Sunday, March 25, 2018


As I am Asian American (and was born in China), I feel as if orientalism is very relevant in my life. I was adopted as a baby so I have absolutely no recollection of China, yet I know that it is a huge part of my life. Devoid of memories of China, I have been forced to build my perception of my birth country through movies such as Mulan. The common stereotype that movies such as this conveyed is China (more generally, all asian countries) as a mystic, mysterious less developed country where nature and ancestral connections are prevalent. While this depiction of Asian countries is not wholly false, it is also not wholly true. Films and other works of art tend to exaggerate said aspects of Asian countries as an attempt to add to their work's appeal. For example, in many films, it is a Westerner who goes to an exotic Asian country and saves the day by usually either defeating evil locals or mastering the country's specialty (for example, karate in China) to the point where they are better than those from the country. These situations paints Asian countries as a surmountable challenge to Westerners, which is almost parallel to the ideology associated with colonization.

When my parents went to China to get me, they recount how much of the area they visited was geared towards Westerners. In fact, they recall eating at Domino's and McDonald's. Similarly, when they were in China, random people would go up to them and comment on their height, size of their feet, or anything characteristics that made them different. To the locals, my parents, representing Westerners, were idealized. I feel as if orientalism plays a part in why my parents were idealized. In fact, this situation shows that orientalism has a profound effect upon Asians as well as Westerners. It creates a sort of stratification between the two, where too often, Westerners are on top. 

American Orientalism

Orientalism is still very prevalent in the United States/the West. We need to expand our mindsets and see people from all parts of the world as full people just like us, and not just two dimensional stereotypes. We need to accept that just because we do not understand someone's language, culture, etc., does not mean that they are beyond our understanding. People are all the same- everyone goes out with friends, goes to school, etc.

Even just in the U.S. people always assume someone who is a minority is not an American.

For example, for me being Chinese living in the U.S., people have always assumed that I am from China. People are always surprised when I tell them I was born in America, even though they don't really have any reason to think that I wasn't, other than the fact that I am Chinese. And even if I was from China and had an accent, that would not make me a different person than I am right now, except that I would speak another language. I think that is a concept a lot of people do not fully grasp- that someone who speaks another language still has the same thoughts you do, except in a different language.. We need to start seeing people who are other ethnicities than us as people we can get to know and relate to, and not just shallow stereotypes.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Orientalism and Madagascar

According to Edward Said, Orientalism is a stereotype of the Middle East and Asia. Many people are blogging about how orientalism is seen in movies like the Lion King, which takes place in Africa, which is not technically orientalism since it is not in the Middle East or Asia. However, those blogs should not be discredited. Quite the opposite in fact, as I believe orientalism is a localized term for a more widespread stereotype.

For example, the DreamWorks movie Madagascar displays a western stereotype of Africa. Very similar to the Lion King, it was one of my first impressions of Africa. It is much like the Lion King as it depicts Madagascar as having no humans, except for skeletons on a crashed plane, and is overrun by jungle and "savage" wildlife. In Madagascar 2, the animals end up on the mainland Africa. Here they run into tourist Safaris. These white people are the only people seen in Africa, along with just wide open spaces and more animals. It makes Africa appear as a place where white people can go and look at the pretty views and animals, not an actual home country for anyone.

I would like to briefly address the irony of this blog post (and many others). I am white and have spent my entire life in western culture, so I can't pretend to know what extent of the western stereotypes are incorrect representations. I am subject to western media and I cannot pretend to be superior to the rest of western culture when it comes to acknowledging our stereotypes. All I can do is do my best to learn about them and rise above them.

Argo, Iran, and Orientalism

Orientalism, a theory defined by the exaggerated culture and negative connotations associated with the East and Middle East, is evident in the United States. One example of this is the film Argo. Argo is an American film released in 2012. This film follows the story of 6 Americans and a Canadian Ambassador taken hostage in the U.S. Embassy.

To begin, I watched the film when it came out in 2012. As a Iranian-American 12 year old, I was very confused. I was confused because Iranians were being pictured in a way that even scared me. I began to think how others would view my people and culture.

While the story and events captured in Argo did happen, the way they were presented concerned me. In the beginning of the film, various clips of the history of Iran's government and the U.S.'s involvement in it. Even though this information is true it sees to be thrown in. I feel it is added in for cinematic effect rather than to inform viewers of the relationship between the U.S. and Iran. What follows this is exactly what Orientalism is highlighting, the negative connotations associated with this part of the world. The film takes the route of victimizing the hostages and illustrating the Iranians as barbaric. The filmmakers made this film for entertainment, for a thrill. This is obvious through scenes with mobs of people chanting and the main characters fighting their way through them.

Overall, this film fails to accurately present the events that took place or the real relationship between the U.S. and Iran. In addition the film heightens the fear Americans have for Iran and gives them one very narrow lens to view Iran. There were many opportunities to educate the Western viewers of the film in what happened and Iranians' emotions . Instead, all audience members get are angry and villianized characters. Argo is just one example of Orietnalism in the United States and the reinforcement of stereotypes of Iran. 

Running From Orientalism

As a runner, I spend a lot of my time reading about and researching various training and fueling techniques. I focus, in particular, on Olympic level marathoners and long-distance runners. Because of this, most of my research focuses on runners from East Africa- with the top distance runners consistently being citizens of Ethiopia and Kenya. Throughout my research, I have encountered two very distinct views of the running practices of these elite runners from African Countries. One: the genetic makeup of people from East Africa has enabled them to develop the traits that are ideal for running (high pain tolerance, slender build, efficient stride, ect.). The other view, however, is that East African communities have remained in a primitive state that has left the skill of running to be one their only necessary skills or pastimes.

While the first theory has both its proponents and critiques, it is rarely focused on. Instead, researchers and authors alike hone in on the potential of the second theory. This theory capitalizes on the "widespread poverty" and "necessitating nature" of running to escape from animals and to retrieve water from far away wells. While it's hard to argue that these things do not exist in East African countries- yes, there is poverty, and yes there are wild animals in many parts of East Africa. However. While many Western athletes are focused on the "exotic" and "primitive upbringing" of East African runners, they fail to note the many other factors that contribute to their racing success. They don't mention, for example, the altitude at which they practice at, the heat they endure yearly, or the immense drive and determination that is instilled in them- like with all elite athletes.

The running community remains in awe of East African runners, but instead of focusing on their workouts or fueling, they do what Westerners have been doing for years on end: they degrade them by implying their skills are nothing but primitive and evolutionary instincts with no basis in their determination or hard work. This is a subtle and not often recognized aspect of orientalism that arises in many sports, though the domination of East African talent in long distance running is certainly what brought on this specific and pointed examination.


Throughout my entire childhood, Aladdin was a favorite of mine. My middle school performed the musical, and I thought it was amazing. I liked the music, and it even got my thinking about complicated topics, like morality, when Aladdin stole bread because he was poor and starving. However, I never stopped to think about the orientalism that appeared in the film.

As an American, I was not even phased by the clearly prejudie interpretation of middle eastern culture that appeared in the movie. The saddest part is, I am not alone. Alladin is one of, if not the, most popular Disney movie.

As Americans, we are not even phased by the lyrics in the song "Arabian Nights",
Oh, I come from a land, from a faraway place
Where the caravan camels roam
Where it's flat and immense
And the heat is intense
It's barbaric, but hey, it's home
These lyrics blantantly express that the character's home is a mysterious, "faraway", place that is "barbaric". I was not phased by these lyrics, because in my society and culture, Middle Eastern and Asian culture are perceived as such. Aladdin is not the only movie or piece of art that depicts Asia and the Middle East in such a way. 

Orientalism in the Lion King?

I was a bit confused how the Lion King was orientalist, so I searched up other people's arguments for why it is. I found less than five people actually arguing it, but the main point seems to be that it depicts a false version of Africa, in which it is completely undeveloped, wild, and devoid of humans. I don't see how that is different than the version of North America given in Brother Bear, another Disney movie with a complete focus on the native animals. Not having humans was necessary for the story of the movie, as it is a rough adaptation of Hamlet and any presence of would either completely shift the tone of the move, or be unnecessary. Not to mention that are are actually places in Africa where no people live and are populated with different types of animals, such as the many nature reserves.

An actual argument for imperialism in the Lion King that I didn't see anywhere would be how the shadowlands, where the hyenas live, and Scar, the main villain, all share the motif of darkness while the good characters are all whiter. Even this however, doesn't stand very well to scrutiny as the theme of light=good and dark=bad is present in a wide variety of cultures, dating back to the ancient Middle East.

