Tyrant is a compelling drama television series produced and broadcasted by FX. It tells the story of Bassam “Barry” Al-Fayed and his family. Being the son of one of the Middle-East tyrants, Barry does not perceive himself as the part of the East culture because he lives in the United States and his wife is American as well. Just like the major character, his family members – wife and two kids – are not interested in revisiting the father’s homeland and getting acquainted with cultural specificities of that country. Nevertheless, destiny has its tricks and Barry visits the fictional Abuddin for his nephew’s wedding. This journey is the beginning of the new path, which made the main hero rethink his life values and self-image. Caught up in the middle of a revolt against the ruling family (in fact, his family), he loses his father, who died during the coup, and is forced to help his brother and the new president to overcome the political problems and drive the country towards peace instead of drowning it in the bloody ocean of conflicts.
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The clash of civilizations in Tyrant
A tyrant has caught media attention because of its focus on geopolitical developments in the modern world. It is the subject of numerous conflicts and severe criticism due to the stereotypical portrayal of the East culture and Islamic traditions. There were many instances of the protests of the Islamic communities claiming to review the plot and the manner of depicting the Middle East people because of resemblances with the Assad regime and excessive stereotyping (Keveney, 2014). Still, the TV series is worth paying attention to not only because of the intelligent story itself but also depicting the specificities of intercultural communication and the role of culture in an individual’s development. More than that, it is an outstanding material for analyzing the influence of cultural identity on people’s lives and the choices they make. In this way, the paper at hand will focus on viewing cultural aspects of the television drama, ignoring political and geopolitical aspects. The primary attention will be paid to a different aspect of cultural identities, such as values, symbols, and rituals, and the clash of civilizations, and the phenomenon of intercultural communication.
The conflict of cultural identities in the TV series
This series is multi-layered and can be analyzed from different perspectives. Still, the whole story is a conflict, and one of the most evident cultural conflicts in the drama is the clash of civilizations. Being one of the forms of regulating human beings and their development, civilization is what affects cultural identity and the desire of an individual to become part of a particular group. Throughout history, the clash of civilizations was a common phenomenon. However, as people reached high levels of development and the countries became deeply interconnected, this issue turned into a secondary matter of concern. Still, there is an opinion that in the future, mankind will witness one more critical wave of cultural conflicts – the clash of the Eastern and Western civilizations. This opinion is expressed in both scholarly and popular sources and is supported by social media. It is believed that cultural differences are more critical than political and economic ones so that they can lead to the bloodiest conflicts (Muhammad & Ashraf, 2012).
In this way, it is the clash of the Western (American) and the Eastern (Islam) civilization that is the first level of analyzing Tyrant. The idea is brilliant because the story depicts two brothers, who view the concept of power differently. The main hero, Bassam, is a representation of Western civilization. Living in the United States and belonging to the middle class, he stepped away from the Islamic traditions and did not want to be involved in politics. On the other hand, there is his brother, Jamal, who became the President after their father’s death, is the image of the Islamic civilization. He believes in physical strength and fear as tools for maintaining power and the needed atmosphere in his country. Striving to preserve the existing regime, Jamal is not afraid to follow his father’s example and become a bloody tyrant. Even though this representation of cultures and civilizations is over-stereotyped, the idea of the clash of civilizations is evident. Democracy against tyranny and sound judgment against the blind desire to preserve power are two plotlines that serve as a perfect portrayal of the conflict of civilizations.
Specificities of intercultural communication portrayed in the story
It is essential to note that this clash of civilizations directly affects communication between two brothers. Because they perceive the world differently, they tend to see the same developments differently. Democratic Bassam cannot understand power-mad Jamal in his desire to maintain tyranny in their homeland and believes that he should become involved in the process of ruling the state to save his family from rebels. For instance, Bassam believes that a summit might solve the problem of the upcoming protests, while Jamal claims that military actions are the only way to keep protesters calm. It entails conflicts between the brothers. More than that, Bassam organizes protests against Jamal’s presidency and dictatorship, and when they fail and he is imprisoned, Jamal hesitates whether he should not sentence his brother to death. This line points to the belief in the exceptional power of a ruler, which is a common feature of the Islamic worldview. In this way, one who does not respect a ruler should be punished (Abdullah & Nadvi, 2012).
Looking ahead, the fact that Bassam managed to conquer Jamal’s Caliphate and establish the new regime is another display of the clash of civilizations. It is logical to assume that in the conflict between two sides, there will be only one winner, and this winner will dictate the rules of further play. In the case of Tyrant, Western civilization overcame the Eastern one and Bassam managed to create the new regime, which was different from the old one, as it was not a dictatorship. However, it might not be lengthy due to the historical and cultural specificities of the region and local population and their potential unwillingness to follow the new path.
The issue of the clash of civilizations is closely connected to the concept of cultural identity. Two brothers – two conflicting sides of the plot – belong to different cultures. Individual reference to differing cultures makes the gap between the two brothers even more gigantic. The fact that they cannot understand each other because they perceive the world differently is not the key question in the series. Instead, the primary question is the following: does an individual change identity when changing address (or continent)? It is proved that cultural identity is directly impacted by family ties and the nearest social environment because people tend to embrace others’ traditions and change to become members of their social groups (Samovar, Porter, McDaniel, & Roy, 2015). In this way, because cultural identity is a dynamic phenomenon, Bassam should have changed when his wife returned to the United States, while he stayed in the country of Abuddin. More than that, as he managed to overthrow the authority of his brother and establish the new regime in his homeland, it would be logical that Islamic culture should have become dominant and changed his identity. Nevertheless, Bassam always remained the same Barry, who came from America. Moreover, as he conquered the Caliphate, he never established the new dictatorship and preserved his democratic cultural identity.
