Don't expect a study laden with Qur'anic quotes and medieval glosses; Shirazi of the University of Texas instead offers up a much lighter brew of Playboy cartoons, Arabic ads for watches, and Iranian feature films. Her subtitle should be "The Hijab in Popular Culture," for she has toiled not in the vineyards of theology or social structure but in those of perception and mass media. The result makes for breezy and sometimes compelling reading, but does it teach us anything? Does her six-year meditation of the veil as vulgarly understood provide true insights or does it merely rehash the obvious?

For example, reviewing the role of the veil in American advertising, Shirazi discerns three major strategies "exploiting three different stereotypes about the Muslim woman": mysterious woman awaiting conquest, submissive woman hiding, and generic woman representing the whole Middle East. Looking at Saudi advertising, she notes how sanitary napkins there can only be promoted with pictures of the face (as opposed to the whole-body pictures in the West), and how this means showing women in spotlessly white or other light-colored veils. Her conclusion from poring over runs of three U.S. men's erotic magazines is that they portray sex in the Middle East as "close to supernatural" and purvey the curious (because so misleading) notion that the veil "symbolizes woman's willingness to partake in male fantasies"

All of this adds less to the store of human understanding than would be hoped for from six years of research. (And these are the best of them; the more dubious draw outlandish ties between American popular culture and the details of Middle East life: a 1986 cartoon making fun of a camel-driver who has his camel wear a veil is assumed to represent Libya's Mu‘ammar al-Qadhdhafi.) The study of popular culture has yet to find its roll, whether interpreting the veil or other topics.