Thursday, April 27, 2017

Orientalism 2.0

For almost all of human history, western countries have always viewed themselves as better. It usually comes down to race, and especially lately it has come down to race. I believe that we still have an Orientalist mindset and I don't think that it will go away in the next few years. Due to past generations, the continued mindset of a superior west has come into the current time period and is still going strong. The younger generation is beginning to be raised with a more supportive and welcoming mindset, but it is the older generation that is making the decisions with the Oriental mindset. Once the older generation is out of power and the younger generation takes their place, there will definitely be a shift in the overall mindset. There will be a much more open community all around, and people will become much more open and willing to try and understand other cultures. Once we can reach that point, Orientalism will then fade into a thing of the past.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Halloween: an Orientalist's Holiday

In my opinion, it is very clear that Americans are commonly stuck in an Orientalist mindset. Although this is very unfortunate, I think it is painfully clear. Surprisingly, I think that this mindset becomes clear on a holiday that is an American favorite, Halloween.

Image result for child genie costumeOn Halloween, some Americans accidentally display their Orientalist mindsets with their costume choices. In recent years, the cultural appropriation that occurs in Halloween costumes has begun to gain some media attention. Many Americans have began to appropriate cultures other than their own in their offensive Halloween costumes.

For example, a common Halloween costume that shows the Orientalist mindset is the "genie" costume. This shows the Orientalist mindset of many Americans who choose this costume because they are taking an aspect of another culture and turning it into a costume for them to show off on Halloween while knowing nothing of true value about the culture that they are appropriating.

Another example of an offensive and Orientalist costume is the "geisha" costume. Some Americans choose this costume without knowing what a traditional Geisha is or the culture behind them. Similar to the genie costume, this shows the Orientalist mindset because Americans take this aspect of Japanese culture and manipulate it into a costume that demeans the culture and tradition.

Although Halloween is a fun holiday for adults and children alike, Americans need to become more aware that they may be appropriating and manipulating for a costume without being educated on the culture behind their costume.
Image result for geisha costume

Orientalism and the Rhetoric of Donald Trump

In his book, Orientalism, Edward Said evaluates Orientalism, a thought structure deeply entrenched in modern Western society that misrepresents and generalizes the Orient (the 'East'). Owing to significant contact made through trade and colonialism, Said asserts that Orientalist thought reached a height in prevalence around the turn of the 19th century. That said, Orientalism continues to manifest itself in several Western socio-economic and political institutions in the 21st century. Today, Orientalism is most visibly manifested in the rhetoric of Donald Trump.

Traditionally, United States Presidents have been very careful to differentiate between the vast majority of Muslims who practice Islam peacefully and the small minority who do not. Even George W. Bush, champion of two "wars on terror", famously declared that "Islam is a religion of peace." Donald Trump has abandoned this tradition. In his inaugural address, Trump described his plans to escalate the war on ISIS using particularly inflammatory rhetoric. Trump declared that he would "unite the civilized world against radical Islamic terrorism, which we will eradicate completely from the face of the Earth." In describing ISIS as a radical Islamic terror group, Trump effectively legitimized a small group of criminals who practice a perverted form of Islam.

Trump's ignorant rhetoric serves to further American perceptions of the Orient as a place that is backwards, uncivilized, and dangerous.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Modern Day Orentalism

We as a western culture have always felt so entitled to others. As though it is not bad enough that we have taken the right for others to express their culture away, we feel the need to make it "trendy". Edward Said addresses this same problem in a post-colonial time period in "Orientalism". Said's critique examines colonialism and how it affects not only the cultures being colonized, by how the colonizer approaches the culture in the aforementioned colonies. The colonizer is predominantly white and European. In his critique Said focuses on Britain because the United States of was not yet a large enough world power to colonize and while the French looked to colonize, they were not nearly as successful as Britain. However, modern United States has bypassed Britain in its colonizing ability and is now a perfect example of a place which is fully capable of Orientalism.

Cultural appropriation is a form of Orientalism, and a very popular form of orientalist cultural appropriation is Henna. Henna is an art form originating in eastern countries, specifically India, Africa, Pakistan, and the Middle East. Traditionally, it is a wedding tradition, used for decorative purposes and to invoke love in a marriage. Recently, it has been robbed of its cultural significance as it has slowly become a western trend. I have heard it most often argued that henna is worn as a symbol of appreciation for the culture, however, I cannot help but feel that cannot be true as most people who wear Henna do not know where it originated from. When I first saw Henna, I thought that it was a new trend, and had no idea of its origins. Without knowing about the culture a "fashion trend" came from, it is impossible to appreciate it, one must educate themselves about another culture to appreciate it, not embezzle their sacred practices because you enjoy their eastern look.

