Reality TV has already established itself in the Middle Eastern with music and talent competitions: Arab Idol; Dancing with the Stars ME; The Voice; Arab’s Got Talent; MBC’s The X Factor and Golden Mic are just a few of the programs dominating Arab media. Yet the type of reality TV that has become increasingly popular here in the United States- vapid shows that follow around a bunch of semi-famous people, a la the Kardashians (now unfortunately too famous, in my opinion)-has not yet appeared on Arab TV until now.
Meet The Sisters Abdel Aziz or “اخوات خوات” in Arabic: Alice, 26, a business graduate; Nadine, 23, an aspiring model; and Farah “Fifi,” 22, also a business graduate. The sisters are all super-tall and skinny (although it looks like photo-shop has been used on their photos) and, admittedly, pretty, although like many other affluent Lebanese they definitely have had some plastic surgery done. I have tried in vain to find information about their parents-how do they have so much money to parade around in new outfits every day?-as well as their ethnic background and religion, but with little success, although they likely are Christian, given their names and Christmas photos on Instagram.
The Sisters are being billed as Lebanon’s version of the Kardashian clan, although I think that is a bit insulting to the Abdel Aziz sisters. All three sisters have bachelors degrees and speak several languages. They may have had plastic surgery done, but at least none of the three have butt implants; the Abdel Aziz sisters also have a much more unique, daring fashion sense. Most importantly of all, they are not disgusting and vulgar like the Kardashians: they didn’t get famous because one of them released a sex tape. They haven’t given birth to 3 children out of wedlock with a man who hardly respects them, nor do they parade around with boyfriends This is a very important distinction. Granted, I doubt Rotana or LBC would ever have considered showing such antics if the girls did have public PDA fests with their boyfriends, but you never know: Kim Kardashian has shown the world her entire naked body in a very lewd manner, and yet countries like the United Arab Emirates have openly welcomed her arrival. Laa!
However, it is difficult to imagine that media giant Rotana had anything but the Kardashian sisters’ reality show in mind when they came up with the idea to film the sisters (who also have an older, married-with-children sister Diana who lives in Lagos, Nigeria, although she does appear in a few episodes). It seems as though everyone on the planet who has access to social media knows who the Kardashian sisters are, so Rotana probably wanted to try and capitalize on their popularity by serving up a Lebanese version. So far, it has worked: media outlets across the world, from France and Spain to even NPR here in the States have featured articles on the sisters, although I do find this kind of curious because, despite the fact that the sisters throw in English words as well as French (“ca va?”) often enough, the show is filmed in Arabic without subtitles. So unless interested foreigners speak Arabic, it’s kind of difficult to follow the show.
Then again, the language barrier might be beside the point in the case of the Abdel Aziz sisters: just like the Kardashians, it’s not what the girls are saying but more specifically how they look, that is the object of everyone’s obsession. Fashion is an international language that everyone can enjoy, and the Sisters serve up plenty of trends and style to discuss, critique and imitate: sister Alice started their Style in Beirut Instagram account before the sisters got their show, and it doesn’t disappoint-nor do their individual Instagrams, which are chock-full of OOTDs (Outfits of the Day) and selfies.
I’ve watched several episodes of the show, and I think it’s on-par with the ‘quality’ (I say that with a snicker) of American reality TV programs. In fact, I think it might be more realistic, or at least less scripted: the girls are motor mouths. In many American shows (such as the Kardashians) the “actors” speak slowly and repeat themselves a lot, as though they have trouble remembering their lines. The Abdel Aziz girls never shut up. There’s rarely the awkward moments where a Kardashian sister giggles, well, akwardly and shoots a banane smile at her sister: the Abdel Aziz sisters are motor mouths who sound at ease in front of the camera, not like they’re worried the rest of America is going to pounce on them if they say something out of line.
The show follows the girls from casting calls and photo shoots to meeting friends at cafes and driving around in their cars (while talking on their phones, a big no-no). The drama is sisterly, banal, without the relationship drama which consumes American reality TV: sure, Nadine has a hot guy friend Mahmoud who she hugs on the beach, and Farah goes out on a double-date with a girlfriend, but there’s nothing remotely inappropriate. I still can’t decide whether I like their personalities or not: in one episode Nadine gets angry at Alice’s new baby kitten Coco and decides to give Coco away to her friend Mahmoud without telling Alice. Alice eventually confronts Nadine, but baby Coco never appears again in the show. Who the hell throws a baby kitten (like Nadine does when she’s forced to hold Coco) and then gives it away like a piece of garbage? I couldn’t bear watching that episode, and I’m actually surprised that the producers thought to include the Coco storyline, since it puts the sisters in a terrible light.
Obsessed with their selfies and lunettes de soleil!
Indeed, the reaction to the show is mixed: over the course of its 10 episodes to date, The Sisters has received a lot of criticism from both the press and Lebanese society, the latter which is annoyed at how the sisters represent Lebanese women. I honestly don’t know what all the fuss is about. I would never, ever say that the Kardashians represent American women as a whole. Calling them ‘bimbo trash’ as Madame Figaro did is a bit harsh: if Instagram is any indication, many Arab women are obsessed with make-up and their appearances, whether or not they wear the hijab. Furthermore, I think it’s great that they are presenting a different version of Middle Eastern women than that which is usually propagated in Western media: they’re educated, international, fashionable, and concerned with the same issues as women elsewhere in the world. Nadine put it best during an interview with Mondanite:
“Nous souhaitons montrer que le Liban n’est pas qu’un pays de conflits. Beyrouth est le Paris du Moyen-Orient. Ses femmes sont branchées, belles et intelligentes.“
Love them or hate them, The Sisters Abdel Aziz are challenging reality, even if their “reality” TV show is rather fake.