Queen Rania of Jordan was on Oprah Wednesday night on MBC4. It was the television event of at least the month over here, heavily advertised beforehand and watched by everyone I know. Overall, she made a great appearance and did a lot to improve the image of Arabs in the West, even if Oprah did her best to fluff up the interview from time to time (Oprah interrupted Rania in the middle of a thoughtful commentary on a real issue to tritely ask, “So what makes you deliriously happy????”) (The answer: chocolate.)
The only part of the show that really disappointed me was when Oprah’s camera crew visited the homes of some “real Jordanians” in Amman, presumably to give America a brief idea of what life is like there (here). The problem was, they chose to show two extreme upper-class homes. Granted, one of the women they featured wore the hijab, which I guess was the show’s gesture toward the unfamiliar. But otherwise, these women were, in my opinion, almost completely atypical Jordanians. One of the women worked in some kind of a haute couture shop and ordered Domino’s Pizza for dinner for her family (which she took out of the box and served on a decorative platter to her family – so Arab, I love it!). The other lived in a palatial apartment in Abdoun.
To feature one family from the upper echelon of Amman’s society would be understandable, but why choose to exclude a feature on a more average Jordanian woman? One with half a dozen kids, living a very happy life in a normal, maybe even slightly dumpy apartment in a shaaby area of town? Was it because the producers were afraid such scenes of humanity would scare us Americans away from feeling a kinship with our Jordanian friends? It’s hard to be sure.
As it is, the only thing most viewers probably took away from their exclusive peek inside two Jordanian homes was something like, “Hey, her kitchen looks like my kitchen.” Focusing on the similarities between two cultures is important, but not at the expense of ignoring very real differences that, if understood, can be informative and enriching.
You can read about the show here.