While I am not denying the existence of Orientalism in general, I think it isn't constructive to look for it where it doesn't exist, especially because so many actual examples exist.

There is a very good chance there are actually good points towards Orientalism being present in the Lion King, so if anyone has them I would love for them to leave a comment.

Orientalism and Modern Ideas

Western culture thrives and perpetuates its false superior identity by putting itself above “others”. For years, the West has treated East Asian people as inferior and without true worth. Characters such as Charlie Chan, played by a white actor, helped to build the racist caricatures so common in both the media and the minds of many in the West. By marginalizing an entire race, western culture lifts itself up and perpetuates the myths inherent in Orientalism. Growing up in the aftermath of generations that never bothered to embrace Eastern cultures makes it imperative that we move beyond the stereotypes. Years of minimizing and manipulating the history of Asian people in the media and in Western society itself is not something easily erased. Prejudices run deep and ignorance still prevails in many if not most areas of the United States.

The lack of accurate Asian representation in movies and television perpetuates Orientalism. Movies like Kung Fu Panda dilute Chinese culture by using Asians for fewer than a quarter of the voice actors. It’s not that talented Asian actors do not exist, it’s that Hollywood chooses to ignore non-white talent. In Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, “exotic Asian hosts” feed Indy and his friends chilled monkey brains for dessert. By portraying Asian people and their culture as mysterious and strange, Hollywood profits at the cost of belittling and marginalizing a race of people. Being raised in
a culture where many people believe it is OK to misrepresent and offend through the perpetuation of Orientalism makes it even more important that we demand more honest depictions of Asian people. Hopefully this is the generation that will move beyond what separates us and learns to embrace cultural differences without fear and ridicule.

Orientalism in TinTin

Although the famous comic, TinTin was a favorite of mine growing up, it is one of the worst perpetrators of Orientalism of any comic series ever. TinTin is a young french reporter who travels from place to place reporting crimes, or any type of unusual activities. As a young child, these adventures he went on to what were mysterious, vastly misrepresented countries were some of my very favorite stories. However, in hindsight I can now realize just how awfully other cultures and places were depicted by this Eurocentric story line.

The two editions that I believe best illustrate the lack of social awareness are "TinTin in the Congo", and "The Blue Lotus". I never read the former, because even in a less progressive 1970's America, people still had the wherewithal to realize it was incredible racist and insensitive and banned the sale of it in the US. However, the second, "The Blue Lotus", was a story I used to love. The story depicted TinTin traveling to China to bust up and illegal operation being run out of an Opium den. Even while typing this I am struggling to understand how even at such a young age that the stereotypes were lost on me and I still enjoyed the Comic. Despite that, there are more issues than just Chinese stereotypes in this edition.

One of those being the idea of TinTin continually saving the day in far of  lands is in continuation with the false idea that it takes a white European male to save the day. In addition to this, is the fact that the Chinese writing used in the comic was similar situation to what happened in the Homeland episode, it was simply just "Squibbly". Overall, the comic TinTin, while a large part of my childhood, is filled with awful stereotypes and Orientalism, and should probably have many of its editions discontinued.

It's Still Ours: The Beatles and Orientalism in a Post-Colonial World

The 1960's saw The Beatles own the world, and as they clearly believed, the cultures throughout it. The Beatles relationship with India and its culture alone demonstrates how their attitudes towards India, even in a post-colonial world, were stereotypical, white washed, and largely unfair. There is, however, an interesting nuance to the bands use of Indian culture. Their perception and portrayal of Indian culture was not in the pursuit of justifying and continuing British economic and military domination of South Asian countries, but was more a repudiation of the world in which they had grown up.
Image result for the beatles india

While this seems to soften the offense, they still managed to display India in a wholly inaccurate way. The Beatles' reputation for drugs helped to conflate the culture with that of psychedelics, music, and sex. Their portrayal of India is one of languid and rampant drug use and spiritual awakenings. This bleeds not only into their personal lives (George Harrison especially began to embrace Hinduism and Indian cultural practices) but their music as well, where they featured psychedelic musical themes and extensive use of cultural instruments such as the sitar.
Image result for the beatles india sitar
All of this culminates into an inaccurate depiction of an Indian way of life. It romanticizes aspects of a cultures created and dominated by white, largely English musicians (The Kinks and the Yardbirds would also feature similar themes), with a foreign tagged placed on it; a price change to make it more appealing and exotic to the masses. 

Image result for the beatles india


In today's society an orientalist mindset is common. I think that the binary and power dynamic of Us vs them is natural no matter where you live. It is natural to consider your social group the superior one. Thus, without a good understanding of the "east" or the "other" in any instance-without mutual recognition- misunderstanding, even injustice, takes place. For instance, I have never been east of the east coast of the United States and for most Americans the "east" isn't as popular a travel destination as Europe or other states. This allows the media to take advantage of people's lack of knowledge and create entertainment that feeds off of people's willingness to believe that they are the "normal" or the "civilized." Movies such as Aladdin and Doctor Strange present the "east" as a mystery, as a place with unique powers only used for good when a western hero arrives.

I think that "The God of Small Things" is written for a "western" audience to create mutual recognition and empathy with the experiences of those of a different culture. However, I think that it also emphasizes the injustices that people everywhere are familiar with. Issues of social class, police brutality, and domestic abuse force the reader to consider classism, racism and sexism, mostly from the innocent point of view of children. Roy says in the "The God of Small Things", "[the violence of the police was] impelled by feelings that were primal yet paradoxically impersonal. Feelings of contempt born of inchoate, unacknowledged fear- civilization's fear of nature, men's fear of women, power's fear of powerlessness." These fears are seen in every society, but manifest themselves in different ways. I think by understanding this we can take a step away from the orientalist mindset.


Orientalism is the patronizing way Western attitude towards Middle Eastern, Asian, and North African societies.  In one aspect, it is a way of viewing that imagines and exaggerates the difference between of Arab peoples and cultures to that of Western cultures. Early examples of Orientalism were depicted in the early 19th and 20th century through European paintings and photographs. In the paintings, Arabian culture is depicted as a mysterious place of sand, harems, and belly dancers. A modern-day example of Orientalism is Disney's movie Aladdin. Growing up,  I loved watching the movie. As I got older, I realized how unjust portrayal of Arab culture. In the opening song, Arabian Nights, it exaggerates how Aladdin's home is a very mysterious and faraway place much different than the audience. For example, "When they cut off you ear if they don't like your face, it's barbaric, but hey, it's home." It blatantly depicts Arab culture as ruthless and uncivilized. Aladdin is a clear example of Orientalism.

I think we do have an Orientalism mindset even though individuals from Western cultures will not admit it. Or, they are unconsciously unaware that they do. For example, there this is viner named Anwar Jibawi. He is Palestinian-American  and in the past had created stereotypical vines about Arab culture to get laughs and views. In one vine, he is dressed in traditional clothing and outside the elevator. He talks on the phone and states how the party was the "bomb" enthusiastically Yet, the Americans only head bomb and quickly look anxiously scared because he looked Middle-Eastern. If it was any other culture, the people would not have gotten so anxious that quick. It shows how Orientalism comes into place. It holds stereotypes about the Middle-East that promote ignorance and discrimination. It is harmful.

George R. R. Martin's Simulation of the East and West

In the book series, A Song of Ice and Fire, and the TV series, A Game of Thrones, George R. R. Martin simulates the divide between East and West in the real world. In fact, he names an entire continent Westeros, and portrays many characters from Westeros with Orientalist mindsets. Across the narrow sea from Westeros lies the continent Essos, which conveniently starts with the letter 'E' ('E' as in East). Though knights and medieval lifestyles prevail in Westeros, Essos is painted with an exotic brush. It is a land filled with merchants, slaves, and barbaric horseman, known as the Dothraki. Magic and spiritual rituals are taken seriously. Religion has a strong foothold. Just as Westerners in the real world stereotype the East as exotic, barbaric, and mystical, Westeros people stereotype those from Essos with similar qualities. George R.R. Martin, no doubt intentionally, established an Oriental world in his novels.

In my opinion, there is one distinct difference from the Orientalist mindset in our world and the one in Game of Thrones. People of the East tend to reinforce the Orientalist mindset by conforming to Western culture and viewing Western culture as superior to their own. In Game of Thrones, however, people from Essos, particularly the Dothraki, are prideful of their lifestyles and look down upon the practices of people from Westeros. For instance, the Dothraki - people who are used to roaming the plains with their tribe without defined geographic boundaries - despise the castles of Westeros, viewing them as an indicator of western people's cowardliness. Furthermore, slave owners in the far east of Essos intentionally turn away from Westeros traditions, fearful of the slave uprising that might entail embracing of those traditions. 

