“Any work that I do depends on the will of the audience.” (Ibrahim Nasr, Akhbar al-Nuguum, 433, 1/20/2001)
Over the past few years, a growing trend in television is the seeming willingness to push the envelope of so-called “good taste.” While this is not a new phenomenon, we are witnessing, on a global scale, a mushrooming in the number of television shows that use the transgression of established norms to increase viewership. America’s local rendition of this global trend takes either the form of “reality TV” shows such as Big Brother, Survivor, Fear Factor and The Jamie Kennedy Experiment, or MTV’s Punk’d and Boiling Points—all of which test normative boundaries of socially-acceptable behavior, sex, violence, and physical endurance to shock and titillate viewers.
Regardless of their genre (comedy or suspense), these shows often serve as a vehicle for exploring sensitive social issues. For example, the South African, post-Apartheid version of the show Big Brother was able to capitalize on lingering race issues by placing blacks, whites, and bi-racial participants in the Big Brother living space. In Turkey, a reality TV show that aired for the first time in 2001 brought attention to the country’s massive fiscal crisis by “challenging two middle-class couples to see who could survive the longest on Turkey's far-below-poverty-level average minimum wage of $84 a month.”(1) As noted by Mark Lynch else where in this issue, reality TV came relatively late to the Arab world, but has exploded over the last decade, generating a whirlwind of controversy.(2)
This essay will discuss the phenomenon of reality TV as a mirror into local social issues by analyzing Al Camera Al Khafeya (Hidden Camera), one of Egypt’s most successful television shows in recent years and one of the earliest manifestations of the reality TV phenomenon in the Arab world. In particular, the analysis will focus on the Ramadan 2000 episodes featuring actor Ibrahim Nasr as “Zakiya Zakariya,” arguably the most outrageous and subversive character in all of the show’s various incarnations.
A Note on the Show’s History
An admitted copy of its American counterpart, the program was first broadcast in 1983. The show was directed by Tarek Zaghloul and presented by the established Egyptian comic actor Fouad El-Mohandess and was initially aired once a week. Over the years, several actors played the lead role, including Mohammad Gabr and Ahmad Shouman. In 1996, the comic actor Ibrahim Nasr took over as both presenter and protagonist, boosting the show’s popularity to “an all-time high.”(3) An indication of the show’s success is the fact that it was moved from a weekly time slot to take the all-important post-Iftaar time slot during the month of Ramadan, just after the daily fast has been broken. During these post-Iftaar hours, huge numbers of households watch television and hence this period has become a prime marketing time, during which advertising rates rise precipitously. According to an article in the English-language Al Ahram Weekly, to pull off his wacky stunts without being recognized, Nasr had hired an American makeup artist to the tune of Egyptian LE 500,000 to provide him with a different character for each taping of the show. Apparently, his previous acting experience as a professional imitator of the stars allowed him to “slip into 30 different skins—one for each night of Ramadan.”(4)
In Ramadan of 2000, Ibrahim Nasr introduced the character of Zakiya Zakariya, a portly, garishly made-up woman who first appears to the viewer through a transformation process: As lighthearted, playful tunes play in the background, the credits showed Nasr being dressed as Zakiya in all her finery of synthetic jowls and cheeks, widely-spaced and protruding upper teeth, heavy layers of outrageous makeup—including balloon-like crimson lips—a jet-black, fringed wig and impossibly-thick, Coke-bottle glasses. A Reuters article described the character of Zakiya Zakariya as “Egypt's most frightening woman.” (Reuters, September 7, 2001). As a hostess, she wore a modest jacket with a long skirt; as a beggar in a hotel, she appeared in rags, a scarf on her head and even black-face. As an “ordinary” vegetable-stand proprietress, she dressed in baladii (countrywoman’s) clothing. Her name derives from the word zakii, or intelligent, and she propelled the plot through a variety of devices including instigation and distraction, as well as duping the unwitting people who appeared on the show.
