M.I.A’s “Bad Girls”: Social commentary, I think?

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?

I turn to the Youtube comments for inspiration.

I think this is a good video. It promotes the fact that everyone like to have fun while also promoting that women in Saudi Arabia should be able to drive. I think that the world needs to see that people from the middle east are fun loving people just like everyone else. Thank you M.I.A.! ❤

Oh dear. Let’s break down a few things in bullet-form:

  • The Middle East is not monolithic. You can’t use Saudi Arabia and the Middle East interchangeably. Nor is North Africa, the actual region where this video was filmed, geographically included in the Middle East.
  • Once that is established, one can appreciate the irony of men in thobes and shemaghs, traditional Gulf-wear, in a Moroccan desert. Moroccan men don’t traditionally wear thobes and shemaghs.
  • The city of Ouarzazate, where the video was filmed, is a notable Hollywood filming location. Most of the films shot there are attributed with perpetuating some of the most racists notions of Muslims and Arabs.

Factoring all that, as a Moroccan who religiously reads Edward Said, jams to M.I.A., and is very much a part of the regional political and social context, I think I get it, although I’m not really sure.

For Spike TV’s “Scream 2010″ Awards, M.I.A. wore a niqab.

Adding also that M.I.A. has also voiced her views to matters associated with the Middle East and North Africa, such as the practice of wearing the face-veil. She sparked a widespread discussion over her decision to wear the niqab, while posing with her middle-finger to cameras. Was it blatant appropriation? Attention-seeking? A legitimate commentary? You decide.

I’d like to think that M.I.A., coming from a region which has also suffered the setbacks of colonialism, whose culture was commoditized and bastardized, is extending the figurative hand in understanding.  But do the people removed from the region and the struggles of its people understand? The above comment would suggest an obvious no. My fear is that the video would be misconstrued, reduce the region to monolithic terms, only further perpetuating centuries-old notions.

It just sucks. I want to get excited about the latest film, ad, or music video shot in Morocco. I really do. But history has taught me to be critical. Rarely has anything shot in Morocco by outsiders truly been representative of my people, our history, and our realities. Come with me! I’ll show you a country that isn’t just desert landscapes, with secluded women, and slobbering camels.


2 thoughts on “M.I.A’s “Bad Girls”: Social commentary, I think?

  1. In a class I teach we watch _Reel Bad Arabs_, which shows precisely how the stereotypes have been and still are reproduced in film. And Said, well he speaks to many different neo-colonial experiences–a genius gone too soon. M.I.A.? I can’t tell what she’s up to for sure, but good for her for expressing herself freely, everyone else be damned! She is fearless and I love that in a woman.

    (Morocco is beautiful –though this video does not do it justice, so it’s no surprise it’s a Hollywood favorite. Would love to return for a visit, to Fez especially.)

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