Thursday, March 19, 2015

A Mix of Two

In Orientalism Edward Said describes Orientalism as the patronizing view the West, specifically America, takes on the East. After analyzing the argument, I realized that myself and many of my peers are guilty of the same attitude. All too often, we view the United States as the center of the world and the place to be. There is often a blatant disregard for other's cultures and when different cultures are brought in, they are "Americanized". Miles provided a great example in class about Disney world and how Eastern culture is brought into Epcot. Throughout this experience I cannot help but think of my aunt.

My aunt is Japanese and married into my family. She taught me how to make Sushi and other aspects of Japanese culture. However what sticks with me the most are the stories she tells about her mother. Her mother was forced into a Japanese internment camp located here in the United States. My aunt tells me about how the camp was located at a racetrack and how the conditions were absolutely horrible. She ended up getting married to an American soldier who rescued her from the camp. This had a unique impact on my aunt's childhood. It was constantly split between Japanese culture and American culture. She was able to hear about political conflict from many different perspectives as well. I thought that this story really connected to Said's argument and the discussions we had in class. Everyone has a different perspective and a different story to tell and that absolutely fascinates me.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Mother Father Father Mother

It's hard for me to give an unbiased opinion of Nancy Chodrow's The Reproduction of Mothering, because from my own personal experience, which is the only experience I can really draw on regarding this subject matter, everything she says is proven false.  In my family, my dad acted as the "mother" while my mom acted as my "father".  My dad, being a freelance lawyer, could mostly work from home, so that's what he did, which freed up my mom to work downtown at her office job as a paralegal.  In that sense, it was my dad who would wake me up in the morning, feed me breakfast, make my lunch, walk me to school, drive me to a friends house or sports practice -- all of the typical "soccer mom" duties.  My mom would always come home at night, and I would be excited to see her and I would always look forward to weekends because it meant I could spend time with both of them.  Both my parents could pursue their careers all while maintaining a close but not obsessive relationship with me and my brother.  So my immediate reaction to Chodrow is that she is overreacting to a somewhat outdated issue.  I mean, everything worked out great in my family, so why shouldn't that easily translate to the other 350 million people in America?

However, it is hard for me to maintain that viewpoint when I put it in a cultural context.  While my family may not fit into the sex-gender system, it is still easy to see that that system is deeply ingrained into American society.  As always, it is best to look to pop culture for proof of Chodrow's argument.  Take, for example, the show Breaking Bad, which features a family whose father figure turns to meth cooking as a way to provide, to hunt, for his family.  Walter is sick and wants to make sure his family has a good future after he dies, so out of a masculine sense of duty he risks everything by going into this dangerous and risky business.  This is shown well in this clip (which features a stellar performance by Giancarlo Esposito) that details the masculine mindset Chodrow seemed to be getting at.  Walter is no man if he does not provide for his family.  Meanwhile, his wife, Skyler, spends most of the series at home, with no control over any of the events that transpire.  She serves as a very mother-y mother: she never has control over any of the events and shenanigans that take place in the series and is always there to serve her family.  She wants what's best for her son and her newborn baby daughter, and the series seems to agree that she is better suited for caring for them than Walt is.

So when I see evidence like Breaking Bad, I can't help but look past my own experiences and agree with Chodrow that there is a deep rooted gender divide in mothering.  We are surrounded with the message that women are mothers and men are not, and it is difficult to separate ourselves from that narrative.

The Trap of Orientalism

As Edward Said and so many of my peers put so well, Orientalism is the patronizing attitude of the West towards the East/everywhere that is not the West.  It is largely influenced by past colonialism and is so ingrained in our culture that it tends to affect every Western citizen until they become aware of it and actively work against it.

It makes sense that Orientalism would come about -- we are all brought up within our own culture, and that culture becomes normal and expected.  It's all we know for the first years of our lives, and anything that does not fit within the confines of our cultural norms is obviously going to appear strange.  So when the West came into contact with the East, it would makes sense that both sides would want to learn about the other and come up with their own ideas as to why the other is so strange.  I'm guilty of this -- the whole reason I took Modern Middle Eastern History last year instead of AP Euro was because I didn't want to learn about white people any more.  There was this mysterious region that's always on the news that I wanted to learn more about.  They were different and interesting.  My curiosity more or less arose from the systematically accepted "oriental myth" that Said mentions.  The Middle East is always portrayed as this complicated, confusing place with crazy religious ideas and cultures, and I wanted to find out what was true and what wasn't.

Fortunately I had the wise and mighty Mr. Goldberg to teach me and lead me through the history of the region, because I've learned that one of the biggest problems with Orientalism is that it is self fueled.  By this, I mean that almost any portrayal of the east, whether it be the Middle East, China, India, Vietnam, whatever, will reinforce the image already in the heads of most Westerners.  The first example I think of is the novel Q&A by Vikas Swarup, perhaps more well known as the book Slumdog Millionaire was based on.  The book is an honest attempt by Swarup to address issues of corruption and poverty in modern India while promoting a sense of connection beyond class boundaries through a common Indian identity, as shown by the main character Ram Muhammad Thomas, whose name captures three of the main religions in India.  The book subtly hints at the cost of imperialism and even addresses Orientalism in a funny scene where some American tourists give Ram free money because he looks poor and they feel bad for him.  Yet some people still embody those same Americans who just throw money at Ram and feel good about themselves.  A number of the reviews I read online from the average reader referred to the book as a good portrayal of "what life is like for the average Indian."  While these people are certainly a minority, their existence proves the enduring problem of Orientalism.  They read this book, meant to be social commentary, and use it to justify their view of India as a poor, scary, hostile, dirty place with heroic orphans that deserve to be pitied.  The sad fact about Orientalism is that no matter what proof is given, some people will always find a way to maintain their own personal myth of the oriental.

