Tag Archives: culture

(Saudi) Arabian Nights

The Saudi Gazette‘s Khadija Mesh’al As-Sulaimi did a little write up on the “emo” culture that’s sprung up in the country:

Unlike the youthful rebellion of yesteryear, “Emo people” are much more difficult to define. Emo refers to a way of life which represents isolation and depression; Emo teenagers express their emotions through unusual – and in extreme cases, disturbing – means via the slogan: “Emotion is power, so do not be ashamed of it.”

True, the folks in Saudi Arabia appears to not go as bonkers over emo as the people in Egypt did a while back. Still, it’s a rather cut-and-paste piece, with snippets of paranoia of a youth-bred culture that “parents just don’t understand.”

Aside from the Rites of Spring reference (kuddos for putting that in the piece!), what is probably most alarming is the title of the article:

The Emo subculture invades Saudi society

What I’m harping on here is the word “invasion.” It promotes a certain fear-of-the-other, and isn’t that the kind of polarizing attitude that could potentially do more harm to kids with real depression versus those who dabble in the fashion of the day that’s merely perceived to be that of an individual who is depressed.

The rest is more of the usual… Still, it’s interesting to track the “spreading of emo” throughout the world. Or at least in the guise of the worldwide media.

Dear LA Times

It’s times like these when I feel like Grandpa Simpson writing to practically anyone about the most insignificant things.

In any case, I wrote a little email to Christopher Hawthorne, the LA Times architecture critic who named dropped emo a little incorrectly in his review of (500) Days of Summer. No matter what you think about the direction of newspapers, you have to love the fact that writers place their contact information in their articles: they want people with anything to say to speak up. It can often lead to corrections of errors and overall improve the public knowledge of almost anything to be reported on. Which is the very nature of journalism in the first place.

Though I don’t believe that what I complained about will be corrected (after all, it’s merely a minor detail), it’s nice to know that journalists like Hawthorne exist and care about the public. Below is what he wrote to me (I’ll include my email to him at the bottom of this post):

Hi Leor,

Thanks for the note — I went back and read the piece again and agree that in a couple of places I should made clearer that I meant emo in the broadest possible pop-cultural sense. And there probably ought to be a word somewhere between emo and indie to really precisely describe what I was zeroing in on; or maybe I should have tried to coin one. Again, thanks for the note.

Best regards,


It was very kind for Hawthorne to give my email such thoughtful consideration. So, shame on me for thinking that architecture critics are out of touch with ambiguous youth cultures. Hawthorne has certainly proven himself.

For anyone still entertained by this whole correspondence, the beginning is below:

Dear Christopher,

I wish to send a little correction to you about your piece on architecture in ‘(500) Days of Summer’. My feelings on the actual film aside, I feel that I must point out your incorrect use of the term “emo culture” in your piece. What you have described, is, in fact, indie culture, a concept you make note of in terms of the types of bands characters in films like ‘(500) Days of Summer’ listen to, and yet you sidestep this culture immediately. Especially in the case of ‘Adventureland’ – a film that takes place in the 1980s, when emo first sprung up in DC’s post-hardcore scene – those individuals are very much imbued in the indie/underground culture of the time (listening to Lou Reed and The Replacements, etc). Sensitivity expressed within a young male shouldn’t necessarily be tagged as “emo” (an idea that has caught many a journalist considering the term implies emotional, but really stands for emotional-hardcore): if it is an alternative to how men are portrayed, then they are “alternative.”

But, in the case of “(500) Days of Summer,” the culture being portrayed is that of indie culture. From the characters’ style of dress, to the color scheme, to the song choices (Regina Spektor, The Smiths, and The Pixies are staples of indie culture in America), to the “quirkiness” oft found in today’s “indie” films, and even your own comments on the culture, roping in McSweeney’s and “This American Life,” depict indie culture at its most stereotypical. Emo culture, as it is seen today, is for adolescents who are “depressed” and into punk, often also into violent fetishes and even considered to be something of a suicide cult (among circles not to understanding of the term). What you are describing is a middle class, late teens/early 20s, typically white, college educated, and often affluent individual, who – in terms of leaps and bounds in generalizations – tend to make up the most stereotypical indie culture. They have the opportunity to read McSweeney’s, listen to “hip” bands like Vampire Weekend, and spend days and weeks and months without a job while trying to hunt down a dream position at an architecture firm and pay rent (in Tom’s case). I particularly don’t think that this explains all of indie culture, but that’s it to a “T” in terms of what the movie expresses and what they’re trying to package off and sell to that audience.

I realize this may be a silly thing to email you about correcting, but these kind of mistakes tend to snowball… and, as emo culture is already quite misinterpreted among the media (oft thought of as for young depressed teen punks with a fetish for self-mutilation), this would just throw another wrench into the already screwed up mess of a machine.

The piece was otherwise well written and thoroughly researched… it’s just kinks like the odd interpretation of emo culture (especially when today, for that to be emo culture, the characters would often be a decade younger or so) that irk me a little. Anyway, I hope all is well and take care.



