Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
Click here for sample essays written by our professional writers.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UKEssays.com.

Orientalism And The Depiction Of Arabs Through Media Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 3175 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

Reference this

I am half Egyptian, but was raised in a non-Arab society; therefore I can relate personal experiences into the concept of Orientalism. I connect to the Arab culture, in this case "the other", but since I grew up in a Western society, I also express outlooks molded by this environment. Upon visiting Egypt for three weeks in 2001, I was able to contrast the two portrayals and create my own image of Arabs through direct observations. My paper will approach orientalism, specifically dealing with Middle Eastern people, and how the media has altered the Western image of the orient to exaggerate Arabs as a villainous race. Through political speeches, movies, cartoons, video games and news reports in the media, orientalism in the Western world, primarily being the Americas along with Europe, falsifies the Arab image and validates the barbarically threatening notions seen within Western societies.

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Essay Writing Service

When asked to define an Arab person, people immediately bring forth a specific sketch. It is where these specific images come from that anti-Arab racism and, in this case, orientalism exist. Orientalism is defined as a framework that includes symbols, signs, language, and images to depict the East, and determine how they act differently than the West (Glyn, Meth and Wilis 2009). In "othering" the Arab population, "Orientalists [have] created a stereotype image of the [Middle] East in order to better manage it" (Salaita 2006: 248). This categorizes the Western culture as "normal", above the "abnormal" Arab culture which, according to the orient, is habitually in need of being helped. Orientalism unreasonably brings millions of individuals together in one simplified image to which it is wrongly assumed applies to all people of the Arab race.

Although I was able to visit an Arab country and note characteristics first hand, orientalism first began through images which were in no way based off of immediate observation, but through the fabricated representations told by others. Without various media sources widely available in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the portrayal of the Arab race developed through European artists and travel writers who conjured ideas and fabricated art with their thoughts of what the people represented (Glyn, Meth and Wilis 2009). Many never witnessed the culture first-hand and worked predominantly off imagination and exaggeration of learned details (Sut 1998). Embellished characteristics that have been inherited in the West through time to represent Arabs include seeing them as: highly sexualized, mysterious, evil spirited, thieving, terroristic, exotic, needy and untrustworthy (Earp and Jhally 2006). This distorted image has been growing in people's perception ever since the early paintings, and has only strengthened with new forms of media being introduced in the world.

Images and media now reach the Western people with increased frequency and efficiency, thus allowing no chance for the dated depictions to dissolve. Edward Said, who is famous for his studies with orientalism, claims the barbaric Arab image is timeless as it was created outside of history. It is eternal as the images created within the colonial era are those same portraits we see today (Glyn, Meth and Wilis 2009). Presently, these colonial images are constantly reinforced through numerous media sources, whilst viewers in society subconsciously take in the commercialized image without question.

Moving into the media, the government in the West is an institution that holds the highest power to directly influence the lives of individuals, controlling and deciding what the ideas and images of Arabs their citizens are accustomed to believe in and trust. Political elites thus hold the responsibility in transmitting international issues so that the public may stand "informed" about what is happening half way across the world. As demonstrated with the "Bush-Era" and his view on Arabs post September 11th, the United States took to their president's speeches on the entire Arab race and allowed the media to form their ideas for them. In 2006 George Bush stated, "We face an enemy that has an ideology. They believe things. The best way to describe their ideology is to relate to you the fact that they think the opposite of what we think"(Kumar 2010: 259). He then later said:

Since the horror of 9/11, we've learned a great deal about the enemy. And we have learned that their [the Arabs] goal is to build a radical Islamic empire where women are prisoners in their homes, men are beaten for missing prayer meetings, and terrorists have a safe haven to plan and launch attacks on America and other civilized nations. (Kumar 2010: 260).

Bush's remarks are only one example of how a political speech can falsely characterize Arabs and cause countless societies to use the skewed form of media as their source for learning about the "other". The media is controlled by the most influential people who can successfully impose specific ideas on those willing to accept them as truth (Sut 1998). In stating the Arab race as a whole to be "the enemy", millions of ordinary Arab individuals have their lives, which do resemble Western lives in many senses, being distorted within the Western image. Pinning every single Arab as the "enemy" is unrealistic and robs the larger part of the race, which is trusting and simply living an average life with no intent of harming the West, of ever being respected.