India: More Than Just Beauty

It is quite clear that Western culture has a major Orientalist mindset. It is clear that we have a this mindset mainly in the music industry. Coldplay created a music video for the song, “Hymn for the Weekend”. The video seems to be shot throughout India during the holiday, Holi. It is pretty clear to the audience that Coldplay is only using India as a setting for its beauty, not its culture. Sure, it is being shot during an Indian holiday so there is a cultural aspect there but is it a coincidence that the video is shot during the most colorful and widely recognized holiday. The answer is no and this is an example of Orientalism in Western culture.
The consequences of only viewing India is a “wondrous”, “mysterious”, “hidden gem” way discredits India’s rich history. It makes it seem as if India is only a place of beauty (don’t get wrong it is beautiful) but there is so much more than just beauty. There is a history that many Western cultures no nothing about and that is a shame. Western cultures are self-absorbed and only learn about our own history when there is so much more history beyond us.

To start breaking out of this mindset we need to start acknowledging that Eastern cultures have history that is beyond us. We need to understand that there is so much more than what Western news tells us. We need to accept that we are the ones who created this Orientalist mindset and understand that it is not how Eastern cultures actually are.

Friday, March 24, 2017


Just as Edward Said states, orientalism is a very complicated concept that has developed over so many generations and therefore cannot be fixed easily. We see orientalism in film, books, and the way media portrays certain events. Because we have all of this media surrounding us that is governed by orientalist views, it is hard for us to step out of this orientalist mindset even if we are aware that we are in this mindset. I believe it all stems from ignorance and the lack of a need to ask the questions "is this a true representation?" or "am I missing very important information?" or even "am I making assumptions?". I have had many moments where people will come up to me assuming my ethnicity. Most often is the assumption that I am Chinese, that I am a foreigner, or that my family is not very fluent in English. Although I don't think that this is exactly representative of orientalism, I do think that there is a similar problem in that people act on their assumptions without considering that they may be mistaken. I think that even this sort of small misunderstanding and small mistakes feed into the idea of orientalism. People make assumptions based on the little information that they have and I think that that is what is at the core of orientalism. If only people would inform themselves, they would not be making the same mistakes over and over again and eventually we could try to correct the mistakes made by orientalist views.

Lion and the Future of Orientalism

Lion, directed by Garth Davis is the story of a young mans struggle to find his way home after being lost for 25 years. This incredible film follows the journey of a young Indian boy who gets lost in a train station and soon finds himself thousands of miles away from home with no way of getting back. As he wonders the streets of this new and strange city he soon finds himself adopted by an Australian family, and brought back to there home in Melbourne. Saroo, grows up and comes to love his new family but soon realizes his obvious differences and longs to travel back to his origins from which he was separated from. Close to 25 years later he makes the decision to retrace his steps through his past to his homeland.
The film takes young Saroo's point of view as a young Indian child, caught up in a huge world full of strange people and places. In my opinion it does an incredible job of breaking away from the Orientalism that plagues our cultural views of the East. It has a unique and engaging story line told from a new point of view. It gives the audience an inside looking out lenses, from a young boys eyes who has no understanding of the world that surrounds him, both East and West. The film unlike past films like Slumdog Millionaire, has no extreme and bizarre cultural bias, of "forginism". It does show the polar change between East and West but does in a realistic and powerful way. Giving a human feel that focuses on the bonds between people and sense the main character doesn't fully fit into either world that surrounds him he gives a unique and unbiased view of the two worlds that surround him.

The Dominating West Mindset

In the eyes of the west, foreign countries of the east are seen as rigid lands filled with barbarous people. Of course this is not true, but it is common in our country since we never been to the east. This idea of orientalism is brainwashed into our brains through various outlets and some of it is our fault. Although the media, television, and other social networks or outlets makes us believe the east is uncivilized, it may be our fault for we do not question the credibility of our sources. Perhaps it's subtle in television but growing up in a country were the media and television dictates our lives it makes sense that this occurs. We can go to these countries where we make these accusations but how much are we actually going to see? Are we going to see what we want to see? How can we ever stop this view of the world? It is hard to find answers to these questions, if there's any. Its hard to stop this perspective since it started during an imperialistic age, that occur awhile ago.

The problem of finding a solution to the oriental mindset is that it has been occurring since imperialism. Meaning that since imperialism, those who conquered others saw how they lived and what their culture was. Instead of learning more about eastern people they compared themselves to them and drew conclusions that they were uncivilized. This mindset had not changed and that is the problem, it is static, and I wonder if it's to late to stop this mind set that has been hardwired into our brains growing up.

