Tuesday, May 1, 2007

How to Become a Millionaire

Having been on death's door for the better part of the last 5 days (and with so many bizarre symptoms, I might add, that I can only surmise that I've been the unwitting victim of some heinous chemical warfare campaign), I have spent my time doing the utterly useless things that sick people on death's door do. Sleep. Read. Sleep. Drink tea. Pee. Sleep. Read. Drink tea. Pee. Watch TV. Except not so much the last as our 'cable provider' - a.k.a. our satellite dish - was jerry-rigged (which in this context has a decidedly illegal connotation) to tap into a satellite package that has only 4 English channels. Far be it from me to complain that we're receiving so few English channels illegally for free, but when you're sick, you want Columbo reruns or Murder She Wrote, not The Tyra Banks Show. I stayed in bed and read.

Last night, with much fanfare, I finally exited the bedroom to deposit myself (with pillows, designated stuffed animals, and Kleenex) on the living room banquette to watch TV. I had had enough of the sick room especially after Mr. CinR, up until this point a veritable Florence Nightingale, announced that both the bedroom and I stank. Humpff. So, with remote in hand, I channel surfed. I started at channel 1836 (Third Rock from the Sun - no one is ever that sick) and came to an abrupt stop at 1951 where I chanced upon the frenetic world of Arabic music videos. I was gobsmacked. Never in my life had I witnessed such visually stunning, groundbreaking works of art, each video a bare-souled musical labyrinth of complex subtleties, subtle complexities, and raw human emotion that explored the human condition as no other
genre had previously attempted. Was Peter Gabriel somehow behind these?

God, I couldn't even keep a straight face typing that.

So, you want to become a millionaire? Make an Arabic music video. These videos - the Bollywood Stinkers of the musical world - are so formulaic that success is guaranteed. I know that I've spouted such promises before (the Maghreb Maxi-Slipper Company and Moroccan's answer to Viagra), but this is a sure thing. I have even gone to the trouble of isolating the requisite components to your success. Fortunately, Arabic music videos are nothing if not mindnumbingly formulaic.

The Female si
nger: this is probably the most problemaic element of your video shoot. Unfortunately all female Arabic singers must look exactly alike and there just isn't much leeway on this point This, I believe, is sanctioned in the Q'uran and governed by Sharia law. She must be exceptionally fair, blue-, green- or honey-eyed, have long flowing hair, a standard nose, and collagen lips. Her skin must appear to be flawless and the use of excessive makeup is mandatory; indeed, pancake foundation should be applied liberally with a trowel and no fewer than seven coats of mascara should ever be applied. There are no restrictions regarding eyeshadow; no colour combination can ever be too garish. Rumour has it that cosmetic surgery is running amok among Arabic chanteuses creating a Stepford Wife standard of perceived perfection (see superstar Nancy Ajram's "after" likeness to the left, her "before" to the right). Unlike Western videos, weight is not an issue but the overall appearance is. Also, be prepared to allow for at least 17 costume changes during the course of the video, one of which should be a tarted-up traditional oriental costume. If possible, include one scene - regardless how irrelevant it is to the storyline - with your female singer performing a belly-dance; if she is not so inclined, a back-up dancer will work in a pinch.

The Male Singer: fortunately shooting a male singer is easy-peasy - all you need are a few props. Unlike their female counterparts, the level of attractiveness, weight, and age of the male singer is unimportant. If you are making a video with the butt ugliest singer, ensure that he acquires the mien of a hearthrob. The fact that most women would recoil from him on the streets of Beirut is inconsequential: on the television screen he is a god. To help ensure this status, it is advisable that he be imbued with a plethora of skills and talents; for example, he should be portrayed as a fleet-footed soccer player, a basketball star dunking hoops, or a virtuoso on any and all instruments. Credibility is completely irrelevant and should not be aimed for. Because most Arabic-language songs display a
tiresome dizzying display of vocal gymnastics, it is important that your male singer especially maintain a constant expression on his face that telegraphs sincere soulfulness but which really looks like someone off-camera is shoving a broom handle up his backside at regular intervals.

The Background Singers/Dancers/Musicians: again, there are no hard & fast rules here so you're safe to do whatever you want. It's common for individual background dancers to be wearing whatever is on hand, preferably left over from the last video shoot - skimpy outfits or full caftans - as long as they don't draw attention away from the lead female singer. Their ensembles need not match each others. It's usually a good rule of thumb to toss in one belly dancer for good measure. To give your video an authentic look - during a musical bridge or interlude for instance - you may wish to insert 1 of 2 scenes showing a
fish-out-of-water group of somewhat aged men dressed in galabiyyas and turbans half-heartedly plucking and slapping away at their traditional musical instruments and looking decided uncomfortable. They may chant if you wish. This will give even the sleaziest video a patina of respectability and Mus-cred.

The Songs: as most songs sound suspiciously alike, the only thing to remember is to include the words 'ya habibi/habiba' and that they must be repeated at least 48 times.

The Storyline: fortunately, there are 3 basic plotlines in any Arabic music video.
1) Boy meets girl (no sex), boy loses girl, (no sex), boy finds girl (no sex). At some point, either the girl or boy should be seen riding a horse through the desert.
2) A family 'storyline' of unrelated events but must include scenes in which the lead male singer looks lovingly at his mother or a photograph of his mother, as are images of the female singer frolicking with little children. Isn't he a dutiful son? Won't she make a terrific wife?
At some point, either the girl or boy should be seen riding a horse through the desert.
3) No story at all. This video, a.k.a, 'the video which makes no sense', is admittedly the easiest to shoot. In fact, it is common to come away from one of these videos with the feeling that even the director was at a loss to explain what was happening. Usually the singer is filmed in front of a series of completely random images, live or blue screened. At some point, either the girl or boy should be seen riding a horse through the desert.

Editing & Technical Stuff: Again, there isn't much wiggle room on this point as all Arabic music videos must be produced using 80's editing techniques. God-awful computer graphics - including superimposing singers into video game graphics - will give your video that authentic look. Accuracy in lipsyncing is not a goal worth aiming for. It is also recommended that editors remove a fixed number of frames to give the video that annoying underwater pseudo-slow motion effect.

Budget: financing a video should not prove difficult as it appears that most videos are produced on a budget of $12.

Credits: be prepared to spend a few bucks here. All videos must conclude by rolling a list of credits that include the casting agent, the caterer and the smoke artist.

Now put this all together and poof! you have a music video. Not only is your meteoric rise to stardom assured, but you'll be laughing all the way to the bank. And unlike my other business ventures, you won't have to dirty yourself with camel's milk and feminine hygiene products. Instead you'll be surrounded by dozens of houris - totally identical bodacious babes - singing and writhing in ecstasy. For an Unbeliever, it'll be the closest thing to actually dying and going to Muslim paradise.

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