Anxieties of Scale
Mass Mediations examines the role of mass-mediated popular culture in defining the scale and character of social interaction in the Middle East. Mass media are now as ubiquitous in Karachi and Cairo as they are in Dearborn and Los Angeles. Few question their importance in the contemporary process of constructing the boundaries of social identity. Although mass media potentially raise as many questions as sociological ingenuity can devise, in this volume we address primarily the larger, more inclusive issues that lend themselves to questions of scale: modernity, nationalism, and globalization. Our goal is to examine these issues of general relevance in ethnographic and historical detail. By examining a broad set of analytic issues in fine-grained regionally oriented perspective, we hope to shed light on the complex phenomenon of mass media without inevitably forcing the analysis into a common scale—specifically, the global—or reducing the analysis of modernity to a tension between global and local cultural forms. In particular, constructing the local so as to preclude consideration of the nation-state as a viable framework for modern social action risks analytic distortion. Together the chapters herein suggest that modernity need not be associated definitively with either nationalism (as it often has been) or globalization (which is increasingly taken to signal the irrelevance of the nation-state).
The Middle East
Our regional focus is the Middle East, which for the past two decades has been a lightning rod for anxieties about the reality of conceptual boundaries. In the wake of Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978) the very idea of a Middle East has come under suspicion. For some the Middle East as a cultural entity is a prime example—perhaps the prime example—of how European discourse created the definitively non-Western and thereby defined the Western by distinguishing it from an opposite created by political and social convention. Area studies programs are a postwar manifestation of this kind of logic, and consequently, in the wake of Said’s critique, Middle East–oriented projects—and to a much lesser extent area studies in general—are often frowned on. By adopting this particular regional perspective, we are not trying to revive a much-criticized analytic framework. However, the Middle East, precisely because of the passions and ambiguities it evokes, is an ideal forum for considering the role of mass media in both creating and transcending the boundaries that define scales of social action. A quick perusal of the volume’s contents shows that the area focus ranges from Pakistan (Richard Murphy) to Dearborn (Andrew Shryock)—not the Middle East of cold war era area studies—and that all the chapters make reference to relations that go beyond their immediate environs. Framing the volume around such a disputed entity as the Middle East helps to draw attention to the issues of scale, cultural conditions (modernity, or for some, postmodernity), and contemporary history. This is all to the good; it is precisely the volume’s purpose.
But in another sense one perhaps ought to question the ongoing deconstruction of this region. There is an institutional politics of analytic scale that has to a great extent delegitimized the Middle East as a regional analytic framework. This delegitimization is based on a false presumption that in a larger academic context the area concept is dead—allegedly superseded by more robust global comparative approaches, which are institutionally based in academic disciplines or international studies centers rather than the old area studies framework. But, in fact, the area concept is alive and well for some. In the past decade those who have written about Latin America, Africa, or Asia have benefited from institutional investment that is massive compared to investment in Middle East–oriented knowledge. African, Asian, and Latin American specialists can criticize the area studies framework now axiomatically disparaged as the critique of Orientalism steadily hardens into orthodoxy. But they can do so while enjoying a steady supply of area-specific jobs. Of course, academics who study the Middle East would also like to be able to have their cake and eat it too—to acknowledge the limits and insufficiencies of the area concept without having to participate in a rhetoric of dissolving the institutional framework within which they work. In contemporary academia one should be able to engage in both cross-regional comparison within a discipline and cross-disciplinary comparison within an area studies framework. Disciplinary and regional perspectives are by no means mutually exclusive.
Nonetheless, the past two decades have been increasingly marked by an anti–area studies rhetoric, though it is often informal rhetoric and it has never been followed to its logical conclusion on the institutional level. The critique of area studies occurred in the context of a gradual crystallization of transregional analysis, now often conflated with “globalization.” This happened in conjunction with a clear pattern of institutional shift toward identifiable area specializations other than the Middle East. “Area studies” became a stick used to beat Middle East specialists in particular. If connections between power and the production of knowledge are truly a prominent academic concern, it would seem imperative to ask whether the recent shift in institutional backing of area specialties was entirely due to intellectual priorities. What role do interests shaped by national criteria play in the reshaping of academic institutions? Surely a very substantial one. This is not to say that there is a neat correspondence between national interest and institutional priorities. The point is that the politics of presence and absence at the institutional level are closely tied to the politics of the nation-state. A growing institutional interest in transnational phenomena is not necessarily even connected to scales of interaction at the “global” level; it is quite clearly connected to interactions that affect the United States. These interactions vary in character and intensity. What ties them all together is the nation-state as an analytic and practical framework.
For example, one might speculate that commercial interest in Latin America and Asia—currently areas of intense academic interest—is obvious. Latin American and Asian markets and, increasingly, productive capacity are important to the economic future of the United States. Although commercial interest need not be strictly national (and probably never was), the congruence of national ethnic categories, commercial interest, and institutional response to precisely these interests and categories does not suggest the imminent irrelevance of the nation-state. American academic interest in Africa is more complex. African resources and markets are clearly on the horizon of commercial interest, but the main impetus to increasing interest in African studies is, in many cases, less the importance of Africa than the politics of relations between African-Americans and the dominant population of European descent. Whether increased attention to Africa stems from the efforts of African-Americans to put their concerns on the intellectual agenda or from a growing appreciation for the commercial potential of African markets, it would be deceptive to think of institutional attention to Africa as the product of global or transregional forces to the exclusion of national considerations.
Of course, the United States has commercial interests in the Middle East as well. But from a national policy perspective—regardless of any considerations of such issues as human rights or sound economic development—U.S. Middle East policy could not be more successful than it is now. The price of the oil so crucial to our consumption habits is at a historic low. Money spent on oil is conveniently recycled into the metropolitan economy by cooperative Arab states. The large and influential constituents of American society who see the Middle East through the lens of Israeli politics observe a continuing occupation of Palestinian territory that goes virtually unchallenged on an international level. Both Iraq and Iran are preoccupied with trying to break free of American-sponsored economic and political embargoes; both states provide continuing pretexts for maintaining an American military presence in the region. With the demise of the Soviet Union, American backing of Islamic insurgency directed from the Pakistani frontier can be conveniently forgotten. In the Maghreb a simmering Algerian civil war threatens no vital “American” resources, and thus the conflict, for all practical purposes, does not exist in the American media. On the domestic front there is no effective Arab-American or Muslim-American pressure to put any other Middle Eastern issues into the political discourse.
One could plausibly argue that the Middle East absorbs the lion’s share of American foreign policy attention. What is increasingly difficult to argue is the notion of a strong academic institutional connection between imperial ambition and the exercise of power. Making the power/knowledge nexus so crucial to Said’s Orientalism into a “seminal event” (Hajjar and Niva 1997, 4) for Middle East specialists has been a Faustian bargain. If academic scrutiny of the Middle East helps to construct the cultural basis for imperial domination, we should now be witnessing a diminution of American interference in the region, and of course nothing could be farther from the truth. Middle East particularism as an institutional construction is on the wane (to the benefit of Asian, Latin American, and African particularisms). The withering of academic interest in the Middle East has often been abetted by the field of Middle East studies itself, a substantial portion of which embraced the idea that the very existence of a discipline of Middle East studies in the United States was antithetical to the interests of those living in the region. That portion of the field has gotten its wish. But the result is that precisely the “expertise” deemed dubious by left-leaning academics interested in the Middle East has been privatized and removed from the scrutiny of academics. As institutional commitment to the production of academic knowledge of the Middle East wanes, openly partisan private foundations designed to influence Middle East policy flourish. Universities were the institutions most likely to hire individuals who questioned the political status quo vis-à-vis the Middle East. As Irene Grendzier put it, “The mainstream [of Middle East studies] has never been the only stream, nor the one in which the most creative, insightful and urgent intellectual work is to be found. Generally speaking, however, those who have resisted the canons of orthodoxy have not been the ones to shape the dominant motifs of research” (1997, 11). A mainstream reduced to a trickle is even less likely to produce a critical mass of scholars who oppose the canons of political orthodoxy.
Commercial interest, although not the only element structuring Middle East studies in the United States, could still conceivably revive the fortunes of Middle East studies. But with matters running so smoothly in the Middle East (from a purely cynical perspective of national interest), there is little potential for intensification of U.S. commercial exploitation of the region, hence little incentive for increased institutional investment in studying it. In Latin America, Asia, and Africa, where prospects for intensification of commercial activity are far greater, U.S. institutional investment is correspondingly higher. But whether or not local knowledge is necessary to promote commercial or national interest depends on how interests are defined. It is no coincidence that the one region of the world in which the United States has recently gone to war is also an area of decreasing institutional importance in academia. The Gulf War was first and foremost a conflict to defend national interests, whether or not one agrees with the way those interests were defined.
