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Twerping in West Asia

There’s this thing about fads, they fade. Psy’s Gangnam style horseplay is history. The Harlem Shake has expired. That vacuum is now being filled by the Twerk. Anirudh Bhattacharyya writes.

columns Updated: Sep 07, 2013 09:25 IST

There’s this thing about fads, they fade. Psy’s Gangnam style horseplay is history. The Harlem Shake has expired. That vacuum is now being filled by the Twerk. For those unaware of this dance craze, the word derives from a combination of twist and jerk, and is akin to dirty dancing gone wild.

Twerking’s prima donna is Miley Ray Cyrus, who exhibited it at the recent MTV Video Music Awards. Cyrus wants the tiara in the Miss Weird contest, emulating Madonna and Lady Gaga, even as others like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan have exited stage left.

Strange how things change. Some time in prehistory, or the middle of the first decade of this millennium, Cyrus’s career was hatched with Disney’s Hannah Montana. It’s a short trip from twee to twerk.

During those intervening years, as this Disney princess evolved into the new prancing queen, in another enchanted land, a certain Asma al-Akhras has gone from being described as “a rose in the desert” by Vogue magazine and flatteringly profiled by the New York Times magazine, to the Wicked Witch of Damascus as she stands by her man, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. A connoisseur of Christian Louboutin and crystal chandeliers, that first lady is barred from her shopping trips in Europe, unable to walk along Paris’s Faubourg Saint-Honore district, searching for that chic gas mask that perfectly matches the next release of Sarin.

Meanwhile, her husband has gone from being feted as a “reformer” by Hillary Clinton, and meeting and dining regularly with her successor as Secretary of State, John Kerry, to comparisons with Saddam Hussein.

As the American president seeks approval from the United States Congress for striking Syria, the timing could be fascinating. With the vote likely during the week of September 9, could such intervention play out on 9/11, which also happens to be Assad’s 48th birthday? What better way to extend your wishes than to say it with missiles?

As the dogs are released into the fog of war, part of the reason for the Obama administration’s sense of outrage may have deeper roots. During the Democratic primaries for the presidency in 2008, Hillary Clinton riffed on Obama’s harping on a 2002 speech in which he opposed the Iraq invasion. In that context, she said then, “The speech was not followed up with action, which is part of a pattern we see repeatedly, a lot of talk and little action. As they say in Texas, all hat and no cattle.” In this case, he probably doesn’t want to be accused of all chat and no battle.

So, apparently angry that Assad’s army has danced around some blurred red lines, the Nobel Peace laureate is willing to go it alone in Syria. The Russians are concerned, and a Moscow summit between Obama and Vladimir Putin was called off, though the latter did find time to high-five a walrus at a Vladivostok oceanarium. Meanwhile, Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin tweeted that America’s proposed behaviour in a volatile region was like that of letting loose a “monkey with a grenade.”

Part of the American analysis of Syrian chemical weapons use is based on social media videos. If that’s true then plenty of grumpy cats could turn into endangered species. But then, we’ve seen this movie before. When terrorists attacked and killed Americans in Benghazi on 9/11 last year, the administration blamed it on a YouTube video, with Susan Rice, now Obama’s national security adviser, working that script on TV talk shows. Assad may actually be correct in warning: “After me, the delusion.”

Cyrus reacted to critics of her MTV performance thus: “They’re overthinking it. You’re thinking about it more than I thought about it when I did it. Like, I didn’t even think about it ‘cause that’s just me.” Such deep analysis could well be attributed to the White House too as it prepares to launch into some twerping in West Asia.

Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years
The views expressed by the author are personal