Saturday, February 04, 2012

Ktir Salbe's sketch on Domestic Workers is the best thing that happened to Anti Racism movement in Lebanon

How do you solve a huge lingering issue in a country that already has too many issues? There is this saying we have in Arabic that goes like:
كبرها بتكبر، صغرها بتصغر
Domestic Workers Suicide Rate on the Rise
We have heard so many sad stories about many domestic workers (from different nationalities), who work as help in Lebanese houses, having committed suicide in Lebanon, and about the shocking number of one suicide per week since a while now. There is even a blog that documents all these unfortunate incidents.

So let's dissect this, is MTV racist? Is Ktir Salbe just trying to increase the ratings?
The comedy show "Ktir Salbe" which airs on MTV, a local Lebanese TV station, made this sketch about a couple going to an office to hire a new domestic worker. And hell broke loose, to say the least, as a reaction to this video.

Taken from
Anti-Racists and Activists calling to 
There is a whole dedicated blog in Lebanon against Racism because of the occurrence of many racist events happening in Lebanon repeatedly.

Up until now, this movement, many activists and some bloggers have clearly stated their minds against this show and calling the people behind the show and MTV itself racist, moreover they're asking people to boycott it, unfollow it, stop watching it, and even close it down.

Before I tell you my opinion about all this, I would like you to first visit these posts I have written about racism in Lebanon, just to confirm to you that I was criticized for saying that we, Lebanese, are racist.

Moving on, calling to close down MTV is utterly exaggerated, or the show itself. In fact, I think this sketch is probably the best thing that has happened to anti racism movement in Lebanon since ages. Please keep reading and don't write your hate comment just yet.

Maids are made to serve us, they're slaves, they're not humans
Now I am not saying I liked the sketch, or that it made me laugh, in fact, if anything it is مضحك مبكي, it is shocking, and the whole time you're wondering what the hell is going on? Especially at around minute 1:20, I was a bit confused here about who they're criticizing, is it the "lousy maid" or what exactly? Yes, that is by far a very different kind of sense of humor, something we are not quite used to. For example, they explicitly asked for a domestic worker to have complexes & psychological issues, at 1:45. And all in all, they asked for a very bad maid, dirty, who doesn't clean well, who sleeps around, who no longer gives a damn about her family, who leaves the gas on, fridge open, who spends a lot of units (phone calls) etc...

*STOP!!! BREAK!!!!!*

Did you see what's happening here? In fact, these people are "anti racism" more than anyone I know, it took me a while to see it because I came to this video with a lot of pre-judgement (thanks to these activists). I know this seems like a racist video and that they're bashing the domestic workers, but truth is and this is how I saw it, the sketch is making fun of many Lebanese families and what they actually think about those domestic workers.

Really, readers, share with me, how often did you hear this from a close acquaintance:
  • She doesn't know how to shower
  • She's so spoiled she wants to go out on Sunday
  • She's such a brat, she wants to call her friend
  • Gosh, she is such a moron, she doesn't know how to cook or clean or iron
  • What a slut, she wants to "date" and see a guy
  • She takes her revenge on kids
  • I don't trust her
  • I lock her in the house so she doesn't steal something and escape
  • so on and so forth...

Black Comedy, Dark Comedy, Gallows Humor
We forget they're humans, and what Ktir Salbe did, was showcase with dark and gallows humor the mentality that some families have when they pay a visit to those "domestic workers services offices" and the things they request from them.

Dear reader, dear Lebanese, I am not saying this sketch was so funny I am rolling on the floor laughing my ass off and holding the laptop up while writing this post. However, I do have a sarcastic sense of humor myself, whereas if I want to highlight a problem I usually exaggerate the issue in order to emphasize the problem knowing that my friends will "get" my point. Don't you do that too sometimes?

Freedom of Speech - And my request 
In a nutshell, this sketch which is perceived as horrible for many and which many consider as racist, is probably the best thing that happened to Anti Racism movement in Lebanon.
"I disapprove of what you saybut I will defend to the death your right to say it" - Evelyn Beatrice Hall (Nop it wasn't Voltaire who said it)
Activists, please have an open mind and bigger angle to see things. Don't forget what freedom of speech entitles. You're the same people who call for it, so you must detect it when it happens and not contradict yourself. You have chance to take this and build on it (with more videos in hope they go Viral, maybe work with MTV on a bigger project) in order to draw more attention on the problem, just do it wisely and don't hurt people who had a good intention at it. Don't close down MTV... seriously! Be smart about it.


  1. Couldn't have said it better myself Lil! Awesome post!

  2. Finally, someone writing a post the right way! I was gonna publish something regarding this problem...
    As u said, MTV or Ktir Salbe team are just pointing on the families that are RACIST!
    And we can't forget all the reports that MTV did concerning racism and many others!

  3. Yes! That's exactly what I thought. The sketch (although not funny to me) did a good job criticizing the racism of the Lebanese and the way they think about maids.
    I hope that more people will understand what you're saying instead of blindly criticizing the sketch and the people behind it.

  4. Sarine, ana ktir salbe b7isso ktir sakhif :P I've watched it a couple of times and almost puked :P I mean I watch Jon Stewart.. where do I go from there!

    But some people are no longer telling the difference between bad or good.

    Thanks Gino and Rany.

