Continuing its practice of adapting Western television shows to the Afghan context, Tolo TV is rolling out its newest creation: an Afghan version of The Office set in the fictional Ministry of Garbage, where a smarmy minister, his brother-in-law deputy, an overqualified butler, a cantankerous secretary and a counsel with a mullet spend their days fielding requests for special favors (an MP sends the minister a request for 10 armored cars –for protection, of course!) and sniping at each other other over missing office supplies.
(You can watch the trailer here. For some reason, WordPress won’t let me embed videos right now.)
Each of the characters embodies a set of Afghan stereotypes of Afghan civil servants –the fake university degrees, the denials of blindingly obvious nepotism, the pettiness, the bravado, the bizarre fashion choices– and their respective positions poke fun at the corruption that has left Afghans feeling cheated by their government over the past decade. The butler on the show, for example, has a Master’s in political science, but he’s a butler because his family lacks connections. At the same time, the minister’s brother-in-law insists he was hired based on merit, and how could anyone think otherwise? And then there’s the security guard, an elderly, narcoleptic, seemingly-toothless man who sleeps with his head propped on the barrel of his loaded rifle.
War-weary Afghans can certainly use a few laughs, but professional comedy in Afghanistan has a serious side as well. As issues of corruption and state dysfunction become more difficult for Afghanistan’s beleaguered news media to tackle, shows like The Ministry and Tolo’s SNL-esque hit Danger Bell are opening space for criticism that would be far more dangerous if packaged differently.