In the end we have nothing to gain from accepting globalization as the logical antithesis of either a national or a regional focus. Even some of the prominent figures in globalization discourse are less hostile to the area concept than many Middle East specialists who are encouraged by contemporary institutional realities to steer clear of obvious manifestations of area interest. For example, Arjun Appadurai, an early advocate of transnational approaches to cultural studies, is well aware of the dangers of throwing the area studies baby out with the post-Orientalist bathwater:
The Middle East, a charter member of institutionalized area studies, and more recently the scapegoat for those who oppose it, is now a serious candidate for marginalization. The Gulf War and ongoing American threats of military action are not a product of dubious area expertise but of general, willful, ignorance. Middle East exceptionalism truly is a danger, but casting an area focus as a choice between a myopic outdated antimethodology and complete surrender to globalization is no way to remedy the situation.
Left-wing critics of area studies, much influenced by the important work of Edward Said on orientalism, have been joined by free-marketeers and advocates of liberalization, who are impatient with what they deride as the narrowness and history fetish of area-studies experts.…Bedeviled by a certain tendency toward philology (in the narrow, lexical sense) and a certain overidentification with the regions of its specialization, area studies has nonetheless been one of the few serious counterweights to the tireless tendency to marginalize huge parts of the world in the American academy and in American society more generally. (1996, 16–17)
Mass Mediations therefore fills a general need for continuing a viable regional literature situated in relation to more generalized intellectual and institutional concerns. The intellectual agenda currently most prevalent points toward a global analytic framework thrown into relief by various forms of interaction at more localized scales but explicitly not at the level of the nation-state. This intellectual agenda, however, does not correspond to institutional priorities. It is our own national framework—cultural, political, and economic—that dictates the institutional presence or absence of regional studies and the shape of academic disciplinary discourses. The chapters in this volume help to qualify and focus debates over scales of social interaction and their significance to our analyses. On the whole they suggest that global/local tensions are the crucial frame of analysis if one decides to make them so. But the decision to make them so is as embedded in institutional and power relations as any other discourse.
This volume also answers a more specific need to address the effect on Middle Eastern societies of mass media and related phenomena such as mass consumption. This inevitably requires attention to connections between the Middle East and metropolitan societies. We therefore hope to capture something of the complex transitions between scales of social interaction without, however, taking globalization rhetoric as a universalizing master narrative. This is because globalization is part unfinished agenda and part sociological reality.
In the United States the study of transnational immigrant populations, a growth area in all relevant academic disciplines, focuses on exactly the same areas as the wider job market: Latin America, Africa, Asia. The overarching rationale for this is that transnational and transregional considerations now take priority over social phenomena understood as relevant primarily within national and area boundaries. But the categories we actually study, as distinct from the rhetoric of non-place-specific analytic frameworks, are defined by a national criterion: the U.S. census. A well-known strategy of colonial domination, enumeration of social types “helped to ignite communitarian and nationalist identities that in fact undermined colonial rule” (Appadurai 1996, 117). In the contemporary United States enumeration also forms the basis of political activity. Over the past decade there have been hundreds of job openings for the study of American immigrant communities, virtually all of them structured around U.S. census categories. The reasons for this are complex. Some of the rapid increase in positions that study those particular American immigrant communities can be accounted for by changes in academic culture. Students are increasingly viewed as paying customers (rather than the products of academic business) who must be satisfied; because more of the customers are now of Hispanic, Asian, or African origin, courses must be offered that are tailored for those markets. The logic of this pattern is hardly free of national considerations. The groups in question are the most rapidly growing ethnic populations within the United States. A truly global analytic framework would demand greater attention to such places as the Middle East, South and Central Asia, Oceania, and Europe. But the zones of ambiguity (according to the enumerative categories of the census) are not necessarily slated for greater institutional investment. “Globalization” is less about an interconnected world than it is about the complex ways that the world is apprehended from the United States.
Middle Eastern immigrant communities—invisible in the U.S. census, and almost equally so in terms of institutional investment—are the focus of two chapters in Mass Mediations. Andrew Shryock’s “Public Culture in Arab Detroit” makes a powerful case that even relatively mobile transnational communities still must contend with a powerful imperative to reterritorialize—to become rooted in a place and in national institutions. Anthony Shay’s “The 6/8 Beat Goes On” looks at popular music in the Iranian community of Los Angeles. Although motives for relocating to the United States are complex in both communities, as is the class and ethnic makeup of both communities, the Iranian community of Los Angeles can be properly described as an “exile community” (see Naficy 1993), the members of which cannot necessarily maintain movement back and forth from the country of origin to the United States. The population of Arab Dearborn, by contrast, has much less difficulty maintaining contact with its countries of origin. In the short term the result is that Iranian Los Angeles possesses a higher degree of autonomy in media production than Arab Dearborn. Shay notes that entire genres of Iranian popular music essentially moved offshore after the Islamic Revolution, and the market for this music is the Iranian-American immigrant community as well as Iran itself. Traditional vernacular genres and “classical” music (insofar as such distinctions can be applied to Iranian music) as well as modernized variants of Iranian music flourish in Los Angeles. The decisive factor in this autonomous Iranian production in the United States is the considerable sense of isolation the community feels as a result of the political reality of the Islamic Revolution.
In Dearborn modern Arabic music (and indeed most media content) comes from its countries of origin, while another segment of the local cultural scene depends on local (American) financing. Shryock shows how American financing is contingent on certain types of cultural content: culture that invokes a sense of the “folkloric” (rather than the modernity constructed by most Arabic cultural products in the Middle East); and Arabic culture presented in English. Whether the two communities, Iranian Los Angeles and Arab Dearborn, can preserve the sense of cultural difference essential to theories of transnationalism depends largely on a continued influx of immigrants. In Dearborn modern Arabic media and cultural products appeal mainly to first-generation immigrants who still speak Arabic. Iranian Los Angeles is a newer community—substantially a post-1978 community—and is also more affluent than Arab Dearborn. These factors give Iranian Los Angeles certain advantages in maintaining a cohesive community outside of national institutions. Whether this remains true for second and third generations of Iranian immigrants is an open question. But the juxtaposition of the two communities presented in Shryock’s and Shay’s chapters does not suggest a generalizable pattern of transnational or globalized culture outside the influence of a steadily withering nation-state.
Currently the presumption that global interaction will inevitably take precedence over all other frameworks for organizing social life dominates discussions of modernity. Most who write on globalization make a distinction between consciousness of the phenomenon and the reality of global systems of economics and, to some extent, politics and culture. Global, or at least transregional, systems are far from new, and the reality of such systems inspires little dispute. Janet Abu-Lughod (1989), Immanuel Wallerstein (1974), and Eric Wolf (1982), among others, have outlined various ways that transregional economic systems of various scales have operated long before the twentieth century. However, consciousness of globalization as a crucial framework for social action is generally thought to be a quite recent phenomenon, and the significance of this phenomenon is a much more contentious issue. Advocates of globalization as an analytic strategy assume that the roots of global consciousness in its contemporary form extend no deeper than the latter half of the twentieth century, or perhaps even to only the past three decades when digital technology became prevalent. Globalization discourse posits a new and unique configuration of these two broad tendencies—the intensification of interconnectedness due to the expansion of world economic systems and the consciousness of that interconnectedness. All analyses of globalization are necessarily vague on the exact relationship between the reality of world systems and the consciousness of these systems, because all analyses are forced to recognize at some level the unevenness of the institutional and technological infrastructures that make possible a relationship between an expanding world system and consciousness of it. Mike Featherstone, for example, qualifies his analysis of globalization processes:
For many of the people in the world the consciousness of the process of globalization, that they inhabit the same place, may be absent, or limited, or occur only spasmodically.…At the same time there are clearly systemic tendencies in social life which derive from the expansive and integrating power of economic processes and the hegemonizing efforts of particular nation-states or blocs. (1996, 70–71)
But, however qualified, globalization discourse also implies an underlying technological determinism: those parts of the world that have not yet been assimilated into the global system will be assimilated at a later date. Resistance is futile. Communications technology and media—phenomena emphasized throughout this book—play a crucial role in creating globalization. The ultimate effects of assimilation to the global system, however, are hotly disputed. Cultural homogenization is by no means assumed. Rather, discussion of globalization revolves around a tension between the apparent homogenizing tendency of globalized modes of production and consumerism (with media again playing a crucial role) and the creation of localized cultural enclaves. Consumerism and its associated media phenomena labeled “global” are usually Western, or at least metropolitan.
As Ella Shohat and Robert Stam put it, the global distribution of power, dominated by Western Europe, the United States, and Japan, “still tends to make the First World countries cultural ‘transmitters’ and to reduce most Third World countries to the status of ‘receivers’” (1996, 147). Shohat and Stam do not emphasize the theme of metropolitan domination of global media. Rather, they focus on the potential for both nonmetropolitan media (in which some industries are actually quantitatively superior to Western production, if not more profitable) and new forms of media to challenge metropolitan hegemony. Their metropole is one in which spectatorial habits in “an increasingly transnational world, characterized by nomadic images, sounds, goods, and peoples,…impacts complexly on national identity, communal belonging, and political affiliation” (Shohat and Stam 1996, 164).
