Confession: I am a closet fan of NBC’s Smash. I love it because it speaks to both my inner-diva and inner (or just plain overt) queerness. The qualities of kitsch and camp (as manifested in dance sequences, Marilyn Monroe drag, and Anjelica Houston, naturally) are things that I hold near and dear.
So despite certain flaws of the TV show (stiff scenarios that force segues to Vaseline-tinted balladeer-ing, and many, many jazz hands), I anticipate each new episode every Tuesday morning — thank Claude for Hulu – with a certain sense of hope and an expectation for my campy needs to be satisfied.
So lo and behold my bafflement at the original song “One Thousand And One Nights” featured in Smash’s latest episode, “Publicity”: a distorted ode to Bollywood that left me feeling all kinds of awkward.
At the onset, the premise somewhat makes sense: Dev (Raza Jaffrey), the boyfriend of Karen (Katharine McPhee) is a British man of Indian descent, but even then it seems a bit of a stretch.
While watching, my instincts spoke to the invocation of stereotyping: that because part of Dev is Indian, the rest of his identity is completely subsumed. This was only a mere indication of what was to follow.
“One Thousand And One Nights” is a perfect example of Orientalism and the Western gaze: the evocation of exoticism within the fictive boundaries of the Orient (lyrics like “mystic from above”), the conflation of culture in this Orient (magic lamps and the actual 1,001 Nights are traditionally aligned with the Arab world, and even then it gets bit dicey), and the hodge-podge of Judeo-Christian iconography with a dusting of Bollywood glamour (there is a bindi-ed, sari-ed up Eve reaching for an apple, you guys, what the heck is going on?).
This is a far cry from camping or glamping; it’s just disturbing. In the scope of three minutes and eleven seconds, Smash’s “One Thousand And One Nights” lambasts the legitimacy of the non-Western world, summons the centuries-old tenets of the colonial mindset, and “allows” the (mis)appropriation of culture.