Here, it is critical to recall the mental health issues Bassam experienced in the last episodes of the third season. The fact that his mind began to break can be connected to the dynamism of cultural identity. When he was in the United States and with his family, he never felt the lack of communication. More than that, he was surrounded by other people, sharing the same values. As he got stuck in the new social environment and forced himself to maintain his cultural identity unchanged, he faced logical issues that resulted from the deviance in his behavior and uniqueness of his worldview in the given surrounding. At the same time, even though he was only partially limited in communication with his family members, the contrasting surrounding might have added to the issues he experienced because his environment consisted of people identifying themselves as parts of another culture. As for now, no new episodes are coming so that it is impossible to state whether Bassam began identifying himself and a Middle-East individual or still believes that he is an American.
Also, just like it is impossible to speculate on Barry’s cultural identity in the future, it is as well complicated to forecast the future of the regime he has created. Because in the last episodes of the third season, the country is on the verge of the civil war, the clash of civilizations, as well as the conflict of cultural identities, is a significant matter of concern. Just like the two brothers perceived the world differently, it would be impossible to dictate new rules to the people, who identified themselves as a part of the Eastern civilization and Islamic culture. It means that a new wave of upheavals might cover the country and reestablish the culturally acceptable regime in the country of Abuddin.
Still, the clash of civilizations and the conflict of cultural identities are not the only subjects related to culture that was addressed in Tyrant. The central issue that should be reviewed in intercultural communication. It can be viewed from only two perspectives and by estimating the communication patterns of two brothers – Bassam and Jamal. As an individual identifying himself as an American, Bassam, calling himself Barry, is portrayed as a true manifestation of the Western culture. He believes in equality and never treated anyone unjustly. In the same way, all members of his family are equal. More than that, he shows respect to human life and dignity, which can be traced in communication with his brother and his belief that military actions are not a good choice for supporting peace in the country.
On the other hand, there is Jamal, who is the representation of the Eastern communication patterns. Being rude and believing in his power, Bassam’s brother demonstrates it whenever possible. His communication style is connected to the manifestations of brutality and physical strength. Killing people or raping women is shown as a common practice. In this way, the superiority of men and political leaders is shown, although it is portrayed in a rude and too primitive manner. More than that, recalling the fact that Bassam’s initial calls for protests were not supported by representatives of the palace, it is assumed that Islamic people do not keep their promises, valuing the power of a dictator more than their potential freedom.
Recalling what was said above, there are some discrepancies when it comes to reviewing communication patterns. In case of the Eastern civilization, the focus is made on power. In this way, it does not fully correspond with a common concept of power that is acceptable in this culture. That said, it is ignored that power is perceived as the ability to achieve one’s objectives and impose one’s opinion using spiritual power and talents (Raddawi, 2015). Instead, the stress is laid on military forces and dictatorship implicating the inability to oppose a leader and overthrow the existing regime using democracy. Of course, there is the belief in power distance, but it is not as gigantic as it is shown in the television series.
To sum up, it is essential to note that Tyrant is a multi-dimensional story. Even though there is a plotline focusing on geopolitical developments in the Middle East, which turns the television series into the subject of severe criticism, the show is interesting because of the specific attention to the problem of cultural identity and intercultural communication. Regardless of the connection between these two aspects, it is critical to recognize that the portrayal of the Eastern civilization and Islamic culture is often over-stereotyped and too westernized (Deggans, 2014). In this way, it can be said that it is too Western and distorts the most significant communication and cultural patterns, which characterize the Islamic world. That said, the so-called ‘us-them’ confrontation is too powerful in the story and there is an accent on the superiority of the West.
Still, regardless of some deficiencies and constant conflict, it is a wonderful story, which portrays representatives of different cultures, who create a loving family – Bassam and his wife – and manage to communicate properly. More than that, the television series shows the power of culture when it comes to affecting an individual’s life and determining future steps and decisions. Regardless of being too westernized, the show proves that culture and civilization are the two forces, which rule the world and determine communication patterns between people coming from different corners of the globe. Also, it is shown that identifying culture and cultural identity are not connected to address, as they come from within and affect beliefs and values. Finally, the story proves that it is a cultural identity that motivates people to foster changes in the world.
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Abdullah, M., & Nadvi, M. J. (2012). Understanding the principles of Islamic worldview. The Dialogue, 7(3), 268-289.
Deggans, E. (2014). FX’s “Tyrants” drowns at opportunity for nuance in stereotypes. Web.
Keveney, B. (2014). FX makes a political power-play in “Tyrant.” Web.
Muhammad, M., & Ashraf, T. (2012). The clash of civilizations? A critique. Pakistan Journal of Social Sciences, 32(2), 521-527.
Raddawi, R. (2015). Intercultural communication with Arabs: Studies in educational, professional, and societal contexts. New York, NY: Springer.
Samovar, L. A., Porter, R. E., McDaniel, E. R., & Roy, C. S. (2015). Intercultural communication: A reader. Boston, MA: Cengage.