George R. R. Martin also attempts to gather respect among his readers for the 'barbaric' traditions of Dothraki. By showing the growth of Daenerys Targaryen from a adolescent marrying a Dothraki Prince to a confident Dothraki Princess, the reader can see through Daenerys' eyes the context and beauty behind many (but not all) of the Dothraki's rituals. Daenerys and her brother are from Westeros. Though Daenerys' brother continues to look upon the Dothraki with disdain, Daenerys' transformation is a healthy contrast. Perhaps the contrast gives the reader more determination to understand Eastern cultures in the real world through a more realistic, respectful lense. 


Disney's animated movie, Mulan, produced by Disney can be represented as a classic example of Westerns generalizations of Asian cultures. In the movie, Mulan is shown wearing a Kimono in a scene, which is Japanese garment clothing and not Chinese. Which can misrepresent our perception of other cultures and may cause us to misunderstand or disrespect cultures that are different from our own. Movies like Mulan, are suppose to be educational in children's point of view, help us shape our perception of people, places and events.


Orientalism is the stereotyped depiction of Middle Eastern, East Asian, South Asian, and African cultures. Orientalism plays a huge role in our society and we often don't even see it. One movie that comes to mind is The Lion King. While Lion King is a great movie it is also damaging because it is supposed to portray an accurate perspective on the continent of Africa, but there are no humans in the movie, which is very stereotypical because Africa is the second largest continent in the world but it is still portrayed as a continent full of just animals and wildlife. Another movie that comes to mind is Aladdin, which is based in the Arabian city of Agrabah. Disney has been criticized for perpetuating Orientlist stereotypes of the Middle East and Asia in this movie. In fact certain lyrics and lines have been changed or removed from Aladdin to make it seem less stereotypical. If Orientalism can exist in two extremely popular movies, where else could it be? Orientalism is everywhere even though we don't see it and if we can acknowledge that it's there perhaps we can take certain steps to remove these stereotypes from the media and our everyday lives.


Orientalism is the representation of Asia, particularly the Middle East, to the western world. The stereotypical way in which these places are portrayed clearly represent the historical colonial perspective of the past. Particularly the Middle East, is portrayed as a savage civilization that is far behind the technology of the west. In films such as Aladdin, or The Dictator, both of which are stories of characters from the Middle East or it takes place in the Middle East.
The Disney film Aladdin revolves around a poor young man who gets his wishes granted after finding a genie in a bottle. He soon finds out that this genie and the princess Jasmine is being searched for by a more evil entity. The film follows Aladdin as his wishes come true and he saves the genie and the princess from evil.
Although the film is entertaining and has a happy ending, it is also subject to Orientalism. The film involves many things which we, in America, believe come from the middle east such as flying carpets, magic like a genie in a bottle, etc. One scene in the film shows the Taj Mahal and it is previously believed from watching the scenes before this one, that it takes place in the Middle East. After this scene, some viewers might question why a historical building which is actually in India is shown in a movie that is supposed to take place in a place such as Afghanistan. To an unknowing person, all of these characteristics are clumped together and create a picture for one singular place outside of the western world we live in. Orientalism creates a picture of places that aren't our home instead of depicting them as what they are.

The Sub-Umbrella

Last week I went to a fundraiser for a domestic violence advocacy organization called KAN WIN (Korean American Women In Need) with my mom who also works in this area. Thinking back to the event after our discussions on Orientalism I realized that the stereotypes Asian American women face have deep roots in the mystification and degradation of their own culture. After eating some mooncake and listening to one of their performers very slow version of “Over the Rainbow”, survivors and daughters of survivors of domestic violence gave testimonials. A common trend throughout their speeches was the intersection between the discrimination they faced as women and the discrimination they faced as Asian Americans. 

The organization was created in the early 80s as a response to second wave feminism. Many non-Asian women and men running domestic violence organizations claimed that Asian American women weren’t using their services because they were too “strict”, “submissive” and “passive.” KAN WIN was created by Asian American women for Asian American women in the Chicago area. KAN WIN took a different approach than other organizations and did outreach in their own language and catered to their own cultural background. Since its creation, KAN WIN has served thousands of men and women, and has educated communities on gender-based violence.
One of the most interesting parts of the night was seeing all the subcultures under the stereotypical umbrella of “Asian culture.” Even among the similarly aged Korean women sitting at the table with my mom and me there were cultural divisions. All the women at the table were third generation Korean American but two of them did not speak Korean and were received with a touch of hostility by the five other women who did. My mom and I, as the clear outsiders, overheard the five women accusing the two of Americanizing their kids, of not continuing Korean culture.
These conversations at the table made me think of how The God of Small Things was received in present day Ayemenem (more accurately Kottayam). Both Roy and the citizens of Ayemenem come from the same “umbrella culture” but, like the women at my table, they experience different subcultures that shape the way they view the world. Roy’s portrayal of Ayemenem was different and untrue to the way that many of its citizens experienced it but true to Roy’s experience. Realities are relative.

Orientalism doesn’t even depict the “umbrella cultures”, it shows one “ozone layer culture” and definitely has some holes in it. Depicting thousands of cultures and subcultures, and millions of experiences with a dozen white washed stereotypes speaks no type of truth.


Orientalism definitely plays a role in our society today and it sometimes is very noticeable but alot of the times it is discrete and you don't realize it. The film Mulan is one of Disney's popular films that portrays Chinese culture inaccurately. Mulan is always encouraged by her family and her community to find a husband and to be a lady meaning to not express her opinion. This is stereotyping Chinese culture as forcing women to marry. In the film The Lion King, all the characters are animals. There aren't any human characters at all. The film was created to be a depiction of the continent of Africa but it was a very stereotypical image of the continent. There are many different countries in the continent of Africa but the film seemed to generalize Africans. If we don't recognize that we may play a role in the false depiction of Eastern culture (Middle East and Asia) we will never get to understand the truth about different cultures. We won't be able to have positive international relations if we receive inaccurate information

Orientalism in the Shell

Orientalism, or the stereotypical portrayal of Asian and Middle Eastern culture in films and other artistic works, is not very hard to notice once you start looking for it. Movies like Aladdin take on a whole new light. The West has an enormous collection of films, paintings, and TV shows that fall into this trap, but I started to wonder how actual Asian films do in relation to their Western counterparts. Specifically, I thought about the original Ghost in the Shell from 1995 and the remake from 2017. Sure enough, the remake held many examples of what we would think of when we hear "Japanese" city would be. In particular, the remake clutters its city with a seemingly impossible number of holographic displays that I think are supposed to be advertisements, almost all of which contain things that are "Japanese" like people wearing kimono, large glowing koi fish swimming around buildings, or large signs featuring Kanji that would be totally illegible from anywhere except from sweeping helicopter shots that we are presented with. One image that kept reappearing was someone who seemed to have fans growing out of their head. I'm not really sure what that's supposed to be. These things may find their roots in actual Japanese culture, but in this film they serve to do little else than to attempt to create an atmosphere. They serve no real purpose in terms of plot, and really would not be realistic in the world of the film. Here are two identical shots from the remake and the original:

You can see a little bit of the holographic billboards in the background here, but if you notice, the original's skyline looks just like a city. It looks like a futuristic cyberpunk city, but it's still a city. When it comes down to it, the original Japanese creators see their own cities as being just that, cities. There is no reason to flood them with stereotypical Japanese imagery as that won't make it any more of a Japanese city than if it hadn't been there.

Similarly, the remake attempts to shadow the original's opening scene. The movies open on a strike operation being run by Section 9, a division of a Public Security department under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Both scenes essentially result in a window being shot in by the main character, but the scene's execution deviates here from the original. In the original, a meeting is interrupted and a foreign diplomat is assassinated, preventing a programmer from defecting the country, and that's it. However in the remake, the scene involves a meeting between an African leader and a member of a company that is attacked by terrorists and hacked geisha-bots. That's right, robotic geisha. These robots wind up playing a decently large role in the film, being used in later scenes to gather information via hacking, but when you boil things down, this is just another instance of the remake trying to fit as many things that seem Japanese into the film. They rely on that to create a feel of wonder and fascination as much as they do the future technology that is prevalent in both films.

