Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Romanticism and Orientalism

Image result for laszlo krasznahorkai destruction and sorrow beneath the heavens

Before talking about Orientalism, we should have a general idea of why there even is an ¨East¨ and a ¨West,¨ because these notions are artificial just as nations and their borders are. There really is no such thing as the ¨Middle East,¨ and we can also turn an atlas upside down without making any difference except for the way in which we perceive it. But for my convenience, I will still refer to societies as ¨Eastern¨ and ¨Western¨ for Asia/Middle East and Europe respectively as unified geographical identities while omitting nuances. Although understanding nuances and exceptions is crucial, they will not matter in the face of Orientalism.

Image result for asia regions by climateIf we want to look back in time for a historical perspective, Jared Diamond´s theory of geographic luck definitely plays a role into the way in which civilizations evolve. I´ll just use preexisting knowledge to generalize and oversimplify what happened throughout ten thousand years in the most condensed way I possibly can: East had better land and natural resources than the West, and auspiciousness led to differing cultures, mindsets, and foreign influences. Eastern practices were more pragmatic and led their societies to become more advanced than Western ones. As a result, the East was more generally powerful than the West, with India and China both being central to Eastern societies just as the Greeks and Romans were to us (except the former two obviously lasted much longer). However, this trend came to an end when Early modern Europeans accidentally discovered the Americas in 1492. We all know how the access to new materials were beneficial for their continued development beyond what the Renaissance brought to the table, and colonizing further West allowed them to eventually come out on top - especially when we found out how effective imperialism was. The exploits of imperialism, along with the internal struggles within India and China that happened at the worst time they possibly could (to the convenience of the West), were the final nails in the coffin for ancient Eastern cultures in their primacy. If I have been mistaken, someone please correct me.

Image result for tang dynasty

This is where Orientalism walks in. In Edward Said's theory, Orientalism is not necessarily the mockery of an aspect of a society within the Orient, but rather the misrepresentation, distortion, or inaccurate vision of an aspect of the Orient depending on what we are talking about. When we consider all of the uninspired depictions of the Orient ranging from Disney movies to a Katy Perry concert, Orientalism is without a doubt prevalent in our entertainment industry. Additionally, it is also prevalent in our own culture. Whenever we appropriate or shamelessly rebrand Eastern practices as our own - be it ¨yoga¨ or the many depictions of Buddha on our merchandises - we are practicing Orientalism. By extension, this is seen when the Westerners who claim to practice these typically do not know a thing about them, such as referring to yoga as a stretching/breathing exercise - when it is really a way of life in Hinduism - and not being able to name a single one of the Eightfold Paths. The consequences of oversimplifying things and using Oriental symbols for the sake of selling products is that we are desecrating things intended to require deep thinking and austerity.

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What is even worse, however, is when scholars and educational products misinform us about the East. Recently, for example, there was a video released from ¨Crash Course Mythology¨ on Youtube that covered the Hindu pantheon. It was very good, but there were two facts that it butchered. The first was that it claimed that the god Shiva has three separate consorts: Parvati, Durga, and Kali. The second was that the Lingam, an oval shaped stone, symbolizes the phallus. Firstly, Shiva's ¨three consorts¨ are three forms of the same goddess. Secondly, the interpretation of the Lingam supposedly bearing resemblance to a phallus originated from the perverted minds of British imperialists, not scholars in world religions. For most Hindus, the Lingam itself represents the energies of Shiva and/or Shakti. This type of Orientalism disguises itself in the form of facts, yet only misguides us to further ignorance of other cultures.

The only thing I felt Said missed out on (or at least from the sample that I read), he made it seem like those within the Orient are victims to Western oppression, when that was not always, if even usually, the case. Our elementary schools fail to inform us that India and China were the two world powers for quite a while. If we continue to view them as mere victims of colonialism and savagery, then our Oriental perceptions will not change for the better. For now, we definitely do have Oriental mindsets just as we have our daily prejudices.

I remember remarking in a class discussion that one of the solutions to our Orientalist views would something along the lines of ¨reading or watching works created directly from someone who actually grew up in the region¨. This is something I seriously regret saying, as there are two problems with this: the first is that we as audience members tend to misinterpret things no matter how good a work of art is. Although we should not attach things outside of a work to its meaning, we have a tendency to make assumptions about the background in which the artist is from, especially when it is not our own. If someone read Arabian Nights without contextual knowledge, she or he will make assumptions about Islam. If someone watched Raising the Red Lantern without understanding that history - especially that of China´s - does not progress in a linear manner, she or he might get the idea that polygamy is always bad or that the Chinese are indifferent to the positions of their women; in reality, even the Tang Dynasty treated women much better than the movie´s twentieth century setting did.

