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Candid Camera, Egyptian Style

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I never watched “Candid Camera” when I was a kid. We only watched The Wonderful World of Disney” and “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.”

My parents enforced strict TV rules. But as an adult, when I can watch whatever I please, I really enjoy those old shows and have made up for lost time when it comes to shows like “Candid Camera.”

Watching the episodes years after they were first shown, I still get a kick out of the antics of the producers and the actions of the unsuspecting guests. “Candid Camera” took normal situations, twisted them and made them funny. The camera caught real, unrehearsed, responses to the most mundane situations.

It all began in 1948 when “Candid Camera” was a radio show starring Allen Funt and called “Candid Microphone.” Eventually the program made its way from ABC to NBC to CBS. In 1949, now on television, the name of the show became “Candid Camera.” It was the precursor for many of today’s reality shows. And like reality of TV of today, it was very popular and consistently top rated.

“Candid Camera” of yore was wholesome, honest fun. It was laugh-out-loud amusing to see real reactions to strange and funny situations. It was funny to see someone’s reaction after a mailbox talked to him. It would have been funny to see a person walk into closet thinking that it was a bathroom, but that episode was nixed because, in those days, the episode was considered too dicey.

Times certainly have changed.

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery. But in the case of a newly reborn version of “Candid Camera” now airing on Egyptian TV, I am not so sure the adage proves true.

In the Egyptian version of “Candid Camera,” the surprise almost always follows the same script. The setup is always the same. The sketch repeats itself. The only different variable is the personality upon whom the prank is played. Several episodes, aired in Egypt from July 20 through July 22, 2012 can now be viewed at www.memritv.org/clip/en/3504.htm.

Viewer be warned: these episodes are truly shocking and extremely candid.

In each episode a famous personality is invited to a cable network for an interview. The guest is made to think the program airs on a German TV network. While on air, a viewer calls in outraged that this person is actually appearing on Israeli TV. The caller is cut off. The guest puts the pieces together, thinking he or she is now on Israeli TV. Tensions rise. Often, so do fists. The guests shout ugly, horrendous, curses against Israel and about Jews. They beat and punch and pull hair and kick the production staff – even the female host – thinking they have been tricked into appearing on Israeli TV.

One guest, still thinking she was on German TV, said Jews are all liars and that there was no Holocaust. When asked if that was not an exaggeration, she said of course not.

As a famous Egyptian entertainer was being led into the trap he said peace was between governments and not between peoples. He said there never will be peace between peoples.

After the traps have been sprung and the anger erupts, the production staff steps in to save their on-air people from the anger of the guests.

Without exception, each episode concludes with clapping and shouting: everyone is an Egyptian patriot, it was just a gag, a joke, Candid Camera.

It was a joke and a gag – both in poor taste – and certainly it was candid. After viewing these clips over and over I came to the conclusion that the material was, by its very nature, much more honest and candid than I could have ever imagined. No dialogue with an Egyptian would have elicited as much raw anger and unadulterated hatred toward Israel and Jews as this faux “Candid Camera.”

The guests, all of them, interchanged the words Jews and Israelis, which is very important to note. And they did not use the word “Zionist,” which is what the Iranians do. While it is commonplace for Westerners to assume the anger and hatred is reserved for Israel and Israelis, not Jews in general, that is totally untrue as these scenes reveal. This is what they call entertainment in Egypt. This is considered funny and mainstream.

Western thinkers and analysts speak of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Nouri Party as representing extremist idea and attitudes. But these are real, uncensored, people voicing those same ideas and exhibiting those same attitudes. It is wrong to think the Egyptian masses do not hold these attitudes toward Israel the Jews and the West.

The “Candid Camera” I love to watch concludes with the phrase “Smile, you’re on ‘Candid Camera.’ ” There was nothing in the Egyptian version to make me smile. It only made me cringe.

Micah D. Halpern is a columnist and social and political commentator. He maintains The Micah Report website (www.micahhalpern.com). His latest book is “Thugs: How History’s Most Notorious Despots Transformed the World through Terror, Tyranny, and Mass Murder” (Thomas Nelson).

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