The remake also sneaks other Japanese stereotypes into the remake. The head of Section 9 is Japanese, and he is also the only character in what is clearly made to be Japan to speak Japanese. It feels out of place, and they even changed the character from the original into the stoic tight-laced kind of stereotypical Japanese police chief. The first thing that the main character's Japanese mother (even though Scarlet Johansen plays the main character) does when she sees her is offer tea. The more you dig in this movie the more instances of Orientalism you see, and with the original movie to compare against, each offense just grows in severity.

These two films show that Orientalism has not faded from our media. The original gave a rarer perspective from the actual culture being represented, while the remake shows the American take on it. The remake is just a bad movie in general, but the stereotypes it employs to create its setting create even more barriers that prevent me from enjoying the film. The remake tried too hard to be the original, except bigger and better, and it wound up just being more empty as a result. Interestingly, the fist movie opens with these lines: "In the not so distant future, when the corporate networks fill the Earth with electronic and optical communication lines, but society has not yet been too computerized to erase nations and races..." The city the original portrays is still Japanese, and it manages not to have all the same in your face stereotypical Japanese representations. The remake, with what its producer called an "international world" embraces Orientalism completely and fills its film with stereotypes. Orientalism is alive and well.

Thursday, March 22, 2018


When we were first talking about orientalism and western cultures, Aladdin, the Disney channel movie came up in my mind because I remember that the film was criticised for perpetuating orientalist stereotypes of the Middle East and Asia.

Aladdin is set in a mythical town called Agrabah, meaning scorpion in Arabic. In the movie’s original opening song “Arabian Nights”, Agrabah is described as a land “where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face, it’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.” These lyrics were later changed due to the outrage they caused since they were seen as racist by the audience. Despite the setting being mythical, there are Middle Eastern, Islamic, and Asian aspects mixed up within the movie. The king, Jasmine’s father, is at times called Sultan (Arabic) and at others Shah (Iranian). Aladdin wears a Fez (Turkish) and Jasmine wears Indian-style shoes. Belly dancers are seen dancing with red marks on their foreheads (Hindu) and terms like “Salam” and “Allah forbids” (Arabic/Islamic) are used.

Through these representations, Orientals are depicted as barbaric (Aladdin almost get’s his arm chopped off for stealing), sensual (belly dancers & revealing clothing), yet exotic and enticing. Interestingly, one can argue that the Genie’s character represents the West through his foreign jokes, impersonations of foreign characters. Genie makes fun of Aladdin but helps him, making Genie into the figure of a Western “rescuer”, where Western influence is seen as beneficial for the “barbaric” (Aladdin) from their strange and dangerous ways.

Orientilism: Racism or Romanticism (& Why We Feel the Need to Risk it)

Aside from acknowledging that questionable Oriental depictions have long since swept Hollywood in a sort of derogatory renaissance, it is important to acknowledge why such "controversial" depictions of Eastern society market so successfully (I use the word "controversial" sparingly because it seems as if we seldom notice racism in oriental depictions unless we see other people complaining about it afterwards, negative reviews on Rotten Tomatoes that point it out, etc.  Be honest, when was the last time you actually stopped in the middle of the latest action flick and said to yourself "wow that's racist"? Although that isn't to say that it isn't there).

So where is the appeal? To explore this idea I ask you to consider why one may or may not enjoy the genre of western (cowboy shoot-em-up) films. Films, in general, tend to have a distinct tendency to both romanticize and to proceed "conveniently". In the case of western movies, there's something about the sun setting behind a looming Texas canyon, the trotting on horse-top through a barren desert expanse to the unknown, or downtime by the fireplace after setting up camp for the night that you can't help but envy, with an unfamiliar reminiscing of sorts. That strange sense of appeal for something that is not yours, that longing or attraction for a setting depicted in a film is the very definition of romanticism. The element of Now this iteration of Orientalism isn't the type that often presents itself in action or "Bond" type flicks. This is the depiction in such works as The Bridge on the River Kwai, or even Eat Pray Love where the foreign setting and culture is meant to be endearing and subtle, if not entirely culturally accurate.

The second type of orientalism is much more derogatory and offendable. The notion of a foreign entity or location being the antagonist (¨Villain¨) or place where conflict occurs is all too convenient, easy enough to CTRL-C/CTRL-V. This is the type of orientalist portrayal that will make you think all Muslims are terrorist, or that every Asian field agent is trained in the art of the Samurai. Frankly, Hollywood can be racist in their questionable portrayals because it´s easy. Its easy for the villain to be the ´other´ and the hero to be the bad-ass westerner. In film and TV, it´s convenient to use stereotypical portrayals of foreign individuals as the enemy because it cuts back the need for sophisticated plot points, thoughtful writing, or exposition. The mind has been wired at this point to connect the dots.

¨Oh? The supervillain is a Muslim? Oh so he´s being depicted as a terrorist. I know from the sketchy foreign setting and strange behaviors portrayed of these people that this is a hostile environment, and since terrorist hate Americans that must be the motivations of all their evil-doing. That´s enough exposition for me. Bring on the gun fight!¨

At this point, it is important to remember that the word ´orientalism´ does not have any negative connotation on its own (it is only seen as negative because of the trend of racist or inaccurate depictions of it in media). Orientalism simply means the interpretation of eastern culture in western art/media affirming that it could be accurate or inaccurate, realistic or exaggerated. It is the standard by which we critique it that our ethical opinion is formed. To some, even the more endearing portrayals of Orientalism can be viewed as offensive so long as they are not entirely accurate. Is it just as racist to exadurate the 'good' in eastern society as it is to stereotype the 'bad'? In the same light, is any work that expresses Orientalism negatively a sign of the racism of the creators of the cinema, or the craving of the audience that eats it up without question? I personally find it hard to call Yimou Zhang derogatory and offensive for a work like The Great Wall, especially considering it is his own culture he is projecting.

And this leads me to my final point. People watch questionable oriental portrayals in film because they love it. They don't love it because it's racist or offensive though. They love it because it has become a standard in cinema and it's what the big corporations know will sell. It's often entertaining, it's different enough from our daily experience, and it's not there to challenge what we think we know.  The long game of "playing it safe" if you will. Does this place the blame on the viewer for lapping it up like brainwashed dogs at a watering hole? Perhaps we are the source of the problem but I'm not going to be enjoying Raiders of the Lost Arc any less the next time. That isn't to say that the underlining epidemic of racist and stereotypical portrayal isn't present, but for now, pass the popcorn please.

Orientalism in Early Modern Dance

Doris Humphrey is a renowned pioneer of early American modern dance, and her contributions to the art form are widely recognized as a starting point for generations of modern dancers. She grew up in Oak Park, and there is even a street here named after her family.

Though many of her works are considered masterpieces and still preformed today, Orientalism can be clearly seen in some of the lesser known pieces she choreographed.

Humphrey would go on long trips to many different countries in Asia and return with new "inspiration" for her dances.

Though the intention behind these pieces was not to mock or disrespect a certain culture, the works are still problematic. Humphrey was a white American who thought that she had the right to recreate dance she saw from other cultures, when it was definitely not her place to interpret these cultures and show her interpretations to an American audience. Her audience probably had little to no actual experience with different cultures and countries in Asia, so Humphrey's representation of them was the one of the only examples they saw. Clearly, it is a big problem when the person who exposes people to a different culture is not actually part of that culture. An American visiting an Asian country, observing their dance styles, and creating a new dance to show other Americans that is based on their own interpretation is not an accurate representation.

The tricky thing about Orientalism is that it does not always purposefully disrespect an Asian culture. Many times, like in Doris Humphrey's situation, it comes out of a love for a culture, but it is shown in a problematic way that makes the Asian country it represents seem distant, mysterious, exotic, and different.

Aladdin: False Portrayal of the Arab World

Orientalism refers to the Western imitation or depiction of certain characteristics and aspects of Middle Eastern and Asian cultures. To break down what orientalism is, it depicts/shows you something that makes you have a vision of Middle Eastern and Asian cultures and they do not capture the whole culture. For example, when you think about Egypt you might picture pyramids, camels, or desert. Many parts of Egypt are not like that. Sharm El Sheikh which is a city in Egypt actually is known for their sheltered sandy beaches, clear waters, and coral reefs. Naama Bay, with a palm tree-lined promenade is filled with bars and restaurants. Let me provide you with an example many can relate to. 

