Global media, local youth cultures, and hybridity
‘Somewhere in America’: youth culture, ethnicity, and identity
The Mipsterz triggered an international debate in 2013. ‘Mipsterz’ was a tongue-in-cheek neologism that combined the words ‘Muslim’ and ‘hipster’ (the latter being widely used to denote hip, young urbanites), and it was adopted as a jocular name-tag by a collection of young, US-born Muslims. The Mipsterz group began in 2012 as an online community where young, creative Muslims shared interests, discussed ideas and planned artistic collaboration. But in 2013 the group sparked controversy when they produced a short video entitled Somewhere in America #Mipsterz.1 The two-and-half minute film was a montage of sequences featuring around 20 young, American, Muslim women wearing the hijab (the traditional Islamic veil, or headscarf) in their daily lives.
Donning the hijab in a variety of styles (from a turban to the traditional wrap), the Mipsterz women were all trendily dressed in Western fashions, and the film featured them hanging out, skateboarding, jogging through the park and posing for photographs. The video attempted to show what it meant to be a Muslim woman hijabi (someone who wears the hijab) who was born, and lived in, the US. The Mipsterz women were represented as confident, independent, fashionable, and fun. And the positive theme was underscored by the video’s soundtrack — ‘Somewhere in America’ by Jay-Z - a song whose antiracist themes celebrate the rise of a new generation of integrated Americans. Uploaded onto YouTube, within days the film had attracted over 500,000 viewers and had sparked international discussions via social media about both the politics of the veil and the representation of Muslim women. Some audiences applauded the video, seeing it as a bold and refreshing challenge to stereotypical representations of Muslim hijabi women as passive and austere. Others, however, were more critical and slated the film for objectifying the women it featured, for being a shallow and consumption-fixated portrayal of femininity, and/or for misrepresenting Islam and presenting unacceptably immodest and over-sexualised images of Muslim women.
The worldwide dimension to the Mipsterz controversy illustrated how the connections of the modem media were increasingly bringing together global audiences. Beyond this, however, it also demonstrated the pronounced conflicts surrounding issues of ethnicity, religion, gender, and identity. In particular, some of the more conservative critiques of Mipsterz highlighted the way Muslim women are, as Golnaz Golnaraghi and Sumayya Daghar put it, ‘caught between Orientalist and traditionalist discourses’ (2017: 120). That is to say, on one hand, Muslim women are confronted by a Western, Orientalist discourse that constructs them as an alien and (increasingly since the events of 9/11) dangerous ‘Other’ (see Chapter 4). But, on the other hand, they also face a traditionalist Islamic discourse that ‘attempts to contain their bodies with patriarchal and rigid structures informed by politicized anti-colonial and anti-West movements’ (Golnaraghi and Daghar, 2017: 105).
Additionally, the themes of Mipsterz pointed to the way some young, Muslim women were navigating their way through the complex discourses of religion, ethnicity, and gender. The Mipsterz women were, proponents suggested, elaborating new and distinctive identities that both pushed past traditionalist understandings of modesty and Islamic fashion, and resisted simple ‘assimilation’ into dominant Western ideals. As journalist Hajer Naili (who participated in the video) later explained:
We do not try to fit into Western society. We are women who were born in the West ... [but] I don’t try to fit into society, this is who I am. And besides that, I’m a Muslim woman. So why wouldn’t it be compatible to express this double culture; this double identity. We are women with multifacets [sic], and this is who we are.
(quoted in Hafiz, 2014)
This chapter explores the issues and debates thrown into relief by the Mipsterz controversy. It considers the changing elaborations of ethnicity and identity that — as a consequence of the flows of globalisation - have increasingly characterised modern youth cultures. The chapter begins by highlighting the way local youth cultures cannot be considered in isolation, but have to be understood as part of a ‘global tapestry’ woven from a wealth of connected ‘threads’. Growing numbers of young people, for example, have experienced global migration, while many use media technologies to form and sustain transnational dialogues and worldwide connections. The chapter also gives close attention to the ‘hybrid’ cultures and identities that emerge from what Jan Nederveen Pieterse tenus the ‘global mélange’ — a trend towards the mixing of cultural categories, forms, and beliefs drawn from different locales (2020: 91). The chapter explores the way these processes of cultural hybridisation have been especially evident in the realms of youth culture and music; and it considers the way such developments may be constituent in the emergence of a new plurality of negotiated and dynamic identities. At the same time, however, the continued prevalence of global inequalities is underscored. And, while fluidity and fusion have become major features of contemporary youth culture, the chapter highlights how local places,
Global media, local youth, and hybridity 155 institutions, and material cultures remain significant forces in the lives of many young people around the world.