Edwards plunges into the cultural lives of Cairo, Casablanca, and Tehran to illustrate the demise of one aspect of “the American century”: the outsize influence that U.S. popular culture exercised in the Middle East. He explores, among other things, Egyptian literature and political cartoons, Moroccan films and writings that deal with sexuality, the 2011 Iranian film A Separation, and the 2012 U.S. film Argo. Edwards’ wanderings produce many insights and readable treatments of a number of Middle Eastern texts and films. One persistent and problematic message risks undermining his efforts, however: in the Middle East, he writes, U.S. cultural products are so thoroughly recast in local vernaculars that they are rendered “untranslatable.” Edwards does not tell the reader much about those transformations because, it seems, any attempt to do so would be futile or distorting. That leaves the reader struggling to comprehend what, exactly, has replaced American popular culture. One unfortunate omission is the lack of any reference to Bassem Youssef, the satirist often referred to as “the Jon Stewart of Egypt,” whose wit is not lost in translation.
Get the latest book reviews delivered to your inbox.