When Television Gets Good, and Not. Updated*

I’ve loved Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations on the Travel Channel since, like, ever. It’s a brilliant show, unlike other travel shows he isn’t invested in saying that everything is wonderful. Like the time he ate the barely cleaned boar anus in Namibia. In the voice over he clearly and succinctly stated just how awful that experience was. But even better, he commented on the graciousness required, expected and demanded by a wealthy westerner eating hard won food with people who are sharing out of their poverty. You don’t have to like it, or even keep it down, but you must, absolutely must, be grateful. For another perspective on that watch his Peru show. Really brilliant.

This week the show was set in Saudi Arabia. Seriously, watch that episode. And, even better, read the blogs. I mean his blog and then follow his advice and read the crew blog.

All that being said, read the comments. I’m highly curious how Danya was able to travel about with Tony and without the apparent company of a family male. Saudi Arabia’s laws regarding women don’t just restrict their ability to drive or vote. They can not leave the house without a male. To be out in the company of a man who is not family (husband, brother, father) is illegal. I’m highly suspicious of their neglect to mention that and what exactly they did to deal with that.

Saudi Arabia exports the most extreme form of Islam, Wabbhabism. It isn’t just a coincidence that 15 of the 19 hijackers that attacked the US on September 11 were Saudi. I’d have liked to see more on that. But that wasn’t the purpose of the show.

The purpose was to show us that Arabs and Muslims are people just like us. Yes, thank you, I’m fully aware of that. It is only an idiot or a moron who thinks that different people, people on “the other side” are a homogeneous mass of evil. That’s the stupid and lazy mistake of the shallow and unchallenged. I don’t make that one, not that I don’t make other mistakes. However, as in all things, I do prefer my truth neat, in a clean glass. This show was a neat and lovely bit of propaganda. I am not saying that the people depicted are other than they appeared. I am certain that Danya and her family and friends are delightful people, I can not imagine that a woman with a laugh like that is anything other. I am saying that anyone who wanders into Saudi Arabia expecting Tony’s experience to be the norm will be in for a shock. Hopefully not a deadly one.

I’ve noticed, as have many, that when it comes to criticizing Islam there is a greater caution exercised if not avoidance all togeather. There is a decided restraint from critiquing the religion that is currently committing the vast majority of terrorism in the world. No such restraint or respect is given to Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism or Buddhism. Perhaps that is because people practicing those religions are not given to slaughter to avenge a perceived insult. No one dies when Christians are called whatever is the popular insult du jour. The same is not true of Islam.

So, all that said, wonderful show. Watch it. But please, remember, it is television, an entertainment meant to cause enjoyment. While entertainment can be informative, remember that this is NOT an exhaustive, comprehensive and unbiased report of the entirety of Saudi Arabia. It is the edited account of a government sanctioned trip to one of the most restrictive countries in the world. With that in mind, watch it. Please.

UPDATE:

So, Tony updated his blog with a pretty good piece speaking about exactly this.  Interesting.

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6 Responses to When Television Gets Good, and Not. Updated*

  1. Brandi says:

    I was looking forward to this episode just to see Tony go without beer and pork.

    As for Danya being able to travel without a male, if you read producer Amy’s blog she points out that Danya and her partner Dania are the first women in Saudi Arabia who have been granted permission to work without a male present. So, that may be how they could do it.

    What I found the most interesting in the whole show was that Danya had never eaten any of the traditional Saudi foods that were showcased. It makes me wonder if it’s because she spent half her life in North Dakota, or if most Saudis choose fast food fried chicken over camel, lizards and parts.

  2. Dana says:

    Hey, great post, VL. I only saw a blurb as it was recording and will watch it this weekend. Bourdain was having a white garment tailor made for him. He noted that Danya had a similar one on, only in black. She said they make the men’s garment in white as it reflects the sun. Bourdain looked at her and mentioned hers (and other women’s) being black and absorbing the sun and keeping the heat in and that it surely was the great inequality. She laughed and agreed. Ballsy.

  3. vivianlouise says:

    As for Danya being able to travel without a male, if you read producer Amy’s blog she points out that Danya and her partner Dania are the first women in Saudi Arabia who have been granted permission to work without a male present. So, that may be how they could do it.

    They did mention that Jeddah is different than the rest of Saudi. Still, I’m highly curious. I did read both blog accounts, that is the only mention of that specific restriction. Wahhabism isn’t known for gentle interpretations of Sharia. Remember they gave 200 lashes to that lady who was raped for daring to complain that she was getting beaten for allowing herself to be gang raped. Danya is remarkable, all the more for doing what she’s doing. Perhaps she is more singular than we even know.

  4. Dana says:

    VL, I read the two linked blogs and through the comments. At the end of the day, I thought this comment brought a strong jolt of reality back to the picture, which felt a bit romanticized by some,

    “I saw that the abbaya may have a role in protecting women, and not as something simply designed to control them.”

    Society has always claimed that they need to control women’s behavior in order to protect them.

    If the Saudi government were so interested in protecting women, they wouldn’t have forced young women to stay in a school building that was burning because they weren’t properly covered (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/1874471.stm).

    If the Saudi government were concerned with protecting women, they wouldn’t sentence a rape victim to 200 lashes for having sexual relations with an unrelated male – her rapist (http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/16/world/middleeast/16saudi.html?ref=todayspaper).

    Please, don’t try to pretend this corrupt, despicable regime is anything other than totalitarian and mysoginistic. The laws are not there to protect anyone or anything other than the Saud family power.”

    The danger not that one drinks the Koolaid right away but can be slowly lulled to an acceptance, an understanding, an embracing of…(see: England).

  5. vivianlouise says:

    The abbaya protects women by the expedient of suffocation. It’s the men that are protected from their lustful thoughts of women they shouldn’t have. It’s the craziest thing, a total lack of logic. If a man doesn’t have to confront himself, or control himself then the obvious culprit when he loses control must be the object of his lust.

    Nope, no pretending. They are awful. Truly awful.

    I’m not sure why your comment was thrown into moderation.

  6. Dana says:

    VL, I watched the show. I agree with your assessment of it.

    Danya and her family appeared to be lovely people. It was interesting, insightful and well, *fun*! And yet it was eerie how those ghost like black figures walking the streets, shopping, etc., were a jolt to the viewer silently reminding us this place is not a place of freedom.

    I noticed Bourdain mentioned his blue state liberal arts background and how dififcult the inequity of the required coverings was to accept. Good on him though for voicing even that.

    It felt like Danya was dancing around the elephant in the room. I’m not sure I bought that she was at peace with how things are because she did mention at the chicken place that ‘change, when and if it came, would take a very long time’. If she thought it was just fine the way it was, why would the possibility of change even enter her thoughts?

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