With the introduction of the Zakiya Zakariya character, the show’s popularity exceeded even its own lofty precedent. Reruns of the show were shown during Ramadan and beyond. Through satellite television broadcasts, Zakiya Zakariya became known throughout the greater Arab world. In 2000 and 2001, in cities like Cairo, Jerusalem and Damascus, her mischievous quotations were on everyone’s lips: “bikh!”(“boo!”) "qalbak khasaaya” (your heart is a little head of lettuce) and "inta murtabit?” (i.e., “are you available for a romantic relationship?” as asked by the large, male, and frighteningly garish Zakiya-in-drag). In Ramadan of 2001, a Zakiya Zakariya doll was mass-produced, spouting these same phrases. Yet another indicator of the character’s success was the spin-off feature-length film Zakiya Zakariya fi-l-Parleman, which debuted in 2001 as one of the films of 'Eid al-Fitr, the holiday of breaking the fast, signaling the end of Ramadan and the time of year reserved for the biggest Egyptian blockbusters. The show and its main character became so popular, in fact, that the original spin-off play Zakiya Zakariya and the Cruel Gang “has been followed by yet another, Zakiya Zakariya Challenges Sharon. For three years, the biggest TV star in Egypt was a drag queen.
What Will Zakiya Zakariya Do?
During Ramadan in the winter of 2000, an episode always began with a seated Ibrahim Nasr, as a man, quickly introducing the show’s setting and theme, often relying on a piece of folk wisdom. In one case it was the aphorism, “illi yigrahni wa yadawiinii ahsan min illi biyigrahn i wa ma yadawwiiniish. Da sah walla la?/He who hurts me and heals me is better than the one who hurts me and does not heal me. Right?” Already there is an implied conflict that the show will heal or resolve for the viewer. This brief opening scene always ended with the question “what will Zakiya Zakariya do?” or the invitation, “let’s see what Zakiya Zakariya does.” This functioned as the invitation and initiation for the viewer into the world played by Zakiya Zakariya’s rules. From the very start, the show was presented as a communal rite, a process by which the audience was invited to witness, sympathize with and participate in the unfolding of each show.
The second and primary portion of the show featured the escapades of Zakiya Zakariya as she interacted with her unwitting “guests.” Like its’ American counterpart, Candid Camera, Al Camera Al Khafeya secretly taped an interaction between Zakiya Zakariya and ordinary people who happened to stumble into a specific setting—a hotel, restaurant, clothing shop, or movie theater. Most often, a conflict was staged between Zakiya as proprietress/manager and her clientele, such as Zakiya the ticket seller telling movie-goers that they have to come back another day to see the end of a film (because only one reel has arrived at the theater) or Zakiya the pharmacist insisting on preparing medication from scratch in front of customers in a pharmacy, only to “accidentally” set fire to the chemicals while the camera shows everyone fleeing for their lives. The camera always recorded Zakiya, the mistress of instigation, pushing the guests of the show to a shouting match or an actual physical confrontation instead of simply asking for the owner or registering their dissatisfaction with the service.
Each episode usually featured four distinct variations on the same skit. The entire structure was set up in the episode’s first encounter; in general, successive encounters were shown to the audience from the point at which the participant’s patience with Zakiya’s antics had been exhausted. The show functioned through the audience's sometimes uncomfortable fascination with how far normative social standards can be challenged for the purposes of entertainment. The setting of each program was established in moments, while the plot was propelled by what Zakiya said or did to her guests and how they reacted to her. In the midst of a dispute, she would turn to the husband of the couple she was confronting and ask innocently, “Are you available?” to prod his wife into a screaming match. Other times, she would stop a polite complaint from a guest who addressed her as “madame” and insists “anissa, lau takarramt” (“That's mademoiselle, if you please!”).
The settings of the show spanned the diversity of modern Cairene experience—the boutique, the restaurant, the city street, the kiosk, the flower shop, the pharmacy and the fakihani or fruit-vendor. Zakiya was often a brash, overbearing waitress or manager who was too busy on the phone—talking to her fiancee “Beeso” or otherwise—to pay attention to her customers’ needs or to resolve the disasters that inevitably occurred. In an episode called “Tabarru`at (Donations)” a clothing shop customer wanted to pay for an item of clothing, and Zakiya Zakariya, chatting away on the phone, distractedly instructs them to place their money in a wooden box, labeled “Donations for the Exterior Decoration of the Store.” As the audience, we can see the label on the box, but the customers cannot. We watch as the customers patiently await Zakiya the shopgirl to finish her conversation. Zakiya thanks them for their donation, then goes on to show the customer the label on the box and insist they pay for their purchases separately.
