Happy Friday, dear readers. Today we’ll try our best not to talk about the usual: the pandemic, the isolation, the anxiety. We’ll also forego any talk of this year’s Ramadan TV season, as we spent all of last week putting this guide together, and we believe it has everything you need to know about what’s on offer this year (not much, to be honest).
Without the drama, though — the on-screen drama as well as that of our lives under this pandemic — what’s left to explore?
Well, plenty, actually. The realms of birds and animals are generally drama-free (unless you’re watching them with a David Attenborough voiceover). There’s Chuupa, for instance, a young Egyptian vulture Nature Conservation Egypt has been following using a GPS transmitter for one year now, as he soars across the skies of our continent. His journey started in Ethiopia, and, according to NCE, Chuupa is currently in Qena, on the banks of the Nile. You can watch a live feed of Chuupa’s adventures here — we can’t help wondering where he’ll be heading to next:
And from Chuupa we move on to the plight of another creature of the Egyptian wilderness — the fruit bat, long vilified by farmers for feeding on their crops, even though it offers the environment plenty of services, from fighting pests to plant pollination. Ever since the outbreak of the coronavirus, however, the fruit bat — along with other bat species — has been facing a bigger problem, as multiple rumors have spread across the globe falsely claiming that bats can carry and transmit the virus to humans. Here, NCE offers some valuable information about bats and COVID-19, and how we can help the endangered bat population (75% of bat species currently face the risk of extinction).
If you’re not into winged creatures, however, we’ve also got our usual recommendations to read, watch and listen to — we hope they provide you with some comfort and entertainment this weekend.
-To commemorate the anniversary of Karl Marx’s birthday on May 5 British author and professor David Harvey, one of the leading scholars of Marx speaks to journalist Daniel Denvir about his work, the current impasse global capitalism is going through, and why Marx’s ideas are seeing such a remarkable resurgence today. You can also find Harvey’s lectures on the first two volumes of Marx’s magnum opus, Das Kapital, for free here.
-Iconic Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar writes his lockdown diaries for British film magazine Sight & Sound. In three parts, he describes how he spends his days in isolation: where he seeks comfort in his apartment, films he watches, memories that overwhelm him, conversations he has with friends. Each entry is a rich and winding journey inside the mind of one of contemporary cinema’s greatest visionaries: “The good thing about not having a timetable during the confinement is that rushing disappears. As do pressure and stress. I am naturally anxious, and I’ve never felt less anxious than now. Yes, I know that the reality outside my windows is terrible and uncertain, that’s why I’m surprised I’m not worried, and I hold on tight to this new feeling of overcoming my fear and paranoia. I don’t think about death, or the dead.”
-Arab Lit gathers a selection of Arabic books in translation recently made available by their publishers, including Elias Khoury’s masterpiece Gate of the Sun, fit for reading this week, as Palestinians around the world commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba on May 15. You can also check out this interview with Khoury, published on the same website in 2012, where he discusses his large body of work and his relationship with the many characters he has created: “It is dangerous for the writer to write about anything. I think it is more dangerous to write about love (than torture or violence). I remember when I was writing Gate of the Sun … I really fell in love with a woman in the novel and for me it was really love, it was not a joke. If you do not believe in your character nobody will take them seriously. So falling in love with a woman that never existed was more dangerous than anything else. And in this sense writing is a very world… it is a way of life, it is accepting that you as a human being are an agent of writing and that you as a human being accept the fact that your existence will be covered, totally shadowed by the existence of your character.”
–What does the rise of Donald Trump, Scorsese’s The Irishman and the writings of the Frankfurt School have in common? This is what author and history scholar Martin Jay explores in his essay in the LA Review of Books, where he highlights the school’s theory of “racket society”: “In the America to which Max Horkheimer and his colleagues had fled in 1934, the words ‘rackets’ and ‘racketeering’ had been coined to indicate the increasing prominence of ‘organized’ or ‘syndicated’ crime … But what if a whole society, the Frankfurt School wondered, had been corrupted by the racket model, turning to bonds of personal loyalty forged through protection against the threats of an increasingly harsh world? What if universal moral norms and the abstract rule of law had been supplanted by transactional and concrete relationships between patrons and clients? What if the role of classes — both in terms of struggle between and solidarity within — had been replaced by other hierarchical relations of domination outside of those generated by the economic mode of production?”
This week Sara Seif Eddin takes us through three Netflix documentary series that she recently watched. From a series on the coronavirus, to irresponsible consumption and finally to how the idea of the “American Dream” has manifested itself in Donald Trump.
A vaccine represents humanity’s best chance against COVID-19 — with the exception of more closures of public gatherings, which would have likely drastically reduced the scale of the outbreak if implemented earlier. The other option we have is to mass test like we’ve seen in South Korea and tailor our response to the data.
