Representation of Middle Easterners in Contemporary North American TV Series

Master's Thesis, 2017

103 Pages, Grade: 1.5


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Through the Lens of Orientalism
2.1 Defining Geographies, Cultures, Languages and Religions
2.2 Orientalism
2.2.1 Critique towards Saïd’s Understanding of Orientalism
2.2.2 Versions of Orientalism
2.2.3 American Orientalism
2.3 Representing, Othering, Stereotyping
2.3.1 Representing
2.3.2 Othering
2.3.3 Stereotyping

3. Middle Easterners as Represented in Homeland and Little Mosque on the Prairie
3.1 Homeland and Little Mosque on the Prairie
3.2 The Ideological Frame
3.3 The Political Frame
3.4 The Issue Frames
3.4.1 Race
3.4.2 Religion
3.4.3 Gender

4. Conclusion

Works Cited

1. Introduction

“I am not saying an Arab should never be portrayed as the villain. What I am saying is that almost all Hollywood depictions of Arabs are bad ones. […] The fact is that for more than a century producers have tarred an entire group of people with the same sinister brush.”

(Shaheen 176)

TV shows have always been popular. However, fairly recently, their quality and their budget have vastly increased. ‘Prestige TV’, which is frequently argued to have started with The Sopranos, can be argued to have continued with The Wire, Lost, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, House of Cards, and Homeland. After 9/11, an increase in TV shows focusing on terrorism was noticeable. Many shows exhibited coping mechanisms built into their plots, which can be related to the events on September 11, 2001. Movies like the Rambo film series (1982-1988), Platoon (1986), Full Metal Jacket (1987), and Rocky IV (1985) can be argued to be cinematic attempts of coming to terms with the United States’ defeat in the Vietnam War, as well as locking horns with Russia respectively. In more recent movie history, we can witness films such as Rules of Engagement (2000), Flightplan (2005), The Kingdom (2007), and the Transformers franchise (2007-2014), which can be interpreted as ‘blowing off steam’ with regard to the US Army’s seemingly endless engagement in the Middle East. Not to forget the recent TV shows Quantico (2015-), 24 (2001-2010), and Homeland (2011-), which are excellent examples for Orientalist points of view, terrorism threats and so-called ‘SHTF’-scenarios, as well as homeland-security issues. These TV shows all seem to be cultural products that can be seen as direct answers to the terrorist attacks that day. And just like the older examples of pop culture products, these series and movies are also filled with coping behavior and processes.

It is always good vs. bad, right vs. wrong, modern vs. ancient, open vs. conservative. And depending on the year those movies and series are produced, the ‘bad guy’ changes. What used to be the ‘bad buck’ from the early 1900s onwards, the ‘yellow peril’ from the 1930s onwards, or the ‘red scare’ from the mid-1950s onwards, nowadays seems to be the ‘Islamic peril’, ‘dune coon’, the ‘sand nigger’, or the ‘towel head’. And if one thinks about current Hollywood productions, it gets very hard to find a positive depiction of an Arab, a Muslim, or a Middle Easterner in general. After the 9/11 attacks on US soil, and especially since the mid-2010s, the focus on Middle Easterners in Western media has increased. So at the moment, according to Western mainstream media, and especially US media, most Middle Easterners are portrayed in a negative way, and are mostly associated with terrorism or Islamic extremism. Jack Bauer - in 24 - works for the central terror unit and constantly accuses, interrogates and/or hunts down characters from the Middle East region (Reza Naiyeer, Habib Marwan, the Araz, as well as the Hassan family, among others). Alongside the usual suspects from Russia and China of course. In Quantico, the dark-skinned protagonist (who is actually from India) is falsely accused of being involved in a terrorist attack on the Grand Central station. And in Sleeper Cell, a Muslim is assigned to infiltrate a sleeper cell threatening to attack Los Angeles. The head of the cell - an Arab extremist, who disguises as Jew.

These depictions are of course not fair. They are obviously an act of ‘othering’, and politically or ideologically motivated. The Middle Eastern characters are highly stereotyped and far from mainstream reality. However, not only is it not fair and realistic to represent this 1.3-billion-large group of people like that, it is also dangerous. The media, in the case of this thesis, meaning Hollywood and its various movies and TV shows, structure the way of thinking of many people in Western societies. By portraying Middle Easterners as terrorists on a regular basis, with only few alternatives to balance these images, the Arab, Iranian or Afghan as the terrorist becomes ingrained into many people’s brains as the epitome of the Middle Easterner. Here it becomes obvious how geographical war zones in the Middle East are brought to people’s home and to Western society in general, by means of biased media representations and popularized othering processes.

