Edward Said argues in “Orientalism” that the predominant conception in Western society about the of the Orient, uses culture and politics interlinked to create a perception of Western dominance. In his work, Said explains that the West preserves the Orient, as exotic, romantic, yet dependent, and inferior than the West. One modern example of the romanticized Orient, is the collaborative music video between Coldplay, a British band, and Rhianna, Barbadian singer, for the song “Princess of China” released in 2011. The image above, of Rhianna as a Chinese princess, reinforces the romanticizing of the Orient that prevails in the West, and supports Said’s about the interlinkage of culture and politics to establish ideological dominance, yet in some ways make Oriental culture more elevated.
This image of Rhianna is beautiful, however it supports Said’s claim that West is exploiting the Orient. When I first watched the music video a few years ago, I saw nothing wrong or questionable about it. After reading Orientalism, I would agree that it supports Said’s claim that Orientalism is “a distribution of geopolitical awareness into aesthetic”, however it is more than just that. The image of Rhianna as a Chinese princess, does romanticizes the Orient, but it is culture appropriation which Naddara Kareem Nittle describes as “typically involves members of a dominant group exploiting the culture of less privileged groups”. In this case the dominant group is made up of pop stars and the culture being exploited is the Chinese culture. This leads back to Said’s idea that the Occident invented this concept of Orientalism for profit. Since the release of this video, more people have spoken out against exploitation of their culture, and try to make society understand that by appropriating culture the deep history and meaning behind it is lost. Even though this image is considered culture appropriation, it puts Asian culture in a positive light. If someone tried to make the case of why there wasn’t an Asian star instead it would be because Rhianna is not only a part of the video, but of the song.
The song is a story about two lovers who let each other go, but reinforces the idea that an Asian princess is dependent on a European male. Rhianna is in the role of a Chinese princess whereas Chris, the lead singer in Coldplay, is shown as a European male love interest. Said also talks about the power European male has complete dominance over an Egyptian courtesan, however this example is much different from the one in this video. The political status of a princess is much greater than that of a prostitute therefore this image drags down the status of a Chinese princess. The song lyrics goes even further by claiming that because they are no long together she has fallen in status, “I could’ve been a princess, you’d be a king” and if they were still together he would be a king whereas she would still be a princess not a queen. This just demonstrates that the European will hold a more powerful position in the mind of Western society. Even though these generalizations about Asian culture are wrong and offensive, at least Asians have culture that they can be defend and be proud of. The deep history is lost here, yet there is a notion that being Asian is a good thing simply because these popstars chose to portray this culture.
Coldplay Princess Of China. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Uw6ZkbsAH8: N.p., 2016. video.
Metro.co.uk, Ann. “Rihanna Gets Her Claws Into Coldplay’s Princess Of China Music Video”. Metro. N.p., 2016. Web. 5 Dec. 2016.
Nittle, Nadra and Nadra Nittle. “What Is Cultural Appropriation And Why Is It Wrong?”. About.com News & Issues. N.p., 2016. Web. 2 Dec. 2016.