Imitating TV series stars: A model of the behavioral effects of Syrian soap operas

The Jabal Sheikh Al-Jabal (Taim Hassan) haircut became widely popular among young people after the success of the Al-Hayba TV series in 2019 (screenshot)

The Jabal Sheikh Al-Jabal (Taim Hassan) haircut became widely popular among young people after the success of the Al-Hayba TV series in 2019 (screenshot)


Enab Baladi – Yamen Moghrabi

Haircuts, video clips, posters and stories on social media platforms, quotes simulating the hero of this or that soap opera or tv series, all of which show the extent of drama’s influence on society’s behavior.

The film or drama series tells the story of a group of people in a specific time and place and within specific rules. The more the work succeeds in reaching and achieving the desired audience, the greater the impact the ideas it carries will have on the viewers, and the more imitations of the ideas and forms of the soap opera stars will spread along with it.

This appearance, as much as it indicates the success and spread of the film or dramatic work, may have negative effects in other places, especially if the characters being imitated have bad behavior.

The work of art, whether a film or a drama series, is not solely responsible for this effect, as the personal characteristics and circumstances of people and society also play their role.

Influence, Source of societal impact

The artistic work consists of several elements, starting with the scenario, then photography, decoration, montage, mixing, decoration, actors, and the montage process, within an integrated process led by the director of the work, who is responsible for integrating all of these elements, to produce an artistic work that achieves commercial and artistic success.

In addition to other details related to the commercial aspect associated with the marketing process and exhibition dates and platforms, whether cinemas for films, television channels, digital streaming, and video platforms.

The more integrated these elements are, the more successful the work will be in reaching a larger segment of target viewers, and thus, the ideas it contains will reach.

From here begins the influence of dramatic characters on viewers, and the influence can go beyond simply discussing the ideas contained in the work and benefiting from them to clarify specific problems that the artistic work indicates its existence in society, to imitate the behaviors and ideas of the heroes, which are not all necessarily positive.

Director Inas Haqqi told Enab Baladi that there are two types of influence. The first is an immediate effect that prompts young people to imitate a specific character, borrowing its movements or specific sentences that it repeats. This effect quickly disappears as soon as another character appears that attracts their attention.

The second effect is more profound, and comes in a cumulative and gradual, imperceptible manner, leading to a change in the way of thinking and dealing with situations.

Haqqi, who is the daughter of the veteran director Haytham Haqqi, pointed out that this kind of profound influence cannot come through a single character but rather within a long-term project presented by series and films, which attempts to contribute to social and political change as well.

Haqqi explained that, in the immediate effect, the quality of the text does not play a role, and most of the character’s features are often based on the actor’s performance and his creation of movement or dialogue props for his character. The actor, in cooperation with the director, may build a character that young people imitate without it having any weight in the story or having a large space in the text.

As for the deep impact, it can only be built through a text that studies its characters and builds them in a precise manner that leads the viewer to identify with them, Haqqi added.

The soap opera carries a reciprocal relationship between it and society, influencing and being affected by it and not being isolated from it. From this standpoint, screenwriter Hafez Karkout believes that the influence comes through the drama that studies the characters and their details and the extent to which the viewer can interact with them, especially since the character is the one who leads the events in the TV series.

In an interview with Enab Baladi, Karkout added that drama enters homes without permission, and with the development of electronic means of presentation, its presence has increased, and it affects the behavior of society and also emanates from it, so it has a great impact, and when drama began to enter homes, society adopted new behaviors, and in some countries, the films succeeded in changing laws and improving people’s conditions.

The correct construction of the work, the writer’s mastery of his tools, and the correct presentation of the character to the audience play a major role in the expected influence process, in addition to the good tool for highlighting this character after it has moved from paper through directing and other artistic elements.

No link between mental illness and imitation

The spread of imitation of dramatic characters and the adoption of their ideas within the negative aspect is not necessarily linked to psychological and behavioral disorders, nor is it necessary to fill a psychological void among the imitators.

Mental health consultant Dr. Mohammed Abu Hilal told Enab Baladi that a person is affected by what he sees in his real life, as well as what he sees in the social media, series and movies.

However, the scenes presented in artistic works are usually well-thought-out and created by people with experience and knowledge in psychology and the artistic and dramatic industry, and their goal is to influence viewers, and thus, the percentage of those affected by artistic works increases.

Abu Hilal explained that there is no link between the presence of psychological illness among those affected by dramatic characters and what they see, especially since individual differences play their role in the process of being influenced and are linked to the nature of the personality, private experiences and their relationship to what is shown, and the general circumstances surrounding the presentation of the drama series.

Therefore, they are factors that come together to have a multi-level impact on different audiences.

Creativity in soap operas plays an influential role

The Syrian drama series has produced hundreds of series, some of which have achieved great and continuous success, and their episodes continue to garner thousands of views, despite the passage of decades since their production and presentation.

The more precise the work is made, the greater its spread and influence among people, which may sometimes lead to the adoption of its ideas and a change in society, laws, and behaviors, even after a relatively long time.

This influence and the possibility of change opens the question about the primary role that artistic work is supposed to play: is it merely entertainment or should it also provide profound messages and signals of solutions to the problems that society also suffers from?

According to Karkout, drama raises problems and deepens them, reveals what is hidden from society in a bold manner, and it approaches solutions and hints at them without providing a solution if the intent of the drama is positive, specifically those that address criminal or other cases, in which the criminal must be punished at the end. 

He added that the impact of laws on drama and legislators varies according to countries and the extent of the presence of democracy in them, and from here, it can play its role. In countries where democracy does not occupy an area, the impact of drama in them naturally varies.

The problem with Syrian drama is that it is intended to be a “catharsis” situation that shocks the viewer with the problem and distances him from the main cause, which is the existing regime, specifically in comedy, according to Karkout.

Director Haqqi believes that drama series and artistic works have the ability to present the problem and address it from many aspects so that the audience can think about it, but ready-made and easy solutions cannot be presented in series; but rather, society works collectively to find them.

The audience’s identification with the characters presented in the series allows for the presentation of social and political issues as permitted by the censorship ceiling.

This identification is an opportunity for art makers to make the audience think about marginalized groups, and Syrian series presented the issues of women and people with disabilities, for example, because these issues were outside the scope of censorship, Haqqi concludes.



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