Zakiya’s terrible customer service is not merely a reflection of the exasperating situations that the modern consumer often faces; it also sets up a kind of “symbolic inversion” which reverses conventional social codes.(5) The skit inverts the expectations of the consumer vis-à-vis the provider of services, and more generally, codes of acceptable social interactions—this can extend to comedic treatments of class and gender, to which we will turn shortly. An argument between Zakiya and the customers often included complicit actors who serve as a foil for the duped customers. In the “donations” episode, for example, one such actor wandered up to the counter while Zakiya insisted that the customers should be proud to fund the store’s redecoration and proclaimed enthusiastically, “I'd like to donate towards the decoration.” This is, of course, a dramatic device designed to increase the intensity of the exchange between the guests of the show and its star, in addition to the various quips and comments Zakiya herself made in order to instigate the customers’ anger.
When the argument reached its peak, “she” removed her heavy black wig, revealing the balding head of Ibrahim Nasr, and bellowed “fii eh?” (in this context, translated loosely as “You got a problem?”) in deep, masculine tones. The guests of the show often screamed, backed up slowly from Zakiya sans wig, or simply ran away. They were most often horrified because they were confronted with what they least expected—this was no ordinary woman and they are unsure what to do with her. Sometimes this is the moment in which the participants’ righteous anger was neutralized and the conflict came to an abrupt end; other times, the physical violence had obviously escalated beyond Ibrahim Nasr’s control and the scene was abruptly cut off.
The main portion of the show represented Zakiya’s world as an alternative reality, one that created a dramatic rift between Zakiya and her victims. This rift unfolded as Zakiya challenged all the viewers’ expectations of class, gender, and locality. The show was not content to hit and run. Instead, it sought to return to a moral high ground and re-establish the collective aspect invoked in the opening segment during which the fatherly actor Ibrahim Nasr, sporting his trademark beret, talked directly to the viewers and said, “Let’s see what Zakiya Zakariya will do.”
The rift was healed after the wig was removed, Zakiya Zakariya became Ibrahim Nasr once again and cordial relations between victim and offender were re-established. When this happened the wigless Nasr was slapped on the back and applauded by the laughing people he had just duped. He explains that the entire encounter has been taped and then asks if the show has the permission to air the skit. Without fail, the answer is “zii`!” (broadcast it!).
Here we find not only plot resolution but moral amelioration, for the ways in which the victim has been “wronged” throughout the skit are stripped of their confrontational character and re-cast as harmless props, or all in good fun. What might have been offensive or shocking now became palimpsest for the entire skit to be recast not just as acceptable, but necessary. Its instigations, its duping of innocent bystanders or exploiting people’s good nature all became comedic devices sealed with the approval of its recent victims. Formally, these devices propel the plot and guide and intensify the viewer’s reactions. In this way, the show could negotiate cultural mores and interrogate gender and class lines—if it was perceived as stepping over the line or duping and exploiting people, the signification of the final scene was one of resolution and the recuperation of what had been transgressed against unsuspecting “guests” of the show.
Al Camera Al Khafeya: A Ramadan Event
The program’s strategic return to standards of decency and morality is especially significant because Al Camera Al Khafeya was a Ramadan program, featured in the highly coveted, post-Iftaar time slot. During Ramadan, the transition from fasting to non-fasting time creates a liminal space which Egyptian programmers have long used to play with conventional standards of social propriety, as Walter Armbrust has pointed out.(6) It is in this context that Al Camera Al Khafeya appeared to violate standards of moderation and propriety associated with the observance of Ramadan. The program illustrates the contradictory practices of excessive consumption and modesty that may, in some parts of the Arab and Islamic world, co-exist with practices of observing of Ramadan.
In fact, critics of the program have accused Ibrahim Nasr of “harassing and mocking Egyptians for 30 days every Ramadan.” Nasr responded:
We have something called April Fool and that has existed in Egypt for a long time. It’s funny, right? Is it harassment, or is it just for laughs? It’s the same thing with Hidden Camera. It’s just for laughs. And I also ask people’s permission before I broadcast the thing. This year over ten people said no, and I didn’t include them. And aside from this we’re a very friendly people. We love joking around with each other. People joke around with you in the street all the time and they don’t even know you …the Egyptian sense of humor is unique, you won’t find it anywhere else in the world …” (7)
Thus Nasr rhetorically deployed the popularity of the show to address and reconcile the so-called manipulation or exploitation of innocent Cairenes. The ultimate indication that everything was right with the world was the consent of those who had just been abused and manipulated. The victimizer, Nasr as Zakiya, was then vindicated once again as a “good guy.” One letter to the editor, printed in Al Ahram Weekly, praised “Nasr's insistence on having his guests' permission before broadcasting the episode.”
