial moves on the road to social emancipation.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Morocco World News’ editorial policy