While a pandemic can be complicated, the recommendations for how people can be protected from it are not. The responsibility for some of these recommendations falls on the shoulders of governments, who have to make arrangements to ensure social distancing to slow down the rate of infection, or to increase testing. However, individuals too have the responsibility to protect themselves and others through washing their hands thoroughly, wearing masks and practicing physical distancing in public spaces.
In the first episode of Netflix and Vox’s limited series Explained: This Pandemic, we see how lockdowns help control the spread of the virus. They visualise how COVID-19 spread in places such as China, Italy and now the United States, when social distancing was not taken seriously initially — especially given the various symptoms the virus shows, or lack thereof. The episode highlights that the real challenge is in developing countries, where lockdowns are more difficult to achieve and healthcare systems are fragile.
We’ve seen photos shared by commuters on the 6th of October Bridge showing empty outdoor billboards. Many were ecstatic to see that, due to the distraction — “visual pollution,” as many refer to it — they usually cause. Advertising surrounds us on main streets and bridges and on television, radio, social media and public transport alike. What is the effect of this on our lives? Advertising has become the principal hymn of capitalism, forced upon us all day and all night.
The documentary Minimalism (2016) shows us the reality of contemporary middle-class consumerism, which the documentary argues effectively started to take its current form in the mid-90s in the United States as a means to happiness. This happiness is supposedly achieved once we satisfy our desires to own all these household items, fashionable clothes and the latest models of electronics. Do these desires represent our personal goals? Or have they been shaped under the pressure of advertising? Is there any time for us to figure out what we actually need to consume? And what pushes us to get sucked into loans, interest and debt?
Minimalism is a movement where people do not consume more than their most basic needs — whether that be how many square meters their dream house is, the clothes in their closets or even the capitalist metrics of success measured solely by how much money you make.
The fact that today consumption has never been easier, with everything you want just a click away, has augmented the feeling of dissatisfaction and anxiety spurred by the illusive need to have more, making it all the more difficult to stick to one’s “basic needs.” It has also sidelined the struggle of those who don’t have those basic needs for survival, many of whom are workers exploited by the companies that produce and sell those products members of the middle-class race to possess and consume under the influence of advertising, regardless of their actual need for them.
The bottom line persists, however. Being a minimalist is an individualistic act; an act of passive resistance. As one character in the film says: “It won’t change the world and it won’t take down the Goliath of Wall Street.”
The birther movement, which espoused the conspiracy theory that Barack Obama was born outside of the United States and therefore ineligible to become president, became popular in certain media circles following his victory in the 2008 presidential election. Donald Trump, then a businessman and a media personality, was one of the most vocal proponents of the conspiracy, speaking about the issue whenever he got the chance. The administration eventually had to release Obama’s birth certificate to placate the controversy.
During the 2011 White House correspondents’ dinner, where Trump was in attendance, Obama brought up the birth certificate issue — to everyone’s surprise — openly mocking Trump’s comments on the matter as everyone in the room laughed and applauded. Trump took the incident as an unforgivable insult, and it may be among the biggest factors that spurred his run for president in 2016, after years of contemplating the idea.
The Netflix miniseries Trump: An American Dream traces the rise of Trump since the start of the 1970s. The son of a real estate developer, Trump started his career in crime-ridden, bankrupt New York, where he renovated the Commodore Hotel. He branded himself as King Midas, who can turn anything he touches into gold, persuading authorities to give him millions of dollars in tax breaks and banks to extend him credit.
Over 30 years, Trump became part of American pop culture; his ascent accelerating during the Reagan years. There’s a bit of an Oedipus complex side to Trump’s story, too. From the beginning, he seemed to be obsessed with proving he was more successful than his father, to the extent that he spoke about his own accomplishments at Fred Trump’s funeral. Donald Trump’s obsessions and many failed business ventures and real estate projects eventually led him to a financial crunch, leaving him struggling to pay his debts. He never filed for personal bankruptcy, but many of his companies and others working with him did, and subsequently had to let go of their employees. He was never remorseful, either, and that’s why I stopped being surprised by any of his idiocies as president.
“The Cape of Good Hope” is a new playlist by Ahmed El Sabbagh, offering a journey through different kinds of music across Africa. Discover it below:
In conclusion, dear readers, we leave you with a collection of translated short fiction by contemporary Sudanese writers, published as part of a special portfolio in the latest issue of The Common and available to read on the magazine’s website. Featured writers include Abdel-Ghani Karamalla, Ahmad Al Malik and Ishraga Mustafa Hamid, among others.
Until next time, stay safe!