Class on Camera
Al Camera Al Khafeya cleverly exploited the very deep class conflicts in Egyptian society. Such conflicts are by no means new but have grown particularly protracted in the era of globalization—more specifically since the days of Sadat and his infitaah (open door) policy. The economist Galal Amin and others have analyzed the gradual disappearance of the Egyptian middle classes, leaving an ever-widening gap between the fabulously wealthy and the destitute.(8) In Al Camera Al Khafeya, therefore, the show's setting could be a posh restaurant or a street corner fruit-stand, giving the audience a microcosm of class interaction in Egypt. Zakiya duping a fabulously-dressed, upper-class woman was a hailing gesture for the poorer classes who may feel exploited in a society where less than half of one percent control the country's wealth. It was also a chance for the upper classes to see themselves lampooned. As one man told Zakiya, “You think you can take advantage of me because I'm wearing a suit?”
Zakiya's interactions with poorer classes and with people from the countryside did not spare them from her ploys, but such an interaction was a device that hailed those viewers while simultaneously placing them on the same footing as wealthier Egyptians, at least within the context of the show. In one episode, a man tells Zakiya, in the midst of their confrontation, that he is a factory worker, that he works with his hands and cannot afford to be cheated. At the end of another episode, after removing his wig, Nasr reveals that he is from Assiut, in Upper Egypt and tells a man from the country “ihna garaayib” (“We're related”), placing the star and the guest in the same sphere, inviting them to laugh at themselves and each other as if they were equals because of their common background.
An episode titled “The Beggar in the Hotel” was an illustration of how the show used class irony as a humorous device. In this episode, Zakiya Zakariya was a shehhaata (beggar) in blackface, who had somehow gotten into an upscale hotel and proceeded to go door to door with two filthy children in tow, who cry and scream on demand. There is a double irony here: first, that such a person would be able to gain access to the hotel and second, that she did not take “no” for an answer from the annoyed guests. She even used her bulk to bar the guests from closing the door on her and her children, turning established class roles upside down. To make matters worse, when the guests try to solicit assistance from a hotel employee (a complicit character) he acts of course as if nothing is wrong with such behavior. One young woman duped in the scene nearly explodes with anger, screaming “Are we in the street or what?!” What made such a scene funny for the average Egyptian was the revenge that Zakiya Zakariya inflicted on the upper crust. When the hotel guests ask her how she can beg in a hotel she replies that she has bought the rights to be “the only beggar in the hotel.” When asked what she is doing, she replies in an educated register of Modern Standard Arabic, rather than colloquial, that she is “seeking alms.” The amazed woman she is duping screams back “You're speaking standard Arabic?” Zakiya thus exploited the various registers of the Arabic language to highlight class divisions and the sense of appropriateness or class-entitlement that accompanies such divisions in society.
An interesting manifestation of class became apparent in the final segment of this particular show, when we witness the interaction between the famous actor Ibrahim Nasr and the “guests.” On the linguistic level, guests of all classes refer to Nasr with the honorific “hadritak,” establishing a relationship of respect with the star that had just duped them. In all cases, the recent victims behaved with gushing admiration toward a rich and famous television star.