Furthermore, politics is connected to Hollywood as the two rely on one another to formulate images pushed into societies. Therefore Hollywood cinema incorporates Arabs into productions where they are not needed and of no help to the stories. As American producers are the power holders in the movie industry, it is in their authority to determine how the Arab image is intentionally warped and presented (Earp and Jhally 2006). Over three hundred movies today, or 25% of the film industry, demean Arabs with racial slurs and static characters, usually added solely for comic relief or to bring a barbaric presence (ibid). The seemingly innocent Disney shows through the classic Aladdin, stereotypes of those with Arabic decent. With a song in the film it is said that the Middle East is "a place where they cut off your ears, if they don't like your face, its barbaric, but hey its home". The video influences young children to grow up with preset images of an Arab who is purely violent and malicious, based off the Arab characters numerous evil actions. Another example of the distorted image is in the Gladiator, where slave traders were, for no reason, Arabs (ibid); In True Lies Arabs were made out as incompetent (ibid); Never Say Never and Jewel of the Nile both show Arabs as prominently imprisoning and oppressing women (Shaheen 2000); Navy Seals justifies the "tang and bang" of Arabs; and "24" justifies the torture of innocent people because of the idea that Arabs are suspicious and dangerous despite the fact they live in an American community (Earp and Jhally 2006). Film after film, Arabs are robbed of their humanity, yet the repetition in these Western created films recycles the images to the point where the stereotype is transparent and the depictions are expected. In reality, however, many Arab women work outside the home, men are in trusted occupations, families are not secretive and violence is not tolerated (Salaita 2006). The consistent images in the media refuse to show Arabs in the previously mentioned positive light, and thus with never seeing favourable images in the media, the public is hesitant to believe such characteristics are true.

Falling in close line with the original European portraits of "the other", cartoons today are a form of media where the Arab origin is vastly exaggerated and exploited through harmful humour. One controversial cartoon was published in a Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, in September 2005 which caricatured Islam and presented the Muslim Prophet Muhammad in twelve intended satirical affairs (Kumar 2010). One of the images shows him with a lit bomb on his head instead of a turban, while another has him with a sword ready to fight, accompanied by two women dressed with only their eyes visible (ibid). The comic was drawn with humour as the objective, however, offended many and caused much debate due to the obvious attached portrayals. Looking once again to Disney, even in the well-known show Looney Tunes, "Daffy shoots at three winsome Mexican mice. The mice call Daffy, among other things, 'Arab Duck!'" (Shaheen 2000). The children watching Daffy Duck would have otherwise associated the shooter with any bad person, but with the comment they learn to connect people who shoot others as Arab (ibid). Because cartoons are colorful images with few words, it is easier for them to slide by as a joke or pun, when in reality the oppressed woman, terrorist men and villainous personas are brought into orientalism as real tags to the Arab nations. Cartoons bring direct ideas, which are simply put, causing readers to instantly absorb the offered stereotype, as they are easier to bring forth when characterizing others than ones own ideas.

As children get older they tend to switch from cartoons to video games for immediate amusement, and once again, orientalism is found within the media form. Game makers have the power to create games in any manner they desire, thus in distorting portrayals of the Middle East to suit existing Western ideas, they reel in their desired capital whilst leaving audiences with self-satisfying yet incorrect images. Research done on 90 European and 15 Arab made video games with Arab people holding a key role in game-play have shown that the "identities of the Islamic world have been flattened out and reconstructed into a serious of social typologies operating within a broader framework of terrorism and hostility" through video games (Sisler 2008:203). Games such as prince of Persia (Broberbunst, 1989), Arabian nights (Krigalis, 1993) and Al-Qadim: The Genie's Curse (SSI 1994) are all examples of video games which solidify the image of the orient where Arabs are dangerous, aggressive, untrustworthy and live only in the desert (Sisler 2008). As the video games above have quests, many require the player of the game to save a girl or princess who has been kidnapped by an Arab man (ibid). As well the Arab tend to "raise their guns above their heads after a kill and mockingly laugh" while adding nothing to the games purpose (Sisler 2008: 209). The idea that the Western player has to save the girl from the Arab and be the hero up against the villain character reinforces the stereotypical image of the Middle East as barbaric. As "stereotypes can lower self-esteem, injure innocents, impact policies and encourage divisiveness" the images of orientalism need to be removed from society so that people of the Arab race are not faced with deeply rooted prejudices which lack valid ideas about who they are as people individually (Sisler 2008: 204).

Find Out How UKEssays.com Can Help You!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

Additionally videogames based in Arab settings are one-dimensional with little to no variety in scenery. Even though each Middle Eastern nation is unique, the "in-game surroundings and setting are rendered frequently by iteration of a limited number of textures and schemes," most often the desert, so that an idea is assumed that no other landscapes or appearances of the nation exist (Sisler 2008: 206). Although video games are often a neglected source of media, "the problem behind video games is that most of them are foreign made […] and bear enormous false understandings that habituate teenagers to violence, hatred and grudges" which add to the racist issues within the world (Sisler 2008: 211). With the youth of today absorbing one sided false perceptions of a race at such a young age, the individuals reach adulthood with the ideas often so heavily embedded that one becomes blind to accepting the true image and allows the orientalism depictions to influence actions and judgments towards the "other".