Modern Misconceptons

The relationship between western european culture and east has always been rocky. Wether it be diplomatic ranging police to trading, from the the silk road, ancient trading route between asia and europe, to modern embargos. Writing from an American point of view, the people of the west have never had a good connection. Edward Saids "Orientalsm" descirbes how the american people have a common misconceptions of the middle east as exotic, backwards and uncivilised. These misconceptons coming from media influence like the TV show Homeland, or the current Presidents view, lead for these misconceptions of orientalism to come to fruition.
Now from my perspective I think that this misconception goes both ways just not one way. People usually dont try and see from anothers point of view, but people in the middle ast probably have misconceptions about us, like we do about them, leading both of us unable to see eye to eye. For example when we invaded Iran in 2003, appearanlty for "payback for 9/11". THe iranians saw it as us stealing oil in there region, making a conflict, destablizing the region.
I as an American believe the best way to come to an understanding is to learn, or come to respect others cultures and traditions, that would take away many misconceptions. Traveling to so called "foreign instutuions may always help in addition. But other than that we will always have an orientalist mindset of each other beause of the current tension. We can only hope that this current tension can end in understanding and the intertwing of the two cultures to get rid of the misunderstanding.

Colonialism of the Stranger

Reading Edward Said's Orientalism, I couldn't help but flash back to the pivotal moment of The Stranger - where Meursault proves his individuality and disregard for society's rules - by killing a nameless Arab. I don't know if this qualifies as Orientalism since the book is set in Algeria, but it follows a very similar pattern to the one described by Said: white European asserts himself over a devious member of the "Other".

The total lack of recognition the Arab is given is incredibly apparent - we don't even know his name. He is just a vague threat that Meursault consigns to oblivion, a prop in a white man's story about philosophical fulfillment. In the end, Meursault's trial shows that even the larger French society is not as concerned about the fact that Meursault killed the Arab as they are that he did not seem sad at his mother's funeral.

While Camus mocks the stifling absurdity of this French society in many ways, he leaves its colonial mindset mostly unchallenged by his portrayal of the Arab as many of the stereotypes Said described - sneaky, threatening, and subordinate to the stories of Europeans. While society kills Meursault, he gets to tell his story and win the sympathy of readers. The Arab appears and vanishes without us ever hearing his perspective. Thus, it is worth wondering who is really oppressed in Camus' society, or in the real world.

Orientalism Still Exists

Orientalism, being a stereotypical depiction of the East, is actually more common than most believe. Through outlets such as movies, television shows, and social media, many false interpretations about the East are made. For instance, in the popular Disney film Aladdin, middle eastern culture is displayed as riding on flying carpets, rubbing magic lamps, and everyone wearing baggy-white clothing. These generalized depictions of Eastern society are quite shocking. Obviously, their culture cannot be as simple as it's portrayed in the film. What might be even more shocking though, is how little backlash Aladdin has gotten for supporting Orientalism. Disney makes the stereotypes quite blatant, which unfortunately, is a prime example that Orientalism still exists in modern society.

Aladdin and Orientalism

Throughout my lifetime there have been many occurrences of orientalism I have never noticed or even thought twice about. Said's theory of orientalism can be seen in our society in movies and songs that have been produced. Western society, especially here in America, portrays the middle east as something much different and even barbaric. This view can be clearly seen in movies directed towards children such as Aladdin.

In the movie Aladdin, there are many stereotypes in place from what is worn to how the characters act in this exotic land they live in. With this movie being so popular for children, there is a false depiction of Middle Eastern countries for many American children who have no other experience of Middle Eastern culture. All of the characters carry swords and are dressed in turbans throughout the movie. The stereotyping does not stop here though, even in the first song of the movie the lyrics have a terrible depiction of the Middle East.

Oh, I come from a land, from a faraway place
Where the caravan camels roam
it's flat and immense
And the heat is intense
It's barbaric, but hey, it's home

These lyrics perfectly show how Aladdin falsely interprets the Middle East. These movies have terrible effects on our country due to the false images flowing into the minds of children watching a seemingly innocent movie. There needs to be more movies created to correct these problems we face, but nothing will ever truly be able to completely fix the mistakes Disney made by creating Aladdin.

Disney and Orientalism

Edward Said describes how Europeans defined themselves in opposition to Orientals. They defined their culture as ordered, civilized and rational in contrast to the irrational, mysterious, and backward. For Europe in a colonial era, the East served as the other for the West to establish the superiority of their culture and way of life. Said describes the prevalence of the myths and stereotypes about the East even when presented with realistic portrayals of even first hand observation of the East.

