Turning ‘Idol’ hands to rebuilding Iraq

HOLLYWOOD — After watching president Bush’s press conference last week, in which he vowed to stay the course in Iraq, I realized that even the commander-in-chief doesn’t know how or when to extricate our troops from this mess.

Nor, I imagine, does anyone else.

Moreover, no one seems particularly optimistic about what kind of society will take shape in the wake of a U.S. pullout. The images we’ve seen of late out of Iraq are not encouraging: Among the hordes of young men waving their fists (or weapons), no one is ever smiling.

That’s why it occurred to me that what young people there really need, once the country calms down a bit, is their own version of “Pop Idol.”

Think about it. If we really want to impart the best of Western pop culture, and at the same time valorize local traditions, why not create a local format of the show?

If indeed young people around the world have more in common with one another than any other age group, and if indeed music is the great unifier, such an undertaking could be a big plus for that ravaged region.

For one thing, it would get a lot of folks off the street and talking about something besides those awful Americans, their proxies and their stooges.

It would also give a boost to what no doubt is a crumbled television infrastructure and near moribund music industry. It might even spark competition with neighboring Arab countries — not to demonstrate which could shout the loudest anti-Israeli sentiments but which could field the best performers.

Global distribbers Fremantle, who hold the international rights to “Pop Idol,” have already blanketed most of the world with local versions of the reality phenom, and given the rich Arab music traditions on which they could draw, a Baghdad version is not really a pipe dream.

Indeed, the company has already mounted a local version in Beirut, drawing on talent and contestants in several bordering Arab countries. It airs on satcaster Future TV but isn’t beamed into Iraq.

For the moment, however, the bulk of television beamed into Iraq is skewed news — either the Al Jazeera variety, which is heavily focused on the sufferings of the Iraqi populace at the hands of the U.S. military, or of the Al Houria variety, a channel backed by the U.S. government that is trying to present a different slant.

In any case, there’s not much local entertainment to offset either of these newsies — or to lessen the daily struggle of just surviving there.

Come to think of it, Fremantle also holds the rights to “The Apprentice” abroad.

Think about it: Donald Trump — or were it imaginable, a local emulator — vetting potential hires for the Governing Council.

At the least, Iraqis might bond with Americans when they hear “You’re fired” in Arabic.

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