Lebanon – Imagining Identities: Television Advertising and the Reconciliation

(Arab Media Society, Spring 2010)

The Middle East has seen much social change in recent decades of turmoil. On one hand, some communities have embraced Westernness as part of an inevitable path to development and modernization. On the other hand, other communities have resisted global trends mainly dominated by the West. The latter deemed influences from the West as a threat to native cultures, religious values and local traditions. This has made the Arab world a ground for constant redefinition of identity.

Of the countries in the region undergoing a turbulent debate over what constitutes a national identity, Lebanon serves as a unique example. Ever since its independence, Lebanon has been a nation-state with no sense of nationality to unite its people. Some communities saw themselves as more francophone than Arab, while others felt a close connection to a pan-Arab nation. Arguably, the Lebanese people found themselves in tension between the two poles. Defining one’s identity required negotiation between the two extremes. Not only did this negotiation demand a thorough investigation of one’s beliefs, social networks, and history, but it also necessitated a diligent ‘performance’ of identity. An individual represented her identity by habits and expressions that she associated with that particular identity.

The study at hand is an exploration of the relationship between identity and consumption in Lebanese society. Taking television advertising as a site of inquiry, this paper proposes to find out how commercial advertisers have constructed a “new” cosmopolitan identity for the Lebanese. The Lebanese cosmopolitan transcends the ideological and religious differences that hinder progress. This paper argues that the construction of a sterilized cosmopolitan identity utilizes consumption as the marker of difference. Applying theories of globalization, postcolonial studies, and consumption, this study focuses on television advertising as a manifestation of the ambivalence in identity. It investigates how producers of television commercials associate attitudes, behaviors, and social status with the featured products.

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