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Arabized Simpsons don't get laughs

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When an Arab satellite TV network, MBC, decided to introduce "The Simpsons" to the Middle East, they knew the family would have to make some fundamental lifestyle changes, the Wall Street Journal reports in paid-restricted editions Friday. Excerpts.

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"Omar Shamshoon," as he is called on the show, looks like the same Homer Simpson, but he has given up beer and bacon, which are both against Islam, and he no longer hangs out at "seedy bars with bums and lowlifes." In Arabia, Homer's beer is soda, and his hot dogs are barbequed Egyptian beef sausages. And the donut-shaped snacks he gobbles are the traditional Arab cookies called kahk.

An Arabized "Simpsons" -- called "Al Shamshoon" -- made its debut in the Arab world earlier this month, in time for Ramadan, a time of high TV viewership. It uses the original "Simpsons" animation, but the voices are dubbed into Arabic and the scripts have been adapted to make the show more accessible, and acceptable, to Arab audiences.In the Arabized version of 'The Simpsons,' Homer's called 'Omar' and drinks Coke, not beer.

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The family remains, as the producers describe them, "dysfunctional." They still live in Springfield, and "Omar" is still lazy and works at the local nuclear power plant. Bart (now called "Badr") is constantly cheeky to his parents and teachers and is always in trouble. Providing the characters' voices are several popular Egyptian actors, including Mohamed Heneidy, considered the Robert De Niro of the Middle East.

But there's no guarantee of success. Many Arab blogs and Internet chat sessions have become consumed with how unfunny "Al Shamshoon" is. "They've ruined it! Oh yes they have, sob. ... Why? Why, why oh why?!!!!" wrote a blogger, "Noors," from Oman.

Some longtime "Simpson" fans who are Arabs are incensed over the Arabized version. "This is just beyond the pale," wrote As'ad AbuKhalil, a professor at California State University, Stanislaus, whose blog, angryarab blogspot, often touches on politics and the media. After viewing a promotional segment of "Al Shamshoon," Prof. AbuKhalil wrote, "It was just painful....The guy who played Homer Simpson was one of the most unfunny people I ever watched. Just drop the project, and air reruns of Tony Danza's show instead."

Originally published on Friday October 14, 2005

 


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