In the same vein, Ted Swedenburg’s “Sa‘ida Sultan/Danna International” addresses an instance of transnational media flow that is nonhierarchical—not from a metropolitan producer to a Third World receiver. Rather, the flow is horizontal between two nonmetropolitan nations, from Israel to Egypt. The impact of Sa‘ida Sultan, a transsexual singer of Yemeni origin who became popular in Cairo through underground cassette tapes, was indeed complex. But Swedenburg’s analysis of Sultan does not suggest media “nomadism” so much as a mélange of sound and image calculated to appeal to a niche market consisting of Israel’s gay subculture and, to a somewhat lesser extent, disaffected Mizrahim who chafe at Israel’s European-dominated social hierarchy. As in many of the contributions in Mass Mediations, Swedenburg finds it useful to discuss a transnational phenomenon through national categories. Egyptian youth were certainly not the niche the singer was trying for. But Sa‘ida Sultan’s border crossing is nonetheless quite locatable: the singer is highly suspect in Egyptian public culture and rather contentious in Israeli society. She serves to mark important borders between and within the two societies; she does not necessarily blur these boundaries in any way.
Katherine E. Zirbel’s “Playing It Both Ways” provides another view of transnational media consumption. Zirbel examines two Egyptian performance communities that relate quite differently to both global and national trends. The Cairene community of Muhammad ‘Ali Street exists largely outside the influence of global culture markets and has experienced both the state’s favor and, more recently, its disfavor. Muhammad ‘Ali Street performers had their day on the national stage but were never of interest in metropolitan venues. The other community is Upper Egyptian, marginal within Egypt, and precisely the sort of phenomenon favored in metropolitan “world beat” music that seeks to present itself as alternative to dominant metropolitan trends. For Shohat and Stam, metropolitan audiences who experience such culture “are reminded of the limits of their own knowledge and indirectly of their own potential status as foreigners” (1996, 165). But Zirbel’s Upper Egyptians’ music was in fact recorded entirely for the benefit of foreigners. Within Egypt this music might not have been recorded at all, though it may well have been (and still is) performed at weddings and on holidays. But the ability of the music to remind metropolitan listeners of their own potential marginality is strictly a mirage. “Westerners describe such music as a quirky kind of disco music that is consistently off kilter” (Zirbel, this volume). For them the music is essentially a brand of exoticism, purchased entirely by reference to their own culture. These Upper Egyptian musicians perform in a niche market every bit as circumscribed and locatable as the gay subculture to which Swedenburg’s Sa‘ida Sultan markets herself. But Sa‘ida Sultan’s market understands her: her image is predicated on a series of sly insider jokes. In the case of these “Gypsy” musicians, as this community is marketed, the effectiveness of the music is predicated on the audience’s inability to understand either it or its place in the “authentic” Egyptian culture they imagine it represents.
Philip Schuyler’s “Joujouka/Jajouka/Zahjoukah” looks at a musical phenomenon similar to that of Zirbel’s “Gypsies.” In Schuyler’s case the “world beat” marketing of a Moroccan ensemble is the primary focus, whereas in Zirbel’s case the phenomenon is relevant to one community of musicians and the main focus is on contrasting the two communities to each other in relation to the state. The Master Musicians of Jajouka hail from a small Arabic-speaking village near Tangier. They are “master musicians” only in the imagination of their Western patrons. Like the Egyptian “Gypsies,” the Jajouka musicians are quite marginal in Moroccan terms. Music of the Jajouka musicians is more plausibly nomadic than that of Zirbel’s Upper Egyptians, at least insofar as “ownership” of the music is slightly ambiguous. The ambiguity arises from disputes between the Jajouka musicians’ principal Moroccan patron and the various Westerners—but particularly Brian Jones of the Rolling Stones—over how to market the music and who gets the profits from their albums. Schuyler’s analysis of the Jajouka phenomenon suggests none of the displacement or subversion implied by Shohat and Stam’s celebration of nonmetropolitan performance in metropolitan venues. The Master Musicians of Jajouka are very much whatever metropolitan audiences want to read into them, including an association with paganism attributed on largely ideological grounds by various Western scholars as a survival from either Berber or Roman culture (Hammoudi 1993, 30–31). Judging by the Jajouka phenomenon as related by Schuyler, “world music” makes the most sense in terms of metropolitan tastes for exoticism. These tastes are interesting in their own right but are hardly new, and their existence hardly depends on a global stage. This is not to say that complex syntheses of musical styles are not intentionally created all the time by musicians (witness Sa‘ida Sultan, or American jazz, or modernist appropriations of imagined primitivism such as Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring). But the horizons of musical audiences are always both circumscribed and changeable under the right circumstances.
The Futility of Resistance
The most conspicuous loser in discussions of global consciousness is the nation-state, which many consider outmoded as a framework for experiencing modernity. In both the popular media and academia the demise of the nation-state is thought by some to be an uncompleted process, but the general trajectory toward its dissolution is an article of faith. This is true across a wide spectrum of writing. For example, popular publications such as Wired, a trade magazine that shills for the computer industry, regularly extol the virtues of globalization: “Ultimately the migration of culture is not monolithic but mosaic, flowing over and around borders, washing away strict definitions, surging into new social spaces created by the tools of the age” (Couch 1997, 214). More thoughtful (and less obviously business oriented) voices often concur. The anthropologist Michael Kearney puts the matter in terms that readers of Wired would find familiar: “Globalization entails a shift from two-dimensional Euclidean space with its centers and peripheries and sharp boundaries, to a multidimensional global space with unbounded, often discontinuous and interpenetrating sub-spaces” (1995, 549).
There is much evidence close at hand to support such observations. Our own media generate globalization discourse relentlessly; our universities echo it, albeit with an avowedly alternative agenda. However, the ready availability of globalization discourse to metropolitan consumers in particular should also be a reason to be cautious about such pronouncements. Much globalization rhetoric is prescriptive. To adopt globalization as an analytic framework may be to make it a self-fulfilling prophecy. It has become difficult to separate globalization as an agenda of economic determinism (Ferguson 1992) from globalization as a practice of modern identity (Friedman 1995), or globalization as a postmodern culture of media consumption (Baudrillard 1995). The totality of these agendas is like flypaper: even if one rejects them, one is still forced to argue against them. Cultural practice not done in consciousness of globalization becomes an affirmation of the local in response to the pressure of the global.
An example of how globalization discourse treats attempts at resistance can be found in the relative lack of attention in metropolitan circles to Sharaf, a novel by the Egyptian writer Sonallah Ibrahim (1997). In this novel Ibrahim explicitly criticizes globalization. Sharaf is a prison narrative centering on Sharaf, an unemployed Egyptian youth, and an older Egyptian man named Dr. Ramzi. Sharaf is the ultimate commodity fetishist; much of his speech in the novel takes the form of lists of “global” products, all of which come to Egypt from the industrialized metropole—the West or newly industrialized Asia. He has been culturally deprogrammed by commoditization and thereby turned into a passive consumer. When a British tourist lures the boy into a movie theater, later into his apartment, and then tries to rape him, Sharaf resists (his name means “honor”) and accidentally kills the man.
Sharaf contrasts explicitly with Dr. Ramzi, who is the ultimate global pirate, an Egyptian who left the country when the nationalist Nasser regime imposed state control on the economy. Dr. Ramzi spends his life dismantling the industrial capacities of Third World nations so that “global” (metropolitan-based) companies can take their place. When sent to Egypt to dismember the nationalized pharmaceuticals industry, Dr. Ramzi rebels. His company, in league with corrupt Egyptian officials eager to cash in on the sell-off to multinational corporations, frames Dr. Ramzi, who ends up in prison next to Sharaf. In this way Ibrahim’s narrative engineers a meeting between Dr. Ramzi, the agent of globalization, and Sharaf, the human product of global processes.
In the course of the novel the warden allows the prisoners to watch the national soccer team compete in the World Cup. Islamic fundamentalists—a large component of the prison’s population—cannot stand this open worship of secular nationalism. They start a riot. A new warden comes to the prison and imposes harsh discipline. The new prison master knows Dr. Ramzi from long ago, before Ramzi left the country to work as a global raider. One of the things the warden knows is that the young Dr. Ramzi had a love for the theater. The warden agrees to relax his grip on the prison only if Ramzi writes a play and entertains him and the guards. Ramzi’s play, in which Sharaf performs, is a bitter criticism of globalization. The prisoners’ performance of Ramzi’s play causes another riot, after which Ramzi gets tortured to the point of insanity. By the end of Sharaf, Dr. Ramzi roams the prison reciting long lists of multinational atrocities, a counterpoint to Sharaf’s recitations of consumer brand names. Nobody listens to the “insane” Dr. Ramzi. Sharaf ends the novel precisely where he began: with a man, an older and stronger prisoner, trying to rape him. This time Sharaf submits, abandoning the honor suggested by his name, the defense of which landed him in prison in the first place. In the final scene we find Sharaf shaving his legs in preparation for becoming his rapist’s “wife.”
