Category Archives: Middle East

67th Discussion: Eyes Wide Open (2009, dir. Haim Tabakman)

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Kueh lapis, truffle chips, and beer – not very kosher.

You can watch the entire movie here:

eyes wide openSeveral of us found part of the movie melodramatic; the stationary, long takes slow; and homosexual relationship is depicted as physical lust, sinful and destructive to everyday life, not emotionally connected. Daniel also noted that despite the story being set in an orthodox Jewish community, the plot is cliché: a boy comes into a man’s family, destroys his way of living, and eventually they break up.

Themes
1. Religion/Sin: In a rather sadist scene where the Rabbi interprets abstinence as sinful, that we should give into our impulses, but Reb Aaron argues that restraint is a challenge god gives us to feel closer to him, Vishakah cleverly called on the catch-22 situation: there is no way you cannot not be a sinner.

 
a. Violence as fanaticism: The patriarch Rabbi stops the gay bashing of what might have been construed as violence, bordering on fantaticism.

 
b. Homosexuality and Judaism: Reb Aaron claims that being with Ezri brings him closer to god, making him more alive than he has ever felt. In one sense, homosexuality isn’t incompatible with Judaism because the more alive an individual feels, the closer she or he is to god.

 
2. Food: Daniel brought up using food as a form of communication. Raj pointed out that, within the limited power a woman has in the orthodox Jewish community, the Wife uses food to punish the Reb Aaron.

 
3. Water: extensive use of water as motif: spring, rain, burst pipe, etc. Dominic hawk-eyedly observed that the parallels and differences in the two scenes of Reb Aaron at the spring: on the second time, Reb Aaron has changed and comes to accept himself as depicted by his nudity.

 
4. Love: Victoria expounded that the type of love Reb Aaron has has his self-interest at heart.

 
5. Gender: Although the interaction of men with women is minimal, and although, as Vishakah pointed out that women have little rights within the community, Raj argued that even within the limited rights, the Wife is a powerful figure, in charge of the household and when they should have sex. The scene where she holds him like in a pieta demonstrates her power. Even her wig, as part of the mise en scene, allows her space to portray her progressiveness and femininity.

Style:
1. Camera Angles: Vishakah noted the camera acts like we are spying into someone’s world, waiting for something to happen (on that note, read D. A. Miller’s “Anal Rope,” about the camerawork in Hitchcock’s Rope acting as survelliance.).

 
2. Music: Victoria observed that both pauses and music create tension and discomfort, especially the music that is eerie at times, almost like a horror movie.

 
In the end, Dominic drew parallels between the movie and the newly liberated gay men he knows. Victoria and Timmy lauded the realistic and intimate depiction of an orthodox Jewish community. Aaron thought while the ending appears conservative—husband goes back to wife, gay man expelled from community—the movie is in fact subversive, telling the viewers that orthodoxy has but one heteronormative way of life, and doesn’t allow expression of selfhood. You feel for the characters: Sara who marries a man she doesn’t love, the Wife who is stuck in a passionless marriage, Ezri and Reb Aaron who couldn’t feel alive more. Living a life like that is wasted, the film advocates. In this way, the director is very smart, getting funding from Israeli government, and getting away with a subversive message

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Filed under Family, Food, Gay, Israel, Love, Religion

60th Discussion: Mehmet Murat Somer’s THE KISS MURDER

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Moderators: Raj & Timmy
Attendees: Dominic, Sharad, Jiaqi, Aaron, & Alexius

We had such a fun time reading Somer’s The Gigolo Murder, we decided to read a second novel of his.  We started with some complaints, recurring among our members: stereotypical, vain, self-centred protagonist (Dominic & Aaron); underwhelming ending (Sharad, Raj, & Timmy); convoluted (Timmy); homophobic and sexist (Aaron); and predictable (Alexius).

THEMES

1. Homophobia: Sharad brought up that the novel depicts straight men as “real” men, and gay men as not “real” men. Gay men are being made fun of. Aaron was unhappy that protagonist tries to force Hasan into a gay stereotype. Sharad noted the use of the word, “fag.”