Secondly, and even more crucially, creators sometimes either do not always have a thorough understanding of their own culture and history or simply choose to use fantastical elements just as Hollywood directors and writers do with pseudo-historical settings in its movies. Don´t get me started with how many ninja/samurai films there are out there that make little effort to stay true to history. Being ethnically a Puerto Rican and raised as an American suburbanite does not mean that I have a developed understanding of the history of Puerto Rico or of the American suburbs. If I generated a story set in either place with my views attached to it, I might misrepresent something either on accident or on purpose for the convenience of telling a story. On the flip side, let's talk about Arundhati Roy. A few minutes of Google searches can tell us that she is entirely against the caste system. Her views are subtly expressed in her book God of Small Things. Her book does a lot to fight against Orientalism, though I don´t think it is flawless. I respectfully disagree with her political views, as do a many other Indians (albeit for different reasons). I loved it and think it is a wonderful book, but I do think she overlooks the nuanced relationships between religion, politics, and the caste system. By simplifying things, which is something that she said she wanted to avoid doing in the prologue to God of Small Things, her ideas can mislead Western and Eastern readers alike to believe the caste system has done nothing good for her society in the past. Therefore, I believe that, despite having been raised within what we consider the Orient, writers such as Roy can both potentially solve and cause problems when it comes to discarding our Orientalist views of the East. On the other hand, I think a person who has a better understanding of the history of India is the Tamil writer and literary critic Jeyamohan. But like Roy, he has a lot to criticize about the way in which modernized, urban-dwelling Indians view their own civilization. But even then, who am I to declare that one certain writer is better than the other just because one shares my views? Who can we rely on? At the end of the day, there is no established basis for what truly represents a culture. Our opinions are often flawed. If we have trouble grasping a holistic perspective of our own, then how can we trust others with doing the same task? If there is a solution to Orientalism, I honestly don´t think our contemporary society will find it.

Despite all this, the title of this post indicates that I still have not gotten to the point I want to make: that Orientalism and Romanticism can go hand in hand. In some cases, Orientalism can be seen as a dream or imagination some of us have; but it is a dream that is not tangible. It's the sort of hope that can exist in a hopeless world. What do I mean by this? Look at it from the perspective of Romanticism. While it is always misrepresentational, it can also be quite aesthetically pleasing.

Image result for orientalist paintingsImagine yourself being absolutely disgusted by the consumerist society we live in right now. Be it in Europe or in North America, our culture is highly conventional. It corrupts us, and is just hideous when you look at it aesthetically. You're tired of the people who complain about their first world ¨human rights¨ problems. Nothing seems inspiring. So where do you think is the best place is when you are in search for dignity, vastness, mystery, and ethereal beauty? Exactly. You will find what you are looking for in the parts of the world that you know nothing of except through art.

Image result for jean leon gerome paintingsAnd thus we have Orientalist art and works of literature. The paintings of Jean-Leon Gerome and the poem Kubla Khan immediately come to mind when we think of an idealized vision of the East. These works do not mock or convey an uninspired message about the Orient. They are romanticizing aspects of the Orient that may or may not exist. In some cases, they see the East not as barbaric, but rather above humankind. Think of it as when someone decides to become a Christian out of a blind hope that a loved one - who has died recently under tragic circumstances - will find eternal happiness in Heaven. This has nothing to do with whether or not there is a Heaven, for we do not know; it simply means that we should be empathizing with her or him as opposed looking down on them for blind faith.

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To some extent, there is a good reason to look towards the East for a glimmer of beauty. I would argue that this starting premise the Romantic Orientalist bases his hopes on is justified because there are clear differences between the East and the West. Some of us would much rather live in some part of the East for different reasons. After I attend four years at a university, I personally desire to live somewhere quiet near the Himalayas within India, or in the Zhongnan Mountains of China, or perhaps even in a rural community in Japan. This is because I believe that regardless of current trends of globalism, consumerism, and overpopulation, there are still aspects of the ancient world that are subtly ingrained within the way in which Eastern societies function and its individuals behave. Though I am not an orientalist, these are things that I just prefer over what the Greeks have done for Western society. However, I must acknowledge that what I love about the East is crumbling down under the dark forces of globalism.