This is no nationalist allegory of the type analyzed by Fredric Jameson (1986). Ibrahim’s message is direct and angry: We—the Third World, but in this case particularly Egypt—are being screwed by metropolitan nations in the name of the new global economy. Although the novel openly discusses globalism, in globalist discourse Sharaf would most often make the most sense as an expression of localism. But Ibrahim’s localism is of a particular kind: it argues for the defense of national institutions, scathingly criticizing the privatization policies of the post-Nasser era that facilitate the penetration of global capital. The novel argues for a national project rooted in the Nasser era, which is remarkable for a writer who was among the many intellectuals imprisoned in the period. Ibrahim’s invocation of the Nasser period as a comparatively healthy counterpoint to the current rush to liquidate state-supported institutions in favor of global capitalist enterprises finds a receptive audience.
However, in globalization discourse forthright advocacy of national institutions is frowned on. More often nationalism is portrayed as an anachronistic urge rather than as an intellectual position: “Maimed bodies and barbed wire in Eastern Europe, xenophobic violence in France, flag waving in the political rituals of the election year here in the United States—all seem to suggest that the willingness to die for one’s country is still a global fashion” (Appadurai 1996, 159–60). Obviously, when put this way, nationalism is not a fashion many would be eager to buy into. Consequently, a novel like Sharaf fares poorly in the realm of “world” literature. Sharaf’s entry into the discourse of “world” literature is also hindered by Ibrahim’s habit of writing in Arabic, unlike more prominent Third World authors who write in English or in other metropolitan languages that, compared to Arabic, translate relatively easily into English. Arabic is a “weak language” in global terms. The volume of material translated into Arabic far exceeds the volume of material moving the other way (Asad 1993, 191). The languages of globalization are English first, followed by other European languages. All else is “local.” Even works advanced in globalization discourse as “counterhegemonic” in various senses are overwhelmingly works in English or other European languages. Consequently, a novel such as Ahdaf Soueif’s In the Eye of the Sun (1992), which depicts the lives of Egyptians living in England, has a better chance of being considered important than Ibrahim’s Sharaf precisely because Soueif lives outside of Egypt and writes in English. Postcolonial literary theorists—close allies of academic globalists—consider the appropriation of English by non-Europeans to be a salutary and necessary antidote to an alleged European silencing of non-European vernacular languages. The “empire writes back” (Ashcroft, Griffiths, and Tiffin 1989) in order to subvert European power. Karin Barber, in the context of African literature, calls for a reconsideration of the assumption that postcolonial writing must first subvert colonial languages to effectively challenge metropolitan power. An emphasis on European-language works by metropolitan scholars amounts to a “definitive theoretical lockout” of indigenous-language expression in colonized countries by postcolonial theorists (Barber 1995, 4).
The “will to ignorance” to which Barber refers is not irrelevant to the Jajouka or “Gypsy” phenomenon described here by Schuyler and Zirbel. And Barber’s criticism applies equally to Middle Eastern literature and media. Sophisticated modern works not easily pigeonholed into the “exotic” or “folkloric” categories are not as celebrated in the United States as are authors who write in metropolitan languages. This includes works by authors such as Ibrahim, who writes in Arabic and, so far, is not often translated into English. The same is true of cinema.
The model proposed by postcolonial criticism—the model in which colonial glottophagia silences the native until he or she masters and subverts the colonizer’s language—is based on a fundamental misconception, almost a will to ignorance. By casting the indigenous as always and only outside or underneath the “mainstream” literary discourses of modern Africa, it turns a blind eye to what is in fact the actual mainstream, the cultural discourses of the majority, in most of Africa. (Barber 1995, 11)
One of the virtues of Ibrahim’s Sharaf is that it highlights this imbalance by insisting that any attempt to understand globalization is subsumed by the powerful economic forces that, while enormously complex, are in fact not global at all but rather locatable in the metropolitan core that defines such places as Egypt as a periphery. Increasingly the dominant voice in globalization rhetoric, if not analysis, is a metropolitan profit-driven business agenda—the homogenizing bogeyman in the global/local dialectic. Opponents of globalization are often dismissed in the press as dinosaurs or dangerous radicals. Wired crystallizes the dismissive attitude of the business community toward anyone who seems not to be getting with the globalized technological program. In a photo essay titled “Change Is Good” (Wired 6.01, January 1998, 182–83), the magazine juxtaposes two pictures. One is a stark black-and-white photo of a stern Muslim scholar—male, in a knitted skullcap, prayer mat hanging on the wall, Persian writing on a blackboard behind him, attention focused on a paper on which he is writing with a pen. The other photo is of a girl, probably about eight years old, sitting in front of her Macintosh computer. Her stuffed bunny sits on the machine, and her hands are on the keyboard as she looks backward at the camera. Golden sunlight streams through a window in the background of the scene. She is unbearably cute. The two photos are linked by a caption in large, bold letters that cross both pages: “The true learning revolution.” The caption sets up the comparison between the old man’s austere patriarchal Islamic learning and the girl’s gentle enlightenment. On the girl’s side the “true learning revolution” phrase is completed in smaller print. The “true revolution” (as opposed to the delusional backward Islamic one featured in large type on the opposite page) “is not just computers in the classroom—it’s networking students, teachers, and parents together.” And if the reader (or viewer in this case) is not yet fully networked, or “wired” as the magazine might put it, the publication features numerous advertisements from vendors eager to connect another customer to the global network.
Several contributions to Mass Mediations take constructions of nationalism rather more seriously than globalization rhetoric suggests is warranted. Joel Gordon’s chapter on the film Nasser 56 suggests a potent nostalgia for the nationalist project. Gordon notes that the film steers clear of Nasser’s nationalization and import-substitution policies, emphasizing instead the much less controversial Suez crisis. There is, of course, no guarantee that audiences separate one kind of nationalism from another. Although the actual policies of Nasser still mark numerous fault lines within Egyptian society—between classes, generations, and regions of the country—Gordon writes that everyone was eager to take credit for the film, “notwithstanding the obvious irony of a state-funded film glorifying nationalization in the age of privatization and championing a charismatic, idolized ruler in an era of political malaise.” The film does not occur in a vacuum. Egyptian history is in vogue in the Egyptian media; historical visions flourish alongside all the obvious signs of globalization. A visitor to Cairo could easily consider the satellite dishes sprouting like mushrooms all over the city to be a sign that Egypt has moved fully into global culture. But Ibrahim’s angry Sharaf and the popularity of Nasser 56 suggest a wide spectrum of public culture within which nationalist imagery can form an effective bulwark against metropolitan globalization.
Christa Salamandra’s “Consuming Damascus” examines a Middle Eastern state that attempts to construct the “local” as a national community that is to some extent outside the reach of global capital. Baathist Syria has had decidedly mixed results in its efforts to preserve a distinctively Syrian identity. Although Syria has been more reluctant than Egypt to pave the way for the entry of global capital by dismantling national institutions, nonetheless modes of social distinction geared to state institutions have lost prestige. “Mere consumption” takes the place of such modernist engines for constructing national identity as a university education. Many Syrians aspire to the same sort of globalized life as Ibrahim’s Dr. Ramzi—the Nasserist-turned-multinational raider. In Syria the consumption patterns in question include leisure practices that revolve around public display in restaurants and hotels, as well as representations of “Old Damascus” in literature and television serials. All of these juxtapose highly self-conscious constructions of “Damascene” and “foreign” cultures in ways that appear eclectic and cosmopolitan but which are meaningful primarily on local terms.
“Old Damascus” is a construct of nostalgia. Richard Murphy’s “The Hairbrush and the Dagger” also shows how nostalgia is deployed in national narratives. Pakistani media invoke it in quite locally (nationally) specific ways but nonetheless ways that imply a multiplicity of perspectives within nationalist discourse. The subject of Murphy’s chapter, a state-produced television serial called Muhasira (Siege), in which the author acted the part of a Western journalist, would seem at first glance a poor candidate to illustrate multiple viewpoints. In principle the program was an exercise in chauvinism, a rejection of any possibility that Muslims and Hindus could coexist peacefully. Muhasira depicts a monthlong Indian army siege of a mosque in disputed Kashmir province, the result of which, not surprisingly, is that Kashmir is shown to have been wrongly divided from Muslim Pakistan at partition. But beneath the uncompromising surface of the serial Murphy finds a highly nuanced mediated debate “about social, political, and historical registers of truth.” Such debates are the ground on which Pakistani modernity is constructed, both with regard to the definitively non-Pakistani (Indian) and with regard to the much more problematic internal terrain of class and regional difference.
In “‘Beloved Istanbul’” Martin Stokes discusses the ambiguous and troubled nature of modernity in contemporary Turkey. Stokes’s chapter makes an excellent contrast with subthemes that run through several other chapters in this volume. Like Swedenburg’s “Sa‘ida Sultan,” Stokes’s focus is a transsexual singer—Bülent Ersoy, a conservatory-trained but popular singer not highly approved in official circles. The focus of Stokes’s analysis is sonic and literary representations of a city—Istanbul—that many take to be emblematic of the entire state. In this respect the chapter belongs with those by Salamandra (Damascus) and Murphy (Lahore). The chapter also revolves around the importance of nostalgia, which occupies a large place in the contributions by Zirbel, Gordon, Shay, Murphy, and me.
