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Popular culture is a lens through which we can understand the nuances of societies and how its members choose to engage with one another, and often with the state. Perhaps most significantly, pop culture can be a medium to drive forward certain political narratives and resist other narratives. It can also be a way of examining how social practices are understood by their intended audience. Whether it is the memes on social media newsfeeds, or films that garner millions of dollars at the box office, pop culture productions invariably impact how we construct our identity, role in society, and place in the political landscape.

In this Special Collection, we feature analysis about how influential institutions produce film, TV, and music to advance political and social aims, but also how grassroots cultural producers have shaped and transformed pop culture to resist dominant, societal narratives and highlight lived experiences and realities that are systematically suppressed in the Middle East.

The collection includes an informative, personal essay on how Arabic-dubbed anime TV shows have shaped Arab and Muslim identities over the past few decades; a piece on how the Egyptian phenomenon of “cherophobia,” or the fear of happiness, is expressed through Egypt’s independent music scene; an article by an Israeli, Mizrahi writer of Turkish origin on the development of Turkish-Mizrahi music, against the backdrop of a Zionist music landscape; a timely piece on Saudi comedy TV shows, and how they often serve as mouthpieces for the regime’s agenda; an article on Palestinian memes and the ways they subvert assumptions about the power of the internet as a tool of resistance; and, finally, an interview with Hamed Sinno of Mashrou’ Leila about what it is like to make music in the midst of political repression, and to work in an industry that favors only certain types of voices and musical styles.

We encourage our readers to contribute their own observations about how pop culture intersects with politics by commenting on our website, Facebook, and Twitter pages. We also encourage those who are interested to submit their own articles on the intersection between pop culture production and political realities by emailing them to [email protected]

Anime in Arabic: Transforming Arab Millennial Identity 

by Razan Idris

The Portrayal of the Gulf Crisis in Saudi Pop Culture 

by Hebah Bukhari

Palestinian Memes: Between Resistance and Maintaining the Status Quo

by Anya Evans

Leave, Leave, Come, Come: Arabesk Music, Mizrahi Music, and the “There” of the Orient 

by Shirly Bahar

The Fear of Happiness and the Pleasure of Belonging in Egypt’s Independent Music 

by Darci Sprengel

An Interview with Hamed Sinno of Mashrou’ Leila

by Mariam Elba

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