Putting aside for just a moment, triumphs like Douei’s West Beirut, or Gibran at his best , or the myriad poets and writers and company, that either fled from other countries or are native born? Why do all today’s workshops, plays, musicals, dance pieces and art exhibits insist on rehashing much of the same old , same old , adolescent twaddle?
One of the exercises I give to my writing classes, is to write about themselves, or an issue that resonates with them, with two rules. It must be true. And you cannot use the words, ‘dream, soul, reality, love, fear or pain.’ Makes you describe and illustrate shit without the idols that two bit poets with artistic aspirations NEED….when they are thirteen, maybe? Otherwise, describe love, pain , soul , reality convincingly? Or get a job at McDonalds. Yeah, time for a day job, yo.
Please, not another show about social norms in Lebanon and being free of them. It’s been done to death. Twenty years ago. Ziad Rahbani is Ziad Rahbani for a reason. No more gallery exhibits that keep oozing the words ‘ homeland, soul, suffering, identity’ …….man up people, and make us feel that shit instead of substituting big ass -isms and overused words.
Having spent some time in the arts scene in Lebanon, it was seriously time to back off when the brain storming over coffee became a vague unfocused mission aiming at THE TRUTH. Revealing my SOUL and HEART in an ongoing fap session with real life. When actually hunkering down and doing a real project fell apart. When every session was a fantasia of juvenile fantasies and BIG ideas, and you just know, the audience won’t care. They’ll listen, they’ll clap politely and pay their bar tab. And forget anything really mattered in the course of that evening.
Show me a band in Lebanon that can hold its own in the world. Not a band that is wow, totally progressive in Lebanon and nowhere else. Given the progressiveness of Lebanon, I have seen things here that are actually ahead of much of the world. No shit. Often in terms of advertising, finance, retail, service industries and well……..a whole hellava lot of Lebanon in general. Time to shake off the inferiority complex and start applying that energy to the potent forces of art? Or is that asking too much?
Georg Buchner wrote a play called Woyzeck, in his native Germany in the mid 19th century. It’s hard to find an equally expansive and brilliant play today. Many of today’s playwrights in world lit? Have made inroads. Name one current Lebanese dramaturge making waves.
Musically, I’m not seeing the shockwave of anything resembling the Clash, NIN, Peter Gabriel, or the Beatles. Or Fayruz or Marcel Khalifi when they blazed trails.Or Elvis or Edith Piaff? Or? well, anyone who made a difference. Mashrou wa Layla is so damn local kitsch it will never go anywheres; same goes for Lazzy Lung and the likes. Too student loft trite. Keep it pop, keep it cool and happy, and keep it , gag, Lebanese. Lebanese is not a synonym for happy. In a small country, a lot of lives go down here and they run the gamut from tragedy to miniseries to short story to poem, and its rich enough, or more than rich enough for the cubits of land it occupies.
The arts scene, while enthusiastic? Is predictable, specious and bland ….nine times out of ten. Get with the program . Provide the next-gen theater of cruelty, the next dance movement ( without girls swinging their long hair around or the daabke?) the next wave of visual arts, or at least a vision running neck and neck with other equally competent bases alongside artistic peers? Is that too much too ask? Unless people are happy with getting the ‘sympathy fuck’ award for best third world movie/song/novel.
Marquez revolutionized the novel with 100 Years of Solitude, as did Joyce before him, and Dostoevsky and Pushkin before them? Take careful note that these works did not require obligatory native dance sequences or bland abstract palettes on canvas called : My Country, My Soul.
Again, the arts scene here is enthusiastic, and probably sincere. It’s just not grown up enough to match the country it came from , to be honest. Against my will, I will always include West Beirut among the cinema experiences that really shook me, with velvet gloves. Its in my top five, often top three of films to see before you die.
More is the shame in light of the complexity and power of Arabic. Instead of reaching for the stars, we are more likely to see SHOO FI , MA FI? THE MUSICAL these days, then anything live, dangerous and important. Prove me wrong.
Given the last thing, in the Arab world that still rocks the casbah is/was Ziad Rahbanni? Well, people have a lot of catching up to do to be taken seriously. Love or hate him, his work was pretty much online with world consciousness and the times he wrote them for. That was then, this is now.
Meanwhile, millions ( it must be millions, it’s everywhere) the vox populi seems to live off the fifty thousandth viewing of an Adel Imam scream-fest in Egyptian Arabic. Overall? really cheesy stuff on first viewing, not to mention, on a regular basis. People know this, and yet its easier to cull an Adil Imam joke from the fifties to get a laugh, instead of providing real, human funny moments. Which happen every day, and ? They happen without rules, or formats or copypaste entertainment. Its a touchstone of who the hell I want to waste time talking to: Someone rolling on the floor laughing (AGAIN) at the millionth viewing on TV of an Egyptian schlock comedy? Or someone who finds new and relevant things worth a laugh, or ? A sob of recognition.
