Retro pop orientalism: Dissecting Alison Moyet's 'Love Resurrection'

Written for and (soon to be) cross-posted at Muslimah Media Watch

As we all know, pop culture can’t get enough of ‘the mysterious Orient’ and its ubiquitous exotic women. The 80s New Romanticism movement is a case in point. Known for its exaggerated and often outrageous attitudes to fashion and music, the movement inspired pop singers and groups to take on faraway locations to shoot their videos; Duran Duran’s ‘Hungry like a wolf’ (in Sri Lanka) and ‘Rio’ (in Antigua) are some fine examples. Following in their footsteps is Alison Moyet’s desert nomad fantasy otherwise known as ‘Love Resurrection’.

In the video, Moyet emerges from her Bedouin tent in her black hijab and starts singing about how meaningless her life is (“What can I do to make light of this dull dull day, What switch can I pull to illuminate the way”). Or maybe she’s singing about how bored she is as she is later seen wandering around bare-footed on the scorching hot dunes performing everyday, mundane tasks like fetching water and sitting around under her tent. But then she starts singing some rather sexually explicit lyrics about needing “a warm injection” and “for you to grow in her her hand”. You start to wonder if Bedouin life is a little oppressive on her erotic desires.

Fanum has an interesting interpretation of the song title and symbolism in the video:

… this video clearly draws on the ancient fertility traditions of the pre-Islamic Middle-East, evoking the sumptuous world of Sumerian poetry, in which fertility and sexuality are sensuously interwoven, casting Moyet as full-figured Canaanite Ishtar. (“What seed must I sow / To replenish this barren land?”).

According to this tongue-in-cheek reading, the ‘Love Resurrection’ of the title would of course be the resurrection of Adonis/Dummuzi/Tammuz, the dying-and-rising lover of Aphrodite-Inanna-Ishtar. I might add that the lyrics’ blurring of ejaculation, falling rain, and the restoration of cosmic fecundity recalls Zeus and Hera’s lovemaking-scene in Iliad 14, and [Camille] Paglia would no doubt opine that the complex polyrhythms of disco have their origins in primitive earth-cult. Tammuz is of course a shepherd, and the mysterious image of a goat’s face reflected onto the rocks appears repeatedly during the video. This seems to be linked to the little clay goat’s head which Moyet fashions, whilst looking towards the menfolk of the tribe with an unreadable expression. She then crumbles it into dust. Is she perhaps performing a spell, drawing on women’s mysterious ability to control fertility, and thus taking arms against a sea of patriarchy, hitting them where it hurts?

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Open thread: Is religion good for women?

"A modestly-dressed woman is like a pearl in its shell" says the wall outside the tomb of Daniel in Shush, Iran.

This week, The Guardian is running a series of articles on whether or not religion is good for women. I suppose if whether you speak from first-hand experience or from news stories and statistics, you will find that religion with its roots firmly planted in patriarchy is never going to be good for women. Savitri Hensman wrote about the conflicting nature of religion while Cath Elliot has a strong case on misogyny in the Catholic church – both are very good reads by the way. Though so far since Monday there hasn’t yet been a piece on women’s position in Islam yet, but when it does come out I will try to be the first one to read it!

On a more personal level, the Islam that I grew up with in Malaysia wasn’t always so kind to me. Let’s just say for simplicity’s sake that I had a religious upbringing with too much dogma but too little heart: more don’ts than do’s, more fear than love. Consequently, I chose the non-commital middle path for some time, avoiding both blind conservatism and areligious belief. But later I felt that I lacked the capacity to speak sincerely and intellectually about my faith, which wasn’t good – for a rather wise man had once said, “those who stand in the middle of the road will only get run down”.