Stokes is not writing about the transnational flow of culture here but about the uncoupling of modernity from nationalism in contemporary Turkey. The “classical” voice in modern Turkey is prized for clarity, whereas Ersoy deliberately distorts her singing, thereby risking the disapproval of Turkish officialdom. The Ersoy performance analyzed by Stokes is no arabesk piece marketed to new immigrants to the city; rather, it is a new version of a 1948 nationalist classic, “Beloved Istanbul.” Its text was written by a foremost republican poet; the music originally performed by a well-known musical modernizer who straddled the Ottoman and republican periods. Stokes shows how Ersoy’s rendition of the song—considered scandalous by many—articulates with the surprising popularity of a postmodern novel by Orhan Pamuk. Postmodernity in Turkey, however, requires a confrontation with history rather than the schizophrenic fragmentation of the self that Westerners sometimes associate with the idea of postmodernity (Harvey 1989, 53–54). As Stokes writes, “In a society in which the state of being modern is cast so insistently in terms of forgetting, and in which the modern is so organically connected to the institutions of the nation-state, remembering becomes both a problem and a matter of cultural elaboration.” Among all the boundaries being blurred—sexual and musical in the case of Ersoy, literary realism in the case of Pamuk’s Kara Kitab—the most significant of all is the one constructed between the present and the Ottoman past. Paradoxically the compromising of the modernist project in Turkey opens up new horizons for the development of Turkish nationalism.
“Beloved Istanbul” and Kara Kitab, unlike Murphy’s Muhasira, Salamandra’s depiction of constructions of “Old Damascus,” and the historical interpretations of Nasser 56 described by Gordon, are not straightforward nationalist texts. However, none of these texts can be understood without a nuanced explication of the social conditions surrounding their production and consumption. Though the social conditions are complex, the texts are nonetheless still nationalist, and still quite vital. All of them suggest resistance to the dominant themes of globalization, which either advocate the demise of the nation-state or predict its occurrence. Commercial interest in such a hostile depiction of nationalism is understandable. Murphy’s chapter, and Shryock’s even more so, also makes reference to the congruence of commercial, political, and academic thinking about the relationship of globalization to both nationalism and modernity. This congruence demands further comment.
Academics who see globalization as the crucial frame of reference for understanding the contemporary world—many of them self-described leftists or at least opponents of the metropolitan status quo—are well aware of the correspondence between their analytic strategies and commercial interests that openly try to make globalization a self-fulfilling prophecy. Appadurai (1996, 18 ff.), for example, distinguishes between the ethical dimension of globalization and its analytic dimension, which he sees as too strong to ignore. However, the ethical implications of a withering of the nation-state put him in “mixed company” with the political right, which also celebrates the expected demise of the nation-state. Appadurai and many others (e.g., Marcus 1996a) find hope in a postnationalist world, because for them the nation-state has been a conspicuous failure at promoting such values as “the protection of minorities, the minimal distribution of democratic rights, and the reasonable possibility of the growth of civil society” (Appadurai 1996, 19). Consequently, the long-term ethical possibilities inherent in the demise of the nation-state are thought to outweigh the immediate fact of commercial benefit from globalization as well as the fact that such benefit is quite devoid of ethical considerations.
However, putting an ethical spin on globalization substitutes one prescriptivism—an optimistic progressive one—for another openly commercial agenda. In the short term hopeful progressive globalization agendas are clearly losing ground to the amoral commercial agenda. American social activists since Abbie Hoffman (1971) have believed that in the long run the energy of decentralized communication networks can be harnessed for their own ends. A recent example can be found in Connected (Marcus 1996a), a volume of academic analyses of media—particularly the Internet—that places “strong value on the new, on left-liberal activism, on the desire for grass-roots media experimentation at the level of everyday life and commitment to change” (Marcus 1996b, 13). But the volume explicitly backs away from analysis of “the great organizational changes within corporate capitalism that are accommodating technological changes in media” (Marcus 1996b, 16). One essay in Marcus’s volume notes that the main forces behind creating the Internet are the state and the military (Kirshenblatt-Gimblett 1996, 24–28), but, as in the other essays, the analysis does not ultimately integrate that fact with the goal of exploring how the Internet can be used to create new types of community.
The global consciousness that actually exists in the world—as opposed to global systems that reach much farther back in history than the consciousness to which contemporary commentators refer—is highly compatible with regimes of flexible capitalist accumulation described by David Harvey (1989, 147 ff.) and now celebrated by the corporate-controlled U.S. media. Jonathan Friedman describes the outcome of this consciousness as
This is similar to Shryock’s observation (in this volume) that “the people who produce, distribute, and consume the transnationalism rhetoric most devotedly belong to the academy, the corporate elite, and government: social bodies that, in their modern forms, are designed to exceed the limits of any human community they can imagine.” Friedman notes that this globalization is not hegemonic or homogeneous, a point also vigorously made by Appadurai (1996, 17). But where Appadurai and others see disjuncture providing interstitial spaces within which new social forms can flourish, Friedman insists on a simultaneous project of global systematization that encompasses global fragmentation. In other words, the turmoil suggested by Appadurai’s (1996, 27–47) use of the term “disjuncture” is actually quite systematic and works to the advantage of elites in the cosmopolitan “global class structure” to which Friedman alludes. Friedman implies that by emphasizing processes that occur in and around the boundaries of cultural categories—processes such as hybridization or creolization—we make globalization a self-fulfilling prophecy. Practices that do not fit the model can be simply omitted from an analysis.
a global class structure, an international elite made up of top diplomats, government ministers, aid officials and representatives of international organizations such as the United Nations, who play golf, dine, take cocktails with one another, forming a kind of cultural cohort. This grouping overlaps with an international cultural elite of art dealers, publishing and media representatives, the culture industry VIPs who are directly involved in media representations and events, producing images of the world and images for the world. The news is made by them, very much about them and communicates their visions of reality.…It is from these quarters that much of the globalization discussion has emerged, from the economic “global reach” to the cultural “global village.” (1995, 79–80)
The omission of nonconforming practices from analyses of modernity (or alternatively, the neutralization of such practices by assigning them to the category of the “local” in distinction to the global) involves a striking selectivity. For example, in summer 1997 an Egyptian television station broadcast a prerecorded “world music awards” program. Each recipient of an award—most of whom were well known in the United States and Europe (the “Macarena” figured prominently)—performed a brief rendition of his or her hit song. The categories appeared at first to be arranged by nation: “most popular song in France” during the past year, “most popular song in Germany,” “most popular song in the United States,” and so on. But some awards made it plain that the organizing principle for the event was not national popularity but market organization. The ceremony did not include “most popular song in Zaire” or “most popular song in Nigeria,” and so forth, but “most popular song in Africa.” Except for Japan and Hong Kong, it was “most popular song in Asia.” One might assume that the smaller markets were lumped together, and in some cases that may have been true. But in some cases the omitted markets were quite large and quite well acquainted with mass-mediated music.
There was no category in the program for the Middle East. This was not necessarily because the Middle Eastern market is small but more likely because it is small for those record companies. Although a few of the “world music” productions performed in the program were known in Cairo (particularly the “Macarena”), the most popular songs in Cairo the previous year had been mainly those made for an Arabic-speaking market outside the reach of the metropolitan record companies. “Ifrid” (Just Suppose), by a rising young Egyptian star known simply as Hakim, was getting a great deal of play in summer 1997. The market for these songs was not necessarily defined strictly by national borders, but there were (and have been for decades) clear demarcations between the national scope of songs and their Arabic-language scope. Technology plays a part in defining these markets. Satellite television funded by Saudi Arabia but based in Europe has become economically important in the business. But most Egyptians do not receive satellite television, and although the phenomenon of the satellite dish is spreading in Egypt, the extent of the satellite market is still far more limited than that of the state-dominated television system. By summer 1997 one could receive nine terrestrial stations in Cairo, all of them run by the state. Arabic-language music videos broadcast on these stations were crucial in defining the market for music in Egypt. National radio (very conservative in its selection of music) was another factor in shaping the availability of music. And below the broadcast level many songs are disseminated on cassettes.
Clearly there is a spectrum of scales relevant to the practice of music in Cairo. The music itself has undoubtedly changed over the years, although the direction of change is very much open to question (Danielson 1996). But the global scale is not necessarily decisive in the Egyptian musical market, and definitions of the “local” may in fact correspond to the national. One could certainly ask whether patterns of musical consumption in Cairo point toward convergence with global patterns, but such research might not inevitably lead to the conclusion that the global is becoming the “decisive framework for social life” (Featherstone and Lash 1995, 1–2). The state, an unregulated music industry rife with piracy, and live performance contexts largely geared to family events and rites of passage may lend distinctiveness to the practice of music in Cairo. To label these practices “local” in distinction to the sort of globalization manifested in the “world music awards” collapses a whole range of analytic possibilities to the point of insignificance—including the possibility that in Egypt the nation-state is still (or perhaps in some ways more than it had been in the recent past) a potent player in the construction of musical taste and musical habits. Joel Gordon’s contribution to this volume suggests that the state also remains a key player in the cinema. None of this means that the phenomenon of globalization so heavily promoted in academia is entirely misplaced; it does suggest that the “local” category posed dialectically to globalization might have a life of its own—even a life within the supposedly obsolete nation-state framework.