    Joseph, to be honest I don't watch MTV, I am solely basing my post & opinion on this video, and the Palestinian video. I don't think they're funny, but for sure not offensive. We ALL know that these things are just mirror to reality, and they're just showing it. People should understand what dark comedy is (even though not successfully done)

    I think it's a great opportunity to build on this and raise more awareness.

  5. Did MTV comment on the video and what was meant by it?

    1. Dana, yes check this out

      “Ktir Salbe has a double meaning in Arabic. You can say it in your daily life and it means ‘very cool.’ And the other meaning is the exact translation with is ‘very negative’… When we raise a serious subject, we talk about it as very negative, like what’s happening with maids.”

      Khafsheh also said, “this program, if you see it, most of the sketches defend human rights. So these people talking about human rights are big liars, hypocrites, because they’re doing nothing. We’re doing something.”

  6. I see what you are trying to say here, and I am kind saw it in the same way. But the new sketch about Palestinians messed the whole thing up. MTV have a serious problem, it's not what you say but how you say it.

    The video seem to criticise the domestic worker's behaviour (like having a boyfriend), but not the employer's racist way of treating them like slaves.

    The YouTube video of the subject of this post have been given 7 votes thumbs up, and 85 thumbs down, so you might want to give another though.

  7. Thank you Liliane for the post and for shedding light on this issue, I admire your positive and constructive attitude, especially taking this event and trying to build more positive programs on it. Let me add my two cents.

    I hadn't seen the clip before but having just watched it I have a hard time trying to see it in any positive light. I don't think it is offensive (I am not easily offended) but I do think it is racist and in bad taste.

    The way it feels to me is the guy is repeating all the the bad things people say, ok so I am waiting to see what is his positive message, and when the agency owner answers "we don't have such maids" and the guy concludes "All the maids I had from your office were like this dirty/robbers/... and the police ended up questioning ME" (because of the idiot activists )

    So the maid is dead and the broom is the only thing left and the joke is that they want to stick it up the agency owner's behind. So again the "latcheh" is that the agency owner brings "bad" maids (fourth time in a row) and he should be the one being "punished" for her death. That's how I understood the conclusion of the sketch.

    So it would make sense as humor if you are one of those acquaintance you mentioned. They will enjoy it because to them "it's funny cause it's true" and "haha ma3oun 7a' hawdeh as7ab el shariket bi jibou heik banet w bi bahdlouna fioyn" at no point did the clip make an attempt to imply otherwise.

    About freedom of speech. Of course MTV have the right to say whatever they want, but also they have to be held responsible for what they say.

    In that light, calls for closing the station or stop the program go *against* freedom of speech (they are hampering MTV's right to say the things we don't agree with), but call to boycott them, unfollow them, asking people not to watch them, shaming them in public and holding them liable for what they say are perfectly within freedom of speech limits (since they do not affect MTV's right or capability to say what they want, they affect their ability to make money from having bad taste)

    Sorry for the long wall of text and keep up the great blogging!

    1. Hi PA, I watched the sequence you had suggest about the other Channis Chnnissa sketches, in a nutshell they go to a place, since they're "not lucky" and they always get bad service, so they ask for it prior. and it's funny coz it's true (if x for 1 gives y, and for 2 gives y, then par recurrence, for n gives y) so following this algebra logic, it means they just immediately asked for a maid that is bad... and the employment office is denying it.

      However, there are many fallacies here, first, channissa does state that her husband is racist, moreover, how can a maid be so bad yet eventually commit suicide? a maid (domestic worker to be politically correct and not use their terms) commit suicide sadly because she is unhappy, because she is not being treated well. This is why the sketch falls short from being racist and ends up playing on itself to show that the couple themselves are racist.

      Now listen, maybe the director/writer of the sketch did mean it to be racist, but this sketch shows a ma3touha family, a racist one, who is crazy... I still believe anti-racist movements can build on this. There's great potential for shocking audience, then educating them. Or maybe I am just too optimistic...

  8. I think its very simple. Arabs don't get sarcasm. At all. This is the reason why a) the sketch was pretty badly done - poor scriptwriting, and not leading to a good conclusion that clearly makes the viewer aware of what is being made fun of - ideally you'd want some terrible tragedy to befall the racist couple. and 2) why a lot of people understood it as racist, when perhaps it isnt.

    Things don't change in media here because its always the excuse of: "this is what the audience likes". Therefore we'll very rarely see progression and perfection of the craft. Every comedian starts out crap and then over time and support he gets better.

    some people are getting their knickers in a twist all over the social space saying activists should calm down etc and trying to educate them. I say, thank god we have people that are willing and feel passionate about vocalising their opinion. A lot of us simply can't be bothered which is sad.

    So it doesnt' matter who's right or wrong at this stage. in general the rule should be just support people who give enough of a shit to talk about it.

    1. Alex, you're right about supporting activists, for once I'd love to. But I am sitting there wondering, what shall I support them with at this point? because all I saw was rage on a sketch considered racist (which I did not see this way). But for sure I'd love to see them build up on it like I mentioned in the post, and hopefully the will.

      As for the script being badly written, I agree. In fact, I was confused several times and did not know what the exact conclusion to be drawn from it. But for sure, I did not see it as racist, because specifically, the woman did call her husband to be racist, implying that they're the racist ones.