Has your favorite childhood memory been a lie? Aladdin is a famous childhood movie that was released November in 1992 by Walt Disney's Pictures. Aladdin is about a street rat who frees a genie from a lamp. When meeting the genie the genie is able to grant his wish. Later on, Aladdin(street rat) learns that evilness has plans for the lamp as well as Princess Jasmine. The only thing is, is can Aladdin save Princess Jasmine and his love for her after she finds out who he truly is?

Aladdin is an example of modern day orientalism because the opening lyrics for the theme song "Arabian Nights" states "Oh I come from a land, from a faraway place, where the caravan camels roam, where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face, it's barbaric, but hey, its home" these lyrics can depict to the viewer that Aladdin's home is not only a faraway place but also a place of mystery. The song also states "..where they cut off your ear if they don't like your face, it's barbaric, but hey, it's home" and that can depict that Aladdin's home is uncivilized and barbaric. After many complaints from viewers Disney went and changed the lyrics from "Arabian Nights". Disney decided to keep the lyrics where it depicted Aladdin"s home as a mystery. Disney did not stop there with the lyrics of the song. Aladdin is one of the protagonist characters of the film. The characters perceived as Aladdin's friends or people around him with good intentions speak into American accents. The characters seemed as antagonist are given Arab accents, these Arab accents are exaggerated. Is this movie really a good movie for little kids to grow up watching and learning about the world around them? 

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

Orientalism is sadly a huge part of American culture. From books to movies, Orientalism is deeply embedded in nearly everything that has to do with the Middle Eastern part of the world and Asia. A few instances that I can think of include movies such as The Great Wall starring Matt Damon as a white hero in Asia, Lone Survivor which portrays the Middle East as run down and poor, and The Dictator which is a comedy film in which the main character is a man of Middle Eastern decent and is born with a full beard. All of these films contain heavy instances of Orientalism. The specific film that will be focused on in this blog is Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom starring Harrison Ford and directed by Steven Spielberg, two of the biggest names in our film culture.

From the beginning of the film, there is a savage/barbaric portrayal of non-whites in the movie. For instance, in the first scene Indiana Jones is at a night club and encounters a group of Chinese men. Eventually, the Chinese men pull out guns on Indiana and he has to save the white woman, Willie, from harm. Indiana somehow eliminates all of his opponents, even though there was clearly an uneven ration of "gangsters" to him. Although, this is not entirely the point. Steven Spielberg labeled these Chinese men as savages by instantly having a scene of violence. Despite this, the fact that Indiana killed every single one of these men and he left the scene without a scratch creates a mindset that white men are better and more heroic than other men of different races.

Not only does the first scene of the movie depict Orientalism, but the entire plot does. Indiana Jones's plane crashes in a small, poverty stricken town called Pankot in British India. When Indiana arrives, the villagers of the town all tell him that their children are going missing and are no where to be found. So of course, the heroic white man attempts to find the children. He visits a beautiful Indian palace and while there he notices an underground area where the children are being treated as slaves. Also while in the underground area, he finds a human sacrificial venue where people against their will are being sacrificed to the gods. Undoubtedly, this is one of the most random and racist plots that many people have watched but have not thought for one second that the film is completely wrong to make. For starters, crashing in a poor Indian town and then traveling to a beautiful ruler's palace exhibits the false class status in India. It creates a mindset in viewers that people in India either have it all, or have nothing. Secondly, the use of child slaves and human sacrifice adds an entirely new layer of Orientalism. Hollywood made it seem as though Indian culture is barbaric in the ways that they treat their children. To add on, the human sacrifice for the gods creates a thought process to viewers that India is ancient in their ways and are still lagging far behind America. The first time I watched this film was when I was twelve years old. To a young audience, this film only creates false concepts about other cultures, influencing a person's outlook on places other than America.

Aladdin the Corrupter

Being in the class Modern Middle East this year has really opened my eyes to Orientalism and its widespread influence. One of the first works we read was in fact Edward Said's Orientalism. I was truly shocked at the nonchalant stereotypes that plague Western Society. After watching Aladdin, I was very disappointed with how a childhood classic portrayed the entire region in the Middle East. From clothing, to actions, to the scenery, the production lumped together all the possible stereotypes there are, to brainwash young Western children, which included me.

I think we as a Western society must be mindful of Orientalism. It has been ingrained within us from a young age and it goes unnoticed in many cases. The media plays a huge part in this because there is a constant skewed portrayal of the Middle East region. Therefore, Orientalism is very present in our world today. The first step in getting rid of this mindset is by recognizing that it is a problem. Although it may be my lack of faith in the world, I think that we as a Western and Eurocentric society have a tough time even recognizing this idea as a problem. Either way, after recognizing the problem, we would have to diligently and consciously try to prevent Orientalism from entering our day to day to lives. Overall, Said really opened my eyes to a huge underlying problem we have in the West, and I hope we are able to work of it.

Arabian Nights

My absolute favorite childhood movie is, or, was Aladdin. The mysterious opening scene and song were favorites and always caught my attention whether I was watching the movie on my own or more recently, with kids that I was babysitting. Only in the past few years have I realized the image and stereotypes that just this first song have played into, and especially how bad that is as the movie was predominantly created for Western viewers. In the first few lines the narrator sings 

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

In just the first verse the narrator paints a picture of an almost unimaginable place, and the animated imagery is inciting which I guess is similar to the stereotypical seduction that is tied with places like Egypt, China, Morocco, Thailand, etc. Along with this seducing imagery, the story is supported with a soundtrack of mystical drumbeats that are seriously unfamiliar to the typical genres of music listened to by most of the Western culture. Worst of all in setting up this magical scene for children and families to view, the narrator labels his own land "barbaric" much in the same self-deprecating way that Chacko in God of Small Things perpetuates his culture and compares it to the culture he studied in at Oxford. 

I hate to connect everything back to The Stranger, but it's hard not to see the Orientalism that takes place in that novel as well. The Arabs that follow Meursault and his friends to the beach are characterized as lower-class than Meursault, as he was a Frenchman by blood. The setting of the novel also seems stuck in time and very Casablanca-esque. Something that I've noticed in many stories about Western people traveling to Asia or Africa, is that they are always in search of something they can't seem to find at home. For Margaret Kochamma in God of Small Things Chacko is the "spice" that she needs in her bland, white-washed English life. For Humphrey Bogart's character in Casablanca, the thing that he finds in Morroco isn't a native, complex woman, but another European looking girl from his past. 

Perhaps ignorance plays a role in why Orientalism is still prevalent today, but I also think that in a big way the Western world has lost its sense mystery or magic, and seeks to keep it alive through characters and stories that they have no right to tell. I'm really interested in learning more about this topic as it's clear that there are many layers to it, but I can't lie, as horribly as this movie maintains the ideas of Edward Said and Orientalism, the Genie in Aladdin will always be one of my favorite Disney characters. 

Harley Weir's Photos of Senegal


The day after our Orientalism discussion, I was flipping through Frank Ocean’s Boys Don’t Cry magazine, and saw these photos of Dakar, Senegal by Harley Weir in a new light. After the grim examples of Western art in the class period, it kind of relieved me. Here’s a talented, young, Western artist who is capable of documenting a non-Western country with respect and nuance.

While I don’t really have any way of knowing how true to life these photos are, I don’t see the cliches of Orientalism encountered in other Western art. There’s respect and admiration here that I don’t know how to quantify with analysis, but I think I can feel its presence.

In addition to being great portraits, the thing that immediately sticks out to me is the Western iconography in these lives. In the first photo, the model’s face is out of frame and a Calvin Klein t-shirt takes up most of the space. And in the third photo, an American car frames its driver in the scene. This reminds me of the growing Western presence in Ayemenem throughout The God of Small Things. I suppose Western influence has become an inescapable part of the lives of the Senegalese men in the photos. And Weir doesn’t ignore that in an attempt to show Westerners what they expect to see of Africa.

And little details like the cross hanging from the car, the drawing on the man’s stomach, and the outfits give actual insight into the model’s personalities. They are not vague foreign stereotypes. They are people.

I think we’re living in a creative renaissance and people like Harley Weir prove it with work like this.