Not aimed for purpose of comedy or entertainment, still photography acts similarly to cartoons in creating an "'imaginative geography' […] which unambiguously divides the world into two unequal parts - the 'known world' of the Occident and the larger, 'different' part called the Orient" (Trivundza 2004: 489-490). Images used in the media are strategic in that certain absences are intentional to the pictures. This refers to three main factors that ensure that stereotypes remain. First is the absence of diversity, which deals with showing coverage of only specific events and ignoring others (Trivundza 2004). The second fact is the absence of unveiled women, which leaves spectators believing all women of the Arab race are oppressed and forced to cover (ibid). As an Arab myself, I am one of the thousand underrepresented women to prove this image wrong, yet only one in ten photographs in Western Media shows an unveiled Arab (ibid). Third, and finally, is the absence of active subject who are working. Images show them as passive, grieving, and incapable of creating value (ibid). All three absences add to the idea that Arab women are oppressed, the race is lazy and that what applies to one individual applies to all. The absences collectively provide the audience with portrayals that only stand true to a certain extent, and ignore the other realities of the race. In short the media pushes to produce photographs "completed with images of backwardness and irrationality" (Trivundza 2004: 489-490).

Although Orientalism has existed since colonization, it is upon the September 11th bombings of 2001, where many argue the image of the Arab "other" exploded in news reports, and the characteristics of Arabs as terrorist and savage were highlighted. Since the bombings took place in the United States, the West felt that "the attacks […] provided an ostensibly empirical pretext to legitimize anti-Arab racism, but in no way did 9/11 actually create anti-Arab racism" (Salaita 2006: 251). This means that 9/11 did not create anti-Arab racism but instead validated it (Salaita 2006). Upon watching the news on television, the most barbaric images with high violence and extremists are shown to evoke emotions within the audience, and solidify the images orientalism generates. Even when it had been proven Saddam Hussein was in no way linked to the actions of Al-Qaeda, the public continued to rely on embedded conceptions through the news to believe Iraq posed as an immediate threat to the US (Glyn, Meth and Wilis 2009). As well, in certain cases voiceovers are done so that the English Western viewers can make sense of situations, yet, the translations are at times improper and edited by Western stations to only present specific words (Sut 1998). The news adjusts story details because they have the control to do so, and because they know that communities are powerless as to what they are shown. In maintaining their own Western image, news of how the US has killed innocent Arabs, or how their soldiers abused those held captive by leaving them naked in compromising positions to the entertainment of soldiers, rarely, if ever, hit TV screens (Sut 1998). The news is presented so that harm on the Arab communities is deserved and justified, while harm to the West's is for no apparent reason. Additionally, videos on the news are specially selected to include mass amounts of people to appear as though the evil and negative emanation gives off a frightening and threatening impression that can be applied to the race as a whole (ibid). The images of rally's and swarms are not representative of the entire race, but as it primarily what is shown in the West, it is clear why the image is believed. Between Arab countries vast differences exist, for example Egypt compared to Algeria shows immense lifestyle differences and culture, but with Western news, "Arab" unites all the Arabian countries as identical.

One specific example of where orientalism wrongly accused Arabs through the news was in 1995 with the Oklahoma City bombings (Sut 1998). Immediately after the attack, countless news reports aired which forcedly claimed the Arabs were behind the attack and that it was linked to a Muslim plan. The bombing, unlike any media claims, was actually performed by a Caucasian male within the state itself (ibid). Audiences were told to be aware of Arab citizens who looked suspicious, and even Edward Said had been contacted personally, when he had no personal connection to anything of the matter (ibid). After the white male had been convicted, he was in no sense labeled a terrorist, where as the Arabs had attracted the allegation without one piece of actual proof. The bombing revealed that the portrayal of Arabs within Western news jumps to conclusions based on the stereotypical images that the Global North has been bred to believe.

With such generalized depictions of the Arab people's, many struggle to understand how the images have remained in the media. Unfortunately almost all Arab countries have no democracy and therefore require Western patronage to function (Sut 1998). The Arabs have given way to the power of money and allow the images to be presented because if they were to stand up and protest or enforce policies, the West would be quick to threaten dropping all assistance (ibid). Money sadly pays off the "the other" to allow the images to continue, and the West, as capitalists, continues to do just that. As James Baerg, Director of Program Practices for CBS-TV in New York City said "[Arab stereotyping] is the same thing as throwing in sex and violence when an episode is slow," implying that insulting humour it is a quick fix to boost sales (Shaheen 2000: 22). Middle Eastern countries are aware of how they are seen by the West, but are currently faced with too many other issues to focus on changing the image.

In imagining speeches, news, movies, or cartoons without the exaggeration or unnecessary use of Arab characters, it is possible to conceptualize a true image, which would not distort how the majority of Arab individuals live. Through my paper it is evident that media has the power in displaying images they know most Western citizens will be unable to experience themselves, and therefore impose Orientalism. As it is easier to carry on the false image from history to the present than recreate and adjust how people see Arabs, few have found success in changing the representations. So will the image of the orient ever dissolve? And if so will it be in the medias hands? Or will Arabs stand as a race to change the image of the orient? Only the future will answer the questions, but it is still unusual how many people today believe in the phrase "seeing is believing," but when "seeing" is done through another's eyes (the media) before our own, the phrase seems to lose no value.


Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: