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Charred cars, riot police, and thousands of dollars' worth of clothing make for a visually gripping, if rather odd, tribute to female empowerment that is the latest music video from pop star Beyonce.

But careful viewers of the "Run the World (Girls)" clip will notice that as Ms. Knowles struts her stuff through a postapocalyptic landscape (walking two slobbering hyenas on chains, no less) she passes a sign along the road that seems out of place -- even in this jumble of sights and sounds. The sign is in Georgian, of all languages, and points the way to the capital, Tbilisi, as well as to Tskhinvali and Gori.

It's at the 1:55 mark:



Tskhinvali, as capital of the breakaway Georgian region of South Ossetia, is perhaps best known as the site of major fighting between Russia and Georgia in their 2008 war. Gori, not far from Tskhinvali, was occupied by Russian troops during the war.

So why was this particular sign the backdrop of choice for the distinctly American diva? I tried to find out, but repeated attempts to reach David Naylor & Associates, the music-video production company for which Beyonce's director, Francis Lawrence, works, were unsuccessful. Georgian broadcasting company Rustavi-2 says on its website that it, too, is "trying to find out why Beyonce was interested in Georgia-Russia war." At least for now, it seems, the answer will remain a mystery.

However, a few have ventured possible explanations: One post on The Young Georgians blog says Beyonce "probably has no idea what [the writing] is and just liked the 'exotic' alphabet." Another post, in agreeing with that theory, also calls the use of the sign "disrespect[-ful] of our nation." In the writer's words, "What the hell is doing Georgian road sign in desert? I don't get it, no, useless, pointless." Another post, without offering a guess, notes that hyenas -- just like the ones Beyonce is seen with -- happen to be endangered in Georgia. (It seems to me, however, that the spotted hyena, which is native to Africa, is the variety in the video, and not the striped, which can be found in the Caucasus).

Another user who has posted a comment says the sign is anything but arbitrary, and links to this article -- which offers a surprisingly detailed argument for why the video is actually about the recent uprising in Egypt. In that context, the writer says, the Georgian road sign is actually suggestive of the 2003 Rose Revolution, and not the 2008 war:

"Music fans are subtly referred to another peaceful, and forgotten, revolution with a similar cause and result... The Rose Revolution occurred peacefully in Tbilisi, Georgia around Freedom Square and nearby locations after the contested parliamentary elections of 2003. The Rose Revolution led to the resignation of Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze. The peaceful Egyptian Revolution led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, sealing the end of a 30-year-old regime infamous for rigging elections and shuffling parliament, after protests brooded in Tahrir, or 'Liberation,' Square."

Curious. Very curious.

As noted by GlobalVoices, other video watchers suggested that the Georgian government might have paid for the sign's inclusion, much like an ad placement, or that Beyonce was actually paying homage to the Caucasian nation.

My gut tells me that the "exotic alphabet" theory is most plausible -- unless Francis Lawrence is a Georgiaphile in hiding or has a film assistant of Georgian background. Beyonce, I would guess, had no say in the matter. I also wonder whether the director didn't find the image of the road sign here on Wikipedia, which could have easily been photoshopped into the video.

Now who says pop music videos don't make us think?

-- Richard Solash

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at transmission+rferl.org

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