When Emo Went to Egypt Land

Lookout Russia and Mexico, there’s another country that’s got emo in the public’s depress-ed eye. Egypt was recently over-run with anti-emo fervor, and as The Guardian‘s Jack Shenker tells it, the authorities and media took things way out of proportion. Go figure.

As Shenker tells it, Cairo recently saw a bloom of graffiti in the streets. And even while spray-painted scrawlings are heralded as street art in many places, it’s still seen as a nuisance. According to Shenker, the “authorities did what any sensible, level-headed authority would do – they panicked, called in state security agents, and began rounding up suspects.” And all over this:

I’d seen these photos on a blog (perhaps not the one I’ve linked to, but one similar in that I couldn’t understand what it said and it contained many similar photos) a few weeks ago, but considering I don’t know Arabic, I merely continued to bumble about the Internet, unbeknownst the connection to the city’s emo scene.

But, it seems as though the entire scene was unrelated to the country’s emo community. As the Egyptian Chronicles blog noted about the coverage of the “emo graffiti” in Youm 7:

Yesterday Monday at 11 :08 Am the newspaper published an exclusive news :The Egyptian Emos were behind the drawings downtown and that this drawing “which depicts a man with a broom , of course I did not know that”means unlimited feelings !!!!!!!!!!
According to a member from Egypt’s underground dangerous Emo group it is a message to the state security that they are not affected by these arrests that followed “Al-Hakika show” and these drawings mean that the group is too big that we think. This news was published by Ahmed Mustafa who seems to know an insider in the Emos !!
I did not believe the story and I wanted to comment on it as soon as I read it but I got engaged in Sham El-Nassim. I felt that it was an attempt by the interior ministry to hunt down the Emos again. 
Thank goodness that I waited because in 15:47 PM Youm 7 published another news , this time by Gamal Al-Shanawy , the news is saying that the interior ministry succeeded in arresting those who drew those drawings and guess what they are not Emos and may be they have not heard about them in their entire life !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
They are two artists from the town house gallery  were trying to promote a new logo they invented to become the new logo of the state cleanliness campaign !!  A car technician was helping them by holding their tools. 
Now what bring the Emos in to the issue in the first place ?? Is not this a fabrication !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 
I do not know why we do not put the Emos phenomena in its right size. 

In which case, it seems as if all of this was a big misunderstanding, but at the expense of the country’s emo followers. It certainly isn’t the first time an underground culture has been misinterpreted by the Egyptian government. As Mark Levine notes in Heavy Metal Islam‘s chapter on Egypt, the city’s metal scene was under siege by authorities in the 90s under suspect of Satanism. Of course, these calls for concern were untrue, but it certainly set the city’s scene back.

The same looks to be said of emo, ever since there was a program on Dream TV back in March “exploring” the culture. Though according to Shenker, it wasn’t much of an expose as it was a beating ground:The “backlash” against emo-culture actually began before the street-art controversy, when the host of El-Hakika (The Truth), a top-rated talk-show on Dream TV, devoted an entire episode back in March to the alarming phenomenon of emos in Egypt. In it he grilled a number of self-identified emos, including one gutsy student named only as Sherif who persistently interrupted the presenter and callers to insist that the emos were not an organised movement and were not all gay. “The idea is that there is nothing wrong with admitting that you are emotional,” he said defensively. The host, Wael El-Ibrashi, disagreed. “Look, no one can tell you how to wear your hair,” the presenter conceded generously, “But when that becomes a group philosophy, it’s worrying.”

Considering the negative approach to emo taken by the program, it’s not unthinkable to see the mainstream cower in fear of a culture they don’t quite understand. After all, the same thing happened in Mexico after emo was dissed on a popular music TV program, and that was just last year. More pieces continue to crop up railing against emo, even though it appears to be just as harmless as any other subculture or (dare I say it in the guise of this blog, but it’s still a relevant word) fad. Check out the slightly-racist ramblings in the hilariously-titled “‘Emus’ Terrorize Cairo” piece originally found in Middle East Features:

wear their hair swept forward like Asians…

Granted, that does come from a translation of another website, but the information continues to be distributed as a piece of news instead of observing it under the microscope. And then there are the anti-emo Facebook groups, which doesn’t exactly feature some emo-friendly fare:

Picture 16

True, it is Facebook, and rarely anything of cultural relevance actually is driven by the website except for Facebook itself (how many profile pictures or status updates spurn real-world action?) but the sentiment declared by Bassem displays a strong sense of hated that seems undeserved (though who can say what any “emo” had personally done to him, but I don’t want to make excuses…)

As Shenker wisely notes, it’s the youth of Egypt that ultimately suffer the consequences, having to bear the brunt of a confused society and, in the case of Egypt, police inquisition. None of these are pleasant consequences, and in a country that, according to Shenker, has a large youth unemployment rate, it’s not unthinkable that the Egypt’s youngsters want to find some way to rebel… It’s just a shame that wearing a bit too much eyeliner could land someone in jail.