Orientalism and The US of A

Orientalism is all around us. From the Chinese food we eat to the movies we watch. There's no escaping it. Did you know that on the menu's of the Chinese food places, most of the items on there aren't from China? Most of them are from other parts of Asia brought together to make the ultimate menu. When I found this out, I was shocked. I also wasn't that surprised. Then there are the movies. Some of the actors that should be played by people from Asia are represented by A-list actors that seem to "fit" the role. The actors primarily from Asia are sent to perform Kung-Fu Fighters or antagonists in other movies. The one thing I've noticed is that the countries in Asia appropriate our cultures as well. For example, Bollywood. Bollywood is the equivalent to Hollywood. They have there own A-list actors, and they're own area where they make there movies. I've seen part of one of the there movies, and I can safely say that they are as corny as ours. Another example is Japan. After we dropped the nukes and decimated most of the places in Japan, they rebuilt themselves to mirror the US. In the 50's and 60's, they wore our clothing, made movies like us and even started producing cars that looked like ours. One prominent vehicle being the Nissan skyline Kenmeri. The car came out in the 70's and looked a lot like the Mustang fastback at the time. The commercials for the car featured an American couple promptly named Ken and Meri. They went on road trips and toured the countryside. Not only is this a slight robbery of American culture but if you flip the names and add an A to the beginning, you get Ameriken. Interesting isn't it? Throught the years there have been loads of appropriation from all nations. But I thought that we wouldn't have some of the best things like ramen or, even in Japan, burgers. Orientalism has it's good and bad parts, but it partially makes the world go around.
I think that western culture has had a prominent role in establishing orientalism, western culture has ingrained this idea of stereotypical depictions and imitation of Middle Eastern and Asian cultures into the minds of young kids. For example, a childhood classic, Aladdin a very successful movie and voted one of the best Disney channel films ever made. This film is a prime example of modern orientalism still present in western society today. In Aladdin the characters deemed as good and the protagonists are given American accents, where as the antagonists are given Arab accents.

This portrayal of the antagonists allows the audience to associate negative and evil behavior with middle eastern culture, and allows children to view the "good ones" as familiar and not mysterious. I think that having modern orientalism catering to children is a dangerous precedent to set. I believe that movies children watch from a young age for enjoyment have a bigger impact on their personal beliefs an understanding of a culture, rather than reading a textbook of accurate depictions of cultures. This being true the young minds of modern society are being negatively affected from the modern oreintalism that has infiltrated are movies, tv shows, and even art.

Two Sides of Orientalism

Orientalism is overtly mentioned in The God of Small Things when discussing the tourist trap much of Ayemenem has become is Rahel's absence. The demolition of the History House as well as the sad lifestyle the traditional actors now live shows the obvious downsides of the Western fascination with the novelty of their culture. What's more subtle however, is how the orientalist mindset has seeped into the minds of the higher caste Indians in the novel. Chacko is held in high regard due to his English education despite his obvious character flaws, while Baby Kochamma's life has been largely derailed by the enjoyment of Western television. Perhaps the most dramatic case however, is that of Sophie Mol.

Upon her adoptive father's death Sophie makes her first trip to India to escape the turmoil. Although she lives a Western lifestyle, the premise of visiting her family and perhaps reconnecting with her culture isn't an inherently orientalist one. She doesn't seem to view the trip from a touristy perspective like many other English kids might, yet the way her family treats her forces her into this East/West binary. While she is initially off-put but some of her family's foreign customs and foods, Sophie has no opposition to playing with her Indian cousins and bonding with them. The issue arises in how her Indian family puts her on a pedestal for her whiteness, reinforcing her as "better" despite the child's best attempts to reconnect. It seems as though Roy is criticizing Indians for buying into this white superiority mindset just as much as she's criticizing the Westerners who promote it.

It wouldn't be right to blame the negative effects of orientalism on those subjected to it, yet The God of Small Things certainly reveals another angle that Said seems eager to overlook. Whether it be due to promises of status, wealth, or "civility" many individuals have been sold on orientalism and have thus unintentionally propagated the downfall of their own society. In this book alone we see the commercialization of traditional culture and the judgment dealt by fellow Indians in accordance with Western values, all misguided forms of self-deprecation. As stated before, it's hard to place the blame for this on the Indians themselves, yet it remains a sad and often overlooked aspect of colonialism that affects many nations to this day.

The Zohan

As any film that can be classified as orientalism this one is no different. The Zohan focuses on two foreigner groups in New York City who are full of hatred and are classified as terrorist outside of their population. This film uses false accents, outfits, and probably false Israeli writing. The use of the opposing groups present a terrorists aspects. But the thing that really stands out in this film that shows orientalism is the fact that they have a hacky sack tournament with all foreigners and after that a riot breaks out. In my eyes this is saying that they can't live with others but they are too hostile to live among each other. As a whole the movies says that foreigners are violent, aggressive, and don't have the skills to live with others. It is a false perception of other cultures based on an american point of view.


While films that are South Korean, Indian, and Chinese have become more popular in Western countries, there are very few Western films with Asian actors/actresses. I can only name a few films where there have been Asian characters in western films, even films where they take place in Asia, such as Indiana Jones, and films where the character should be portrayed as Asian but is not like we saw in Doctor Strange and Ghost in the Shell. (Scarlet Johansen simply wears a black wig to make herself seem Japanese in Ghost in the Shell, which was an originally a Japanese animated film.)

Examples such as these tend to portray the white woman/man as the hero and the Asians as the side characters, even if the film is about kung fu/karate or takes place in an Asian country. Karate Kid is a good example of a white boy who learns karate from a Japanese maintenance man. There is also the new Karate Kid with Jaden Smith, who learns karate in China (even though karate is Japanese). It interests me that there have been three different actors who have starred in the karate kid movies and not one was Asian, given that Karate originated from Japan.

While I have Asian actors in movies, they are solely for special effects/martial arts performance. While I love seeing kung-fu action in movies, the films rarely go beyond the fighting aspect, making the Asian characters seem flat and lifeless. Ip man is a good kung fu movie where the main character (Ip) is more of a round character, even for a kung fu film. My main point is that there should be more Western films that include Asian actors, and not just simply for martial arts purposes.

Orientalism and Traveling

In my French class, we viewed a short travel video featuring mostly older, white, Americans traveling through Morocco on a "cultural excursion". Although the video is supposed to highlight the "mysterious and wondrous culture of Northern Africa" the video was nearly entirely through the American travelers perspective. The clips often focused on the bewildered and delighted faces of the tourist as they make their way through bazaars, hikes through the desert on camels, visits with nomadic people, and clear night skies. All the scenes were accompanied by faraway chants making the whole country seem mysterious and faraway from western culture.
The video was created by a travel company that took their wealthy clients on these "cultural exchanges". The company made the conscious choice to make Morocco seem like an adventure-filled vacation location full of intoxicating mysteries and curiosities perfect for any risk-taking, wealthy American for the sake of making money. The myth of orientalism is used for financial gain of travel companies looking to benefit from these preconceived notions of life in non-western countries. Traveling is supposed to create connections among people of different cultures, not reinforce stereotypes created over the past hundreds of years through the colonialist mind-set.

A Critique of a Critique

In 1982, Bernard Lewis, a prominent English writer and historian born in the 1916, wrote an article for the New York Review of Books, in which he scrutinized Edward Said's work and the very concept of Orientalism itself. The article had valid criticisms in the context of Said's writing and overlooking of certain key events and details in his chronicling of the Middle East's development. However, Lewis' arguments against the concept of Orientalism and its presence in the European and American view of certain regions of the world was a wholly misguided approach, and serves here as an example to get rid of premature criticisms and counter arguments to Said's work.

My biggest problem with Lewis' review came in the very first sentence of the article, and the subsequent example which followed it for another page and a half. Here, Lewis tries to explain the concept of Orientalism, but changing the group in focus to the Greeks in order to somehow reveal the absurdity of the concept. However, his dramatic interpretation of Said's writing is the basis for his entire argument, and fails to analyze the complexity of the issue in any regard.

For example, in Lewis' Greek retelling, he mocks the critics of Orientalism in saying that those who teach Greek history or language (in this metaphor) but are not actually Greek "strive to keep the Greek people in a state of permanent subordination." This line, obviously heavily doused in sarcasm, rests on the assumption that people like Said believe that those who study cultures in the so-called 'Orient' are purposefully perpetuating a system which represses those they study. On the contrary, I believe that Said was writing about the sub-conscious manner in which Orientalism is carried out. Western study of areas like Persia, or China, or India aren't designed to entrap their populations in positions of "less-than," they just do that themselves. The distance between the teacher and subject matter is too great for that teacher to convey the fullness or humanity of the people being studied.

Another line in Lewis' whiny introduction pokes fun at what he thinks to be Lewis' exclusion of Western scholars from his view of the positive Middle Eastern and Asian study to come. I don't think Said would ever argue that Western scholars should be completely rebuked and banished from historical study in those areas. His argument is clearly that those Western scholars should really just back off of the domination aspect of that study, and refocus its lens on time periods and areas untouched or unconcerned with Western infiltration.

