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“Happy” In The Maghreb: Who Scores On The Pharrell Williams Index?

February 7, 2014

Tunisia and Egypt are not excluded from the global wave of "Happy" videos.

Tunisia and Egypt are not excluded from the global wave of “Happy” videos.

Pharrell Williams’ song “Happy” first appeared in the soundtrack of “Despicable Me 2” but he’s done a lot with it since. It’s been an global hit, and nominated for an Academy Award for best song.

When he released the single version, he also unveiled the website offering “the world’s first 24 hour music video“. This consists of the four-minute song repeated with various people dancing and miming along including a number of celebrity cameos including Steve Carell, Miranda Cosgrove, Jamie Foxx, Magic Johnson, JoJo, Jimmy Kimmel, Sérgio Mendes, Ana Ortiz, Odd Future and Kelly Osbourne. Williams appears every hour, and the minions from “Despicable Me 2” also make multiple appearances.

An official four-minute edit of the video was also released on YouTube.

Making “Happy” Videos

The site, and the 4-minute official video, inspired people around the world to produce their own local versions. “We Are Happy in …” videos have appeared from Moscow, Paris, Krakow, Hong Kong and dozens of other places.

Including the Maghreb.

I first heard about them in Tunisia on PRI. Magharebia News site says the first was shot shot in Bizerte. A quick search on-line revealed additional videos filmed in Tunis, Carthage, Sousse, Monistir, Issep Kef, Nabeul, Beja, and Kairouan.

Here’s the one from Bizerte:

There’s also a Moroccan version:

What about Egypt?

Nineteen year old Egyptian musician Talal El-Tambouly did a cover, shooting in Cairo and London

The Middle School teachers and staff at the Cairo American College (Egypt’s most expensive international school) did a video:

(This was my first view of CAC’s amazing new Middle School building, constructed after I left Cairo.)

I’ve also found a couple from Tel Aviv and Dubai (of course) and one by staff at the Jannah Hotel Chain in Abu Dhabi, but no other Gulf States, nor Iran nor (to my surprise) Turkey.

Addendum July 2014: Just learned about this new Happy video by Syrian refugees at Darasakran refugee camp in Erbil, Iraq.

The Pharrell Williams Index

Is there any social significance to the fact that I can find “Happy” videos from Tunisia, Morocco and Egypt but nowhere else in the region except Israel and tourist-rich Dubai and Abu-Dhabi? Or why practically every city in Tunisia is represented but there’s only a couple from Morocco and Egypt?

Some years ago (1986, actually) The Economist created a “Big Mac Index,” showing what a Big Mac cost in all the different countries in the world where the burger chain operates. It was based on the theory that in the long run exchange rates should move toward  equalization between any two countries of prices of identical goods and services (in this case, a burger).

It always reminds me of George Taylor’s Hemline Index, which claims that there is a correlation between the length of (Western) women’s hemlines and stock prices, indicating that good economies yield short skirts but in poor economic times hems drop precipitously.

Against this, anthropologist Alfred Kroeber studied features of (Western) women’s dresses–hemlines but also decolletage and other features–over 300 years and discovered regular cycles that seemed to be unrelated to any particular external shifts–leading him to posit paradigm changes in cultural elements like dress that seem to operate almost independent of us.

So what about the patterns of which countries produce the most and the fewest “Happy” videos on YouTube. Would a “Pharrell Williams index” tell us anything about the state of various parts of the world?

Or is this just global cultural flows moving along mysterious and unmapable courses?

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