Appreciation or Appropriation?

In what we read of Edward Said's Orientalism, the myth-turned-to-"fact" view that westerners have on eastern culture is analyzed and brought to light. The idea of an "other" is both harmful and silly. People tend to view any culture different than their own as wrong or dirty. They fail to take the time to understand the culture or learn about the customs they have. Another side of orientalism is found in the incredibly plentiful world of cultural appropriation in pop music culture. The artists may defend themselves saying that is a matter of admiration, but they are still perpetuating racist and harmful stereotypes. Just because they are not openly discriminating against a culture doe not mean they are not being equally orientalist.

One of the most prominent examples is the appropriation of Japanese Kawaii culture. Gwen Stefani's "Harajuku girls" phase is one of the more controversial occurrences. Stefani, after having visited Japan once in the 90's, put four dancers on contract and had them follow her to events and be in her music videos and performances. The characters also inspired fragrances and themes in her clothing line. They were contractually obligated to speak only Japanese and were renamed "music" "baby" "love" and "angel". It was as if they were her pets. In a video of her performing the song "Harajuku Girls", she proclaims her love for the culture and individuality and yet she is the only one that stands out from the dancers. In a similar style, Avril Lavigne's video for "Hello Kitty" features four robotic, straight faced asian women who follow her around.

Beyond Kawaii culture, pop stars appropriate Japanese culture with the sexualization of the Geisha character. Nicki Minaj, Rihanna and Coldplay, Katy Perry, and Madonna are just a few guilty participants. It may not seem like as much of a problem by some, but they are profiting from a culture that is not their own and sexualizing and trivializing traditions.

Another appropriation tactic that is commonly utilized by western pop stars is the use of Indian culture- bindis, images of deities. Gwen Stefani, Selena Gomez, Grimes(who has apologized), Vanessa Hudgens, and many more have repeatedly worn bindis while having no connection to the actual significance. Selena Gomez and Shakira have used Indian costume and dance in live performances. The problem with cultural appropriation is that it's using cultures as props and not acknowledging something's religious or cultural significance. There is a difference between appreciation and appropriation. I am not saying that all of these stars and anyone using eastern culture in their videos or performances are inherently racist- I enjoy many of these artist's work myself- just that it is something to consider. It is interesting how orientalist the west can be while simultaneously attempting to recreate eastern culture solely for aesthetics. I also recognize that as a white american I don't have any authority on the subject but merely want to bring attention to it.

What Is Orientalism Mr. Jones?

Indiana Jones, played by Harrison Ford, is a movie series about an archaeologist that embarks on crazy adventures around the world. In the Temple of Doom Indiana has made his way to India. The movie filled with examples of Edward Said's orientalism. The people of East are portrayed as strange and exotic.

The movie met some resistance after its release because of inaccurate portrayals of Indian culture and racism. The movie has one scene where the villain (who is Indian) removes the heart of a sacrifice and holds it up for everyone to see.

It is interesting to look back and see how fundamental parts of my childhood are so politically incorrect. I remember watching the Indiana Jones movies with my dad and thinking, "Man this guy one hell of an American," but now looking back it seems so wrong.

The fact that these depictions of eastern culture have made it into American households, and people do not question it has started to bother me. We are so numb to the oppressive nature of white culture. We rewrite history from the white man's point of view, and the dominated part of the binary never get a say in their own history.

It is something the west needs to work on. Everybody needs a voice, their own voice, in today's society.

Friday, March 13, 2015


A myth is a widely accepted, yet false belief or idea. A fact is something that is undoubtably proven to be true. What I found most interesting about Said's arguement was the way he demonstrated the blurry line between the two - two things that are ultimately complete opposites. It made me think about just how many things that we unconsciously consider facts are most likely myths when talking about cultures which we have not first-hand experienced.  Said blurs the line between myth and fact when he explains that the studies of these cultures were often self-fulfilling and that they "discovered nothing more or less than the terms of their inquiry were able to allow: mystical religious devotion and an absence of rationality." In this sense, the aspects "defining" Eastern culture to the Western world were created with the purpose of seeking out abnormality only to justify power. It's as if a definition was created before the word it stood for. 

When the fishbowl was asked the question of personal experiences in relation to Orientalism and it has effected our own views, I found it interesting that the only way anyone could really distinguish between a myth or fact about a culture was by living in one. Without having personal experiences with defining aspects of a culture, the entirety of what we know of it comes from these "widely accepted" notions. What we consider fact is merely a "created body of theory and practice" that we have held onto and passed down throughout generations. Somehow along the way, a myth got stamped as a fact, and we ran with it. 

A Culture "Just Discovered" Should Never Imply That It Is "New"

Edward Said's book Orientalism entails the tense and misunderstood relationship between the Western and Eastern worlds. The West's imperialistic mindset creates an illusion of Eastern culture as less civilized and unpolished. This mindset justifies actions that have created a racist outline of another culture. For example, many Indians (and other Eastern cultures) do not use silverware during meals. That isn't odd unless viewed from a culture that knows no other way of eating. Historically, this traditionally Indian practice exists because of a belief that as many of the senses should be involved during meals. Westerners have viewed this practice, however, as a primitive. As Ammu put it, it was as if an entire culture were just discovered because of its differences. Western appropriation, however, is a force that has overcome these older traditions, and as a result many Easterners adapted to Western culture.