Gender and Locale
The following quote by Ibrahim Nasr, the comic who plays Zakiya Zakariya, explains how he played on particularly Egyptian stereotypes based on class, gender and region in creating the drama that is Hidden Camera:
I have to know how to talk to every different type of person. You can’t speak to a person from above, you have to speak as an equal. From the clothes you’re wearing, the colors, the jewelry, I can tell where you’re from, what sporting club you’re headed to, whether you’re originally from Giza but are now from Heliopolis, meaning that from your composition and your smell, I can tell you’re from two places. Someone might be wearing a very chic suit but I’ll be able to smell that he’s from outside Cairo … It’s to the point that I can say so and so is from Zagazig, Mansoura, Damanhour, or Beni Suef. And I know exactly when each region’s character gets upset. And that the women of Beni Suef have short tempers. And the men have long tempers. And the women of Beni Suef are stronger than their men…”(9)
The show depended on a variety of Egyptian stereotypes, those that have been historically portrayed in film and television and those identified by anthropologists such as Sawsan El-Messiri, who describeds the concept of ibn al-balad, and bint al-balad (native sons and daughters) as constructs of “authentic Egyptians,” juxtaposed with fellahin (peasants) and the upper class, the latter traditionally seen as part of a foreign ruling class.(10) In particular, the show mobilized a variety of popular stereotypes of the bint al-balad, with Zakiya Zakariya displaying a particular mix of class and gender that was familiar and symbolized a particular notion of authenticity. As Armbrust notes, the “authenticity” of the bint al-balad is only salient by virtue of its contrast with other notions of identity; Nasr as bint-al-balad Zakiya Zakariya uses a time-honored device for creating a contrastive language that works to emphasize class differences through the social diacritica of dress, speech, and mannerisms.
In one episode, Zakiya would wear a typical baladi dress of colorful pattern, the sheer black headscarf (malaaya laff), topped off with a brightly colored scarf festooned with jangling coins. Another of Zakiya’s character inspirations was the middle class working woman with upper-class pretensions, dressed in a suit with sparkling trim and sporting long, red, dagger-like fingernails. Her makeup and clothing as well as her actions were all meant to foreground and interrogate female social roles. She could compare her jewelry to that of the ladies with whom she interacted or talk about her boyfriend—satirizing women's roles, pushing them to their breaking point, and beyond. Notably, she never actually assumed the role of an upper-class woman, thus preserving the widest possible appeal, especially among the Egyptian audience.
Drag is a comedic vehicle used to exploit a variety of social roles to catalyze the confrontation between Zakiya and the show’s “guests.” According to Nasr, “the producers of Al Camera Al Khafeya noticed my ability to emulate different kinds of women. They decided that I should play a woman's role, and I was struck by the desire to appear onscreen that way and alhamdulilaah, I succeeded.” The character of Zakiya lampooned a feminine concern with youth, beauty, and dignity—not only was her garb a sarcastic rendition of these concerns, but so were her hyper-feminized movements and gestures and her sugary sweet, affected voice. She also attempted to humiliate obviously younger women by saying “inti zayy ukhti al-kabiira” (you’re like my older sister). Not only would Zakiya interrupt a customer who had just called her "madame", to scream that she should be called “mademoiselle, bleese!” She would also scream at men who attempt to restrain her from running away or taking their belongings, saying “A man touching a woman? Oh horrid day!” and “I never!” On the other hand, she would behave in a flirtatious or sexually aggressive manner towards the males with whom she interacted, often launching into a prolonged monologue on her dating history. In one episode, she kissed a man on the cheek while helping him try on a jacket, leaving a massive red lip-print, and then feigned ignorance of any offense. She would distract men by asking if they were engaged or married, especially in front of their wives. When they cursed or screamed, she admonished them that they should not scream at a lady. When she screamed absurdities such as “bikh!” (boo!) at people or told them to hush by saying “ta-ta-taaa-ta!” they were unsure how to react to a woman in a service profession who broke social norms of politeness.
It is notable that the show first aired in the Ramadan following the start of the second Intifada—a period characterized by an enormous public outpouring of sympathy for the Palestinian cause. It seems that the show’s producers bound Zakiya Zakariya’s popularity to Egyptian anger towards Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon. This is most explicitly seen in the play Zakiya Zakariya Challenges Sharon, which was a huge hit with Egyptian theatre-goers. The play’s chief antagonist is Haroun, who persecutes an orphan named Nidal (which means “struggle” in Arabic)—killing her parents, destroying her home and finally sending her out to a shelter for street children. Zakiya emerges as the savior of the protagonist Nidal and leads all the children in a battle to defeat the evil Haroun and regain Nidal’s rights.
