A few seconds into watching the trending The Real Housewives of ISIS video by BBC Two for the first time, I knew how it was going to turn out. So I was prepared, and had adequately benumbed myself beforehand. I was still not prepared for what I saw.
Following the infamous Brexit referendum, the UK’s BBC Two chooses to create a humour-laced – “humour”-laced – video imagining a Syrian version of the inherently revolting reality franchise, The Real Housewives. The video starts with the note “Guidance: Adult humour”. Ironically, it titles the sketch “Revolting”, which it is. It’s utterly disgusting.
How do I show thee? Let me count the ways.
The sketch shows hijab-clad women living in dilapidated, war-wrecked homes, concerned with what to wear (because of course that’s what all women are by default concerned about) at – wait for it – beheadings, taking selfies, frivolously posting pictures on Instagram with hashtags and emojis. Two women are shown being riled up at having worn identical suicide jackets. There is a part where a woman talks about how she is currently in her sixth marriage, having been a widow five times before. In the background, a bomb explodes. She then quickly corrects herself – she has been widowed six times. And this is supposed to be funny. Another woman complains about her husband fixating on his “40 virgins” (stereotypical much?) rather than herself. Then there is the woman who says how great it is that her husband’s chain (keeping her chained to the house as a slave) around her enables her to almost reach outside.
The video is interspersed with a real picture of what looks like war-wrecked, utterly destroyed Syria.
An argument in favour of the sketch suggests that ISIS deserves all the ridicule it gets. But does this satirical comedy show really ridicule ISIS, or does it make light of the ISIS-infused tragedy in Syria and Iraq? Comparisons to the British-Asian comedy sketch show Goodness Gracious Me, about British-Asians making fun of themselves and their communities, have been made. But the show created humour out of South Asian idiosyncrasies, traditions, and even religion, and blew South Asian stereotypes out of proportion – all of which did make it funny. What it did not do was create humour out of human tragedies.