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Daily News Analysis

Analyzing the soft-power appeal of entertainment

Crescent International

Given the political, economic and military setbacks suffered by NATO regimes, it is not difficult to conclude that the West-centric global order is declining.

However, the soft-power angle of Western decline carries far greater importance than generally realized.

In an in-depth analysis for Asia Times, Andrew Salmon analyzing the soft-power of Asian states highlights that China is punching far below its weight.

He further states that China’s domestic market is so huge that its entertainment industry does not need the global market.

China continues to focus on content suitable for local culture and mentality.

Salmon also says that “Hollywood and western pop acts have promoted values of violence, individualism and moody bad boys/bad girls.”

Asian culture values entertainment content which is aspirational. This is something Westerners do not understand when producing content for the Asian market, according to Salmon.

Thus, Western soft power appeal in Asia is limited and is continuing to decline as local entertainment gains influence.

Given the above, Muslim intellectual and policy centers need to pay more attention to the strong and weak points of Islamic and Muslim entertainment content.

The biggest tangible and non-tangible advantage of Islamic entertainment content is Islam’s strong and unifying philosophical and intellectual paradigm.

For Muslims, Islamic entertainment content will, by default, have global appeal if it remains faithful to the Islamic character and style.

A glance at the success of Turkish television series, Resurrection Ertugrul is a case in point.

Its success lies in the projection of Islamic worldview, lifestyle and narrative.

The series’ weakness comes to light only when there is over emphasis on Turkishness and Turkey’s primacy.

A similar trend is observed in the strong and weak points of Iranian Islamic TV series, Mokhtarnameh and Prophet Yusuf (as).

In Mokhtarnameh, whenever the series over- emphasized Iranian and Shia primacy, its content impact decreased significantly.

In terms of intellectual depth and Islamic relevance, Mokhtarnameh surpasses Ertugrul, but because of strong Iranian cultural emphasis, it did not achieve the same popularity as Ertugrul.

A shortcoming similar to Mokhtarnameh is evident in the Iranian TV series on the story of Prophet Yusuf (as), but to a much lesser extent.

Even though the production quality of Prophet Yusuf (as) series did not match that of Mokhtarnameh, it was far more successful in attracting global Muslim and non-Muslim audiences because of its emphasis on the Islamic worldview.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle to Islamic entertainment content and soft-power projection is over-politization.

If Turkey, Iran, Malaysia or Pakistan were to focus on producing entertainment and soft-power content with an obvious nation state political narrative, it would have limited appeal.

Thus, the key to developing valuable and broadly appealing Muslim entertainment content is to keep it more Islamic and less ethnic, secular, capitalist or socialist.

This approach is prudent from both business and political perspectives.

Today Muslims are seeking entertainment products built primarily within the Islamic paradigm.

This is a huge market and if the void is not filled, it will be a missed economic and cultural opportunity.

One of the reasons why Western entertainment products started to lose popularity and appeal is because they became blatantly political and began to project Western neo-colonialist ambitions.

With the advance of internet-based entertainment platforms and technologies there are successful examples of non-state Muslim and non-Muslim entertainment productions.

On the Muslim side, the cartoon series the Biskitoons produced by Islamic Pulse has become highly popular primarily because of its emphasis on the Islamic worldview with minimal ethnic and cultural filters.

In the non-Muslim spectrum, the YouTube-based short movie production Omeleto is achieving Hollywood-like success in projecting the secular-liberal worldview.

Its success is due partly to being an independent production.

The future success of Muslim entertainment products lies in being decentralized from state bureaucracy.

Muslim countries need to create an environment which encourages the production of independent entertainment products.

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