THE BOOTLEG FILES: TOMORROW’S PIONEERS

BOOTLEG FILES 348: “Tomorrow’s Pioneers” (2007-2009 children’s program broadcast on Al-Aqsa TV in Gaza).

LAST SEEN: Clips from the series can be seen on YouTube and other online video sites.

AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: None.

REASON FOR BOOTLEG STATUS: It is not available for sale in international markets.

CHANCES OF SEEING A COMMERCIAL DVD RELEASE: Egad, I hope not!

Nobody ever accused the Hamas terrorist movement of having a sense of humor, let alone a degree of culturally aesthetic imagination. So when Hamas launched its Al-Aqsa TV channel in 2006, it had the unique opportunity to go beyond its usual bomb-and-bullets knockabout and create programming designed for the children living in the Gaza section of the bifurcated Palestinian territories.

Admittedly, no one was expecting Hamas to come up with something along the lines of “The Electric Company” or “SpongeBob SquarePants.” But at the same time, no one expected something as thoroughly inane as the astonishing program called “Tomorrow’s Pioneers.”  This production had the unique distinction of becoming the first Palestinian television show to receive international recognition – if only for the most ridiculous reason imaginable.

“Tomorrow’s Pioneers” takes place in a studio that is designed to look like an elementary school – colorful numbers and animal drawings cover every inch of wall space. A young girl named Saraa Barhoum serves as a host – wearing a brightly hued hijab and a somber expression, she is the program’s intellectual anchor, offering careful explanations of right and wrong.

Or, to be more specific, young Saraa offers the Hamas version of right and wrong. “If not for the Muslims,” says Saraa, “the world wouldn’t have gotten to where it is today.” Whether fielding telephone calls from young viewers or speaking with the occasional grown-up who wanders in, Saraa calmly reminds Gaza’s tykes on the value of offering oneself as a martyr in acts of violence aimed at Israel. Yes, Saraa is a pint-sized bore and would never attract much attention on her own terms. However, it was her scene-stealing co-star that literally put “Tomorrow’s Pioneers” on the world map.

To amuse a kiddie audience expecting anthropomorphic animals as part of the small screen line-up, the producers of “Tomorrow’s Pioneers” created Farfour, a giant mouse. However, there was one slight problem: rather than create a new rodent exclusive for the program, the producers decided to use a low-rent Mickey Mouse costume.  A squeaky-voiced male actor, doing a shrill imitation of the Disney character, handled Farfour’s dialogue – which seemed to concentrate exclusively on the advocacy of Islamic extremism and the destruction of Israel and its Jewish population. Imagine Mickey Mouse pretending to fire an AK-47 and saying stuff like, “We will return the Islamic community to its former greatness, and liberate Jerusalem, God willing, liberate Iraq, God willing, and liberate all the countries of the Muslims invaded by the murderers.”

Farfour’s shtick (for lack of a better word) was to behave like a bumbling but well-intended adolescent trying to obtain Gaza-style street smarts. When he attempts to speak English, Saraa chides him for ignoring the greatness of the Arabic language. When he is found to be cheating on a school exam, he whines that “the Jews destroyed my home and I left my books and notes under the rubble.” Saraa also implores Farfour to memorize the entire Quran – this will apparently be helpful when the duo participate in the Muslim conquest of the world. Yeah, Farfour and Saraa are Gaza’s answer to Pinky and the Brain.

Farfour turned up on Al-Aqsa TV in April 2007 and Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), an Israeli organization that monitors the tone and content of Palestinian media, immediately noticed his antics. Appalled by the hostility of Farfour’s rants and cognizant of the blatant intellectual property violations of using the Mickey Mouse character in such a bizarre manner, PMW made videos of “Tomorrow’s Pioneers” (with subtitles added to translate the Arabic soundtrack) available to Western media.

The resulting furor created a PR disaster for the Palestinian Authority government, which ordered Farfour yanked from the air. Al-Aqsa complied, albeit in the worst possible way: an episode was created where Farfour inherits documents that confirm his family’s ownership of the land that encompasses today’s Tel Aviv. “I don’t know how to liberate the land from the filth of the criminal, plundering Jews who killed my grandpa and everybody,” whines Farfour, who later winds up being beaten to death by an Israeli trying to buy Farfour’s documents.

Strangely, the Disney organization was initially quiet about Al-Aqsa’s hijacking of the Mickey Mouse character. Perhaps the company didn’t want to take sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. When pressed by the media, Disney CEO Robert Iger and Diane Disney, Walt’s last surviving child, publicly expressed their dismay at the contents of “Tomorrow’s Pioneers.”

With Farfour out of the way, “Tomorrow’s Pioneers” brought in a new co-host in the form of Nahoul, a giant bumblebee who identified himself as Farfour’s cousin. (Don’t ask how they are related.)  Nahoul wasn’t much of an improvement, unfortunately – in one outrageous episode, he visited the Gaza Zoo and spent time throwing rocks at caged lions and lifting domestic cats by the tail. Recognizing the limits of his appeal, the producers conveniently arranged to have Nahoul die prematurely (his death was blamed on the Israelis for preventing his passage to Egypt for medical treatment).

Seeking to go three-for-three, “Tomorrow’s Pioneer” then brought in a giant rabbit named Assud, who confidently informed Saraa, “I will get rid of the Jews, Allah willing, and I will eat them up.” Assud wound up being killed in a plot involving Israeli military raids on Gaza. A jihadist bear named Nassur replaced Assud, with promises to continue to war against Israel – to date, the ursine warrior has made no impact in liberating Jerusalem for Hamas.

As far as I can tell, “Tomorrow’s Pioneers” went off the air in 2009. The Palestinian Authority licensed genuine Mickey Mouse cartoons from Disney for broadcast on its television channels, so at least the youngster in the Palestinian territories are able to enjoy something in the realm of television normalcy.

But the glory days of “Tomorrow’s Pioneers” can easily be enjoyed by flicking around YouTube (everyone’s favorite resource for unauthorized video postings). These episodes (which, mercifully, have subtitles) have a certain educational value to them – if you’ve never seen them, you cannot possibly imagine how incompetent Palestinian propaganda could possibly be. From the cheapjack production elements to the over-the-top anti-Israeli bile spewed by its unlikely characters, “Tomorrow’s Pioneers” is a non-stop assault on good taste and intelligence. And if one can look beyond the mean-spirited nature of the endeavor, the series can be enjoyed as one of the most deranged works of unintentional comedy ever created.

IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material, either for crass commercial purposes or profit-free shits and giggles, is not something that the entertainment industry appreciates. On occasion, law enforcement personnel boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and distribute bootleg videos and DVDs, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. Oddly, the purchase and ownership of bootleg videos is perfectly legal. Go figure!




Posted on November 5, 2010 in Bootleg Files, Features by
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