In The God of Small Things, the anglophilic mindset of India set in place by England, as Said described it, created a "new India" that erased its previous cultural practices in order to appropriate English traditions. The Indian customs are erased, which sweeps away the rich, historic culture of India, set in place for thousands of years. The sense of heritage is jeopardized because of English imposition. English/American idolization is prevalent in the novel through the allusions to novels and media. Gatsby, Shakespeare, and The Sound of Music are all favored topics among the Indians, but no reference to Indian literature or films are used. This exclusion of Indian culture roots obvious conflict in Ammu, but it also develops in Rahel and Estha, as they struggle to find a sense of India in themselves. Secrets hidden in pickled preserves are inaccessible because the history of India has been forgotten; forcibly removed by Western idolization.

One Word Means More Than You Think

Said identifies Orientalism as dependent on "this positional superiority" (80) in which Westerners maintain the upper hand in the majority of their relationships with the Orient. History books have utilized the language of old westerners reporting from a perspective wholly identified by the Westerner alone. The issue in the situation is the lack of agency attributed to the "Orient". Edward Said criticizes the idea that these texts are written with Western Culture as the subject and "the Orient" as the dependent result. In fact, diction and syntax are very powerful tools in the communication of stories or lessons.

Behind the words and paragraphs of every text, there is an author. If you're reading a history book, the author is expectedly "unbiased" in his or her writing. However, every US History book has significantly more information on white male Americans than any other demographic. Although many attribute that to the lack of information on other demographics at the time, I believe it is rather a more evident reflection of the values of the people in that time period. If that makes any sense, I mean to say that it is showing what was most popular for Americans at that time, or even who had access to a pen and paper. In the majority of America's past, white males have dominated US society, thus being the storytellers. With storytellers from only one demographic, it is no doubt that we would have an uneven representation of the American constituency in our textbooks. One person's point of view can be entirely different after the same event, merely because he/she is another being with other experiences.

In the same way, Said believes Orientalism has developed as a means of being "acted upon" rather than acting itself. The slight variance in diction and syntax seems trivial, but the difference is quite dramatic in the understanding of our and the rest of the world's history. By identifying the dangers intertwined with the idea of Orientalism, Said makes a point to show the power of words or phrases in the evolution of the world.


When I first read the excerpt from Edward Said's book, "Orientalism", it reminded me of the show, "Lost". In the show, a plane crashes on an island and the survivors make lives for themselves on the island when they become convinced that they will never be rescued. However, there are already inhabitants on the island who are referred to as the Others. "Orientalism was ultimately a political vision of reality whose structure promoted the difference between the familiar (Europe, West, 'us') and the strange (the Orient, the East, 'them')".  We have created an US/others binary that stems from tending to alienate the Other, just because something is unfamiliar. When in reality, we are just uneducated about the place, the people, and the culture.

And It All Comes Back to Jessica Benjamin...

Edward Said uses the term Orientalism to describe the West's condescending attitude towards the East, or the Orient. I find his historical analysis of the rise of Orientalism to be accurate. Historically, Western powers dominated parts of the East. While admiring the East's exotic goods and cultures, these Western powers failed to recognize any political strength or the ability to be independent in the East. 

Enter our good friend Jessica Benjamin.

Orientalism arises from a WEST/east or, as Said points out, an US/them binary. The West's domination of Eastern countries and condescing view of Eastern cultures is evidence of a lack of mutual recognition in just about every SPERM (social, political, economic, religious, military) category.

Said focuses on the West when explaining Orientalism. Benjamin's theory, however, addresses to role of the depedent, submissive party in a binary relationship. I think the "Play" in The God of Small Things exemplifies this role. Estha and Rahel's Indian family members, who, as Anglophiles, look up to the West, marvel over Margaret and Sophie just for being from the West. Only Ammu, who calls out Margaret for her belittling comments about Indian culture, points out the condescending nature of Orientalism. In doing so, she messes up her role in the Play. The others, who act in accordance with the Play and marvel over Sophie Mol, seem to perpetuate the unequal relationship Orientalism establishes. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Grip of Orientalism

In Orientalism, Edward Said shows how the myth of Orientalism was possible because of European  political dominance in other countries. He said that although when Europeans colonized there were less of them than native inhabitants, their "will, self confidence, and even arrogance" were necessary to keep their political dominance. The self confidence and arrogance came from the fact they believed themselves more civilized than the "despotic" and "clannish" people. It surprises me how an idea can become so strong in a small group of people  could colonize largely populated countries but it happens nevertheless. The European idea of Oreintalism creates stereotypes with a strong hold on Eastern Culture.

This influence can be widely seen in God of Small Things but the characters handle it in different ways. Chacko believes that is because of the influence of the English that their family is not allowed in the History House. Ammu resents that views of them as a "godforsaken tribe" because of the European stereotypes of the East. But it is Estha and Rahel who handle the influence of the Europe in different ways than the rest of their family. They are affected by the stereotypes the same way the rest of the family is, but do not react to it like Ammu does. Chako said that the English dominance of their culture keeps them from entering the History House. Although Estha and Rahel literalize Chacko's metaphor, they agree with him and want to go to the history house across the river. They want to be part of what is blocked from them.  At the same time, Rahel and Estha are the biggest fans of the Sound of Music enjoy some influences of England. While some of the family has strict feelings toward the effect of Orientalism on their lives and culture, Estha and Rahel have an assortment of attitudes towards the idea.   


-ism (suffix)
1: a distinctive doctrine, cause, or theory
2: an oppressive and especially discriminatory attitude or belief

After a night of sleep and subconscious internalization, I woke myself up with a shower to a thought about Edward Said's Orientalism. I thought about how the words racism and sexism also contain "ism" in the end, but they have a distinctly different connotation.  Racism and sexism are wholly negative in their use, implying a specifically bigoted point of view based on fixed variables.  But plenty of words ending in -ism aren't like that.  Other -isms (cubism, for example) lack bias-baggage but don't have any etymological difference.  I found it funny that Orientalism could be so different from the other main -isms that come to mind without any concrete differences in the word. 

