Music, Sound, and the Moving Image

Orientalism and Erotic Multiculturalism in Popular Culture

From Princess Rajah to the Pussycat Dolls

Music, Sound, and the Moving Image (2012), 6, (2), 209–238.

Abstract

Said's groundbreaking monograph Orientalism (1978) inspired critical reflection of ‘Orientalist’ discourses contained within dominant Western literature. In this article, I extend this impulse by illustrating connections between early twentieth-century erotic and exotic representations of a ‘feminised Orient’ and contemporary hyper-mediated negotiations of sex and gender in audiovisual texts. My methodological approach uncovers the musical, kinetic, visual, and aesthetic signifiers that contribute culturally to a broader symbolic configuration of subjectivities in the modern and postmodern eras. As case studies, I compare two visually mediated, gendered performances: Princess Rajah's early twentieth-century belly dancing film (1904) and the music video ‘Buttons’ (2006) by this century's leading music-television ‘girl group’, the Pussycat Dolls. To differentiate between prior colonial articulations of difference, my analyses foreground the recent exploitation by the music industry of what I call ‘erotic multiculturalism’; a concept which betrays an accelerated surplus value derived from references to subaltern subjects within late-capitalist cultures of consumption. My examination of Orientalist stars' online reception constitutes an additional contribution to new analytical strategies. Ultimately, I aim to ameliorate the imbalance of Orientalist studies which prioritise male creativity, by considering symbolic female Orientalist performers who both innovate and ‘Other’ through their adaptation and exploitation of new technologies in popular culture contexts.

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Loti, Pierre (1903) India, trans. George A.F. Inman, ed. Robert Harborough Sherard, London: T. Werner Laurie India Google Scholar

Maira, Sunaina (2008) ‘Belly Dancing: Arab-face, Orientalist feminism, and U.S. empire’, American Quarterly, 60:2: 317-45 ‘Belly Dancing: Arab-face, Orientalist feminism, and U.S. empire’ American Quarterly 60 317 45 Google Scholar

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‘Pussycat Dolls Robin Antin and Mikey Minden Spill Finale Scoop’, The CW Source http://blogs.trb.com/network/cwsource/2007/04/pussycat_dolls_robin_antin_and.html Google Scholar

Said, Edward (1985) ‘Orientalism Reconsidered’, Cultural Critique, 1: 89-107 ‘Orientalism Reconsidered’ Cultural Critique 1 89 107 Google Scholar

Said, Edward (1995) [1978] Orientalism, London: Penguin Books Orientalism Google Scholar

Scott, Derek B. (1997) ‘Orientalism and Musical Style’, Critical Musicology: A Transdisciplinary Online Journal, http://www.leeds.ac.uk/music/Info/critmus/articles/1997/02/01.html (accessed 01.06.2012) http://www.leeds.ac.uk/music/Info/critmus/articles/1997/02/01.html ‘Orientalism and Musical Style’ Critical Musicology: A Transdisciplinary Online Journal Google Scholar

Shay, Anthony, & Sellers-Young, Barbara (2005) Belly Dance: Orientalism, transnationalism, and harem fantasy, Cost Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers Belly Dance: Orientalism, transnationalism, and harem fantasy Google Scholar

Shelton, Suzanne (1981) Ruth St. Denis: a biography of the divine dancer, Austin: University of Texas Press Ruth St. Denis: a biography of the divine dancer Google Scholar

Shohat, Ella (1997) ‘Gender and Culture of Empire: Toward a feminist ethnography of the cinema’ in Matthew Bernstein & Gaylyn Studlar (eds) (1997) Visions of the East: Orientalism in film, New Haven: Rutgers University Press, pp. 19-68 Visions of the East: Orientalism in film 19 68 Google Scholar

‘Snake Dancer at Victoria: the Princess Rajah was discovered on Fourteenth Street’, New York Times, 20 January 1909, p. 2 Google Scholar

Swedenburg, Ted (2004) ‘The Arab Wave in World Music after 9/11’, Anthropologica, 46:2: 177-88 ‘The Arab Wave in World Music after 9/11’ Anthropologica 46 177 88 Google Scholar

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van Nieuwkerk, Karin (1995) A Trade Like Any Other - Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt, Austin: University of Texas Press A Trade Like Any Other - Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt Google Scholar

