By Tamara Walid
... get me out of here! The rise of wannabe-celeb TV is no good thing for the Arab world, says Tamara Walid.
In the West, it is now the dream of virtually every young woman and man. One day you are a complete nobody, the next you are a superstar. Thanks to the rise of reality television through shows such as Pop Idol, The Apprentice, Superstar and Big Brother, anybody can become famous in a hurry. And now it seems, the trend has arrived in the Arab world. But is this really a good thing?
At the end of last month, the Arab world saw another season of the wildly popular Star Academy reality show come to an end, as the new Iraqi sensation Shatha Hassoun stacked the first prize.
Hassoun - who received millions of votes and even managed to unite Iraq's Sunnis and Shia's (briefly), is the most successful Arab product of reality TV. With The Apprentice and other similar shows in full flow, she is likely to be the first of many.
Another reality show featuring a group of six Arab students, three men and three women, on a journey to America as a "chance to open their eyes" is aired on MBC. One of the participants, Ali, is already finding fame for doing nothing more than wandering around America, attracting comments from the likes of The New York Times.
On the face of it, Hassoun's success - and that of many others which will follow - can only be good. Millions of people unite in a common cause, television audiences soar, advertising revenues rocket and sponsorship deals worth tens of millions of dollars are offered to the winners. It is not just get famous quick, but get very rich quick.
But like all good things, is there a downside?
Many experts in the West - not to mention the now famous winners of these shows - would rather turn the clock back and wish it had never happened.
In Britain and America especially, sociologists are worried that the masses have become too obsessed with reality television. Nobody is interested in fiction, soap operas and general entertainment: All we want to do is pry into the private lives of others.
Big Brother "heroine" Jade Goody is now one of the most hated people in Britain after her appearance in the latest series of the show. Another contestant, singer Jo O'Meara, says she has contemplated suicide since the show, fed up with the whole world's interest in her.
Could the same extremes happen here? Public relations guru Max Clifford - who toured Dubai last year - says the biggest problem with such shows, including Star Academy, is they make superstars out of total strangers, who have no idea how to cope with the fame, fortune and adulation.
And Hassoun is on the same path: Since winning, fans and label agents have not left her alone. And with a sum of money she had never seen before now sitting in her bank account, Hassoun's previous social life and job in the tourism industry might stand one big test.
It remains to be seen, however, if the craze of these reality shows will have the same effect in the Arab world as they did in the West.
While many Arabs embrace the excitement and intrigue provided by reality shows, Middle Eastern societies still strongly maintain a sense of privacy. Whereas fans might follow the Iraqi superstar to get her autograph if they come into direct contact with her in a public place, very few will go as far as lingering outside her place of residence. And when it comes to the Arab media, differences in comparisons to its Western counterpart can be clearly drawn.
Media intrusion into the lives of celebrities is at a completely different level in the region with members of the press either shying away from invading someone's privacy or where such practices are either unheard of or considered illegal.
Whether that will change as more reality TV shows appear on our screens bringing to light massive numbers of fast-made celebrities, only time will tell.