All that changed when I found feminism and all its different strands. Islamic feminism, I learned, strives for a gender-equal re-interpretation of the Quran providing textual evidence of a more woman-friendly Islam. Quranic re-interpretation offers Muslim women a chance to validate unclaimed rights and in effect dramatically improve their legal and social status. Still, with all the potential to creating a fair society for everybody; cis and trans men, women and children alike, gender equality remains a contentious issue systematically dismissed by those in the seat of religio-political power.

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Truly Asia: I don't want to sleep alone (2006)

In Malaysia, vacuous horror flicks and Hollywood copycats rule the local cinemas. They promise nothing but instant sensory gratification yet still manage to attain box-office success. In many of such films glamorous personalities compliment the glitzy and oh-so aspirational KL scene. They’re good-looking, they’ve got star quality, who cares if they’ve got no talent, but most noticeable of all is that they’re overwhelmingly Malay.

It is perhaps for these reasons film director Tsai Ming Liang left Malaysia for greener pastures. After decades of making films in Taiwan and hailed as one of the paragons of second-wave Taiwanese cinema, he returned to his homeland to find a completely different country. The financial crash of 1997 had left the country in paralysis. Jobless migrants, many illegal, lurked the streets for scraps of opportunities. And suddenly sex was out in the open: the Anwar Ibrahim case got everybody talking about anal intercourse and homosexuality. For Tsai, this helped set the scene for his film I don’t want to sleep alone (2006).

The inhabitants of Tsai’s Kuala Lumpur are, however, far from glamorous. Lee Kang Sheng, Tsai’s regular leading actor, plays a paralysed man cared by an overworked waitress who falls in love with Lee’s other role, an immigrant who is nursed back to health by lonely squatter played by Norman Atun. The theme of urban alienation and deprivation speak louder than words here, as the characters barely utter a word throughout the film. With more music than dialogue (though hardly a musical), old-school Malay and Chinese song lyrics and urban soundscapes somehow make up for the silence in the relationships the characters form around sex and their desires.

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Asian Women Blog Carnival: Call for submissions

Ciderpress is hosting the first ever blog carnival dedicated to our Asian sisters:

This is a call for submissions for the first Asian Women Blog Carnival as well as suggestions for themes and hosts for the future carnivals.

This carnival is intended to focus on Asian women. The definition of Asian, within the scope of this carnival, includes people from East Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, North Asia, Southeast Asia, Far East, Middle East, Near East and people of Asian descent living in non-majority Asian countries. The definition of women, within the scope of this carnival, includes transwomen and cisgendered women.

When recommending postings for inclusion in the carnival, please feel free to submit your own posts or suggest good posts or links by someone else. You may submit multiple posts. Submissions from from women and men of colour as well as allies are welcome.

The aim is highlight the diversity of Asian women and explore our identities in Asian majority and Asian minority cultures and share our experiences. Submissions can range from feminism, culture, history, work, beauty, health, sexuality, politics, economics, philosophy, class, education, religion, how we identify and relate to other PoC groups, personal stories etc.

All types of work, such as essays, prose, poems, personal narratives are accepted.

Each host has final, absolute, and arbitrary authority with regard to inclusion, exclusion, scope, scale, format and presentation.

Next Carnival

1st issue hosted by ciderpress, call for submissions: here

Deadline: 3 April 2009

On medieval interfaith insults

In the fairly early days of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, dissing each other with crude language was all the rage. Alexandra Cuffel’s new book Gendering Disgust in Medieval Religious Polemic (2009, University of Notre Dame Press) shows how late antique purity laws and biological theories help provide a repertoire of filth from which the rival religions used to demonstrate their superiority over the other. Perhaps unsurprisingly, fecal matter, decay, disease, blood (particularly menstrual blood) and even women’s bodies all fell under the naturally disgusting category and became essentially all that was antithetical to the divine and holy.