On reflection, however, I realized that maybe my original conclusion was incorrect.  Maybe Orientalism is a biased -ism just as much as sexism and racism. (As it turns out, Merriam-webster identifies two groups of -isms: artistic -isms and discriminatory -isms that could have helped clear my confusion.)  After all, as Said argues, Orientalism is an generalized view of a specific group of people - one which was constructed by external, dominant [European] forces trying to distinguish and uplift themselves by synthesizing a foil.  This effort formed the support for negative attitudes and actions based on a perception of inferiority.  That hate of Oriental culture and appreciation of the dominant culture extended into self hate as well, a fact which is overtly depicted in The God of Small Things.  Said's discussion of cultural molding and self-hate easily parallels the discussion of the suppression of the African American community in America.  So indeed, though Orientalism is not a topic I am quiet as familiar with (in fact my concept of what the 'Orient' actually refers to was skewed), it actually is a member of -ism definition #2 and a subset of 'racism'.  My ignorance of the idea certainly confirms Said's assertion that America's awareness of the Orient is much less than that of Europe.  My lack of recognition as an American, however, doesn't change the fact of Orientalism's bigoted nature one bit.  Beginning to recognize the suppression of the Orient is a reminder that, as focused on combating those negative -isms as we claim to be, we must be aware that there continue to be people beyond our scope, and that their plight is as poignant as those within our sight.

Edward Said and God of Small Things

Edward Said's writing on Orientalism fits quite nicely with the cultural differences that are highlighted in God of Small Things. Orientalism gets at the deeply rooted historical perspective in which white westerners feel a sense of superiority over their eastern counterparts. Throughout the novel, this concept is explored in many scenes, constructing "the play" that is referenced. The reference to the play is a direct example of how Ammu and Baby Kochamma attempt to appear as anglophile as possible when Sophie Mol and Margaret Kochamma visit Ayemenem. Rahel and Estha are expected to "perform" their roles within this play, demonstrating a cultural awareness of English texts such as the Tempest. This desire to appeal to western culture and impress their English relatives is rooted in the fact that Orientalism constructs a binary in which Ammu feels as if she is uncivilized and inferior as opposed to the young Sophie Mol, who is considered naturally more civilized than her Indian family.

This sense of inferiority and an uncivilized cultural state is pushed even farther when Ammu comments on the way that her Indian family kisses and expresses love to each other. When Sophie Mol and Margaret Kochamma observe this act, they question if this is a norm and what it means. Ammu appears very defensive and sarcastically comments that that is in fact how they make babies in India. Ammu continues to say they they are not just some "Damn godforsaken tribe that has just been discovered". This is indicative of Ammu's sense of inadequacy and what seems to a cultural shortcoming in the eyes of her more esteemed, western relatives. I think God of Small Things conveys Orientalism and its effects through the eyes of those being judged, not those who are judging, which is not often the point of view we are used to. This book exposes the way easterners, in this case Indians, perceive Orientalism and the identity that is cast upon them, even though they do not find it fitting. In this scene, Ammu makes a clear distinction between her previous behavior in abiding by the rules of the "play" and her frustration with those rules that say she must behave a certain way in front of westerners to be considered appealing and civilized.

Orientalism and the Media

In the excerpt from Edward Said’s Orientalism, he takes us back deep into history to determine the roots of social problems that are still present in today’s society. The “Occidents,” or, the Westerners, viewed the “Orients,” or, the Easterners, as inferiors. The Westerners described their counterparts as being so uncivilized that they needed their “help” to become a civilized society. However, this rationale was merely an excuse for invading these people’s homelands and forcing their power upon them. These culture clashes created strong tensions between the two peoples: tensions that still exist today, hundreds and even thousands of years after the imperial era. “Orientalism” is the term created to describe the study of the dynamics between the two different cultures.

It’s impossible to deny that the societal expectations derived from this imperial time continue to exist today. In Jack K.’s post, he brushed on the topic of the media playing a large role in preserving and even reinforcing these stereotypes created so very long ago. I think that this connection is important to note. If we look back on history, the use of propaganda in the early 20th Century really fueled the public’s forming of opinions about the people of the East. The U.S. was able to use propaganda, for example to paint a picture for the public of the people of the Phillippenes as being uncivilized, backwards, and in need of foreign “aid.” During the Roosevelt Administration, they invaded this country because of the apparent need for foreign aid.

Recently, though, Movies, T.V., music, and even social media outlets have further reinforced the stereotypes of the “orients.” A person from the Middle East, for example, is often portrayed as being angry, quick-tempered, and having a “dark side.” Also, the new ABC comedy Fresh off the Boat recently received lots of criticism for making its Asian characters seem clueless, overly traditional, and rude, which many thought were stereotypes too directly linked to Asian people. Obviously, these stereotypes haven’t gone away, and the great force of the media is making them even stronger.

