Monday, November 08, 2010

Geography in Song: Istanbul (Not Constantinople)

Istanbul (Not Constantinople) is not a serious song.  It was not serious when first performed by The Four Lads nor was it serious when the modern group They Might Be Giants covered it.  The music video from the television show Tiny Toons is not serious as well.  However, there are still cultural geography insights to be gained from listening to the song and watching the cartoon.

The song and video does represent geographic confusion in Western culture.  
  • The fez was popular in the last one-hundred years of the Ottoman Empire but prior to the modernizing reforms 1820s it was only worn in certain parts of the empire.
  • Sand dune deserts and tents are steretopyical visions of Arabia.  Istanbul/Constantinople is in Europe.  
  • The two-humped, Bactrian, camels are found in Central Asia and Mongolia, not in the lands of the Ottoman Empire.  The most common camel in the empire was the Dromedary, also known as the Arabian, camel.
So where does the whole mix up of the European-Ottoman, Arabian, and Central Asian regions come from?  A Thousand and One Arabian Nights.  That book is a combination of stories from across the Islamic world.  Its popularity in nineteenth century Europe and early America served to create the template for the stereotype of the Islamic world for Westerners: camels, sultans, deserts, palaces, and buried treasures.  All these were envisioned in the music video.

By the way, why did Constantinople change to Istanbul? Well, that is no one's business but the Turks and Greeks.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

of course, Istanbul is just what "stimboli" sounds like in turkish....