Blue Nile

Strike TV and satellite TV identity

Strike TV is a channel that broadcasts to the Arab world and Europe through the ArabSat satellite. An independent commercial channel, Strike TV transmits one single image, in real time, all the time. The image is of a young, flirtatious female presenter shot on a bluescreen background.

Watching Strike TV, the viewer decodes a series of audiovisual signs, which I’ll call here, the “Strike TV Interface System.” The uninitiated first­-time user will notice the flirty young female presenter along with a variable sum of money flashing on the screen (the maximum reward is US $100,000). The viewer’s perception then gradually shifts to the other practical electronic text information on the interface — through which he infers that this is a call-in game show offering a cash prize for solving a riddle displayed on the screen.

Strike TV presents itself as a place that exists nowhere in particular. The channel consciously avoids any cultural references or visual clues that would reveal which country the transmission is broadcast from. There are also no clues to cultural identity in the displayed electronic text. But although these obvious signs of origin are omitted, Strike ceases to be culturally neutral the moment the language (or accent) of its presenter is noticed by the viewer.

The presenter answers calls from Arabs around the world, while maintaining a certain neutrality. When an Egyptian calls, for example, the presenter doesn’t identify herself as Egyptian, although her accent is contemporary Cairo slang.

The use of the bluescreen backdrop visually separates the virtual background from the flesh-­and­blood presenter. The extreme aesthetic neutrality and electronic artificiality of the background accentuates the subject’s cultural specificity. The subject is placed in a virtual time and space that is disconnected from everyday reality.

From the accent and physical gestures of the presenter, the viewer recognizes a familiar urban situation, namely that of the city of Cairo. More specifically, certain urban commercial hubs, like the high streets of Gamaeat el Dowal in the Mohandeseen district or Abass el Akkad in Nasr City.

The cacophony of traffic from a Thursday night on the town, the sounds of human yelling over the shuffling of celebrative trebly pop, the flashing phosphoric neon advertising, the cheap and colorful street-wear all come to mind, even if only subconsciously, as the presenter flirts, taunts, hustles, repels, seduces, condescends to, flirts with and challenges us the viewer.

Strike TV’s interface is a kind of micro-urban situation that operates within the unlimited scope of human desire. Like the street, the promise of rewards and the anticipation of the moment can be felt, accentuated through billboard-style one-liners such as, “Are you man enough for this?” Streetwise word trickery and double meanings can be observed in the nuances of the presenter’s speech and in the riddles themselves.

On Strike TV, the participant is exposed to the pressures of an urban encounter. It’s the city versus the male ego, where the need to hold on to a macho identity in public life is encouraged, where the only codes for communication or negotiation are embedded in a series of innuendos designed to make the male persona invincible to shame, weakness, and fear. Strike TV therefore invites its users to engage in a challenge that can only be won through its callers’ sharp wit, hustle, and ability with urban navigation.

The extensive portrayals and behavioral stereotyping of female seduction in popular culture have ossified into a set of nearly fixed theatrical gestures. Perpetual heavy panting, fluttering eyelashes, pronounced pouting, lewd laughter, and other such clichés are pervasive in Egyptian commercial cinema as well as TV drama. The unreality, or out-of-this-world quality, of these performative patterns also exists within Strike and invite the viewer into an interactive role-play.

The caller from the rural city of Mansoura in Egypt, for example, has the eerie shyness of a first­time prostitute punter, with the upper hand in the interaction ceded to the experienced professional. The motivation of the caller is subtly shifted from the desire to attain fast wealth to the most basic of human instincts. When the callers (mostly middle-aged men) call in, they’re rewarded by the act of interacting with the presenter, even if their answers to the riddle are wrong.

This shift from one desire to another validates the latter with exactly the same urgency and importance as the former. If it is okay to want fast money, then it is equally fine to desire a sexual encounter. What is advertised as wealth is actually nothing but an excuse for communicating sexual desire. The masking of such desire helps the viewer mentally reconstruct, or even fantasize, the next level of an imaginary sexual experience.

Unlike on other entertainment TV channels, Strike TV’s presenters are void of what might be called a “TV personality,” and therefore an emotional association with a recognized character is absent. The presenter is a tool in the interface and at times, becomes the interface itself. This isolates and abstracts the callers’ desire towards the presenter, making it easier to experience than if it were burdened by other emotions. The interface is less real than, less like, our everyday selves: a suspended domain in space and time accessible only through our will and choice.

As with the clichés and myths of Cairo nightlife and its real-life prostitution scene, Strike provides a touristy thrill, an attraction that is staged, a no-strings-attached service that is supposed to remain both culturally exotic and removed from the rest of life because of its association with immorality. The interface confines itself to what’s permitted in Arab society, in terms of morality — the voice that seduces instead of the word, and similarly, the eyes that flirt. Such indirect association with sexuality and pornography makes Strike a producer of signs and gestures directing the viewer into a private urban situation that might or might not include sex — as opposed to more obvious sexual simulation interfaces like cyberor phone-sex. These signs and gestures are designed to awaken an egotistical invincibility and a light sexual gratification in the form of promise, not delivery.

Is an anonymous woman flirting in public with a complete stranger always read as unreal, the stuff of dreams? If so, then Strike will always succeed in being a simulation or expression of a cerebral realm that can contain such unrealistic desire. When desire is limited to the intangibility of imagination, its separation from reality becomes more distinct, locked in a place that is internal and hidden from others.