Imperialism with Edward Said

    Edward Said's concept of Orientalism and the ideas from it are very interesting and different from other writings. While other writers such as Joseph Conrad and Rudyard Kipling are seen as racist white men who unknowingly disprove the identity of the Asian area, Said embraces the western writing styles and doesn't cover his blind spot with his other writings. The way that the opinion of orientalism arises through literature and art along with journalism creates an interesting idea that to the imperialists entering these new lands think of themselves as the greatest and most important settlers while the rest of the population is peasant level. Said traces around the two possibly racist writers and sharpens their ideas from a dull racist writing of a savage area to a creative style for the reading needed. The idea itself has a strong backing to it along with support from the reviewer, who believes that Said should not be placed in the discarded area of racist literature. Said is correct in saying that the structure of the literature is at fault for this racist interpretation and not the writer at hand.
   In a similar way, the writings of Joel Chandler Harris and his Brer Rabbit stories were seen as being extremely racist after they were written in the nadir of black life during the 1890's. Being my Junior Theme topic, I read through multiple reviews of Harris' work about how he created the black characters to be scary and stupid while giving the white children perfect grammar in dialogue. Living in Georgia his whole life, the original writings of Brer Rabbit were in extreme phonetic language and almost impossible to read today. With seemingly racist characters as old Uncle Remus and the Tar Baby, people disowned Joel Chandler Harris' stories and modified them to be what they thought was appropriate for children. But growing up in poverty and spending most of his days talking to recently freed slaves, Harris' objective writings and folklore style like how he was told the stories made them inherently racist. This relates to Said's writings in that the style of the writing makes him seem to be racist with Orientalism, yet it is just the western structure of writing he adopts.

The Foundations of Orientalism

Said offers an interesting perspective on the topic of Orientalism. He argues that the concept of Orientalism itself was constructed by Western culture about the East. This idea was so engrained into the minds of both the colonizers and the natives that it became a social norm. Orientalism functioned as a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which the people of the East would accept the roles delegated to them by their controllers. An interesting point brought up was the sheer arrogance of colonizing a land of millions of people with a relatively small amount of leaders and rulers. Even more amazing was the fact that it worked. Orientalism was no longer simply an idea, rather it was a discourse in European Civilization.

I think one of the most interesting parts of Said's theory was the parallells drawn to American culture and colonization. At first, I thought that the concept of Orientalism was strictly a Britain v. India kind of battle. However, I realized that it embodied the fundamental Us vs. Them. With pride vested in one's country it is easy to get caught up in that dangerous Us vs. Them mindset and support some imprudent foreign policy decisions. We have this mindset currently in the Middle East, we tend to create a concept for the entirety of the Middle East, and then construct our belief system off of that. Much like Orientalism, we decide on a notion based on little empirical evidence, and then that idea becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as two cultures struggle for the dominance of their values. It can be difficult at times to remove yourself from the Us vs. Them mentality and see and respect the values of each culture, but I think that there is something to said in support of cultral relativism. People have different belief systems, and most of our problems in history with colonialism have been, as Said pointed out, trying to convert others and make them conform to the our beliefs. At a point we must recognize and respect the differences in cultures, because while colonialism may be a thing of the past, as Said has pointed out, its legacies live on in the concept of Orientalism.

Mythical Misconceptions and Fictitious Fact

Unicorns are mythical creatures. They don't actually exist, but they have a clear and defined appearance and character. One horn, associated with sparkly things...we all acknowledge unicorns uniformly as if they were a common housepet and not a fictional creation.

In Orientalism, Edward Said strives to prove similarities between the concept of Orientalism and the concept of unicorns, so to speak. Orientalism itself is a myth, according to Said, and has developed from a political idea of what was considered the strange opposite of the West into a stereotype taken for granted as truth. The stereotype is far from sparkly one-horned horses, however; "Orientals" are considered tribal and untrustworthy at best.

The extent to which Orientalism has penetrated the minds of Westerners in particular reveals the vulnerability to ideas in modern times as well. Said wants to turn the myth of Orientalism into a discussion topic, as the self-fulfilling output of Eastern nations without discussion fuels the myth's power as a fact. With many issues we face in today's society, following racial issues such as the Ferguson debates, or gender divides in politics and others, the media expands stereotypes into supposed fact.

Said discusses the impact that art and culture in the East had on supporting the stereotypes, as both self-fulfilling prophecies and a doubt in the Eastern nations themselves. The media today parallels the effect of art by displaying stereotypes to ignorant viewers and readers and using its malleability to fit the mythical opinions of everything from foreign nations to celebrities. This transformation from stereotype to fact affects anyone studying the particular topic, and Said speaks to the importance of discussing actual proof and causes of stereotypes in order to redefine them and find real facts.

Moreover, in God of Small Things, the characters are conflicted about their own identities in India in terms of maintaining culture in an anglophilic world. Their culture is lost in stereotypes, giving them no history to return to and no basis for defining their culture other than the myths that have been made out to be facts. If they were able to openly discuss what caused the disruption of their culture into this mythical fact they might be able to, according to Said, redefine what it means to live in India, or the Orient, or be a unicorn.

Said's Orientalism, Today.

In essence, Said claims the very concept of world dominance fuels imperialism. The idea, not the riches or land, is impetus for conquering foreign peoples. As Said puts it, "the enterprise of empire depends upon the idea of having an empire."

Orientalism is the Western view of the East. Western culture is defined vis-a-vis the Orient, just as the Western notion of the Orient is defined as culturally juxtaposed with the West. He argues that Orientalism ceased being simply an idea, and became a discourse in European civilization, legitimized by self-fulfilling prophecies in studies of the East.

Said acknowledges that 'East' and 'West' are relative terms, that the two are far more similar than either believe, and specifically that the East needs to be understood as a thriving, complex concoction of civilizations, not reductively as a Western notion.

European cultural hegemony led to the 'Us' vs. 'Them' binary. Said concludes by warning against dangerous styles of Oriental critique. He says, taking a broad stance endorses Orientalism and fails to encompass the intricacy and nuance in Eastern culture. Yet, a fastidious attention to detail fails to address the issue, often straying from the discussion of East and West altogether.

I believe that the disparity between the concept of Orientalism and reality is dangerous. Americans are largely misinformed. Generalizations such as 'Islamic Terror' and 'Middle Easterner' oversimplify the issue, and reinforce the 'Us' vs. 'Them' binary.