Because of the prevalence of Orientalism in out culture, even today, our first experiences of the East are through an orientalist perspective, presenting the East as exotic and strange. Most children watch countless Disney movies countless times. For most of us, movies like Aladdin, The Lion King, and Mulan are our first times seeing Asian or African culture, or what we thought was Asian or African culture. These movies adhere to the old stereotypes of the East as exotic, undeveloped and present the culture of the East in opposition to our superior Western culture. Aladdin shows the middle East as mysterious, filled with thieves and animals and The Lion King portrays an Africa completely absent of people.

And although Disney movies are not realistic, as much as I wish I had a fairy godmother, when this is the first representation of something foreign, it sticks in your mind, especially as a child. The representations of the East based on such stereotypes especially directed to children, make it difficult to move beyond the underlying message that what is non-Western is somehow inferior. Orientalism is very much still present today and it is important to evaluate our culture and media to ensure more accurate portrayals of the East.

Orientalism and Me!

I’m sure I have an Orientalist mindset, even though I try not to. These stereotypes and generalizations are pervasive in our society and media: I’ve likely picked up some deep, unconscious thought processes just from the portrayal of Asians in TV and movies. It’s a similar effect that stereotypical and racist portrayals of African American men in media has on the adolescents that watch it. Even if the makers of television/movies/etc are putting an enhanced focus on to these issues, the problem isn’t fixed. People my age still are doused in media, like Homeland, that uses Middle-Eastern looking alphabets to give an intimidating and exotic effect instead of give a realistic picture of Middle Eastern culture.

It will take a consciousness of these stereotyped portrayals in society, actual effort to destroy the Orientalist stereotypes, open minds, and time. Time needs to pass because people are afraid of change, which makes perfect sense because change can be dangerous. But it also means that people will take longer (much too long in my opinion) to accept actual nuanced opinions about the Middle East and Asia. Everyone who’s capable needs to actively try to extinguish ignorance when it comes to “Orientalism”. An infinite amount of time can pass and nothing will be changed if people don’t do anything about the Orientalist thought process; hence, people need to get off their butts and do something. I would be ignorant to say that this problem will be solved immediately; hence, the need for time to pass.

If society just lets this happen… is that really the society we want to live in? This perfect equal dream that America (supposedly) stands for doesn’t exist (and likely never will), but it isn’t exactly something you should give up on. We should not allow ignorance to live freely just because we have the prerogative to let it.

The Modern Orientalism

While in recent memory we have done a great deal to become more aware of the true cultural nature of the world in many ways the west has changed little in its views of Asia. While almost all western nations have moved passed the blatant racism of our immediate past many still hold on to incorrect assumptions about the region as a whole.

One such example is the nation of Oman. While many assume this Middle Eastern nation is in a state of perpetual crisis filled with terrorists, this could not be further from the truth. In fact Oman is a rare example of a double stereotype as those who might know of the country known it is an absolute monarchy. This gives many the impression of tyrannical and power obsessed ruler when again little could be further from the truth. Oman is a modern nation that is ever rising in all respect with a deeply loved and revered monarch who is a major patron of the arts, tolerance, and modernity.

While we most certainly have come a long way from derogatory names and cultural theft the fact of matter is that Edward Said's theory of Orientalism is still alive just in a different context.

Orientalism Reflected in Cartoons

According to Edward Said (and my understanding of his point) Orientalism is a systematic unconscious categorization and representation of the "orient", Asia, and the Middle East, as foreign and strange. This representation then appears in everyday culture. It is also extremely relevant in American and European Cartoons.

Cartoons are really effected by Orientalism. When ever there is an older wise person who has some sort of involvement in magic or martial arts that person tends to be Asian. An example is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle's master (the rat) who is dressed and voiced as an Asian. Another example is Master Fu from Miraculous Ladybug. The entirety of the Jackie Chen Cartoon combines the idea of Orientalism, with it's mistic protray of chinese artifacts as well as the main villain being a talking dragon carving, with a humanization of the characters through Jackie's niece attending a public school and Jackie's job in his grandfather's antique shop.

I find it so interesting to realize how much we (Americans) are surrounded and presented with the Orientalist ideal... Though cartoon only really touch on the wise, magical, and difference of the "orients" it still is so amazing how young people are when they are first exposed to this ideal. It makes me rethink the things I've read and watched, and also made my wonder if my own stories reflect this principle as well.