I am not trying to defend Orientalism, as I think it is always misguided. But I am attempting shed some light on it. Romanticism and Orientalism are both movements that I have a love-hate relationship with. They can identify the problems with our modern world and generate beautiful works, but I feel that these works often lack the kind of substance and depth that older works did.

Image result for laszlo krasznahorkai seiobo there belowSo I would love to see if there is a better way to reconcile with one´s love for the East, and record its ethereal beauty so that others may know of it, while also facing the unbearable truth that it is brutally human just like our own society. As far as I know, the best instance of a person doing this is found within some of the novels written by Laszlo Krasznahorkai, or at least the ones that have something to do with the mythologies and cultures of the East. They are the episodic narrative Seiobo There Below, the fictional travelogue Destruction and Sorrow Beneath the Heavens, and the upcoming narrative The World Goes On. Since I have only started reading the first two, I will not pretend like I know a lot about the books´ content. However, I have noticed something about them so far distinguish them from his previously translated novels. One of the reoccurring themes throughout all of his works is how the world has been debased, and how we are at fault for the destruction and misery that we now face in a world that was once beautiful and dignified. Yet part of what makes his life still meaningful is the fact that he knows of and can still chronicle the beauty that still remains in the world. Though he is by no means a romanticist and even less an orientalist, he can go on and wax poetic about the relationship between objects such as a red-crowned crane, the philosopher Heraclitus, a statue of Buddha, Ganga, the goddess Seiobo, and their placement in the universe.

Image result for laszlo krasznahorkai

"This is the result of 10,000 years? Really? We have a microphone, laptop, and this technical society – that's all? This is sad, and very disappointing. After so many geniuses in the human story from Leonardo to Einstein, from the Buddha to Andre Szemerédi, these are fantastic figures, and their work is unbelievably important and we cannot do anything with it – why?"

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

New Girl Fake Story

One of the most popular television shows today is a CBS sitcom called New Girl. Personally I really like the show but I think it is representative of a growing trend in modern day media towards shallow entertainment. The show features four roommates in a Los Angeles apartment, and their life living together. The plot reveals many interesting personalities and flaws within them that lead to a lot of drama and problems. As each season progresses to reveal more of the story line, it ignores the fact that there are grown adults with well paying jobs living together in an apartment. It is becoming hard for me to find this show in anyway realistic, and I believe it lacks a true message or purpose other than to entertain.
I feel that a lot of comedy produced today follows a similar suit, and while it may be entertaining it is causing a decrease in meaningful television that can actually make a difference. Whether it be commenting on ridiculous social norms or influencing the current stream of news, television today is being made simpler to appeal to the binge watcher rather than to make a difference. That being said, I do not think that all comedy lacks meaning, there are still a lot of thoughtful people doing great things. But I Still think that producers should try to make shows that call different accepted norms into question and make the viewer really think about the world they live in.

Happy Gilmore Does More Than Make You Happy (Satire Post)

Arguably the best movie Adam Sandler has ever been apart of (this is not hard for him) is Happy Gilmore. An American classic which features an unsuccessful golf player who turns out to have a knack for the sport of golf. He is a natural talent and ends up doing very well in a big tournament against some very good golfers. What makes this movie funny is the attitude and culture that Happy brings to the golf course every time he plays. While this comedy is a fun to watch movie that follows a quirky but somehow entertaining guy smack a golf ball around, it also has a meaningful underlying message: Everyone has their own niche, it does not matter where you come from or who you are, you just need to get out there and find it.

Happy's golf play itself is a hyperbole of the transition of hockey players to the golf course. Many hockey players are in fact talented golfers because of the similar strokes in the respective sports. Many of the golfers that Happy ends up competing against are very rude, and use a lot of irony in their speech to bicker at Happy. There is one line where a golfer says something along the lines of "its about time", and then Happy overhears it and goes and knocks the guy out. This altercation is especially funny, but it is also the clashing of two separate sport cultures and how they handle their competitiveness. The movie does this through the ironic statement and the hyperbolic reaction of a hockey player.

A sort of hidden structure within the movie is the class lines that exist between Happy and the golfers around him. He is coming from a culture of (and may I add exaggerated) violence and toughness, to one of higher class, where people are more proper and are a bit mean with their words. Happy seems to ignore these unwritten rules of the golf community and brings his aggressive, violent, smack-talking attitude to the field. In the end not only does he win, but he also defeats the culture of the game. Despite his unusual ways, Happy was able to find something he was really good. He was able to compete without letting the ridicule of those around him break his hope and spirit.

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..