We're not all that different from Colonial Britain. The idea fueling our mission is the same: to civilize populations. Don't believe it? Think about what we are really doing when we 'promote peace in regions that are undergoing turmoil'. Countries are having revolutions (Ex. Arab Spring) and we are entering the conflict to impose democracy under the guise of peace promotion and terror prevention. The key word here is democracy. We want to spread democracy. That's how we 'civilize' today. These nations whose histories stretch farther back than ours, whose people live by far more nuanced social and governmental structures, often don't believe democracy is the best option. But we do.

It boils down to an issue of Pluralism, which America does not fully endorse. Pluralism is the understanding that societies are different, and that this is acceptable. There is a correct way to live, but if people don't choose it, that's okay because they have made their choice, and that choice is theirs to make. We like to say we endorse Pluralism, but if we really did, we would be far more focused on domestic issues than foreign.

Peace Promotion is the banner we wave, and Terror is the Oriental enemy, but how can we hope to instill peace, if the very people we hope to instill it in, are those we believe to be sworn enemies of America?

It's paradoxical. Gunpowder doesn't reform ideas. You can't shove peace down throats. Solution? Realize that 'Terror' is largely a constructed term that is hyperbolized by media fear factor, and propagated by the weight we lend it. Come to terms with the fact that people from foreign nations are as complex, nuanced, advanced, intelligent, intricate, hardworking, deserving, and passionate for peace as we are. If we recognize the Other's substance, we will cease giving orientalism a negative connotation, our preconceptions will cease to fuel self-fulfilling stereotypes and the media fear factor, and, maybe, we can live harmoniously.

"Hey! Do you like my Urban Outfitters duvet cover that appropriates and is insensitive to Eastern religion?"

Edward Said's book Orientalism describes the complex relationship between the Western and Eastern worlds.  This relationship is often fraught with tension and amazement.  The West looks at the East with both condescension and amazement, hence the term "orient."  They treated them as less civilized and in need of their help to justify imperialism.  With this facade, Europeans created a deeply ingrained racism that still pervades Western culture.  An example of the vestiges of this carefully constructed relationship can be found in the recent controversy of an Urban Outfitter duvet cover that featured Lord Ganesh, a Hindu deity.  This placement of the deity on an item that would be used as anything other than art was offensive and another example of companies led by white people making money from cultural appropriation.

In The God of Small Things, the relationship between India and England is clearly similar to what Said describes.  The Indians have had their history erased by the English and because of that, have no roots or sense of heritage that is important to their highly traditional culture.  The ancestors are replaced by the English at the top of the traditional hierarchy of Indian culture.  This change leads to the idolization of the English that is present in Baby Kochama's character who goes out of her way to quote Shakespeare in an attempt to please her English family members.  This relationship is problematic and a major source of conflict in the story.  The Indians cannot get into the history house and connect with their ancestors because they have been labeled as "oriental" and have suffered the consequences.

Orientalism and History

Edward Said's discussion and narrative regarding "orientalism" or the "oriental", is essential an argument about the East and the West. The West of course being the United States and "developed" European countries and the East being India, Middle East, and parts of Africa. I think that his argument and discussion is interesting, but keeping the time period of history in mind is key. Said talks about a few authors who have offered their thoughts on the topic, and most people look at them as extremely racist and call them out for it. What I like about Said's process is that he goes in and analyzes their works, essentially writing "careful reappraisals" of their work. In looking at a quote from the Heart of Darkness, "the conquest of the earth, mostly means taking it away from those who have a different complexion or slightly flatter noses than ourselves". Taking into account the different time periods of the earth, during the time of conquest, the earth was essentially unknown. Venturing passed borders led into the "East", and the different culture and society caused a feel/need to conquest. It sounds bad to think of them as conquering the earth, even though that is what they were doing, because there was nothing else they knew, and it sort of led the path for future perspectives on "orientalism". When Said says the French and Belgians believed they were "improving them in some way", many different reactions come into my head. To me it sounds awful, there is no way that by enslaving people and taking their agriculture for your benefit is at all justifiable or allowable.

But thinking of this "improvement" upon oriental societies in modern terms, is more coherent/ relate-able to me. Said continues his discussion and brings up more modern forms of how "orientalism" is still in play. Since the time of his book, I think there has definitely been in increase in discussion about "orientalism", specifically with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. In these current situations, I think a lot of people believe that we are trying to "improve" their systems and cultures, and that it is wrong fro us to go into something and get involved with what we are not a part of. The perception of the Islamic world is very controversial. To some degree, I understand the complaints about and anger created by going into the "orientalist" world to try and fix things. But, in reality, I don't see how we cannot. There has to be some degree of "improvement" in these areas of the world, and it does not have to mean changing religion or taking out races, which a lot of people think is what we are doing. There is nothing wrong with being a Muslim. But there are groups of people who run these "oriental" states that are inhumane and extremely violent, and that is what we are trying to change. I think there is a lot of wrong thinking when it comes to the Islamic world. Terrorists have attacked our country and continue to bring terror upon people and religions in their own states, and there's is nothing wrong with us trying to stop them and change political and ideological systems. Not every Muslim is part of these groups, and actually, only a very minute population is.  But there is too much judgement where, because we are fighting against them, there is automatically an extreme hate for all people of the Middle East and such (Orientalism).

The Idea of Imperialism

In The Postcolonial Mind, the author speaks of Orientalism and the West's view of  "Orientals" or people from the East. What I found most interesting was when Said's Culture and Imperialism was referenced and when he talked about imperialism as an idea.  Imperialism, rather than a means to expand a nation's wealth, is an idea that needs to overcome a society to make people believe that it is their obligation to rule over and control an "inferior or less advanced peoples." This idea is a lot more dangerous than say the Romans because "the Romans were there just for the loot," modern imperialists are in it because they truly believe that they are superior to the people of the country they are conquering.