Its not that I , or anyone really, could consider the US as a source of inspiration these days. They produce as much dreck, if not more than the Lebanese. But the world has turned to Indie filmmaking and the Net can be your friend in terms of spreading music and graphics and the like, to a worldwide audience.
One reason I came to Beirut was the fact they HAVE arts. I’m reminded of the joke about Jordan. Where I spent five miserable years. “Whats the difference between Jordan and Labneh? A: Lebneh has LIVE CULTURE.
But the reality today in Lebanon seems to be a lot of wanna-bes with money and only vague platitudes to be repeated till the curtain falls.
A recent case study: A French movie got banned here ( which in Lebanon, is not that easy) because it was an explicitly gay romance. And yet a dance/theater piece opened this week, dealing in part with a gay couple , without qualms. Don’t blame the censors, since there is often far less censorship here than many Western countries. You have a message, deliver it. If the communique is blocked? Work around it. One of the most revolutionary plays in theater, especially US theater, was Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf by Edward Albee. Then it was just an over the top , eloquent , but deeply malevolent piece about relationship issues with that perfect dialog you wish you had on call but always think of the day after the fracas. Rumor has it, though Albee denies it, that the two married couples in the play? Are all men. Albee was gay you see. I think he still is.
But his blistering night of theater was delivered via a couple relationship the audience would accept on basic principle. It then savaged the vision of that preconception and so called ‘basic principle.’ Having met Albee, I agree, it was NOT the ‘secret’ of the play. Secrets were not needed. It was human.
I don’t know. I’m just thinking the next step in Lebanese art, which remains lightyears ahead of most of the competition in the region? Is to be real, to be universal. To celebrate, yes, but also to castigate the life around us if it is wrong, a remembrance of hurt, or an ethical conundrum. Show the pains, yes. Offer pathetic and platitudinizing final curtains? No. Without, and here is the rub, just throwing out words and revolution songs of a dead age, or expecting every viewer to view family in a traditional arab sense and find that real life doesn’t offer that “Brady Bunch” reality, the Mariah fix? We wallow in sentiment and preciousness. Think of a painting exhibit where people can choose to paint realistically or not. Pouring water on a prepped watercolor sheet, and swirling waters with paints is not art unless you’re thirteen. Yeah, and you usually call it something , something storm, cuz the colors kinda make nice cloud shapes when you just swill it about. If you’re twenty five and pissing on a canvas and using Nescafe as a color? Been there done that, and PLEASE DON’T CALL IT ‘HOMELAND is MY HEART’ or similar bullshit? Playing Bob Marley on oud, is not always a step forward. TV shows like Adil Imam films or bad US sitcoms of insults? Fuck off.
And we won’t talk about dance pieces where women wave their long straight hair around, okay? We’re Lebanon, we’re not the Gulf. Oh ,wait, we just talked about it, didn’t we?
When all is said and done, Lebanon has usually been a cauldron for creative forces. I can’t count offhand the serious contributions made not only in Lebanon but world wide, by this country’s best and brightest over the ages. I can however call “FOUL” when it degenerates into derivative , abstract and usually pretentious and underwhelming displays of teenage emotion from adult artists.
Life is about balance; in or out of it. Art mirrors life most times if it is effective. And by mirror, I mean that it portrays it with or without a sense of ‘reality’ but rather through someones reality filtered into the mainstream. Like the teaching lesson at the start of this rant………rule one: it has to be true.
Not true as in dates , times and names. True to the artist. The viewer. Oh yeah, and it has to be free of that precious sense that words like dream, reality and soul that say nothing without some serious backstory.
Somewheres along the line , Lebanon got lazy. And its ‘arts’ scene often makes that painfully obvious in the glowing and adjective ridden prose of junior journalists on the arts desk. When’s the last time someone made enough of a wave to ignite negative and contradictory reviews? I can’ t recall. Too many adjective ridden, glowing reviews of cliché ridden monstrosities chock full of ‘social import.’ Gag.
I fear artists from other countries might think twice before fleeing to the artistic freedom offered here these days. Probably because they’ve seen the latest crop of painful , melodramatic and highly symbolic pieces.
Strange to note that a play in Syria, called Hamra? May be hitting the mark about Beirut’s cultural hub whereas Lebanese artists have sunk in a swamp of sentimental bullshit? Just a thought.
The only words that come to mind , when it comes to the Lebanese art scene? This species has amused itself to death. And is damn proud of that sad fact.
Ezra Pound spent many years shrieking : MAKE IT NEW! I’m not an optimist, or a radical for the sake of being radical, so I will just ask: Make it interesting, and alive and honest. Is that too much to ask?