2. Women: Dominic mentioned that women in the novel are either subservient or laughed at if they are strong and powerful.

3. Men: treated either as sex object or useless (Aaron). Raj noted men are potentially bisexual, ie, she  attracts all men but nobody can satisfy her.

4. Difference between transgender and transvestite: Doesn’t seem to differentiate them in the novel.

5. Middle class. Sharad hypothesized that protagonist’s dislike for middle class is because middle class rejects her, so she rejects them as a form of defense mechanism.

6. Family. Raj noted that Buse is accepted by her blind mother. Dominic also noted the queer family between Sureyya Eronat and blind mother.

7. Religion. Timmy argued that protagonist is a left-wing Muslim: she doesn’t want to pray so she dresses up as a woman to attend the funeral. Raj saw the act as a form rebellion.

8. Queer Sex. Sex in front of the blind mother? Dominic also brought up the pederastic relationship between Suleyman and Sureyya Eronat.

9. Asexuality of Sureyya Eronat.

10. Fat shaming. 

11. Disability. Seems like the only positive portrayal of differences from the norm is the blind mother. Raj admired her for her guts to cry and that she accepts Buse. Alexius likened her to X-Men, she disappears when people want to kill her. Her blindness is her immunity.

somer - thekissmurdertomerhanukadesignCHARACTERS

1. Both Timmy and Raj pointed out nameless narrator is narcissistic, and bashes everyone except herself. Raj also noted she has no attachment to people and she has little backstory. Aaron felt that she possesses a “Before you judge me, I judge you first” mentality: in other words, she has a victim’s mentality. Dominic claimed that her insecurity is demonstrated when she is perpetually concerned with her masculinity. On the other hand, Sharad read her as being comfortable in both her masculine and feminine identities, like, Timmy quipped, “Hannah Montana.”

While Aaron disliked the narrator, Timmy loved her because she represents 90% of the bitchy gay population. Ouch, jaded much? Sharad also found her sympathetic because of her defense mechanism.

2. Dominic’s favorite character is the cleaner because she can put the nameless narrator down without comeuppance.

3. Aaron found the trinity of men, policeman, Huseyin, and Suleyman hot. He said that Huseyin is determined, and he perserves; he knows what he wants ,and he goes out to get it, and he gets it in the end. But everyone else, including Sharad, protested saying Huseyin is a pesky little puppy.  Alexius also objected to the policeman because he can’t give no satisfaction. 10 minutes?! But Timmy said, most men last about that anyway.

4. Raj hated Buse because the novel started because of her; Timmy, Sofya because she places herself above others; Dominic, the female journalist, because she bites off more than she can chew.

In the end, we thought this novel was MRT friendly (Raj), short (Alexius), enjoyable (Timmy), and a better read than Beauty Queens (Jiaqi). Both Sharad and Dominic could identify the protagonist with friends in their lives. Aaron said he could find nothing positive about the novel, and Raj riposted, “At least there is a word ‘positive’ in that sentence.”

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Filed under Class, Disability, Family, Mehmet Murat Somer, Queer, Religion, Transgender, Transsexualism, Transvestism, Turkey

43rd Discussion: Alaa Al Aswany’s The Yacoubian Building

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QBC kicked off 2013 by doing something a little closer to Asia. Raj, our wonderful host, served up “Middle Eastern flair” – couscous, pandan chicken, shish kebab, and the obligatory red & white wines. In attendance were Raj, Aaron, Isaac, Alex, Javin, Luke, and Timmy. We also welcome Lydia, who had intended to do her own work while we dissected the book but ended up listening in the discussion as well.

Alaa Al Aswany's The Yacoubian BuildingFirst Impressions

Other than Lydia, Timmy, and Luke, who didn’t manage to read the book, and Ernest, who only read the first twenty pages, everyone else completed their readings. Three of them liked it: Javin found it funny; Alex said it was fast paced and had interesting characters; Isaac commented the book utilized the “melodrama device” very well and portrayed Egypt’s culture and politics. Raj was neutral towards the book, stating that it was nothing outrageous in spite of its appeal and how easy it was to read the book. “If someone who doesn’t know about Middle East read the book, they would find it interesting,” he quipped. Aaron agreed with Raj in that the book was easy reading (“MRT friendly” aka Alexius we missed you!) but it was not a “literary read”. He felt that the writing was not good.