Another reason for caution about globalization is that it puts too high a premium on the newness of the phenomenon of transregional connection. Appadurai, for example, argues for “a general rupture in the tenor of intersocietal relations in the past few decades” (1996, 2). Migration and media create “mobile texts” (1996, 9) of an unprecedented sort. But are such phenomena really so unprecedented?
The career of an Egyptian dancer named Tahiyya Kariyuka suggests otherwise. Kariyuka took her stage name from the Carioca dance, which swept across the world in 1933, when Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers immortalized the “Brazilian” Carioca in their film Flying Down to Rio. Like the Jajouka phenomenon described in this volume by Schuyler, or the “Gypsy” music of Upper Egyptian performers described here by Zirbel, the Carioca was geared more to American and European fantasies of exotic foreignness than to anything “Brazilian.”
When the film and the dance became an international hit in the 1930s, Cairo was a bit less out of the global first-run cinema loop than it is now. One of the film’s first published advertisements in the Egyptian press showed Fred and Ginger grinning insouciantly seated amid massed chorus girls. The fashion for Carioca spread. In September 1934 another magazine displayed a raqisat kariyuka, a Carioca dancer, as the caption said on its back cover. Shortly thereafter an Egyptian dancer named Badawiyya Muhammad Karim took the stage name Tahiyya Kariyuka. None of the images—those of the film, its advertisements, the “Carioca dancer” on the magazine, or Tahiyya Kariyuka herself—bore very much resemblance to each other. They were linked only by a common name and vaguely Latin American associations.
On the surface the creation in the United States of a “Brazilian” dance with no real connection to Brazil, and its adaptation in Egypt still another step or two from its original imagined inspiration, seems a perfect illustration of the workings of “global flows” across variously defined boundaries, be they national, ethnic, or confessional (Appadurai 1990). In one sense the migration of the Carioca stands out mainly by its precociousness; most commentary on globalization focuses on developments of the past three or four decades at most (or an even shallower time frame for some), whereas the Carioca moved across the globe sixty years ago. The Carioca might therefore be seen as an example of “modest precursors” (Appadurai 1990, 2) to the decentralized free-flowing world of the present, dominated by migration and transnational media.
But perhaps the Carioca was noteworthy for more than its precociousness. The quick dissemination of the phenomenon well before the advent of digital media suggests that the often-stated link between globalization and electronic media is overhyped. As mentioned above, few people object to the notion that transregional or even world systems are a long-standing phenomenon. World systems precede digital communication by centuries, not just by decades. What makes globalization of contemporary interest is some undefinable (because so variable) combination of increased intensity in the operations of world systems and consciousness of them. Tahiyya Kariyuka’s status in this respect is ambiguous. Her link to the “Brazilian” Carioca dance was a conscious choice, and for a time must have implied an obvious public association of foreign exoticism with a specific Egyptian dancer. The film that made the fashion popular was clearly present in Egypt, as the advertisements show, and was clearly the source of the dancer’s name. But how long did the association last? Current generations of Egyptians are mostly unaware that the Carioca was a faux-Brazilian world fashion of the 1930s. Tahiyya Kariyuka’s eventual fame did not stem from her renown as an importer of Latin American exoticism but from her film roles as a mu‘allima—a small merchant of traditional Cairene neighborhoods—in Egyptian films that were remembered much longer than Flying Down to Rio.
Friedman (1995) notes a similar ambiguity in the spread of the American television serial “Dallas” to Nigeria. Nigerians consume an American product, but the product is used to define local social hierarchies that have nothing to do with America. Consequently the cosmopolitan who is amused by the ironies of social miscommunication created by a Nigerian viewing of an American serial is the real representative of globalism and, in Friedman’s (1995, 73) opinion, of modernity. It also takes a cosmopolitan perspective to trace the migration of the faux-Brazilian American Carioca dance to Tahiyya Kariyuka the Egyptian dancer.
Friedman reminds us that imported objects have always been naturalizable to the point that origins are irrelevant at the level of social practice. Pasta came to Italy from China, and is therefore an element of global processes, but to modern Italians it has no cultural significance as a global phenomenon (Friedman 1995, 74). How many of the phenomena that now appear to be clear manifestations of globalization will ultimately resemble, in cultural terms, Italian pasta with its Chinese origins or Tahiyya Kariyuka’s commandeering of the Carioca? Many practices and objects are hybrid creations in terms of global processes, but they appear to be evidence of globalization only from a modern cosmopolitan perspective that views such practices as culturally discrete in the first place. This is the Achilles’ heel of globalization theory—that its novelty is a projection from a certain perspective. In the past fifty years the world has indeed been characterized by a high degree of migration, but so too did Europe once experience waves of migration from the East over hundreds of years. Still Europe developed its own self-identity. The novelty of globalization is predicated on the ability of media to maintain a sense of connection among places, people, and things in motion. This might be the case, but close inspection of migratory phenomena often reveals a more complex process of forgetting, or creating cultural memories that may have little use for the modern cosmopolitan perspective of globalization.
The final three chapters in Mass Mediations explore the development of media-generated modernity well before the digital age. Roberta Dougherty’s “Badi‘a Masabni, Artiste and Modernist” shows the complexity of nationalist imagery from the 1930s. The “carnival of national identity” is a series of comic sketches—in prose and in caricatured images—that look at first glance like an eclectic hodgepodge of elements: Europeans, popular entertainers, singers who later became part of the expanding “heritage” (Shawan 1981) of Egyptian music, and politicians are all part of the mix. The sketches are mock courtroom scenes that are very much addressed to the presence of the occupying British colonial administration. They hardly suggest the stunned silence to which postcolonial theorists allude, but of course these narratives were not postcolonial: they were being produced in great quantity long before the British were finally expelled from Egypt. Of course, neither were these texts “literature” in the sense normally understood by metropolitan literature departments. Some of the figures to whom these sketches allude were well-known litterateurs; Dougherty’s study demonstrates how complexly they were embedded in the popular culture of the period. Images of the politician, the singer, the nightclub impresaria, and the British official are all juxtaposed to one another in a sophisticated mix of linguistic registers. Significantly, the registers in question were Arabic, a language that was in no way silenced by the pressure of colonial discourse. In the context of sub-Saharan African literatures, Barber urges us to acknowledge “the full presence of texts in indigenous languages…not as a shadowy, vaguely delineated, value-laden ‘oral heritage’ in the background, but as a modern, mainstream, heterogeneous, hybrid and changing mode of discourse, created and recreated daily by the majority of the population” (1995, 25). Although the iconic value of “oral heritage” is rather different in an Arabic-speaking context than in African literature, this is still excellent advice. Dougherty demonstrates precisely the modernity that the above passage invokes and suggests, furthermore, that the roots of this modernity lie much deeper than the digital age.
The second of the final three chapters is “American Ambassador in Technicolor and Cinemascope” by Robert Vitalis. Like Dougherty, Vitalis takes a longer historical view than contemporary preoccupations with global frameworks would suggest. He examines the politics and economics of the Egyptian film industry before its nationalization in the 1960s, demonstrating that the economic crisis Egyptian filmmakers found themselves in by the mid-1950s was not caused entirely, or even predominantly, by the hegemony of American and European cinemas. Records of communication between U.S. film industry representatives and the U.S. government indicate that by the early 1950s foreign (mostly American) films were screened in a small minority of theaters and that there is every reason to believe that Egyptian films were more profitable than foreign films. The economic problems of the Egyptian cinema therefore had less to do with foreign competition from the United States and Europe than has commonly been assumed. It is not that American films were ever absent from the Egyptian market, but it is also not the case that foreigners controlled the market. Vitalis makes a convincing case that the Egyptian cinema, far from being crippled by unfair foreign competition, was actually unable to meet the demand of the local market. The Egyptian cinema should be understood as segmented: foreign films competed for only a part of the market, and film production in the end was hampered more by poor market organization than by foreign domination. The implications of this segmentation have been hidden by a systematic attention to the most accessible segments of the market—the parts most conducive to the confirmation of globalization theory.
Vitalis’s argument makes an intriguing comparison to Shryock’s analysis of Arab Dearborn. Globalist rhetoric of the present overemphasizes the attraction of Arabic-language material for Arab immigrants to the United States, just as postcolonial theorists axiomatically disparage the ability of nonmetropolitan vernacular culture to flourish despite—or alongside—metropolitan culture. The result in both cases is to make the foreign segment of each market stand for a much more complex whole. Both Shryock and Vitalis contextualize their analyses in relation to world systems, but their conclusions contest the prominence given to “nomadic” global flows of culture. Vitalis cautions against forgetting “what is most basic to the story: Cairo and Alexandria were colonial cities with a distinctive cultural landscape.” Shryock reminds us that Dearborn also has a distinctive cultural landscape. All the contributions to this volume help to recover something of this distinctiveness that is lost in the implicit universalism of globalism.
