The Cynical Genius

post 90/365


The wise man, the cynical man, and the man in love share this in common; they all see the world in terms of infinite possibility. To survive in this new world, one must be witty and sarcastic. In a country where the political and judicial system would play a main role for any absurdist play, where politicians who once were sworn enemies, in a day’s coup become partners, the Lebanese confused can’t even agree to disagree when it comes to their own political standing. In this deafening cacophony of resonance of this political satire we live in, there is one person the Lebanese unanimously love, quote, and recite entire dialogues and songs of; Lebanon’s cynical genius, Ziad Rahbani.

Every comment he makes in passing, must point out the irony of everything he passes. The one man that can make us laugh, cry, curse this country, its people, and the whole region, pinpointing our frustrations and love at the same time.

One of Lebanon’s most talented and controversial musical figures, he is a composer, pianist, playwright, and political commentator. His compositions are well known throughout the Arab world. Many of his musicals satirize Lebanese politics both during and after the civil war, and are often strongly critical of the traditional political establishment. He is a member of one of Lebanon’s most musically influential families, being the son of the famed composer Assi Rahbani and the famous Lebanese diva Fairouz.

For many people from all generations, who for every occasion and every episode in their life can invoke an aphorism by Ziad, he remains their voice of reason. Introducing a genre of satirical comedy that Lebanon did not know before.

His productions are rich, original, and brilliant. “ya Souraya, hayda ibnek zake, bass hmar” (Souraya, your son is smart, but he’s an idiot) or “a2loulna nihna wel a3rab ekhweit, bass a2loulna ekhweit shou,” (they told us that the Arabs and us are sons, but they didn’t tell us sons of what), are a perfect example of Ziad’s wit.

He is a most inventive and original artist and speaker. His sentences are uniquely structured and he is brave enough to not cater to the masses and their preferences. He steers his audience in the direction that he chooses, for his own artistic reasons. His plays are a series of courageous, forthright and candid sketches on various aspects of the war and how we interact with it. Both dramatic and humorous, they are acutely perceptive and free of political inhibitions and as such tell the story of the war up until the Israeli invasion with little necessary supportive documentation.

His words reverberate the right verses for the wrong times. He is the anti-hero of a story everybody else is aware of. This world is a strange place for him and so many of his generation and he naturally adapts to it with his genius cynical sarcasm.

He weaves words as though spells, taking a single idea, and examining it from all perspectives. Ziad in his plays doesn’t seem to be himself anymore instead he becomes a font of wisdom, ideas, and genius, as though he holds these ideas in his palm, slowly rotating them to peer closer.

Cynics I believe are just optimists who’ve been taught a stinging lesson. Sometimes you will find in the case of his generation that there’s no rainbow at the end of a heavy rain. But with reality comes a strange peace of mind and he is freed to embrace its callous cynicism. Making truth whatever he wills it to be, a hero of our times championing the never-ending cruel irony of his country.





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