How did your parents keep you in line as a kid? Did they ever tell you that, if you were bad, that Santa Claus would send you coal for Christmas? That the boogeyman would come in the middle of the night and scare you? That God would send you to Hell when you died?
You probably had it much easier than Arab children. They were subjected to a sadistic children’s show that always ended with the close-up of a rusty door with screams and other haunting noises coming from behind it as the ominous text at the bottom read “that is where bad children go!”
Of course, the show isn’t real, but considering the programming that Arab children are subjected to, it might as well be.
I must have been six or seven when I lived in Lebanon. The country was ravaged by war at the time, and murders were common and frequent. I remember during a particularly vicious era, when the bombings rarely stopped, I would stay at home sitting in front of my television watching a very, very strange show.
It was a kids' show that lasted about 30 minutes and contained strange and sinister images. To this day I believe it was a thinly veiled attempt on the part of the media to use scare tactics to keep kids in place, because the moral of every episode revolved around very uptight ideologies: stuff like, “bad kids stay up late,” “bad kids have their hands under the covers when they sleep,” and “bad kids steal food from the fridge at night.”
It was very weird, and in Arabic to top it off. I didn't understand much of it, but for the most part the images were very graphic and comprehensive. The thing that stuck with me the most, however, was the closing scene. It remained much the same in every episode. The camera would zoom in on an old, rusted, closed door. As it got closer to the door, strange and sometimes even agonizing screams would become more audible. It was extremely frightening, especially for children's programming. Then a text would appear on the screen in Arabic reading: “That's where bad kids go.” Eventually both the image and the sound would fade out, and that would be the end of the episode.
About 15 or 16 years later I became a journalistic photographer. That show had been in my mind all my life, popping up in my thoughts sporadically. Eventually I'd had enough, and decided to do some research. I finally managed to uncover the location of the studio where much of that channel's programming had been recorded. Upon further research and eventually traveling on site, I found out it was now desolate and had been abandoned after the big war ended.
I entered the building with my camera. It was burnt out from the inside. Either a fire had broken out or someone had wanted to incinerate all of the wooden furniture. After few hours of cautiously making my way into the studio and snapping pictures, I found an isolated out-of-the-way room. After having to break through a few old locks and managing to break the heavy door open, I remained frozen in the doorway for several long minutes. Traces of blood, feces, and tiny bone fragments lay scattered across the floor. It was a small room, and an extremely morbid scene.
What truly frightened me, though, what made me turn away and never want to come back, was the bolted, caged microphone hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the room...