Playwright Shamekh Al-Shandawayli made a conscious decision to change the play’s characters and elements of the plot to reflect the Palestinian issue, and even added in new scenes and dialogue based on the daily developments of the Intifada. According to Raed Labib, director of the show and the play, the play proved that “a comedy can not only make people happy through humor, but also solve some of the most dangerous issues in their lives and could be more convincing than resounding political statements.”(11) We see this in the context of a specifically Egyptian cultural space that simultaneously embraces an absurd and serious treatment of the Palestinian cause. Zakiya Zakariya Challenges Sharonis part of a larger sha’abi or popular trend in Egyptian “Intifada” inspired culture, comprising everything from the Abu Ammar brand of potato chips which features Arafat’s visage (for each bag sold, a donation is made to the Palestinian cause) to the wildly popular anthem by sha’abi musician Sha’ban Abd Al-Rahim entitled “Bakrah Isra’iil/I Hate Israel.”(12) No one considers these cultural productions to be high art. Zakiya Zakariya Challenges Sharon and songs like “I Hate Israel” can be seen as part of a sub-genre of “political exploitation” works, the seriousness of which can vary considerably. Works such as Zakiya Zakariya Challenges Sharon rarely, if ever, overtly criticize official Egyptian policies towards Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Egyptian political commentator Mohamed al-Sayed Said speculated that the Egyptian government probably saw Zakiya Zakariya Challenges Sharon as “as healthy Sharon-bashing and a release valve at a tense time.”(13) Reality TV in general does little to challenge the social, political, or economic status quo—as Mark Lynch rightly points out in this issue of TBS, “Cultural destruction or democratic salvation are rather weighty burdens to place on televised variety shows.”(14)
After several years of overwhelming popularity, however, the Zakiya Zakariya character ran her course with Egyptian audiences. Subsequent iterations of the show have preserved the reality TV show genre—in which duping the unsuspecting is the main plot vehicle—while Zakiya has made way for a whole new assortment of protagonists. After Zakiya’s run, starting in 2002, audiences were introduced to the new show, Hussein Ala El Hawa(Hussein Live) starring the “distinguished and suave” comic Hussein El Imam. El Imam returned in 2003 with a new show, Hussein Fe El Studio (Hussein in the Studio). According to the show’s official Web site, for Ramadan 2003, El Imam “combined the sitcom and ‘prank show’ in one” to form the program Hussein Ala El Nasia (Hussein on the Corner). The show starred four regulars in addition to the familiar Al Camera Al Khafeya format.(15) The format varied again in 2004, when the show took on the name Taxi, a more G-rated version of the sexually explicit American (Home Box Office) Taxicab Confessions. Taxifeatured an actor picking up unsuspecting passengers, supported by a crew of instigating regulars; scenarios ranged from radio announcements that aliens had landed in Egypt's main square to the driver getting driving lessons via his cell phone.(16)
The latest rendition of Al Camera Al Khafeya was broadcast during Ramadan 2005 and features an “unknown prankster” by the name of Ismail Farghali. It promises “the best and worst of our funny city”—treating Cairo as a microcosm for all of Egypt.(17) According to a plot synopsis available on the show’s Web site (where video clips and other treats are available to the viewing public by dialup subscription), the intended hilarity is consistent with the show’s predecessors, again spanning the modern Cairene experience with episodes taking place at the dentist’s, the dry cleaner’s and the cinema. The show even brought back, almost verbatim, the Zakiya Zakariya “Hotel Beggar” scenario—although this time, the beggar is the mustachioed Farghali, exploiting stereotypes by wearing a Sa’idi (Upper Egypt) style gallabiya. According to the show’s Web site:
You are staying in a nice hotel with your wife. Someone knocks on the door. You answer and are amazed to find a beggar asking for money. You can't believe that the hotel management would allow such a thing to happen. You tell the beggar that you are going to the management. Imagine your surprise when he knocks on your door once again but this time with hotel management!(18)
For those viewers who missed the post-Iftaar broadcasts during Ramadan 2005, complete episodes of the show are also offered on the Web site via a free dial-up number. The variety of materials available online, as well as the Internet’s potential to reach ever-increasing swathes of the population (via the Internet café and the sharing of computers) can only mean more exposure for the Al Camera Al Khafeya and its manifold reincarnations.
In the final analysis, the show Al Camera Al Khafeya and its outrageous characters are a local manifestation of a global trend in TV that pushes the boundaries of good taste. Such breaches in social convention are regularly decried as part of a generalized assault on Arab culture conveyed through globalized media. However, each of these shows in fact illustrates important currents in popular and consumer culture, all of which can, on the contrary, help us to understand local concerns at their very source.