Katy Perry’s new video “Dark Horse” has apparently stirred up controversy because some eagle-eyed Muslim viewer caught one of the actors in the video wearing an “Allah” pendant as he’s being zapped to death by lightning bolts coming out of Egyptian queen Katy Perry’s hands. The viewer, called Shazad Iqbal of Bradford, West Yorkshire, felt so offended by this nanosecond in the video that he created an online petition on Change.org calling for the removal of her video from YouTube, which over 65,000 others signed. Today it was reported that the video has been edited so that the Allah pendant was no longer visible, which Shazad Iqbal declared a victory for his cause. Yet to me this really feels like nothing to celebrate.
The idea that Katy Perry meant to be blasphemous or insult Islam is so ludicrous that I don’t know really where to begin. In fact, I would prescribe this video as a treatment for depression because it made me laugh so hard when I saw it. By portraying herself as an Egyptian queen with powers over various magicians, while a group of cat ladies dance around her and blue-skinned bondsmen tremble to obey her commands as she strikes various Egyptian-looking poses and wears grills in her teeth, Katy Perry has set herself up to be accused of insulting far more than just Islam. The list of potential petitions looms large from Egyptologists, people who love the movie Avatar, Michael Jackson fans (his far superior “Do You Remember The Time” video was also set in ancient Egypt), and the makers of the movie Cleopatra.
There are two things that don’t make me laugh about this. One is how some Muslims seem to have become addicted to the “offensive” label and wield their hurt feelings like a truncheon with which to hit other people over the head. Hanging an “Allah” pendant on an actor in a video is probably a mistake committed by some clueless art director on the video set, not a conspiracy by Katy Perry to malign all the one and a half billion followers of Islam all over the world. The pendant wasn’t actually burned, dissolved, or zapped – those were just CGI effects on a screen.
The other thing that doesn’t make me laugh is how Western media has become used to taking the actions of a fringe element in Islam and portraying them as the feelings and beliefs of the mainstream. Islam is not a monolith and all its followers do not act or feel the same way. For every person who signed the anti-Katy Perry petition, there are probably a hundred others who don’t care what she does in her videos and a thousand more who have never heard of Katy Perry.
I sincerely doubt that Friday sermons will be conducted in mosques denouncing her video, or that effigies of Katy Perry will be burnt in the streets of Cairo or Karachi. But you can bet that parts of Western media will act as though the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem declared a fatwa against Katy Perry and that all the Muslims of the world have united to condemn her to the flames of hell. And there might even be someone out there – possibly Muslim Rage Boy – who will allow themselves to be photographed burning a picture of Katy Perry in protest. And so it goes, in the words of Kurt Vonnegut: a cycle where both Western media and attention-seeking fringe feed off each other while the rest of the world groans and changes the channel or switches the station the next time “Dark Horse” plays on television or the radio.