A new show on Iraq’s Al-Baghdadiya TV welds the zaniness of Punk’d with the soberness of counter-insurgency, and viewers can’t get enough.
On the show (called Khali en Buca, which is Arabic for “Let’s Steal It”), prominent Iraqi celebrities—TV personalities, soccer stars, singers—are invited to the Al-Baghdadiya studio. Before they enter, security forces examine their cars at a routine checkpoint. Suddenly, they accuse the celebrities of hiding a homemade bomb somewhere in the car. Digging through the vehicle, threatening to torture the celebs, and shouting “They will kill you! They will hang you!” the guards terrify the victims. Some cry, some faint.
After the aneurisms and panic attacks, the security guards kiss the celebrities, laugh, and point to the hidden cameras. It’s light humor for a nation that makes international headlines for car bombs each week. Ratings have skyrocketed, but government’s media office says that if Al-Baghdadiya continues to air the show, it will cancel the entire network.
Maybe Khali en Buca is just shock exploitation? Or does it say something important about how the military deals with terrorism? Karim Wasfi, an Iraqi symphony conductor interviewed on National Public Radio, says it’s hard to tell.
It’s either very stupid or it was very cleverly done, as if there are actually two messages to convey. One of them is to demonize the army or the concept of security. And the other one is to use that—to actually support operations, support the army.
Famed satirist George Saunders poked fun at such reality shows in his 2006 Harper’s piece, “Brad Carrigan, American.”
On FinalTwist, five college friends take a sixth to an expensive Italian restaurant, supposedly to introduce him to a hot girl, actually to break the news that his mother is dead. This is the InitialTwist. During dessert they are told that, in fact, all of their mothers are dead. This is the SecondTwist. The ThirdTwist is, not only are all their mothers dead, the show paid to have them killed, and the fourth and FinalTwist is, the kids have just eaten their own grilled mothers.
Khali en Buca isn’t there yet, but it’s scarily close.