Different Eras

Aaron asked about the “changing times” that were showcased in the book. He referred to the building as “Old Europe”. Raj brought up Christine, the matriarch of the building, the one who maintained the place. Javin saw Zaki Bey as someone who represented “the good old days”.

Ernest felt that Taha’s childhood sweetheart, Busayna, was of the old order as well. Raj, however, felt that she “didn’t keep the cherry like the other ladies”, and also brought up the fact that Busayna had aimed to get out of the country, which was unlike ladies of that era. Aaron backed up Raj’s comments by highlighting the fact that she made use of others to get what she wanted.

Raj noted that Hatim was akin to someone who was in transition, “stuck in between”.

Religion

Javin questioned about beliefs after reading the book; he felt that it was just using God’s name in vain. Aaron followed up with his observation of the politics described in the book, and whether both points were equivalent to the interpretation of Islam. “Isn’t that a form of hypocrisy?” he asked.

Ernest posed the question of using religion for personal beliefs, which led Aaron to ask if the book is against Islam/Islamism. (Islamism – the religious faith, principles, or cause of Islam) Raj and Timmy defended the book, explaining that Aaron’s claims did not make sense given the fact that the book is set in Egypt and it is a predominantly Muslim country.

The discussion then moved on to why certain characters turned to religion. “Was it a last resort tactic?” asked Aaron. Javin replied that it could be due to fear rather than as a last resort. We noted the difference between Azzam and Taha; the former used Islam as part of his political agenda whereas the latter turned to it because of his anger. Raj suggested that Taha did so because he had no friends to vent out to, and in religion, he found hope. “He found solace,” Timmy complemented Raj’s opinion.

Politics

Following up on Aaron’s point on politics, Ernest brought up the letter exchanges between Taha and the president, and questioned whether the entire thing was written to ridicule Taha. Javin talked about Sheikh Shakir and the extreme ways he executed in the book. “Was this because of a personal vendetta?” he asked. “When the devil in you overtakes God…” Raj joked.

Aaron rambled on about religion resulting in political, social, and gender corruption, which Isaac agreed. He noted of the social corruption displayed in the book, as well as the disparity between the rich and the poor, the oppressed and the oppressors.

Gender

The difference in the treatments of Busayna and Souad was brought up. Raj thought that Busayna was treated like shit, but Aaron disagreed, claiming that she got the better deal as compared to the latter. He explained that Azzam was just out to punish Souad, thus her keeping the child was her way of claiming something that is hers in their marriage. This, in comparison to despite Zaki paying for Busayna’s services, he treated her nicely and it felt like there was something more to their encounter.

Homosexuality

Two questions from Aaron:

  1. Is the book condemning homosexuals?
  2. Is it a homophobic book?

With regards to the first question, Javin thought it was the circumstances occurring in the book that might have led to it condemning homosexuals.

As for the second question, Alex agreed solely because of the way “someone kena hentam”. Ernest pithily said no, and then mentioned that Hatim gained prominence in society despite being gay. Hatim’s looks was then brought up. Javin said looking effeminate is the lesser of two evils. Bottoms and stereotyping were also briefly mentioned, and Madonna was quoted. (“The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Yeahhhhhh.”)

“Why did Hatim have to die?? Isn’t that homophobic??” Aaron asked. Most of us agreed that his death painted a sympathetic portrayal of homosexuals rather than homophobia.

Characters

Favourites

Raj, Javin, and Aaron did not have any characters that they like, although Aaron was happy for Busayna and Zaki. Ernest liked Taha as he resonated with his ideals and something about “trying to breathe onto a glass ceiling” (Don’t ask me). Raj commented that in spite of all that, he still had a lot to lose, i.e. his dreams. Isaac thought Abdul was hot. Aaron applauded the characterization of Abaskharon, calling him awesome and is an embodiment of the contemporary Egyptian (“He does anything to survive.”)