… woman’s menstrual blood served as the symbolic locus through which notions of disease, decay and corruption intersected. While many examples underscore how symbolic imagery having to do with blood and decay does refer back to female menstruation, those relating with food and animals point in other directions that have little to do with gender. For example, the Jewish, Roman and Latin condemnation of pork connote fleshly desires for vice; images or depictions of animals with no cloven hooves that are not cud chewers denote those who stray from virtue. [source]

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Freedom and Muslims in Britain

freedom-go-to-hellYasmin Alibhai-Brown’s article at The Indepedent, “Why Muslims will not fight for freedom”, on the absence of Muslims at the recent convention on modern liberty in London was a disconcerting sign. A sign many would read, and not Alibhai-Brown alone, as complete apathy for the greater good:

I suspect the key reason so few showed up is that the word “Muslim” was not held up, a flag to call the brethren out. They ignore campaigns that want redress and progress for a greater good for all because to do otherwise would be to accept that non-Muslims are equals and part of God’s design. Fanatic Wahabi women probably kept away because men – Allah! Allah! – would share the same rooms with them and their seats were previously occupied by male bums. Muslim men who claim to have all knowledge of divine intent would have thought such a “Western” call for action was haram, sinful by definition.

I surmise that it’s brown faces in hijab and skull caps she expected to see at the convention. And if that’s the case then she can be accused of generalising the face of Islam in Britain. There is, however, a grain of truth in her observation: by and large, Muslims care a great deal about Muslim issues.

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"The day I met Amina Wadud" – a critique

American scholar and thinker Amina Wadud

Any self-respecting news editor would know that significant, if not historical events require pretty polished reporting. The star-studded Musawah conference last February on Islamic family law reforms was one such significant event. Organised by Malaysia’s very own Sisters In Islam (SIS), it was something to be proud of. But reading Malaysian journalist Siti Nurbaiyah Nadzmi’s take on it and her “interview” with Amina Wadud gave me plenty to be embarrassed about. As if faced with a perilous task, she writes about her anti-Amina colleagues, warnings of Wadud’s “standoffish” character, the intimidating books she has to read prior to meeting the writer herself, and the “mouthful” title of Wadud’s conference paper (Beyond Patriarchy Through Gender Inclusive Qur’anic Analysis) – a subject, she describes as “too big to chew”, “unless one is a sociologist”.

Um. Yeah.

Her self-deprecating outlook aside, the article itself, published both in The News Straits Times and the SIS website, is pure fluff. Sadly, this is the kind of journalistic writing Malaysians love to read. Rather than focusing on what Wadud thinks about the future of Muslim women in Malaysia (like herself) or even WHY a Quranic scholar thinks that the Islamic family law reform is so important, the reporter asks about her time in Malaysia when she taught at the International Islamic University between 1989 and 1992, and of course the perennial question about local food:

She still craves fish head curry and roti canai. “The stalls here are the best,” she said. She enjoyed living in Taman Tun Dr Ismail in the early 1990s.

“I’m never one for loud and busy cities. I prefer a quiet neighbourhood. Taman Tun was perfect then. But recently my friend took me there and I discovered this huge shopping mall…” she gestured, quite overwhelmed by how much the area has developed.

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Still here!

Hello everybody. You might’ve noticed that postings have ground to a halt the last two weeks or so. There are reasons. The first being that I’ve just been accepted to do an MA in Gender Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London this coming September. Hooray. I’ve spent the last few weeks searching pretty much high and low for possible means to fund my studies, rent, and my already frugal lifestyle. And worrying a lot. The other thing that’s been hindering my blogging are my swollen gums. They are a pain (literally and otherwise), and so eating, talking, and thought-processing have been rather difficult lately. Hope everybody’s doing a lot better than I am.

I will return blogging shortly with a couple of reviews of films and books (some for Feminist Review):

  • Walking the Precipice – Witness to the Rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan by Barbara Bick (2009)
  • He Likes Guys – Eight Great Gay Short Films (2009)
  • I don’t want to sleep alone, directed by Tsai Ming Liang (2006)
  • Nekropolis by Maureen McHugh (2002).

Update: Wisdom tooth eruptions are not nice.