Wald, Gayle (2002) ‘Just a Girl? Rock music, feminism, and the cultural construction of female youth’ in Roger Beebe, Denise Fullbrook, & Ben Saunders (eds) Rock over the Edge: Transformations in popular music culture, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp. 191-215 Rock over the Edge: Transformations in popular music culture 191 215 Google Scholar

Wallace, Michele (1990) ‘Modernism, Postmodernism and the Problem of the Visual in Afro-American Culture’ in Russell Ferguson, Martha Gever, Trinh T. Minh-Ha, & Cornel West (eds) Out There: Marginalization and contemporary cultures, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press Out There: Marginalization and contemporary cultures Google Scholar

‘Wm. Hammerstein's Find: Discovers Cleopatra dancer in dime museum and says she's a wonder’, New York Times, 6 January 1909, p. 11 Google Scholar

Wynne, F. (2006) ‘Men Don't Seem to Fancy Us’, The Sun [England], 25 May ‘Men Don't Seem to Fancy Us’ The Sun [England] Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

The Blue Angel, Josef von Sternberg, Weimar Republic, 1930 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Cabaret, Bob Fosse, USA, 1972 Google Scholar

Cleopatra, Cecil B. DeMille, USA, 1934 Google Scholar

The Gang's All Here, Busby Berkeley, USA, 1943 Google Scholar

Party Girl, Nicholas Ray, USA, 1958 Google Scholar

Popstars, The WB Television Network, USA, 2001 Google Scholar

Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle, UK, 2008 Google Scholar

Sweet Charity, Bob Fosse, USA, 1969 Google Scholar

Aidi, Hishaam (2003) ‘Let Us Be Moors: Islam, race and "connected histories"’, Middle East Report, 229: 42-53 ‘Let Us Be Moors: Islam, race and "connected histories"’ Middle East Report 229 42 53 Google Scholar

Baudrillard, Jean (1988) ‘Simulacra and Simulation’ in Mark Poster (ed.) Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings, Stanford: Stanford University Press, pp. 166-84 Jean Baudrillard, Selected Writings 166 84 Google Scholar

Berlant, Lauren (2008) The Female Complaint: the unfinished business of sentimentality in American culture, London: Duke University Press The Female Complaint: the unfinished business of sentimentality in American culture Google Scholar

‘Bio’, The Pussycat Dolls Website http://www.pcdmusic.com/bio/default.aspx Google Scholar

Burkart, Patrick & McCourt, Tom (2004) ‘Infrastructure for the Celestial Jukebox’, Popular Music, 23:3: 349-62 ‘Infrastructure for the Celestial Jukebox’ Popular Music 23 349 62 Google Scholar

Carlton, Donna (1994) Looking for Little Egypt, Bloomington, IN: IDD Books Looking for Little Egypt Google Scholar

Çelink, Zeynip and Kinney, Leila (1990) ‘Ethnography and Exhibitionism at the Expositions Universelles’, Assemblage, 13: 34-59 ‘Ethnography and Exhibitionism at the Expositions Universelles’ Assemblage 13 34 59 Google Scholar

Dalton, Karen C.C. & Gates Jr., Henry Louis (1998) ‘Josephine Baker and Paul Colin: Dance seen through Parisian eyes’, Critical Inquiry, 24: 903-34 ‘Josephine Baker and Paul Colin: Dance seen through Parisian eyes’ Critical Inquiry 24 903 34 Google Scholar

Desmond, Jane (1991) ‘Dancing out the Different: Cultural imperialism and Ruth St. Denis Rhada of 1906’, Signs, 17:1: 28-49 ‘Dancing out the Different: Cultural imperialism and Ruth St. Denis Rhada of 1906’ Signs 17 28 49 Google Scholar

Devine, D. (2005) ‘The Pussycat Dolls’, Western Mail, 25 November, p. 27 ‘The Pussycat Dolls’ Western Mail 27 Google Scholar

Erlewine, Stephen Thomas (2007) ‘PCD’, All Music Guide, http://www.artistdirect.com/nad/store/artist/album/0,3405543,00.html (accessed 17.10.2007) http://www.artistdirect.com/nad/store/artist/album/0,3405543,00.html ‘PCD’ All Music Guide Google Scholar

‘Fatima’, Venus Belly Dance http://www.venusbellydance.com/Fatima.htm Google Scholar

Feld, Steven (2000) ‘The Poetics and Politics of Pygmy Pop’ in Georgina Born & David Hesmondhalgh (eds) (2000) Western Music and Its Others: Difference, representation, and appropriation in music, Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 254-79 Western Music and Its Others: Difference, representation, and appropriation in music 254 79 Google Scholar