Hates

Raj, Javin, Alex, and Ernest did not have any characters they disliked. Aaron hated Azzam, calling him the most manipulative person and his tendency to utilize the Quran for his own advantages. Isaac brought up Abdul again, whom despite being hot, only seemed to enjoy anal sex like the gay for pay bitches in Sean Cody productions.

Wrapping Up

After the invigorating discussion, we all cooled down and shared our final words about the book. Javin felt that it was entertaining. Alex agreed with him, and (of course) stated that he liked the sex scenes, in particular the warehouse violation involving Busayna. Ernest also was kept entertained by the book, thought he complained: “I didn’t read enough to get to the sex scenes”. (Hopefully by the time this note is published, he would have finished it.) Raj succinctly said the book was okay. Isaac, ever the optimist, said the book was “pretty good” and summed up religion and society in Egypt nicely.

Peace be upon you.

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Filed under Alaa Al Aswany, Class, Egypt, Gay, Love, Politics, Religion, Time

10th Discussion: Mehmet Murat Somer’s The Gigolo Murder (17 June 2010)

1. The general mood for this discussion was sluggish probably because after a hard day’s work and dinner at Maxwell.

2. Yisa kicked off the discussion asking if transvestites would be offended reading the book. We talked about how the book doesn’t differentiate between transsexuals, transgenders and transvestites.

3. Appending to Yisa’s question, Aaron asked if this book is offensive to women (misogynist), as the murderer has to be a beautiful woman who is “over-reaching” for power and money. That is, why does a woman who wants power have to be punished? Aaron claimed that the wise, old Nimet, Faruk’s wife, acts an excuse for the author to say that “Hey! see, I have a good woman character too, so you can’t accuse me of misogyny.” But Nimet plays the virtuous, domestic, supportive wife, giving an example of how women should behave in an Islamic society. Isaac liked the book too much and disagreed with Aaron.

4. Aaron asked if the book sensationalizes Turkey. Yisa replied that this certainly isn’t a tourist guidebook. But Aaron insisted that there are all kinds of sex in the book, making the book sensational and in a part, the author contradicts himself as he said that the nameless narrator isn’t interested in boys yet s/he has an orgy with some schoolboys in uniform. This led to a discussion on paedophilia and how one character in the book argues that while girls can become wives and mothers at 13, why is it that when he has sex with a 14 y/o boy, people call him a pederast?

5. Disability: Pugnacious Aaron thought that it was nice to include a disabled character (Kemal), why does Kemal have to pay for sex? Why isn’t he capable of looking for ONS himself? Why doesn’t the nameless narrator sleep with him? Does the narrator despise him? Why must Kemal engage in SM, and like to be whipped, as if he were ashamed of his own disability?

6. FAT: Aaron asked why is the nameless narrator’s fat good friend, Ponpon, asexual? Timmy said that there is another character who is fat and has sex. Like-to-win Aaron said, But that character is curvy and curvy is not fat. Why is it that for all the subversive elements in the book, Aaron asked, the book is oddly conservative regarding women, fat people and the disabled? Yisa said he doesn’t care what the author is saying about fat people, women and disabled. Isaac was increasingly irritated at Aaron’s finicky political-rectitude.

7. Subversive because the narrator doesn’t have a “core” gender self, so the book is not essentializing.

8. Narrative Style: (a) Aaron asked how come the author didn’t allow the narrator to progress by allow the narrator to shed tears in the end? Isaac said maybe the author isn’t very good. (b) Yisa disliked the emo beginning of the book but Aaron said that it was stated in the book that no other books or movies have depressive people and that’s what the author wants to portray, although Aaron also thinks that the author doesn’t read enough because there are books with depressive people.

9. Gay Bashing: Yisa deciphered what the gay bashing incident is about.

10. Happy Ending: We all agreed that the book is really deeper than it seems but we had to get our alcohol early. When we were at DYMK, the uncle said that we were skiving, closing the library so early.

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Filed under Crime, Disability, Mehmet Murat Somer, Queer, Transgender, Transsexualism, Transvestism, Turkey