Don't Drink, Don't Smoke - What Do You D'oh!?

Reworking The Simpsons for the Arab World
Made in America, Assembled in Egypt, Al-Shamshoons Is a Culturally Adapted Version

from The Daily Star

CAIRO: As with any family moving to the Arab world from the West, The Simpsons quickly discovered they'd need to make some adaptations to their lives if they were to connect with the natives. First, they would change their names - the family now called Al-Shamshoons; the father, once Homer, now goes by Omar; his mischievous son Bart, now Badr.

There would be fundamental changes to their lifestyles as well. Omar, once a fan of tossing back a few beers with friends, now goes to the club or the ahwa (coffee shop) and sips on sodas and juice. Donuts have been replaced by kakh (Arabic cookies); bacon is done away with altogether as it is against Islam; and the kids, once a rowdy bunch of conniving delinquents, are still just as cunning but mind their manners with their parents a bit more.

Brought to life by creator Matt Groening and the FOX network, The Simpsons, over the last decade, would take the United States and later the world by storm. The show, in a way, prompted an animation revolution - with idiosyncratic expressions such as "Doh!" recently added to the English dictionary. In sharp contrast to cartoons already airing at the time, The Simpsons targeted teenagers, with its sophisticated, often controversial and risque antics.

Just before Ramadan, Arab satellite network MBC won exclusive rights to air an Arabic-dubbed version of the show, slightly adapting story lines to suit Arab audiences. Dubbing western cartoons is by no means a new trend. Disney cartoons have been dubbed for years, though their storylines are generally better suited for younger audiences. Still as dysfunctional as their U.S. counterparts, MBC's creative team looked to maintain Al-Shamshoons plots nearly identical to that of the original, subtly changing references that may be deemed inappropriate.

"In the Arab world, life does not revolve around bars," Costandi points out.

"Sure we have a night life, but alcohol is not really part of the daily scene in Egypt, Lebanon or anywhere else. So, we do not stress on what Homer is drinking. If he is drinking beer in the original, in ours, we let him drink something else, or even we don't say what he is drinking."

Currently, the network has only scheduled to run Al-Shamshoons daily through the month of Ramadan. However, Costandi says the apparent success of the dubbed program has encouraged executives to continue showing the program after the holy month. As with their decision to run Arabized-reality television shows and game shows modeled after American programs, MBC also intends to repeat the process with other Western programs that would be suitable for this age group.

The original Simpsons was famed for introducing younger audiences to controversial subjects, such as homosexuality and racism. Should MBC decide to continue airing the series, it will have to make some major decisions about the storylines it will keep and those it will do away with.


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