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Michael Frishkopf: Music and Media in the Arab World
Themes of modernity and the evolution of media technology have brought about penetrating changes in pop music culture, forming what is aptly termed ‘mediated music’ in academic discussions.
Written by fifteen authors, and consisting of just as many diverse viewpoints, Music and Media in the Arab World is a ‘meta-discourse’ about the present state of music culture, as well as an attempt to map the changing domain of popular culture.
The book starts with examining the criticisms of new mediated music– conservatives assert its aesthetic inferiority and ‘ephemeral quality’ compared to the timelessness of classical Arabic music.
This approach is not new. It brings to mind the classic debate upheld by critic F. R. Leavis, where he entirely dismissed popular music. This is the point that Michael Frishkpof disagrees with and from where he derives his argument; ‘negativity is itself worthy of study.’
The first part of the book offers a historical overview of the music scene, starting from the establishment of the local radio and the golden era of prominent artists, until the domination of kitschy albums and the financially-appealing genre of the video clip.
The second, and more intriguing, aspect deals with the critique of the various categories of mediated music and low-budget productions. Attention is paid to religious judgment, bearing in mind that mediated music– even if low-brow– is still very influential.
The book then reflects on the meaning and content of video clips, discussing in detail several examples and amazing the reader with the serious implications underlying ‘the singing of the body.’
Music and Media in the Arab World is an entertaining exploration and commentary on today's music scene. For the more cultured reader, it holds appeal through the use of different theoretical approaches.
Postcolonial ideas feature prominently in the book, with frequent references to Benedict Anderson’s concept of 'imagined communities.' The Marxist approach is apparent in analyzing the historical conditions that produced the mediated music, in addition to a feminist reading of the image of women in musical culture.
Overall, the book is well written and has some interesting insights; yet the chapters do not flow smoothly. While some chapters are very engaging with a clear line of thought, others fail to bring home a clear point, and ultimately fail at maintaining the reader’s attention.
This book makes a worthy attempt at presenting how the banality of pop music came into being, while providing insight into the psyche of both the artist and the audience.
A simple online search would give you a chronological account of the Egyptian revolution; accurate dates, death tolls and perhaps even the names of the martyrs. But it will not tell you how it made the Egyptian people feel. Statistics can't describe what the families of the martyrs went through and it cannot accurately express the weight placed on the hearts of millions of Egyptians during this time.
Soueif doesn't ignore the violence perpetrated by the regime against protestors; she also mentions those who have lost their lives. She has kept in mind that by the time readers received her book a lot would have changed, so she frequently refers to the fact that we – her readers – would know more about the current situation than she did while writing it.
As she walks down every street, she supplements her story with memories and anecdotes from her childhood and adolescence, adding an emotional and personal dimension to her book and making it easy for readers to imagine why she is still attached to Cairo despite her long years in London.
The book is a refreshing spin on a now-over-a-year-old revolution. It brings hope. Soueif's sharp senses have led her to assume that by the time the book hits bookshelves, hope would still be the number one motivation and that's how she writes; invoking hope and persistence in the hearts of her readers.
Behind every successful man stands a great woman – or so the saying goes. Too bad we rarely get to see or hear anything about those women. Lily Koppel’s The Astronaut Wives Club aims to change that by telling the story of the wives of active NASA between 1959 and 1972.
With all eyes on the man going into space, one can’t help but wonder what it must be like for his significant other waiting for his safe return home. “If not for the wives.” Koppel notes in the first chapter, “man might never have walked on the moon.”
While this statement is true, the writer still paints a pretty sad and one-dimensional portrait of the majority of these women. They come across as airheads; quibbling about smoking in cars, concerned with what colour lipstick to wear when photographed for the cover of Time magazine, and wondering whether or not they will get to meet Jacky Kennedy.
The emphasis is on them being good housewives; setting everything aside in honour of their husband’s career and working jobs to get him through university, whilst foregoing their own education. Whatever emotional insight one hopes to find in the lives of these women is limited to whatever they told the press at the time. Judging from the epilogue, Koppel interviewed many of them personally and must have accumulated a treasure trove of insightful quotes. Curiously, almost none of that material made it into the book.
Without taking a feminist stance, this book is nothing short of ridiculous. It is understood that this is how women were viewed in 50s and 60s America, but that is no reason to keep that stereotype intact fifty years later. If the goal of this book is to make readers feel sorry for these ‘astrowives’, then that mission has been accomplished with honours.
To be fair though, the astronauts themselves aren’t portrayed too favourably either; they are mostly characterised as reprehensible men that cheat on their wives and compete with each other in testosterone-filled petty contests.
Aside from the misogyny, the book has several other issues. Initially, there are seven astrowives, later followed by another nine, and then fourteen more, making it rather difficult to keep up with who is who.
On top of that, Koppel is curiously brief about the most important one of them all – Neil Armstrong – and completely ignores his significant other. The first man on the moon is barely mentioned and his wife is not even named, even though the Apollo 11 mission is discussed in the book. To make it all that much stranger, Janet Armstrong does pop up in a few shots in the picture section of the book.
There is a website to go with the book, www.astronautwivesclub.com, but unsurprisingly, it is also remarkably shallow, providing little-to-no extra information on either the book or its characters.