You can read Lewis' review here: The Question of Orientalism

The Paradox of Edward Said

To me, Edward Said is more than controversial. He is a repugnant figure who has been in the legislative wing of a terrorist entity that has killed members of my family. Not only is he vigorously anti-Israel and Anti-Semitic, but he is also a hypocrite.

Let me explain, throughout the literature of the Anti-Zionist perspective on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the authors dive deep into orientalist mindset, only from the perspective of the Arab countries toward the Jews. To them, Jews are the other, the lesser people, the ones without agency. Their power is taken away in a system similar to the structures taking away the power of the East in the West.

Perhaps the best example of this is written by Edward Said himself, “Zionism from the Standpoint of its Victims.” This piece of academia, in addition to being filled with factual inaccuracies of and logical fallacies, displays Jews in a truly orientalist mindset.

To demonstrate this we must first define what an “orientalist mindset” is. First, it must be pervasive throughout an entire culture. This view is in no uncertain terms. In a majority of Arab countries, in which a majority of these authors either reside or are from, Jews are the devil of the world. They are the other to the Arab’s not other in just the same way that the East is the other to the West’s not other. Said plays into this fact with his description of Zionists throughout his piece.

Said also takes away the agency of the Jews in this literature in just the same way that most western literature describes the east as people to be subjugated by the west. He places them in one of two boxes, either servants of the Europeans with no agency at all or bloodthirsty savages lusting for the land and heads of Arabs. This portrait of the Jew is typical of this literature and fits perfectly into the orientalist mindset.

Finally, throughout this essay he bends the facts of the story in a way to tear down the accomplishments of the Jews in a way similar to western literature demeaning the east. He takes away any claim they have to the land of Israel painting them only as conquerors of the land. He goes back from before contemporary time to when the Arabs owned the land instead of the British or Jews, but conveniently stops before going to when the Jews own it. He also brushes over the violent and hateful acts the Arabs of this land perpetrated on the Jews when they were living in harmony.

Said when he is writing this essay ignores his own ideas and paints the story of the Zionist movement in an orientalist mindset simply one oriented to put the Arab world in power.

Obviously, this is a minuscule look at a 50 page essay that is truly disgusting and filled with factual inaccuracies and failures of logic at every turn. I encourage everyone to read the full essay here.


For the foreseeable future, I don't think that orientalism is going anywhere. It's too easy for the entertainment industry to make exploitative movies and tv shows, for them to just vanish. Want an easy gimmick for your bland generic Hollywood blockbuster? Just set it in Bangladesh. Show some shots of packed in chaotic slums and marketplaces in the trailer. Maybe include a guy sitting on a velvet throne with a mustache and a turban. Oh, and a tiger. Certainly the director of this film could cast Bengali actors, shoot scenes in regular locations instead of fake sets, bother to learn about the culture in Bangladesh and shoot a film that actually reflects that culture. Not the made up, exaggerated American version.

But why would they? Why would they put in all that extra effort to make a film that American audiences wouldn't be nearly as interested in? At large, consumers like the white-washed movies, the exaggerated stereotypes. They don't actually care about Bangladesh, or any Country/culture that would fall into orientalism's scope. And it's likely that they won't start to care any time soon. As frustrating as it must be for many people to see a faux, stereotyped version of their culture, it's just a movie. Orientalist works aren't nearly racist enough to cause a strong uproar. Not to mention, everyone in America has grown up surrounded by orientalism. By now, we're numb to it. It's not some shocking new development, it's something that we have more or less accepted as a culture. I can't see that just changing, at least not any time soon.

Eat, Pray, Orientalism

Liz Gilbert thought she had everything she wanted in life until she faces a divorce and turning point in her life. Previously she had: a home, a husband and a successful career. However, now as she faces her divorce and a turning point in her life she doesn’t really know or is confused about what is important to her. She tries to attempt to step out of her comfort zone and goes on a quest for self-discovery that takes her to Italy, India, and Bali.

Eat, Pray, and Love illustrates the Middle-East as a place of wonder. It is just one of many that has romanticized the Middle-East. It made it out to be “someplace timeless, otherworldly, incomprehensible, waiting to be discovered by Westerners in search of self”(NPR, Mia Mask). While in India Liz meets a girl who is being forced into a marriage by her family and the other Indian’s in the movie are either carrying her bags or just serve in the background. This suggest women in the Middle-East are mistreated, and her seen nothing more as a symbol of an arranged marriage. In Bali women are seen carrying fruit on their heads, there are merchants, and a couple of men with their roosters. They serve to convince Western consumers that Bali is a pre-modern, magical, timeless wonderland. You never see any of these people doing anything modern. You also don’t see any other types of men besides an enfeebled, toothless old soothsayer.
Western countries definitely have an orientalist mindset. That’s why there are still movies made based of orientalist stereotypes, and they make millions of dollars and seen all over the world. Orientalist stereotypes lead to a single story, actually it is a single story. It makes others treat people as less than equal. It makes people of the Orient feel less than equal from the rest of the world and sometimes less than human. Orient people are seen as the other, the less desirable, the powerless. The world shouldn’t want other people to feel this way or look this way. Therefore, we should stop supporting these movies that have Orientalism in them. There should be more coverage n movies like these so people understand and see what they are doing. We need stop feeding the fire or the fuel to these stereotypes or they will continue to live on.

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

A well known film franchise that most of us (hopefully) have seen is Indiana Jones. Through its famous main character, Indiana, to the many elaborate action scenes Indiana's escapades lead him through the Middle East and India and lead him to encounters with the stylized Eastern culture that Hollywood uses regularly. In all three movies of the Indiana Jones trilogy the Orientalists viewpoint shines through. As the definition of Orient became more prominent the more we began to see its use through our everyday media and its displaying of the binaries Orient/Europe, Exotic/Normal, etc. Specifically in the second installment of Indiana Jones, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, there are profound examples of these binaries.

In The Temple of Doom the main setting is in India, there is a scene where Indiana is sitting at a dinner table and dining with the Indians. In this scene, the "exoticness" of the Indians is shown through their extravagant clothing, adorned with jewels and bright colors, compared to the Westerners (Indiana) where he is neatly dressed in a suit and more conservative in clothing which seems to be our normal for when we go out to dinner. The elaborate food spread is supposed to shock the Western viewers with an array of insects, innards, chilled monkey brains, and eye soup but ultimately ends up representing the Indian culture as barbarians who consume unusual and unsavory meals.

We as Americans have come to embrace these movies, filled with action and adventure but subtly slip in these Orientalism undertones that even myself at times fail to notice. This idea of comparing Eastern cultures to our very own in movies will not go away in a blink of an eye because that is what these big budget films use in order to draw big crowds. To make it habit that the white Westerner is always and the only one that can save the day while the Easterners are the savages.

Fine Porcelian

Orientalism has nothing to do with any specific culture, it is all about the European viewpoint of the world and the ideology of a colonist. The entire notion of the eastern world is constructed from the idea that European countries are at the center of the world, and all other countries/continents revolve around and exist.

Western culture is parasitic, drawing on and relying on other nations for influence. It sees value only in the possessions of its colonies and absorbs what it wants to strengthen itself. The most obvious example of this could be the fine porcelain that Europeans called China since the only thing the explorers and traders who went to China cared about was the material goods they obtained. In 2018, Americans and Europeans still value fine porcelain and call it China, without any regard to how idiotic that name is (We call a dish China just because we took it from Chinese). Another example of this is England's national dish, Chicken Tikka Masala. A nation whose national dish is a dish from another nation says something about their culture. While it is possible to argue that these cultures are embracing others, it is hard to look past how Europe always seems to seize these things by force, when they go to these places and take things from them. This trading and colonialism has never been a mutualistic relationship as these nations have never been treated as truly equal to Europeans.

Furthermore, I believe the true threat of Orientalism is how we can often fail to accept or even acknowledge that other people's ways of life are more similar to our own than it may actually seem. The notion that developing nations are a land of mystery comes from the idea that the western world that we live in is the only form of "normal" modern living, and that all other nations must live in a state of constant misery or poverty. This distorted image comes from our filtered view of the third world, which is often a failure of our news and education systems.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

The Nutcracker Problem

Western dance, like any other aspect of society, is saturated with an Orientalist mindset. Specifically, I'm talking about ballet in this post because it is a highly elitist art form that I have had the privilege to participate in. Many of the ballet pieces that are held in such high esteem by the dance world and its supporters are justified by the idea of 'preserving the art.' Centuries of dance teachers have perpetuated the myth that these stories are acceptable since they are old, and I'll admit that I myself have been a part of quite a few dances that I now look at with regret due to their fetishization of Asian cultures.

