Million’s Poet ( شاعر المليون باللغة العربية) is an immensely popular reality television show in the Middle East. It borrows from the talent-show/panel of judges/text-to-vote format popularized by American Idol (USA) and X Factor (UK) with one very notable exception… there’s no singing. The performances are readings of original poetry. Poets from around the region – both men and women – compete for a cash prize by performing self-written poetry, which is then judged on metre, rhyme and composition. Viewers can text in their vote, which counts for 60% (the judges get 40%).
According the Variety Fair, the show had higher ratings than soccer games, causing it to be hailed as one of the most successful Arab television shows ever. Here we have yet another example of a television format being cleverly customized to appeal to local tastes.
Not only is this example of “glocalization,” but it also speaks to the power ICTs bring to non-state actors (in this case, artists, liberals, feminists, and many others who have blogged about the controversial themes on the show), and how they have the ability to challenge the state thanks to the globalized media system. One of the show’s most talented and contentious contestants, a Saudi Arabian woman named Hissa Hilal, recited the following poem on Million’s Poet (a rough translation from this blog):
I have seen evil from the eyes of the subversive fatwas in a time when what is lawful is confused with what is not lawful;
When I unveil the truth, a monster appears from his hiding place; barbaric in thinking and action, angry and blind; wearing death as a dress and covering it with a belt [referring to suicide bombing];
He speaks from an official, powerful platform, terrorizing people and preying on everyone seeking peace; the voice of courage ran away and the truth is cornered and silent, when self-interest prevented one from speaking the truth.
This Saudi woman, who otherwise may have remained in Saudi Arabia, unable to drive a car or show her face in public, was given a platform to challenge the dominant religious hierarchy of Saudi Arabia. AND she roused support from all over the world for her bold and beautiful poetry. She’s also spoken out about women’s issues and freedom of speech. The globalized media system allowed her and other contestants on the show to talk about sensitive issues in a region where it isn’t always so easy – or safe – to do so. In Hissa’s words (speaking to other contestants):
“This is a platform that can help you to reach the world. The ball is in your court. There are a wide range of issues to tackle. It is a platform with a wider horizon and higher ceiling.”