Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Local satire: coming or going?

TV Times, 8-14 April 1979


I never made it to a Juan Tamad movie. Not once. Generations were marvelling at its social impact in times past, but I always found myself, for some reason or other, barred from the experience. I regret it now, realizing that much of Juan Tamad's appeal lies not with Juan Tamad himself, but with the mood of the times and the cast of men's minds.

That is how I find today's Juan Tamad, the weekly television series that premiered on Channel 4 the other Sunday. The premiere episode was hardly a remarkable television event. It was slow (and don't say it is simply living up to its title: cute); many scenes were unnecessary; the cast--while experienced--was not brilliant. The camera was efficient but stolid, like an ox going about its ways with little wish to change them (again with a literal excuse? ghastly).

Only in the intro did the episode show some slice of imagination. Even then, as a friend posited, the basic line to that intro had already been heard in varying versions from varying sources. The juxtaposition of folk joke with myth is also, at its best, melodramatic, and at its worst, absurd.

But Juan Tamad's value in this day and age--and the basis for considering it as television satire--is that it provides, for the individual viewer, a private exercise in judgment. Each viewer, sitting in front of his television set, is free--in seclusion--to struggle with his own questions and arrive at his own conclusions. At the end of the episode, he is also free to measure for himself, without fear or pressure, how relevancet Juan Tamad's pronouncements are to his life and the society in which he moves.

Like some other efforts at satire, Juan Tamad, too, may lose steam early in its season. The saddest rut for satire to fall into is a corridor of mirrors where its producers cringe at their own reflection. Already, Juan Tamad, in its use of a Muslim setting and a comfortably distant and isolated ambiance, is deliberately softening its irreverence and imparting to the show that curiously flat quality of reminiscence, like a reenactment of events that happened a long time ago and are, therefore, already divorced from today.

It could also, sooner or later, refrain from making immediately perceptible comments on the more questionable aspects of contemporary life. In which case and at which time, I suppose, it would either lapse into obscurantism or obscurity. The first is an obvious mechanism; the second has been, to paraphrase Belgian playwright Michel de Ghelderode, "the law since the time of Don Quixote."

What would I wish for a local attempt at satire like Juan Tamad? First, that it should acquire technical polish. There is no substitute for this. Second, that it should strive at striking roots in the intellectual and social milieu at the same time that it aspires for those fantastic flights of comic delight, without both of which satire has no reason to be. And third, that it should tighten up, speed up the action, gain timing, and realize that length can and should be sacrificed whenever it softens impact.

May I also suggest that perhaps the roles in Juan Tamad should be reexamined? Some of the characters appear quite extraneous to the purpose and the plot, their roles almost like afterthoughts that can be added or cancelled on a week-to-week basis and do not have to be made part of the regular cast.

And why not let younger, more adept performers flesh out some of the roles in succeeding episodes? I have nothing but respect for experience and age, but both qualities do not always make for spontaneity, contemporaneity, dynamism, freshness--qualities I expect from satire.

Or is the show trying to make precisely the point that we have become a nation of the old and the jaded?

-- NBT

No title in original published column

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