Orientalism is a way of seeing which distorts the differences of Eastern cultures by comparing their way of life to Western civilisations. It is a concept which depicts Eastern countries, particularly Arab culture, as backward, exotic and uncivilised. Orientalism serves as justification for Europe and the U.S “helping” less civilised and dangerous countries of the East. Often known as a period of ‘European Enlightenment’, they would emphasise the poorer qualities of Arab culture so that it would rationalise their colonisation of the Eastern world. Orientalism is often present in pop culture as many artists appropriate aspects of different cultures to make their music videos seem exciting or different. Most of the time the cultures shown in the music video aren’t mentioned at all the lyrics of the song but are merely there for the entertainment factor. An example of this can be seen in Katy Perry’s music video for Dark Horse where she incorporates Egyptian factors but modernises them. Katy Perry has a track record when it comes to cultural appropriation in music videos and performances. Perhaps for the singer it is just used to make her performances seem more exotic and exciting but regardless of the purpose by depicting other cultures in an orientalist fashion she has offended people. During her performance of Unconditionally at the 2013 AMAs she appeared as a Japanese geisha (Derr, 2013), her music video Dark Horse is just her latest representation of orientalism.
In this particular music video one of the main issues was that Muslims believe it to contain blasphemy. Shazad Iqbal, a resident of the UK, started an online petition for the Dark Horse music video to be removed from YouTube after he recognised one of the suitors being burnt whilst wearing a pendant with the Arabic word for God on it. (BBC News, 2014) Iqbal (2014) wrote that, “Blasphemy is clearly conveyed in the video, since Katy Perry (who appears to be representing an opposition of God) engulfs the believer and the word God in flames.”
Throughout the video Katy Perry emphasises the sexualisation that may be associated with Egyptian queen, namely most people would think of Cleopatra who is historically famous for her beauty. By doing so she very much depicts an orientalist view of Egyptian women, as seen in the images above. Katy Perry is definitely not the first pop musician to culturally appropriate, however you would think that people who have so much publicity and opportunity to do good would consider and respect other religions and cultures, rather than choosing to exploit and wrongly depict them for commercial gain. The pop industry is constantly portraying the orientalist view of cultures by depicting interesting and otherworldly costumes along with the ‘exotic’ dancing and allowing these misinterpretations to be viewed by millions across the world.
References: BBC News, 2014. Katy Perry Dark Horse video ‘portrays blasphemy’. [online] Available at: <http://www.bbc.com/news/entertainment-arts-26359917> [Accessed 11 Apr. 2015].
Iqbal, S., 2014. YouTube to remove Katy Perry’s ‘Dark Horse’ video depicting name of God: Allah: Youtube to remove Katy Perry’s video ‘Dark Horse’ from their website. [online] Change.org. Available at: <https://www.change.org/p/youtube-to-remove-katy-perry-s-dark-horse-video-depicting-name-of-god-allah-youtube-to-remove-katy-perry-s-video-dark-horse-from-their-website> [Accessed 11 Apr. 2015].
Derr, H., 2013. We Need to Talk About Katy Perry: Why Orientalism in Pop Culture Matters?. [online] HowlRound. Available at: <http://howlround.com/we-need-to-talk-about-katy-perry-why-orientalism-in-pop-culture-matters> [Accessed 11 Apr. 2015].