Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Podcast Tuesday: "A Whole New Fonz"

Fonzie and the gang ride on a magic carpet with Princess Charisma.

The depiction of the Middle East in popular culture has changed drastically during my lifetime. See, I grew up in the '70s and '80s. Back then, in my mind, the Middle East was a land of mystery, intrigue, adventure, and magic. A story set in Arabia would include most or all of the following elements: genies, magic lamps, turbans, scimitars, flying carpets, camels, harems, the phrase "open sesame," and lots of sexy girls in revealing outfits. And it would be set many hundreds of years ago. Beyond some palace intrigue, there would be no politics whatsoever. And outside of some vague mysticism involving magic words and crystal balls, there would be no religion either.

This was the way it was in American pop culture for years. Way back in the 1950s, for instance, Ed Wood made a short film called The Flame of Islam. Today, a film with such a title would be about the Islamic faith and would likely be the subject of great controversy. But Eddie's movie was simply a filmed burlesque show, and the term "Islam" was merely meant to suggest someplace exotic and far away.

All this started to change in the 1980s  and '90s as the Middle East became more and more of a presence on the evening news. The Gulf War of 1990-91 did a lot to change American's view of the region, and subsequent Middle Eastern wars have only made the changes more profound. The Arabia of old, the land of One Thousand and One Nights, is gone from the Western imagination. Disney's Aladdin (1992) got in just under the wire. (Yes, I realize there have been sequels and a remake since then, but they don't count since they're tied to the original, well-loved movie.)

In short, we've gone from The Thief of Bagdad (1940) to The Hurt Locker (2008). Is this an improvement? I don't know, honestly. The old depictions of the Middle East had nothing to do with reality, but they had a charm of their own.

This week on These Days Are Ours: A Happy Days Podcast, we're talking about the episode "Arabian Knights." From the title onward, it's obvious that this is one of those dreamy pre-Gulf War depictions of the Middle East. But does that make it a good episode? Click the magic play button below and find out.