“The Golden Age before the Golden Age” is my own contribution to the volume. It addresses a point made by Vitalis—that Egyptian films historically had a strong inherent advantage over their foreign competition. Cinema was part of a vernacular culture elaborated in countless films, songs, articles, and images, all of which deserve to be taken more seriously. The sources for much of this vernacular culture were many, and the way it was constructed constantly changed, but at the same time it becomes naturalized to the point that origins become secondary to its local (often national) significance. The “nomadic” character of all the elements that make up a Tahiyya Kariyuka are like the figures described in the chapter— tertainers such as the singer Layla Murad or the comedian Najib al-Rihani. Their hybrid origins may or may not be part of their intertextually elaborated identity. But in a global perspective vernacular culture tends to disappear in favor of a well-regulated exoticism that paradoxically obscures real difference.
Conclusion: New Approaches to Popular Culture
The focus of this introduction has been on mass mediation and what it implies for the scale of social action, for the character of modern societies, and for sociological analysis. The chapters themselves all address mass media in the context of popular culture, which is, of course, a potentially problematic term. Scholars everywhere have had to hash and rehash distinctions between culture of “the folk,” “mass culture,” and “elite culture.” Popular culture has been cast in terms of preliterate “tradition” opposed to literate modernity (a dichotomy that almost all academics today reject). Popular culture can be populist culture—populist in the sense of political movements (Islamist, for example, or nationalist, or Nasserist). And in a Middle Eastern context popular culture has often been, and continues to be, associated with unmediated oral vernacular culture. For example, a proposed conference on Middle Eastern popular culture at Oxford categorizes popular culture as
- Oral poetry performed/written down in the vernacular (especially Arabic, but other Middle Eastern languages also).
- Artistic prose in the vernacular (e.g., hero cycles).
- Tribal oral narrative.
- Folk or traditional stories.
- Drama or other forms of performance in the vernacular. (“Middle Eastern Popular Culture” 1998)
In the end there is no all-purpose definition of popular culture. Trying to arrive at one would be a waste of time. The forms of popular culture should arise from ethnography, not from preconceived packages. The contributions to this volume all address what might be described as art and “ tertainment,” which, in their mass-mediated forms, we all refer to in everyday life as popular culture. Some of the material analyzed here can be mapped onto the sorts of high/low cultural distinctions commonly made in the West, but much of it cannot, and there is, in any case, a widespread recognition that the most interesting thing about cultural distinctions is never their inherent character but the process of differentiating one set of practices from another. In the end a focus on popular culture gives the volume an internal consistency, but no author in the volume would be satisfied to have his or her chapter described as merely an attempt to legitimate or define the study of popular culture in the Middle East. One aspect of our claim to newness in our approach to popular culture is that we want to shift our focus away from what it is and toward a focus on what it does. What it does is to create new scales of communication and new dimensions of modern identity.
I have consciously not invoked a commonly used neologism that articulates with a great deal of the material analyzed here. This term is “public culture,” the key concept of a very influential journal by the same name. Arjun Appadurai and Carol Breckenridge, the founders of the movement and the journal, neatly encompassed much of what might be called “popular culture” by focusing on the local production and reception of transnational forms of culture (Breckenridge and Appadurai 1988). The idea of public culture has increasingly crystallized around the analysis of flows of people, objects, and cultural practices, which are taken to constitute a pluralized modernity no longer seen as something created in Europe and disseminated to the rest of the world. But as much of the above discussion argues, public culture and its attendant concern with transnationalism and cultural flows have become a hegemonic insight. “The global produces the local” has become an orthodoxy—one that most observers would characterize as a productive one, but nonetheless an orthodoxy that is beginning to think for would-be cultural analysts rather than a framework that helps them to think in ways they otherwise might not have.
All the contributions presented here can claim to have escaped the straitjacket of the Oxford popular culture conference. However, none of us can claim to have transcended the globalist perspective or to have overturned it. That is part of the anxiety of scale to which the volume responds. The mediated popular culture analyzed in this book falls somewhere below the radar of transnational culture but can never be understood in isolation. This is perhaps a form of popular culture that mediates the homogenizing tendencies of global culture and the fragmentation of localism. The scale of such a mediation might well be described as national, and predictions of its demise may prove to be premature.
1. This is, of course, not the same issue as that of the overall institutional health of non-European studies. The point is that, relatively speaking, the huge disparities in the vitality of area-defined academic specialization can be observed very easily in the job market. Jobs created during the past decade for specialists in the favored areas—particularly Latin America, Asia, and Africa as well as U.S. ethnic community derivations of the same—outnumber those earmarked for Middle East specialists many times over. Anthropology provides an excellent example. The November 1997 American Anthropological Association Newsletter advertised 60 tenure-track positions, of which 7 were earmarked for Asia specialists, 13 for Latin Americanists, 11 for Africanists, and 3 for Native Americanists. For Middle East specialists: 0. The three Native Americanist positions advertised for this one month—numerically the smallest area-defined category in the total—are equal to the number of Middle East positions advertised in the entire 1998–99 academic year. The 1998–99 academic year offered the largest number of potentially entry-level Middle East positions in a single year since at least the early 1990s. Jobs in academic departments may or may not have explicit connections to institutionalized area studies, and might or might not be associated with novel institutional affiliations such as ethnic studies. But whether it is in a department or an interdisciplinary center, a job for a Latin Americanist or an Asianist is by definition not a job for someone who studies the Middle East. Middle East specialists are therefore forced to choose between selling themselves as “generalists” or casting themselves as academic dinosaurs laboring within a soon-to-be-extinct (for Middle East specialists at any rate) area framework. To make matters worse, not only are new jobs for Middle East specialists not being created, but old Middle East specialist positions will often not be replaced with the same specialization. Lisa Hajjar and Steve Niva note, “A MESA survey of faculty in the U.S. indicated that an estimated 27 percent of the Middle East positions at private colleges and universities and 36 percent at public institutions would not be refilled” (1997, 9 n. 30). Given this planned erosion of existing Middle East specialization, combined with the near-lockout of Middle East specializations in area-specific positions for certain disciplines (roughly half the jobs listed in the sample AAA Newsletter cited above and often an even higher proportion of the total), the future for Middle East area studies looks grim. Barring the unlikely event that Middle East specialists are disproportionately hired in non-area-specific jobs, we can expect to see a continuing decrease in the institutional presence of Middle East specialists. [BACK]
2. Aside from those who see a pro-Israeli stance as beneficial to American interests according to various political/economic/military standards, the segment of American society that tends to strongly define the region primarily through the fortunes of Israel include American Zionists and dispensationalist Christians who see the Second Coming of Christ as inextricably tied to the conversion of the Jews once they have all been gathered in modern-day Israel (Hardy 1994). Americans only casually interested in the region also tend to see the Middle East through the Arab-Israeli conflict because of heavy media coverage of the conflict, to the disadvantage of any other issue conceivably connected to the area. [BACK]
3. Indeed, it is often Middle East specialists themselves who argue, implausibly, that their institutional marginalization is the well-deserved fruit of their own intellectual backwardness. The apparent self-loathing of some Middle East specialists is rarely, if ever, expressed in print. It is part of what Paul Rabinow (1986), in the slightly different context of the politics of fieldwork, called “corridor talk.” By this he meant “those domains that cannot be analyzed or refuted, and yet are directly central to hierarchy” (1986, 253). In the past two decades the hierarchy of academic area specializations has been restructured to the disadvantage of Middle East specialists. Middle East specialists themselves, largely in informal “corridor” contexts, have been complicit in this restructuring. [BACK]
4. An example is the pro-Israeli Washington Institute for Near East Policy, which supplies American politicians with Middle East “expertise” unambiguously hostile to Arab interests. There are no left-leaning or pro-Arab organizations with anything remotely approaching the resources of the Washington Institute. [BACK]
5. Contrary to Baudrillard’s (1995) characterization of the Gulf War as a creation of the media, the conflict made perfect sense in old-fashioned terms of defending crucial resources—crucial according to national criteria. The resources in question, of course, were not actually “ours” in any sense. The official reason for the war—to defend Kuwaiti sovereignty—was without credibility. I do not mean to defend the war. The point is that the political rationale for the war was clear and conventional: it was about oil. Baudrillard’s emphasis on media-constructed consumption as the paramount factor in the war is reasonable insofar as the media is an expression, and perhaps a partial cause, of the high-consumption suburban design of American cities. As a component in a culture of consumption, the media is as dependent on oil as the automobile. Energy was the root of the war, not media. Disputes over resources such as oil are very conventional in terms of national interests. If there was a role for media consumption in the war it was, at most, with regard to the mechanics of the conflict. The media, owned by corporations that may be part of a putatively transnational “mediascape” (Appadurai 1996, 35) but that are still linked to national interests, was little more than a glossy propaganda machine working in the interests of one nation, the United States. The propaganda machine that sanitizes the true nature of war might be a feature of the twentieth century (Fussell 1989), but it was certainly not a novel feature of the Gulf War. [BACK]