Frith, Simon (2000) ‘The Discourse of World Music’ in Georgina Born & David Hesmondhalgh (eds) (2000) Western Music and Its Others: Difference, representation, and appropriation in music, Berkeley: University of California Press, pp. 305-22 Western Music and Its Others: Difference, representation, and appropriation in music 305 22 Google Scholar

Garofalo, Reebee (1993) ‘Whose World, What Beat: Transnational music industry, identity and cultural imperialism’, World of Music, 35:2: 16-32 ‘Whose World, What Beat: Transnational music industry, identity and cultural imperialism’ World of Music 35 16 32 Google Scholar

Gish, Jennifer (2007) ‘Be Sexy, but not Stripper Sexy …’, Gazette [Montreal], 21 April 2007, E12 ‘Be Sexy, but not Stripper Sexy …’ Gazette [Montreal] E12 Google Scholar

Harrington, Richard (2006) ‘The Cat's Meow: Give the Dolls their due’, Washington Post, 21 April 2007, T06, http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04/20/AR2006042000653.html (accessed 14.08.2012) http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04/20/AR2006042000653.html ‘The Cat's Meow: Give the Dolls their due’ Washington Post T06 Google Scholar

Jameson, Fredric (1991) Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late-Capitalism, Durham, NC: Duke University Press Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late-Capitalism Google Scholar

Kalinak, Kathryn (2000) ‘Disciplining Josephine Baker: Gender, race and the limits of disciplinarity’ in James Buhler, Caryl Flinn, & David Neumeyer (eds) Music and Cinema, London: Wesleyan University Press Music and Cinema Google Scholar

‘L.A. Rocks: Eleven acts that shatter the cliché that L.A.'s a one-note town’ (2002), interview with Christina Applegate, BNET.com, November 2002 http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1285/is_10_32/ai_93211541/ Google Scholar

Lessig, Lawrence (2008) Remix: Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy, New York: Penguin Press Remix: Making art and commerce thrive in the hybrid economy Google Scholar

Levine, Philippa (2000) ‘Orientalist Sociology and the Creation of Colonial Sexualities’, Feminist Review, 65: 5-21 ‘Orientalist Sociology and the Creation of Colonial Sexualities’ Feminist Review 65 5 21 Google Scholar

Levy, Ariel (2005) Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the rise of raunch culture, New York: Free Press Female Chauvinist Pigs: Women and the rise of raunch culture Google Scholar

Locke, Ralph P. (2009) Musical Exoticism: Images and reflections, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press Musical Exoticism: Images and reflections Google Scholar

Loti, Pierre (1903) India, trans. George A.F. Inman, ed. Robert Harborough Sherard, London: T. Werner Laurie India Google Scholar

Maira, Sunaina (2008) ‘Belly Dancing: Arab-face, Orientalist feminism, and U.S. empire’, American Quarterly, 60:2: 317-45 ‘Belly Dancing: Arab-face, Orientalist feminism, and U.S. empire’ American Quarterly 60 317 45 Google Scholar

‘Meet the New Pussycat Dolls! Girls will Debut at Super Bowl 2012’ (2012), 2 February, in International Business Times.com http://www.ibtimes.com/articles/291869/20120202/pussycat-dolls-photo-super-bowl-2012-go.htm Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Musser, Charles (1997) Edison Motion Pictures, 1890-1900: an annotated filmography, Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press Edison Motion Pictures, 1890-1900: an annotated filmography Google Scholar

‘The Official Adam Carolla Show Blog’ (2007), 13 March http://adamradio.wordpress.com/2007/03/13/adam-with-annie-laurie-gaylor-dr-gary-alter-robin-antin-%E2%80%93-march-13-2007 Google Scholar

Pensado, David (2006) ‘Secrets of the Mix Engineer’, Sound on Sound.com, http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jan07/articles/insidetrack_0107.htm (accessed 19.10.2007) http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/jan07/articles/insidetrack_0107.htm ‘Secrets of the Mix Engineer’ Sound on Sound.com Google Scholar

‘Pussycat Dolls’, Artist Direct.com http://www.artistdirect.com/nad/store/artist/album/0,3405543,00.html Google Scholar

‘The Pussycat Dolls’, Billboard.com http://www.billboard.com/bbcom/esearch/searchResult.jsp?No=30&Ntt=pussycat+dolls&Ntk=Keyword&an=bbcom&Ntx=mode+matchallpartial&Ex=1&N=39&Ns=FORMATTED_DATE|1 Google Scholar

