On Facebook and Twitter, there’s hot debate over “Bad Girls.” Many absolutely love the video, proclaiming it to be M.I.A’s big comeback, while others remain unsure. Some see it as embodying resistance to the norm, while others don’t think it resists enough.
For my part, I’m taken in but left feeling uneasy. What’s missing is the present context of North Africa and the Middle East; it’s been a year since the revolution that toppled Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Egypt’s #Jan25 call that led to the ousting of Hosni Mubarak, the Libyan uprising against Muammar Qaddafi, and ongoing struggles for political justice in Syria and Yemen. Images, videos, and news reports of the region have shown inspiring scenes of resistance.
But in “Bad Girls”’ depictions of the Arab world, I see a false, hyped-up misrepresentation of the region we now know for the Arab Spring. I’m bothered by M.I.A.’s reproduction of Orientalist tropes–“Orientalist” in Edward Said’s sense, of a distorted lens through which Arabs are viewed and “experienced” by the West. “Bad Girls” is just a hipper, high-definition stereotype of Arabs as desert-dwelling, sword-wielding, horse-riding, and dangerous.
M.I.A. and the video’s director, Romain Gavrais, perform controversy for the sake of controversy and cash in on the Arab Spring. They aestheticize the recent uprisings while avoiding a precise political statement.
I get that it’s just a music video. I also get that there’s only so much a music video can do. At the same time, compared to a reality in which Arab peoples are demanding control of their own representation, not as terrorists or blank faces with guns but as people fighting for political voice, “Bad Girls” seems lacking in creativity and vision. While undeniably hip, M.I.A.’s video is politically vacant in comparison to lesser-known artists with far fewer resources–like DAM and Shadia Mansoor from Palestine and the Iraqi-Canadian rapper The Narcicyst.
Most of us have seen it. I accidentally came across it during my daily Morocco news search. The desert landscape, Arabic writing on walls, men in thobes and shemaghs, veiled women in gold–I thought, this is either orientalism on steroids or a legit social commentary. As someone who’s listened to M.I.A. for several years, the gratuitous political and social commentary is always pleasantly juxtaposed with sick beats and dope lyrics. It’s what she does. Watching “Bad Girls,” I was looking for it. What was it?
Samia’s always on point. I just wanted to add a similar thought because I just watched the video and M.I.A’s all over my dashboard.
It is quite cool looking.
It’s got that tired formula of “foreign”, but familiar (fascination with fast cars is universal, no? ). Samia pointed out the problematic use of Morocco as the filming location for almost any feature about the middle east (even this one “about” Yemen - and let me tell you Yemen and Morocco couldn’t be more different in landscape), I did want to name what bothers me the most about this video (and I say this, as a huge, huge fan of M.I.A).
I get that the cliches of guns, horses, and fancy cars alongside hipster-y women in niqabs are meant to subvert stereotypes of Arab culture. And sure, much of what is featured in the video might be seen on a visit to the Arabian Peninsula. BUT, in my opinion they don’t really add any complexity to the region for the average viewer. And at its worst, the video even reinforces the notions of the Other.
It’s that ambiguity that worries me.
Personally, I think it’s M.I.A.’s unfortunate attempt at solidarity, since the world has been taken aback by the widespread social upheaval in the region. I dunno I would rather see her do a track with Shadia Mansour than Madonna (b/c that song sucks, imo).
So while, I liked the video and I love the song, I don’t know if it would get a pass from me, for me.
Reminds me what munachao said in our conversation about it today:
“yep. was having this conversation in a forum, and my buddy basim hit it on the head, “honestly i don’t think M.I.A did anything but conflate all the shades of brown into one beige. I don’t think white people see how her tamil tiger imagery is any different than her taliban imagery. I think whites just see “angry brown people” with guns and that gets them pumped. it perpetuates the idea that culture is ornamental and what you as the dominant hegemony make of it.”
Reblogged for the insightful commentary.
With a slight tweak, the meme becomes social critique. Just by adding “to” and a second group, the meme found new life.
Due to the popularity of the meme, people are reconsidering the impact of their words to their friends, which is the point of this next batch of takes. Exploring the dynamics of relationships between friends can be painful, but what these users created basically amount to humorous public service announcements.
Outside of “Shit [White] Girls Say to [Black] Girls,” none of the other videos got anywhere near the amount of play that “Shit Girls Say” and “Shit Black Girls Say” enjoyed. Maybe that’s because, as a culture, we are accustomed to laughing at stereotypes, but we aren’t prepared to unpack how we perpetuate them.