Cool is so 90s! Exotica is now!

الأحد 24 كانون الثاني 2010


By Khaled Sedki of Interruptions

Previously published on Interruptions Blog

It is now official! Arabs are exotic, again! But while Edward Said tried to explain the first Orientalist hype as a distribution of geopolitical awareness on the grounds of Western domination over the Orient; this new ‘exotic’ craze is really all about falafel!

Falafel and Shirwal are exotic!

As the world is stripped out of politics in favor of a cooler, easily digested, commercial political celebrities, and as faiths and ideologies are narrowed down to slogans and differing lifestyles, other things seem to have an increasing value! That’s when Falafel and Shirwal became exotic!

Just a year ago I was struck by the sight of ‘blond bombshells’ walking down Taksim, Istanbul in shirwals! Months later, shirwal was re-adopted by the cool upper-bourgeoisie class in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan as a fashionable summer outfit! Over the past few years ‘exotic’ has ‘out beaten’ ‘cool’ in many occasions, seducing lower to upper bourgeoisie in western societies as means of cultural consumption;

American pop music played oriental rhythms, celebrities started showing up in belly dancers outfit, falafel took over Marks & Spencers ‘traditional food’ section and Melissa featured on an Akon song!

Well there’s nothing upsetting about that, specially that one can now take a girl out to dinner at a terribly filthy place at Al-Balad and still remain ‘exotic’! But the irony lies in this counter-stream consumption approach; as political and military tension rises in the region, with restrictions multiplying and entire populations being placed under political and economic sanctions, curiosity towards these cultures increases, and as some realized: curiosity sells! It always has! It sold all sorts of things, from shirwals, to falafels, to Buddhist books, to ‘I love NY’ shirts, to an Exotic African-American son of Hussein as president of the United States to Guevara’s most consumed poster in history, to Edward Said’s “Orientalism” book itself!

All this seems to be quite different from the counter-culture model of globalization everyone made such a fuss about – as if culture never experienced evolution and remained locked and boxed since our ancestors first invented Humos!!

Culture sells, and Globalization is pro-market and not counter-culture!

And soon Falafel would be franchised and we would claim intellectual rights of our Falafel and whine like the Italians do over their stolen pizzas! (this already happened as the Lebanese made the biggest plate of Humos to claim it back from the Israelis!)

But either ways, since Fukyama announced ‘the end of history’, there’s no place left to ‘deliver’, but rather much to sell/consume! So it’s almost ‘wise’ if we could start branding and packaging all sorts of consumer goods starting with falafel and all the way to packaging values, history, culture and all sorts of exotic things, preferably in colorful textiles with Arabic calligraphy and sell at competing prices!

Made in the Orient!