‘The Pussycat Dolls: Puuurfect girl power pop’, MusicOmh.com http://www.musicomh.com/interviews/pussycat-dolls_1105.htm Google Scholar

‘Pussycat Dolls Robin Antin and Mikey Minden Spill Finale Scoop’, The CW Source http://blogs.trb.com/network/cwsource/2007/04/pussycat_dolls_robin_antin_and.html Google Scholar

Said, Edward (1985) ‘Orientalism Reconsidered’, Cultural Critique, 1: 89-107 ‘Orientalism Reconsidered’ Cultural Critique 1 89 107 Google Scholar

Said, Edward (1995) [1978] Orientalism, London: Penguin Books Orientalism Google Scholar

Scott, Derek B. (1997) ‘Orientalism and Musical Style’, Critical Musicology: A Transdisciplinary Online Journal, http://www.leeds.ac.uk/music/Info/critmus/articles/1997/02/01.html (accessed 01.06.2012) http://www.leeds.ac.uk/music/Info/critmus/articles/1997/02/01.html ‘Orientalism and Musical Style’ Critical Musicology: A Transdisciplinary Online Journal Google Scholar

Shay, Anthony, & Sellers-Young, Barbara (2005) Belly Dance: Orientalism, transnationalism, and harem fantasy, Cost Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers Belly Dance: Orientalism, transnationalism, and harem fantasy Google Scholar

Shelton, Suzanne (1981) Ruth St. Denis: a biography of the divine dancer, Austin: University of Texas Press Ruth St. Denis: a biography of the divine dancer Google Scholar

Shohat, Ella (1997) ‘Gender and Culture of Empire: Toward a feminist ethnography of the cinema’ in Matthew Bernstein & Gaylyn Studlar (eds) (1997) Visions of the East: Orientalism in film, New Haven: Rutgers University Press, pp. 19-68 Visions of the East: Orientalism in film 19 68 Google Scholar

‘Snake Dancer at Victoria: the Princess Rajah was discovered on Fourteenth Street’, New York Times, 20 January 1909, p. 2 Google Scholar

Swedenburg, Ted (2004) ‘The Arab Wave in World Music after 9/11’, Anthropologica, 46:2: 177-88 ‘The Arab Wave in World Music after 9/11’ Anthropologica 46 177 88 Google Scholar

Taylor, Timothy D. (2007) Beyond Exoticism: Western music and the world, Durham, NC: Duke University Press Beyond Exoticism: Western music and the world Google Scholar

van Nieuwkerk, Karin (1995) A Trade Like Any Other - Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt, Austin: University of Texas Press A Trade Like Any Other - Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt Google Scholar

Wald, Gayle (2002) ‘Just a Girl? Rock music, feminism, and the cultural construction of female youth’ in Roger Beebe, Denise Fullbrook, & Ben Saunders (eds) Rock over the Edge: Transformations in popular music culture, Durham, NC: Duke University Press, pp. 191-215 Rock over the Edge: Transformations in popular music culture 191 215 Google Scholar

Wallace, Michele (1990) ‘Modernism, Postmodernism and the Problem of the Visual in Afro-American Culture’ in Russell Ferguson, Martha Gever, Trinh T. Minh-Ha, & Cornel West (eds) Out There: Marginalization and contemporary cultures, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press Out There: Marginalization and contemporary cultures Google Scholar

‘Wm. Hammerstein's Find: Discovers Cleopatra dancer in dime museum and says she's a wonder’, New York Times, 6 January 1909, p. 11 Google Scholar

Wynne, F. (2006) ‘Men Don't Seem to Fancy Us’, The Sun [England], 25 May ‘Men Don't Seem to Fancy Us’ The Sun [England] Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

The Blue Angel, Josef von Sternberg, Weimar Republic, 1930 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Cabaret, Bob Fosse, USA, 1972 Google Scholar

Cleopatra, Cecil B. DeMille, USA, 1934 Google Scholar

The Gang's All Here, Busby Berkeley, USA, 1943 Google Scholar

Party Girl, Nicholas Ray, USA, 1958 Google Scholar

Popstars, The WB Television Network, USA, 2001 Google Scholar

Slumdog Millionaire, Danny Boyle, UK, 2008 Google Scholar

Sweet Charity, Bob Fosse, USA, 1969 Google Scholar

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Mcgee, Kristin

Mcgee, Kristin