chapter  11
20 Pages

Lil Maaz’s Mange du kebab: challenging clichés or serving up an immigrant stereotype for mass consumption online?


This chapter analyzes how new media technologies provide a new means of understanding relationships between diaspora populations and their homelands. It looks at Lil Maaz’s 2007 single Mange du kebab (Eat kebabs), which gained a cult following in France after initially being posted on YouTube. The chapter first examines immigrant and Islamic identity and engages with the work of Mireille Rosello, exploring the extent to which Lil Maaz conforms to or challenges stereotypes. It then examines perceptions of members of Islamic diasporas by paying particular attention to sexuality, masculinity and meat by engaging with the work of Gerholm, Hopkins and Ouzgane. Finally, it explores the cultural importance of food in relation to national identity and community by drawing on the theories of Barthes and Gilroy. By exploiting what new media can offer, it argues that Lil Maaz negotiates an alternative route to fame that allows him to present a vision of Muslim diasporas that seeks to promote tolerance and acceptance. There are more Muslims in France than any other Western European

country (Laurence and Vaisse 2006: 1), yet they still struggle to achieve media coverage which is comparable to that of other religious groups, such as Jews and Protestants, which they vastly outnumber (Hargreaves 2007: 107). Furthermore, Khosrokhavar argues that the French media are responsible for a misunderstanding of Islam in France which overly associates the religion with violence and fanaticism (1997: 24-5, 38-9). As these factors suggest that representations of Muslims in the mainstream media in France are infrequent and often inaccurate, it is worth examining to what extent new media provide a possible solution to these problems. Since file-sharing sites such as YouTube are becoming an increasingly popular means of watching music videos, it is worth considering what possibilities they offer Muslim performers. This chapter examines the path which a Turkish-born Muslim rapper nego-

tiated between challenging stereotypes about Islam and acting out a recognizable immigrant stereotype in an attempt to ensure broad popular appeal. Lil Maaz (real name Yilmaz Karaman) became famous in France during the summer of 2007 as a result of his novelty single Mange du kebab (Eat kebabs) appearing on file-sharing sites such as YouTube and DailyMotion.1 His success raises important issues about the use of new media by diaspora groups in

France to create new forms of self-representation. Initially, this chapter will analyze how Lil Maaz’s route to online fame fits in with the theories of Guest (2007), Landzelius (2006) and Siegel (2008) regarding the use of new media technologies by members of diasporas and minority groups. Next, it will focus on three main areas: immigrant and Islamic identity; sexuality, meat and masculinity; food, national identity and community. The first of these three sections engage with the work of Mireille Rosello

(1998) on the theme of stereotypes, and notably the way in which acting out a stereotype can be a potentially empowering gesture for members of minority groups.2 The nature of how Lil Maaz evokes his Islamic faith in a novelty single calls into question the received idea that Islam is a religion within which there is little potential for humour, as does the emergence of an increasing number of Muslim stand-up comedians in recent years (see Khan 2007). Indeed, humour has in recent years provided a means of countering the demonization of Muslims as threatening others within a post-9/11 context. Nevertheless, Lil Maaz’s articulation of a light-hearted and consensual vision can be seen as obscuring the problems faced by Muslim immigrants, and other minorities, in France. Despite these potential problems associated with Lil Maaz’s strategy, the

next section will demonstrate that he does nevertheless represent himself in a more radical manner when it comes to sexuality. The fact that he uses his status as a kebab shop worker to project a heavily Westernized masculine self-image contrasts with the way in which several studies about masculine identity amongst members of Islamic diasporas (e.g. Donaldson et al. 2006; Gerholm 2003; Hopkins 2006) point towards more conservative attitudes to sexuality. Furthermore, it reinforces the notion that there is a link between meat and masculinity. The final section builds on the previous section by zooming in on the socio-

cultural significance of how Lil Maaz seeks to represent the kebab. Due to the way in which Mange du kebab constitutes a tribute to the popular appeal of the kebab, this chapter asks whether Lil Maaz is effectively trying to establish it as a modern equivalent of the bifteck (beef steak) which Roland Barthes (1957) famously represented as an iconic symbol of Frenchness. Lil Maaz’s attempts to represent his kebab shop as a cosmopolitan and convivial environment will then be contextualized here in relation to Gilroy’s (2004) discussion of the term ‘conviviality’. After doing so, analysis of theorists such as Hutnyk (2000) will introduce a note of caution by asking whether the consensual nature of Mange du kebab reduces the extent to which it effectively challenges the frequent stereotyping of Muslims (and other minority groups) in France.