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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just as interesting is the video’s documentary-like approach. Although the people in the background, or her ‘props’ if you prefer, do not engage with her in any way or make eye contact with the camera, they are depicted like normal people going about their everyday lives without the Hollywood-style treatment of Arabs. The division of labour and gender roles are clearly portrayed here: women do the more domestic jobs; cooking, looking after the children, and making clothes. The men, on the other hand, are seen riding camels and vegging out with their mates whilst sipping tea.

There is also no direct reference to polygamy here, although Alison Moyet may be cast as the prized non-Muslim wife of a Muslim man. And as the only white woman around, Moyet portrays herself as a pioneer and adventuress in a hostile land, sort of like a female version of Lawrence of Arabia. It’s a position of dominance as her foregrounding the music video will tell you. You might even say that by being the only white person in a foreign environment simply adds to a sense of authenticity.

After watching the video a few times I find it inexplicably more and more fascinating. Thoughts come to mind if whether Moyet, assisted by her omnipresent pagan goat, is shown plotting a revenge on the Muslim men for their penchant for taking multiple wives and for restricting her sexual expression. My overanalysis may not sound too far-fetched given the fact that  many Muslim women would resort to pre-Islamic customs to stay youthful, fertile, and sexually-desirable. And yes, sometimes for revenge.

However you choose you to view the video, either by reading the meaning behind its complex symbolisms or dismissing them altogether as frivolous pop nonsense, you can be certain that this is yet another form of exoticisation of the Middle East. Muslim women are rarely spared in this process to what then becomes a veil fetish. And by choosing to play one Moyet exoticises and fetishises herself as most self-absorbed pop singers do.

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