Striking the Wrong Note: Melody TV’s Sexist Ads

Egyptian satellite TV station Melody has struck the wrong chord with audiences. The station, based out of Cairo, is famous for its MTV-like youth appeal. The network of five channels (including an English-only channel) broadcasts a variety of pop culture, youth culture, and music videos.

Their ongoing promotional campaigns, however successful, are leaving a bad taste in the mouth of some Egyptians, who find the commercials’ irreverent humor and sexual infatuation to be too risqué for the stations’ largely tween and teen audiences.

The latest promotional campaign, titled “Al Hakika el Mora” (or “The Bitter Truth”), follows suit in the station’s track record of sexual innuendo, scantly clad women, busty brunettes, and sexist punch lines. The video is in four parts here (in Arabic):

The synopsis: Mr. Gamal, Melody’s head honcho asks Hamzawi, a Don-Juan-type commercial director, to make “clean”, new commercials for Melody Drama. He must also find a new Melody girl because the old one is causing Mr. Gamal “a lot of problems in the newspapers”—apparently due to her “loose” mannerisms and overtly sexual appearance. Hamzawi goes to task, picking a new Melody girl and the new commercial is shown.

After watching the commercial in its entirety, it should be no wonder why the Egyptian general public is up in arms about Melody’s sexy promotional tactics.

The four-part commercial uses explicit sexual innuendos, which are more than inappropriate for the stations young demographic.  For example, at the beginning of the auditions for the new Melody girl, Hamzawi says, “It looks like Hamzawi is going to be tired by the end of today,” when he sees the first girl, with a dirty smirk on his face that suggests that he will bed her. The next two models come in together. They are twins Nunu and Nana. After they read the line together, Hamzawi says, “Very nice. Now, can I see each of you alone?” The girls reply, “But, Hamzawi, we do everything together. You know this.” He pauses and looks up, obviously reminiscing.

Besides the distasteful use of sexual innuendo, the fact that Hamzawi is a cunning Casanova leaves the impression on young tweens and teenage boys that this is the way men should behave toward women if they expect to be respected and liked.

Furthermore, the message the commercial sends to young girls is equally detrimental. All the women in the commercial, with the exception of a femme-fatale-type character, are portrayed as ditsy and promiscuous. The main focus is on their bodies, a point emphasized by Hamzawi’s quick dismissal of a fuller-figured Melody girl prospect.

Even the new, “modest” Melody girl is first shown with her breasts tightly squeezed into the old Melody girl costume, which does not leave much to the imagination. It is only after she puts on the new “modest” costume, consisting of a turtleneck and long skirt, is the focus taken off her body.

Interestingly, if viewers have followed Melody’s over the top commercials, they will quickly realize they have seen this same actress before. In fact, when Hamzawi seems to have exhausted all possible options for a new Melody girl, he specifically  remembers this girl in reference to her role in another commercial.

What exactly was her role in the previous commercial that would make her so memorable to Hamzawi? In a previous Melody commercial named “The Truth Behind Titanic,” the woman, named Rasha, reenacts the famous “drawing” scene from the 1997 blockbuster Titanic. In that commercial we see her slip off her robe, revealing a blue, heart shaped necklace, and while her bare chest is not shown, the camera pans down her bare legs as her robe drops to the floor. As she lies down on a couch to be drawn, viewers can clearly deduce she is naked.

Melody’s “clean” commercial has its own problems. A woman walks past a car with a fellow in the driver’s seat. The man in the car asks the Melody man, who is standing next to him, if this is his sister. The Melody man replies by saying, “Right. We have to look out for her and if she goes behind our back what should we do, Melody girl?” The new Melody girl replies, “We go to her house on Sunday and take her from her family.” In other words, get her married.

This is a blatant promotion of the idea that women who go against their family’s expectations should be punished or contained by getting married. It is the duty of a man, her brother, to guard her. This reinforces the notion of men being the guardians of women’s chastity.

Melody claims that these commercials appear to highlight the movement of Egyptian society toward “modernization” by allowing more risqué material to appear on TV. Yet the commercials emphasize traditional constructions of gender roles.

Essentially, Melody’s message is: “Look at us! We are ‘modern,’ allowing our women to dress provocatively and claim their sexuality, so long as at the end of the day they are easily put back in their places!” Not very progressive, if you ask me.

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