Laurence of America's Arabia

Laurence of Arabia is considered one of the most classic movies of all time. It features Peter O'Toole (as Laurence) as the protagonist, and of course there are the people of Arabia. I saw the movie when I was pretty small with my parents, maybe fourth or fifth grade. A couple of things I remember from the movie is that it was like five hours long and it took several sittings to finish, I also remember how foreign and crazy it seemed.
Looking back on it now it really had a strong influence on me and my perception of the Middle East as this crazy foreign place with all of these weird people with weird cultures and weird food etc. This is a perfect example of a movie from the 60's that portrays eastern culture through the eyes of the western stereotypes that Edward Said talks about in his book Orientalism. It is sad to see that since that time not a lot has changed in the film world. Movies like Aladdin still portray these western culture stereotypes today..

A Whole New World...Made Especially For Us

Edward Said's Orientalism examines the thought process behind the Western portrayal of legitimately the entirety of the non-Western world. American and British art, film and live performances that are meant to depict the Middle East or Asia (two vastly different parts of the world with a myriad of cultures within each) are in fact manifestations of entirely unfounded ideals that colonists created hundreds of years ago as they sought to seize control of countries in these regions. The most effective way to conquer a people, history has found, is to alienate them from what you believe is the 'right' way to exist, deciding that they are incomparably separate from you and in need of your salvation.
Middle Eastern and Asian cultures are displayed in Western entertainment as places where magic and mystery accompany barbarism filled with civilizations trapped centuries behind the advances of modern society. This thought, Said makes clear, could not be further from the truth.
As I am writing this, I realize I cannot even provide examples of what Eastern life is actually like because all I know of that part of the world is what I've seen in movies like Mulan and Aladdin. This glaring lack of accurate information serves to nourish the divides that exist between races of the West and East. And the perpetuation of negative and false stereotypes as the only available lens through which the Eastern world is viewed incites fear and prejudice towards people who do not have the capability to define for us their own identity by themselves.
The solution? Insisting that artists who elect to depict for us images of the Eastern world do so accurately with great adherence to the wide variance of culture and history. These false interpretations are not victim-less crimes - when one people are under/misrepresented at the expense of their success and agency, the whole world suffers as a result.

Orientalism in the Battle of Algiers

The Battle of Algiers, widely regarded as one of the greatest foreign films of all time, is an Italian-Algerian film from 1966 about the Algerian war, which pitted Algerian guerrilla warriors against the occupying French government. The movie itself is pretty progressive in terms of its portrayal of the Middle East, because the Algerians are the main protagonists, and, unlike many other war films from that time, it doesn't glorify warfare.

While the movie itself doesn't really perpetuate the Orientalist mindset, the film was banned in France for five years following its release because of its portrayal of the French forces and government. This ban allowed Orientalism to grow because it enforced a bias the French people already have given the war and perpetuated the stereotype of savagery and cold-bloodedness. 

Eventually the movie was released in France, but the damage for stereotypes was already done. If you're interested in foreign films or history, it's a great movie and I highly recommend it.

Orientalism In Film

Orientalism is a term used to criticize the West's colonialist view of Asian countries. The Oriental mindset is Westerners' belief that Eastern countries are mysterious, dangerous, and exotic. This traces back to the 1800s when Western nations were first colonizing in the East, and countries like Britain and France viewed Asia as an uncivilized region that existed only to be ruled and dominated. The West did not understand or know about Eastern culture and depicted the East as a bizarre place in order to justify their superiority, and to draw a boundary between the East and the West.

In Orientalism, Edward Said examines the Oriental views held by the West and works to state why these beliefs are wrong. Similar to Said, the movie Argo subtly reveals and criticizes the Oriental mindset that is prevalent in the media, particularly the film industry.

Argo is a movie based off of real events during the Iranian hostage crisis in the 1970s. In the movie, Ben Affleck's character must rescue six Americans, and does so by coming up with an elaborate plan involving a fake movie. Affleck's character pretends to be a movie producer and disguises the hostages as Canadians who are involved with the movie. While entering Iran, Affleck tells a guard that he is in the country because he needs an exotic setting for his science-fiction film. The guard bitterly says to him that he must be looking to film in specific parts of Iran because they more accurately depict Orientalism. This part of the movie shows that the guard and Iranian people are aware of Orientalism and its prevalence in Hollywood.

Orientalism does have a strong presence in films and it alters the way people view Asia. I never thought about or realized my preconceived notions about the East until learning about Orientalism. It may be impossible to completely get rid of the Oriental mindset, but we can begin by putting in an effort to learn more about the cultures in Eastern countries and to stop distancing ourselves from the East.