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Don't Say No To The Panda!

Pandas, cheese, and Egyptian Arabic: together at last! These are the unexpected ingredients for a viral video hit that has gone global and attracted millions of YouTube viewers. Steve Clemons at "The Washington Note" said the clip had "layers of geostrategic humor." Interpretations have been myriad. (Embedding has been disabled by YouTube, unfortunately.)

Is it a commentary on China’s influence in the Middle East? Is it a critique of Hosni Mubarak’s rule in Egypt? Is it another example of the banality of violence in popular culture? Or is it perhaps a commentary on the bullying associated with “democratic” elections in authoritarian states? Choose for yourself.

The award-winning adverts have brought everyday glimpses of life in the Arab world to a global audience. Digital Trends believes that “the depictions of the office and supermarket are in part there to show Americans that life in Egypt is not so different from our own.”

"The Arabist" points out this is perhaps the first viral video from the Arab world to go global. In this sense the ad campaign is an important contribution to the ever developing global idea space.

A blogger at "Los Angeles Weekly" noted it had the perfect formula for a hit commercial: "oddly compelling characters, a killer soundtrack, and a stock yet endlessly amusing sequence of events.”

Elephant Cairo, the agency behind the campaign, has said that the Panda commercials are not meant to be anything other than humorous. The name of the company itself is a subtle programming joke. The decision by Elephant Cairo to use an English-language soundtrack is uncommon on Arab television channels. This implies that the filmmakers had in mind a commercial with global appeal, not just something cheesy.

-- Joseph Hammond

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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