Since imperialism is solely an idea, shouldn't it be easy to destroy?  I think that since the idea of imperialism is built on Orientalism and western society finding eastern society strange and savage, in order to break down imperialism is to break down the notion of Orientalism. This is harder than it sounds, because imperialism creates the illusion of an inferior people, that creates more stereotypes of that people, which creates more imperialism. Therefore the cycle continues until that people is no longer viewed as inferior. This is the hardest part because of western culture's arrogance being pumped to the people through the media making people believe this kinds of things.

Orientalism and Perspective

In the Edward Said excerpt from his book Orientalism, Said discusses various origins of the term, the rationalizations behind it, and the impact that its had on the relationship between the West and the East. He discusses how many of the stereotypes derived from Eastern culture arise from European imperialism in the 19th and 20th centuries. Just finishing the World War One unit in my European history class, imperialism was a way to advance economic positions in European nations, and in turn, the Europeans were able to create stereotypes that Said described, such as oriental cultures being "despotic" and "clannish". While, as Said affirmed, this is certainly not the case, it was an excuse for Europeans to justify the imperialism and unjust quotas they put their subject populations under, as the oriental cultures clearly "needed their help." Said describes that without examining orientalism as discourse, which Said demonstrates in his book, one cannot possibly understand the systematic structure by which European culture was able to manage and as a result produce such an authoritative position over oriental or "Eastern Cultures" that carries over today.

I think that this view of how cultures are "supposed" to behave because of the structures that were established and later embedded in European colonialism carries over today and is manifested in "The God of Small Things". In our discussion today in class, we talked about "the Play" that the family participates in and who defies or complies with the performance. When we discussed Baby Kochamma and Chacko, we see that they have very much been influenced by how they think of European society. Baby Kochamma is attempting to impress young Sophie Mol by quoting from The Tempest, which even Estha and Rahel catch on to. Additionally, when Margaret makes an ignorant comment about utterly fascinated she is with a certain aspect of Indian culture, Chacko is extremely angry when Ammu stands up for herself, as if her response was completely out of line because she was responding to someone of European culture.

While Ammu, the only one who doesn't want to behave like a, "godforsaken tribe," defends herself, the narrator illuminates that her anger is derived from the fact that she did not have the type of education that Chacko, the Rhodes Scholar who traveled to Oxford, and Baby Kochamma had. Thus, it is evident that this system of European dominance over Eastern cultures is very prevalent in education and various aspects of society.

What Edward "Said"

Edward Said described  the situation when the West encountered the cultures of the East and developed their first impressions on the people and their civilizations.  The western developments viewed the east strange and exotic therefore the term Orientalism developed as the study of these different cultures.  Said used the binaries "Occident" civilized and "Orient" uncivilized.  The Europeans thought of themselves as superior to the Orientals and whatever the Europeans were then the orients were not.  These beliefs created a boundary between the cultures and a prejudice against the orient people.  This boundary was reinforced with propaganda and teachings and is still present in today's society.  Today one of the main groups that suffer from Orientalism in our society are the Arabian people who obtain prejudices from our society that associate them with terrorist groups. 
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, a first person shooter video game, revolves around terrorist attacks and takes place in the Middle East. Although the game takes place in the Middle East it is only told through the western viewpoint.  The two protagonists are Sergeant John "Soap" MacTavish of the SAS (Special Air Services) of the United Kingdom Special Forces, and the secondary character is Sergeant Paul Jackson of the United States Marine Corps Force Reconnaissance.  Both characters are from the west and the game is seen through their perspective.  The antagonists in the game are either ultra nationalist Russians or a separatist group of the Middle East that are shown wearing turbans and act dangerous running around with AK-47s.  The game shows a the Middle East as a frantic, violent, and unorganized place whereas in real life they observe a culture different from the West.  Some places in the Middle East are unstable, however this game doesn't project that the minority of the places are unstable it displays all of the Middle East as unable to succeed without the assistance of the West.  

Said's Orientalism

Towards the beginning of the excerpt from Edward Said's Orientalism it reads "The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also the place of Europe's greatest and richest and oldest colonies , the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most reoccurring images of the Other. In addition, the Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) us its contrasting image, idea personality experience." Edward Said defends Orientalism as a rich source of culture and other beneficial aspects of Western society. It is not really fair to defend Orientalism as completely good like Said does because it often was harmful to the people on the other end of it. It was often just used as an excuse to justifiably invade another country.

Monday, March 9, 2015

A Westernized View of Motherhood

In The Reproduction of Mothering, Nancy Chodorow provides a basic explanation for something that has been oh-so-very-visible in our society for as far back as history takes us.  Chodorow looks at the phenomenon in which women tend to be the care-takers and nurturers of children, tending to have a life centered around the home, while men do not tend to take on such a role when it comes to parenting and spend most of their time outside the home.  Chodorow theorizes that women have strong connections with their children from the time they are born, beginning with nursing them, so this type of connection stays constant even as their children grow out of the nursing years, so women, thus are bound to the home to keep this connection alive and well.  It is not usually the case for men.
I liked Chodorow's analysis in the sense that it gave me a new perspective on the concept of motherhood.  I agree with her explanation because it is logical and makes sense when applied to real-life situations.  When I was little, I was very attached to my mother and didn't care much for my father; I didn't spend as much time with him.  Now, at seventeen, I still can't bear being away from my mom, but I can go weeks without speaking to my dad and not care very much.
However, I think Chodorow's explanation is a bit objective in the sense that it does not account for outside factors influencing the different mother/father dynamics that exist around the world. The words "motherly" and "mothering" are used all the time to describe women and their actions.  But don't those words mean different things in different cultures?  Not everywhere in the world is the same, and Chodorow's analysis is very Westernized.  Sexism and the dominance of gender binaries are extremely prevalent everywhere, and it is likely that not all of these specific problems originated from the phenomenon that Chodorow explains.
It's hard to pinpoint the origin of something that has prevailed in our society for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.  I think Nancy Chodorow takes a good stab at it, but I believe that her explanation is far too simplistic and objective for such an overbearing concept.  Instead of focusing on the root of the problems that have caused widespread sexism, I think it would be a better idea to come up with ways to fix the problem that is already so far ingrained in our society.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Time to Level the Playing Field

