I am sat in a hotel in Damascus watching ‘Arabs Got Talent’ on Syrian TV. Yes, the nation that allegedly is an anathema to the ideals of liberty, modern-living and cultural freedoms that we supposedly enjoy in the West has its own version of Simon Cowell except in one crucial way: The Arab version doesn’t have the marketing genius of the original. If he did, we would be seeing ‘Westerners Got Talent’ on our TVs.
The Arabic version is exactly the same as in the rest of the world; even down to the camera positions and movements: A sneaky camera in the wings looking over the shoulders of the Arabic presenters, the sweeping camera across the audience, etc. The font used on ‘X’s on the front of the panel’s desks is the same the world over. Even the title is part of the ‘Got Talent’ global brand. Rather than ‘Arabs Have Got Talent’, we have the three word title format. God, or indeed Allah, forbid that correct grammar should get in the way of a global brand; and of course, its written in English, not Arabic. There is also the insulting insinuation that no one Arab state has enough talent among its people to muster up a national version. It may as well be called: 25% of the world’s population ‘Got Talent’, such is the number of Arabs in the world.
Lets not fool ourselves into thinking that such a globalisation of culture leads to a unification of the nation states. It never happened with the Olympics and it won’t happen in TV. An Iranian winner from ‘Arabs Got Talent’ will never be invited to perform in front of the British monarchy or at the White House. How many of us know or even care about the winner of other western ‘Got Talent’ versions? If anything, these programmes serve to highlight our differences whilst denying us the joy of diversity and expression of local culture.
The boiling down to mulch of what used to be a global diversification can be blamed on independent production companies dominating programme making. Prior to the early 90s, programmes were made by TV companies who owned the rights to the formats. Now independent companies, such as Simon Cowell’s SyCo, make the programmes and own all the rights. Its these independent companies that are going to market, peddling their brand lock stock and barrel, rather than the likes of the BBC selling their ideas of plots and characters, which need national changes for the purposes of cultural nuances.
Yet, its more than just the likes of Simon Cowell who have got us to ‘Arabs Got Talent’; it’s the lack of bravery and imagination in programme commissioners. These format, including ‘Got Talent’ are not new. The talent show format has been around since the 1950s. The composer, Tony Hatch, was the 1970′s Simon Cowell figure in the UK version of the Australian talent show ‘New Faces’. TV companies are buying old ideas off the global peg. Although the world certainly does ‘got talent’, talent is lacking in those who commission and those who make programmes.