One key example of Orientalism in dance is the Nutcracker - what I'm assuming is the most recognizable ballet to dancers and non-dancers alike. The Nutcracker revolves around Clara or Marie, a young girl whose new toy Nutcracker from her godfather Drosselmeyer comes to life as the handsome Nutcracker prince. These aspects of the plot seem fairly innocuous, but Clara/Marie and the Prince end up in the Land of Sweets afterwards, where they encounter many dancers representing various foods and drinks from specific ethnicities. These include roles known as "Chinese Tea" and "Arabian Coffee."

Obviously, there are numerous issues with these roles. To start, Arabian Coffee and Chinese Tea are frequently played by white dancers, and the costumes are often designers' vague attempts at referencing an 'Arabian' or 'Chinese' aesthetic. The parts also play right into stereotypes of people from these areas. While Coffee is slow, seductive, and mysterious, the Tea dancers perform pointed bows with uncannily huge smiles and deferential tilts of the head.

Arabian Coffee and Chinese Tea are just two duets, but they demonstrate in a few short minutes the deep problems of an Orientalist mindset. These roles exemplify the ways that two Asian groups can become distorted, exaggerated, and oversimplified if portrayed through an indifferent European lens. Unfortunately, there are MANY similar roles within other ballets, as well as in other forms of dance that are more recent.

Ultimately, roles like these are the result of larger questions - Who controls the dominant narrative within a work of art or culture? Who is the subject, and who is the audience? The Nutcracker is a ballet created by and for Europeans, centering around the narrative of a young, white girl who gets to experience a brief, fantastic taste (after all, it is the Land of Sweets) of the world before returning to the safety of her own bed. The nonwhite characters in this ballet are objectified as food items, stripped of any real historical significance and both metaphorically and literally served to Clara/Marie and the audience as a whole. Merely limited glimmers of another world, these parts serve as a metaphor for the ways that white people tend to view Asia in real life. Within dance, film, and other sources of media, anti-Asian racism is too often sold under the guise of intrigue or exoticism without understanding.

A Service Trip, a Cartoon Character, or a Hollywood Blockbuster

A service trip that costs more than it gives, a history squeezed into a cartoon character, a Hollywood blockbuster that perpetuates the fetishization of one or more cultures- Orientalism in all forms is toxic and all too common. As a child I was attracted to the cartoon movies with female leads. I grew into this notion that the Disney classic, Mulan was a signal of the media becoming more progressive and inclusive.
One of the strongest reasons Orientalism is still heavily normalized in the Western world is the lack of motivation to change our ignorance surrounding the history, cultures, and countries of Asia. Ignorance is the very basis of Orientalism, moreover it’s the basis of discrimination, prejudice, stereotypes, and other disparaging social and institutional barriers. We as students know how the majority of public education (predominantly early education) treats the expansion of perspectives and cultures, as a tourist attraction worth a week of class. Something to skim through, memorizing specific names of warriors, rulers, religions, inevitably flowing back into the Eurocentric perspective. We notice classes such as Latin American History, Native American History, Women in History, African American History, are all elective classes. There are only 30 colleges and universities with an "Asian American Studies" as an elective, usually found in a minor curriculum. Even in the cases of elective classes trying to fit in an entire region’s history into a semester long class, vital pieces of our global puzzle are bound to be skipped over, left behind, and underrepresented.
I am not at all trying to say our public education is the sole reason Orientalism still exists. The root of the issue is an unmotivated majority. Westerns are so used to having this one single narrative of every Asian culture be retold over and over again that it becomes normal to be ignorant.
I have fed into Orientalism. I have thought, accepted, and assumed without research, without true knowledge or a larger grasp, and have thus fed into the acceptance of ignorance, stereotyping, and erasure of cultures. One person's decision to learn more can become a sea of self-expansion and open-mindedness when enough people stop to self-reflect. Asia is the largest continent on this planet. The idea that Western culture or Westerners can squeeze 48 countries and 100,000 years of history into a service trip, a cartoon character, or a Hollywood blockbuster is due to normalized passivity and ignorance.

Surprisingly Enough, Japan Does More Than Make Anime

The past few days, we've been reading and seeing a lot about Orientalism as it relates to the Middle East and Southern Asia. However, there also exists an Orientalist mindset towards Northeast Asia - China, Korea, and Japan. Of these three countries and their cultures, I consider myself most familiar with Japan. I am in my fourth year of studying the language, recently completed my third exchange program, and have family who are permanent residents there. I am also incredibly familiar with the way Western culture portrays Japan, and its inaccuracy.

If I were to go up to any random person on the street and ask them to think of a word they associate with Japan, at least 7 times out of 10 I would be answered with "anime". The rather recent rise in anime's popularity in the west, and the subsequent development of 'weeaboo' culture, are directly related to the orientalist view of Japan. If you don't know, 'weeaboo' refers to people who consider themselves to be obsessed with anime and Japanese culture despite very often knowing nothing about it. They revere Japanese customs without knowing the true reasoning behind them. While at first it may seem a positive that people are so awed by a foreign culture, the issue arises in the fact that these people tend to pick and choose which parts of culture they want to understand. Japanese culture becomes a drawing hat, from which random aspects of life are snatched and exaggerated to unreal proportions until a totally new, inaccurate, and borderline offensive culture is created. At this point, Japanese culture is no longer being honored but being rewritten by people with no authority to rewrite it.

Another issue, stemming from the popularity of anime, is the fetishization of Japanese women - particularly school girls. There's not much to say about this besides that it is blatant dehumanization and the most base form of Orientalism. It is taking an aspect of Japanese culture and warping it to please a Western audience in a way that blatantly ignores and disrespects its origin. In Japan, the main purpose of school uniforms is to encourage unity and discipline, but in the US I get told that it's "hot" that my exchange student wears a uniform at her home school.

The final aspect I'll be discussing (though certainly not the only other aspect of Japanese Orientalism) is the way the West views Japanese writing. In Japan, there are three scripts that are commonly used for writing. Hiragana - the alphabet for native words, Katakana - the alphabet for foreign words, and Kanji - the ideographic symbols that come to mind for most of us when we think of East Asian writing. They are sometimes seen as mystical and incomprehensible. Though they can be a pain in the butt to learn, the reality is that they are constructed from components with individual meanings to create a sensible image. Other times, they are thought of as outdated and ancient, full of 'Old World Knowledge'. Funny that Westerners point fingers at countries with ideographic writing systems while absorbing a whole dictionary's worth of emoji meanings into their written vocabulary without a second thought. Sometimes, kanji are stripped of their communicative value and simply looked at as pretty and aesthetic (I know you've seen people with foreign language tattoos), which sends the message that Japanese ideas are not meaningful or important in the West - a similar idea to the "squibbly Arabic" mentioned in the article about Homeland. Through disrespect of the written language and perversion of anime and the schoolgirl ideal into Western culture (among many other things), Japan has become a victim of Orientalism.

Social Media and Orientalism

You're scrolling through Instagram after "service trip season", and see ten photos of your Western friends candidly hugging brown children. The backgrounds of these photos consist of dilapidated houses with colorful paint chipping off of them. You swipe to see beautiful landscapes of mountains, exotic plants and animals, and waterfalls. So many waterfalls.

As privileged Westerners, we grow to understand "service trip countries" such as Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Peru, and Argentina through the photos we see on social media. This process is incredibly problematic because the pictures and stories that our Western friends bring back from their service trips abroad rarely represent the complexity and authenticity of the places they've visited. Every country in the world has cities surrounded by more impoverished areas. Outside the gentrified hipster-heaven of the West Loop awaits miles of hungry kids, failing schools, and overworked parents. Americans pity the starving children in "developing countries", but harshly judge and criminalize those living in our own cities. There is poverty everywhere, so why do Westerners see themselves as superior when we are facing similar problems in our own country?

We learn Orientalism through our media platforms, but we perpetuate it by perceiving these countries through the lenses we've been taught. We look for poverty where we've learned to expect it. With an Orientalist mindset, it is completely possible to come home from a different country and entirely miss its complexity. Studying or volunteering abroad can be such an educational experience, but only if we rid ourselves of our Orientalist biases. I think that it's great that we're learning about Orientalism, but I also think it is important to analyze how we view parts of our own country by comparison.