6. For example, jobs for the study of Arab or Muslim immigrants are rare, if not completely absent. There are individuals who study Arab- or Muslim-American communities, but their jobs are not necessarily structured around those subjects, and in terms of the formal criteria for new positions Arab- and Muslim-Americans have been virtually invisible, while the number of jobs for the study of the ethnic communities defined by the national census has increased dramatically. [BACK]
7. Europe shows a pattern similar to the United States in the sense that its “near abroad” (the Mediterranean, in this case including, obviously, substantial portions of the cold war “Pakistan to Morocco” definition of the Middle East) receives higher priority than the rest of the globe (Rogan 1997). [BACK]
8. But see Rasmussen (1996) for an analysis of how a musical aesthetic specific to Arab America has developed in Dearborn. Langlois (1996) shows how Algerian Rai music in France became autonomous from Rai production in Algeria. As in the Iranian case discussed here by Shay, political crisis contributed to the differentiation of French and Algerian musical styles. [BACK]
9. Of course, Israel’s relationship to metropolitan societies is vastly different from Egypt’s. Indeed, with a substantial European population, relatively open access to metropolitan markets, and political support in the United States so strong that large transfers of capital take place almost entirely on Israel’s terms (rather than with the crippling conditions attached to aid transferred to “Third World” nations like Egypt), Israel can easily be seen as a quasi-metropolitan state. But the singer Sa‘ida Sultan—the subject of Swedenburg’s chapter—is of Yemeni origin and is not part of mainstream Israeli society. It would therefore be misleading to characterize her as intrinsically connected to the quasi-metropolitan aspects of Israel. [BACK]
10. The literature premised on the demise of the nation-state and consequent rise of globalization is enormous and rapidly expanding. Globalization (e.g., Appadurai 1996; Chatterjee 1993; Featherstone and Lash 1995; Wilson and Dissanayake 1996) is the overarching analytic framework of this literature. Within this framework a number of related topics have been elaborated, such as exile and diaspora cultures (Naficy 1993; Pieterse 1995), transnationalism (Basch, Glick-Schiller, and Blanc 1994; Marcus 1993), hybridity (Bhabha 1994), and the apparently decentralized medium of the Internet (Marcus 1996a). Globalization and its related agendas also thoroughly dominate the academic job market, as well as popular (usually business-oriented) publications, guaranteeing that globalization discourse will continue to be reproduced in the short to medium term. [BACK]
11. Rouse (1995) highlights a rhetoric similar to that of Wired in advertisements by the MCI long-distance telephone company. Furthermore, the MCI advertisement “seems at once to echo and recode the work of Jean-François Lyotard (1984) and David Harvey (1989)” (Rouse 1995, 355). Again, as with Shohat and Stam (1996) or Appadurai (1996), the focus of Rouse’s and Kearny’s analysis centers on possibilities for harnessing or escaping the hegemony of new media and the capitalism that drives them. All are aware of the congruence of business and academic rhetoric; all assume an ultimately different significance of globalization than would the typical business analysis. [BACK]
12. For more on Sonallah Ibrahim and his works, see Mehrez 1994. Two chapters of Mehrez’s book are devoted to Ibrahim. [BACK]
13. This is not to say that the attitude of commentators on globalization is uniform with respect to the potential of the nation-state to form a meaningful cultural identity. For example, Featherstone (1996) leaves the door open for nationalism as a still-potent frame of reference. Rouse (1995) characterizes the current moment, as least in the United States, as one of national/transnational dialectic. The general tenor of most discussion is toward viewing the world as a dialectic between homogenizing economic processes and fragmenting cultural identities formed increasingly outside the control of nation-states. [BACK]
14. Said (1990) argues that European languages, English in particular, can, indeed must, be co-opted by those with a counterhegemonic agenda. Ahmad (1992b) disputes this point vehemently. See also Ngugi wa Thiong’o (1986) for an argument in favor of Third World writers breaking free of European-language media and thereby potentially limiting their audience to a national scale. [BACK]
15. To date only Tilka al-ra’iha, Ibrahim’s first novel, has been translated into English (Ibrahim 1971). He has, however, fared better in French, into which three of his five major works have been translated (Mehrez 1994, 151 n. 3). [BACK]
16. See my own contribution to this volume (chap. 13). Although the Arabic-language films most often seen by Arabic speakers living in the Middle East are overwhelmingly Egyptian, the English-language literature on Egyptian cinema is quite limited. Khan (1969) has written on the Egyptian cinema, but his book is now dated. As in literature, the situation is better in other European languages (Lüders 1989; Thorval 1975; Wassef 1994), and there has been considerable publication in Arabic. But the predominant trend has been to conflate Egyptian cinema with “Arab” cinema (Arasoughly 1996; Khayati 1996; Landau 1958; Shafik 1998), or even “Arab and African” cinema (Khelil 1994; Malkmus and Armes 1991), giving the misleading impression that Arab films circulate freely in an Arabic-speaking market or, in the latter case, that Arab and African films are somehow linked. In fact, outside the Egyptian cinema Arabic-language films are heavily dependent on either state funding (in the case of Syrian films and those of a few other Arab countries) or, more commonly, financing from metropolitan institutions (e.g., most Palestinian and North African films). The only films that circulate freely in the Arab world are precisely the Egyptian commercial films that are most likely to be ignored in metropolitan literature. Conflating Egyptian with other Arabic-language films creates a larger pool of “good” (by metropolitan standards) films to be analyzed. From our own metropolitan perspective it is those films that become “the Arab cinema,” when in fact the “Arab cinema” in question is heavily skewed toward films made to be marketed to metropolitan audiences and with metropolitan financing. [BACK]
17. By contrast, most academic commentary assumes that core-periphery distinctions are not as useful as they once were and that inequalities between regions are fragmented (e.g., Featherstone 1995, 12–13). [BACK]
18. Of course, the political right (excluding some of its religious adherents) does not recognize a distinction between the accumulation of wealth and moral or ethical concerns. Harvey (1989) describes the mechanism of capitalist “flexible accumulation” that erodes the relevance of nation-states as a frame of analytic reference and, not coincidentally, diminishes possibilities for promoting many of the ethical concerns Appadurai mentions. [BACK]
19. Appadurai’s (1996, 27–47) “scapes” (of ethnicity, media, technology, capital, and ideology) are a similar prescription for providing an alternative to the nation-state. [BACK]
20. With the exception of an interview with Paul Sagan, director of an interactive news project at Time-Warner (Laughlin and Monberg 1996), Connected says almost nothing about the commercial aspects of the Internet. Of course, commercial interests are now the driving force behind the medium’s development. Most electronic messages are exchanged between machines rather than people, and generally for the purpose of managing money. And regarding the parts of the Internet that humans do use, its commercial proponents do not hesitate to advocate its promise. Esther Dyson (1995), for example, believes that the point of the medium is not “content” but the ability of “content” to attract readers to advertising. The logic, of course, is not unlike that of American television. [BACK]
21. For example, Homi Bhabha emphasizes the creativity of liminality: “What is at issue is the performative nature of differential identities: the regulation and negotiation of those spaces that are continually, contingently, ‘opening out,’ remaking the boundaries, exposing the limits of any claim to a singular or autonomous sign of difference—be it class, gender or race.…It is, if I may stretch a point, an interstitial future, that emerges in-between the claims of the past and the needs of the present” (1994, 219). [BACK]
22. The choreographer of the Carioca dance was Hermes Pan. The Carioca number was the finale, and for many the most memorable part, of the film. Pan’s vision of the Carioca revolved around the novel idea of Astaire and Rogers performing the dance with their foreheads touching (Thomas 1984, 91). [BACK]
23. The first photo was in al-Kawakib (April 23, 1934, 12–13), which was published by Dar al-Hilal, one of Egypt’s oldest and most distinguished publishing houses. The April 23 notice announced the imminent opening of the film at the Royale Theater. No advertisements for Flying Down to Rio ever appeared in al-Kawakib. The magazine with the “Carioca dancer” on the back was al-Ithnayn (September 10, 1934), which was also published by Dar al-Hilal. [BACK]
24. Friedman’s (1995, 86–88) solution to this problem is to emphasize the long-term process of systematizing global relations of production and consumption but to reject the notion that globalization—the consciousness of these relations and the ability to live within them—extends beyond a thin stratum of cosmopolitan elites who occupy an individualized, self-regulated, “identity space” of modernity. [BACK]
25. Profits from Egyptian films did not find their way back to the studios that made them. The main reason for this was the chronically weak relationship between film producers and distributors. Separation between producers and distributors prevented the horizontal and vertical industrial integration that characterized Hollywood film production during the heyday of the studio era (before antitrust legislation in the late 1940s broke up this arrangement). For the Egyptian cinema this was particularly relevant to the ability of the industry to exploit Arabic-speaking markets outside Egypt. This was where crucial profits without serious foreign competition could potentially have been made were it not for the unfavorable arrangements among film producers, studios, and foreign distributors. [BACK]