Nancy Chodorow's argument is unique and especially applicable in today's time. Chodorow made several compelling arguments in her essay but the one that struck me the most was the one she made about the relationship between societal expectations and gender. Although improvements have certainly been made, women are still expected to make self sacrifices to take care of their families. Personally, I think that this expectation sets women back greatly. Often times, women are looked down upon if they decide to pursue a career instead of a family. Men are also looked down upon if they decide to raise a family instead of pursue a career. These expectations are toxic in today's society. They turn parenting into a competition instead of an experience based on wholehearted love.

Although these expectations are bad for society, society has mad substantial progress. 100 years ago it was practically unheard of for a woman to have a high profile job and a man was viewed as a bum if he chose to stay home with his family. Now, I know men who take work off to raise their infant children so their wives can go back to their job. Women are encouraged to pursue the career they want and they are encouraged to consider fields that are typically dominated by men. The playing field is becoming much more level. However, there is still a lot of work to be done. In order to change the traditional and outdated parenting narrative, our society must move past the stereotypes and expectations that have shut us down in the past.

Children's Toys In The Mothering Process

In Nancy Chodorow's The Reproduction of Mothering, she explores why women mother and suggests that mothering and the role of the mother is feminine. Exploring the past and the past roles of women in the family. Chodorow says that due to industrialization and woman moving into the workforce, the role of mothering lost a lot of its religious and educational role. She says that children moving into school at a younger age also is a cause of this change. Women's role remains to be the child's main source of care but also women have to take care of their husbands after they've been at work all day.

Personally, I think that a big factor in why women become the mother's is because of the toys that the parents give to their kids. Little girls tend to play with dolls when they are a kid. The classic scenario is a girl hosting a tea party with all of her dolls, this is teaching girls and boys at a young age that mothering is for women. Daughters become like their mothers because the daughters watch their mothers and then play with their dolls in some type of way that resembles mothering. I am not trying to provoke a stereotype but daughters tend to be motherly because they see their mom mother and since her other role model is her dad, who is a guy, she then looks to her mother to be her role model.

Chodorow suggests that the roles of women and men should be less strict so that men spend more time at home while women go out in the world more. I somewhat agree, I think that the roles should be more intertwined. If sons see their father cleaning the house and being a "mother" to his siblings then he is more likely to act that way when he's older. Same goes for daughters and mothers. If this happens eventually mothering will be for both of the parents.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Difference Between Sims and Humans

Our society's need for organizing things often takes precedent over what might actually be more efficient to fill the gaps in what it needs. It is easier to file people under the two categories- on a form there is only so much space for boxes to check. You are male or you are female. You are straight or you are gay. You are mother or you are father. But, in truth, humans are way too complicated for every single one of us to fit into these boxes. The ideals that are being held on to only perpetuate institutional sexism and, especially in developing countries, holds us back. Children, and therefore our future, are heavily affected by the idea of mothering to be inherently female. Nancy Chodorow wrote in The Reproduction of Mothering "equal parenting would leave people of both genders with the positive capacities each has, but without the destructive extremes these currently tend toward".Clearly, the mold that exists for our definition of family is not working. Chodorow was on to something back in the 70's and it's still a progressive idea now.

On holidays or family gatherings, it is often my job to entertain my 9 year old cousin. Every time, without fail, she wants to play The Sims, a very popular life simulation game for those who don't know. Since she could click a mouse, when she comes over she plays the sims. Every time she begins a new game and creates her household. And every time, every single time, she creates the same family- varying only in names, hair color, and clothing. She creates a woman, a man, a male child and a female child.They are always white and thin. All of them will either be brunette with brown eyes or all of them will be blonde with blue eyes. Upon finishing her household and starting to play the game, she employs the man as either a politician or businessman, and she does not employ the woman but instead improves her cooking and painting skills at home. She has both of the children excel in school, and on the weekends the male child dabbles in creating potions and the female child dabbles in baking on her easy bake oven. Not only is this an extremely boring method of playing, it is quite shocking to me, considering that she is Chinese, adopted by my single aunt. Every week they meet with other single mothers with adopted daughters.  So why does she create the same family over and over again? How far in her head has this model been drilled? The game itself does a fairly good job at not perpetuating norms aside from the gender binary- your sims don't have any concept of gender or race when interacting with others or in the workplace, they can have literally whatever skin color you please- even green, and even beyond death they are playable. 

The virtual world her family of sims reside in might not be struggling with gender constructions, but ours definitely is. Your sim may not have any kind of relationship with their children and they'll turn out fine. Humans are not as simple. Child psychology is a very complex and ever changing field of study. We can't know how these constructions of what a mother is and isn't are affecting us as we don't really have an example of someone growing up without them. Even in a household that might differ from the norm, kids see it everywhere on TV. It would take a multitude of generations of change for these barriers to be broken- as Chodorow wrote: "this outcome is historically possible, but far from inevitable". It will take an active effort to reverse the negative affects of this ideology.