Intergenerational dialogue has always been a favourite advertising theme in prime-time Ramadan TV. Regardless of commercial intent, it is interesting why this trope so often comes up when people are most focused on – and most vulnerable to – televised product promotion. Three ads featuring major stars are cases in point.
In Ramadan in Our Generation – which advertises a contracting company that has been around since the 1960s – representatives of the Baby Boomers (1946–1964), Generation X (1965–1980) and Generation Z (1996–2010) discuss Ramadan as they knew it.
First, the 1990s pop stars Hisham Abbas (b. 1963), Hamid Al-Shaeri (1961) and Simon (1966), in their typical style, sing longingly of the music and TV hits of their time, and of how much quieter and simpler life was.
They conclude that “The sweetness of Ramadan in our generation had no limits.” They are followed by actress Laila Zaher (b. 2003) and rapper Abu Al-Anwar (2000) who using a mahraganat-style song explain, “We spend the day sharing memes and playing games. Ramadan sweets are always new and innovative. Our Ramadan is completely different.” Finally film stars Ahmed Al-Sakka (b. 1973) and Hend Sabry (1979) barge in asking, “But what about us? What happened to our generation?” They are the missing link, they say, having witnessed and able to enjoy both the 1990s and the 2010s, yet they too wax nostalgic about the sweetness of their own Ramadan.
The ad ends with what looks like reconciliation with everyone lining up to chant the refrain, “The sweetness of Ramadan in our generation had no limits.” The interesting thing is that the ad implicitly and perhaps involuntarily mocks the fact that each generation is so proud of itself, looking down on the others, because it shows that at bottom they are versions of the same phenomenon. Perhaps the point being made is that, even though they are so different from each other, all three generations can benefit from the product equally, but the suggestion is made that intergenerational understanding is impossible.
Featuring film stars Yasmine Abdel-Aziz and Karim Mahmoud Abdel-Aziz, an ad for a telecommunications company presents a series of hilarious sketches highlighting the differences between generations: landline vs mobile, TV vs streaming, football vs PlayStation, and traditional Ramadan sweets vs fusions and innovations that have spread in recent years. Once again there is conflict that is glossed over rather than resolved, with no interaction across generations. In the end everyone comes together to declare, “Ramadan is the same no matter the time because it always delights us in the same way.”
The bank ad Let’s Understand Each Other, by contrast, opens with a father-son debate about music, with each failing to appreciate the other’s tastes. How do you understand what they’re saying, each asks the other. As they squabble, two of the greatest cross-generational megastars in Arab pop music, Mohamed Mounir “The King” and Cheb Khaled begin to perform together.
Both Mounir and Khaled sang incomprehensible lyrics, at least sometimes, with the former using the Nubian language and the latter the Oran dialect of Algerian Arabic associated with rai music, yet they achieved wider and longer lasting success than many of their contemporaries, as the song they now perform explains: “We once were, we always will be. We find out what’s right and change. We lived our lives a hundred ways. Every old person was young once. We all take the same road. Here are a hundred new opportunities,” the slogan being “In order to understand each other, we need 100 opportunities instead of one...” While they sing they appear with the young man trying out everything he does: “Renew yourself, accept...”
At the same time, two of the youngest music stars, pop singer Amir Eid and rapper Marwan Moussa, exchange roles with the father as they perform the same song: “I know I seem incomprehensible from afar. But come closer and you’ll find my thoughts among the stars... From afar, you may not see that I am exactly like you.”
In this ad, the idea of interaction and empathy is emphasised, with different generations exchanging roles. Yet here too the assumption is that belonging to a generation sets you irredeemably apart from every other generation, which seems to go against acceptance, respect and diversity. But at least the hope for a rapprochement through common ground is there.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 21 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.