The goal of this thesis is to look at the dichotomy between the East and the West, the negative perception of the Middle East in the West, as well as how negative images of the East are constructed, but also countered in Western media. In other words, to see where or how Orientalist views are perpetuated and reinforced, and where they are countered, criticized, and ridiculed. Furthermore, the intention of this thesis will be to scrutinize the underlying presumptions about the ‘other’, and how these presumptions can be connected to Orientalism. By exposing the negative images, stereotypes and attempts of othering, light will be shed on the above-mentioned misrepresentations of Middle Easterners. The focus of the later analysis will be on Showtime’s TV series Homeland and CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie. Stereotypes and othering schemes in the US-American TV show will be uncovered and also be shown to be opposed and challenged by the Canadian sitcom.

The content of both TV series clearly renders them a part of the discourse related to the Middle East, Arabs, Muslims, terrorism, ‘oriental culture’, and religion. This is why these two TV series lend themselves especially well as cultural works that can be scrutinized effectively when it comes to issues regarding the stereotyping and othering of people from the so-called Orient.

By means of a representational critique regarding the depiction of Middle Easterners in two contemporary North American TV series, the following questions will be addressed: How are Middle Easterners portrayed and represented in the two series? How are negative, positive, or even negotiating images of Middle Easterners constructed in popular culture? How do contemporary TV shows limit or foster our ability to establish knowledge about the Middle East?

By applying the Orientalism framework developed by Edward Saïd, it will be argued that Middle Easterners are othered and stereotyped in Homeland, and that this process is attempted to be uncovered and challenged in Little Mosque on the Prairie. This thesis will be expository in nature, and in order to be able to answer the afore- mentioned questions, the two TV series will be scrutinized with the help of Saïd’s Orientalism framework in a comparative fashion. Furthermore, light will be shed on the key terms ‘stereotyping’ and ‘othering’. The thesis will be composed of two parts. A theoretical part in which the key tenets of Edward Saïd’s concept Orientalism that are relevant and fruitful for this endeavor, will be introduced. And an application part in which the relevant theoretical conceptions are applied to the television shows. The following chapter serves as a theoretical introduction and will comprise the working definitions of the key terms that will be worked with.

2. Through the Lens of Orientalism

First of all, the question needs to be asked, why it is important to look at Orientalism with regard to representations of Middle Easterners. Orientalism consists of a certain language and artifacts with which power can be wielded and identities can be constituted. In order to be able to unveil and scrutinize these mechanisms, the concept of Orientalism needs to be observed very closely. Edward Saïd’s work Orientalism from 1978 was an academic milestone regarding the ‘West’s’ representation of the ‘East’, and can still be considered a useful basic framework when it comes to investigating portrayals of Arabs, Muslims, and Middle Easterners. This is why his concept, and also the critique uttered towards it, will be dealt with in depth in this chapter. Another reason for Orientalism’s continuing significance is the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Since that date, the Western world, and especially its media, has engaged in and witnessed an Orientalism comeback. However, before addressing Saïd’s concept, its magnitude, as well as its different understandings and definitions, some other terms that bear some difficulties and constantly cause misunderstandings should be clarified.

2.1 Defining Geographies, Cultures, Languages and Religions

In the preface of Orientalism ’s 2003-edition, Saïd pointed out the danger and the need for intervention regarding the creation and use of ‘collective identities’. He . . . insist[s] that the terrible reductive conflicts that herd people under falsely unifying rubrics like "America," "The West" or "Islam" and invent collective identities for large numbers of individuals who are actually quite diverse, cannot remain as potent as they are, and must be opposed, their murderous effectiveness vastly reduced in influence and mobilizing power. (Saïd xxii)

Precisely because of this concern of Saïd’s, the ‘falsely unifying rubrics’ and ‘invented collective identities’ have to be made aware of prior to dealing with them on an academic level in the upcoming analysis. Furthermore, they have to be defined, explained, and dismantled, while at the same time highlighting the diverseness and rich variety of large groups of people, which above all things, have a raison d’être beyond these restrictive and ignorant categories.

Regarding a realistic depiction of the diverse cultures, and the production of actual, decent knowledge about the Middle East, Hollywood cannot be considered having been of much help. Through the exaggerated and onesided depiction of Middle Easterners in Western media, the consumers of those depictions have been restrained substantially, when it comes to the acquisition of knowledge about the Arab World,

Muslims, and the Middle East. Before dealing with unfair and inaccurate portrayals of these people(s), geographies, and cultures, the afore-mentioned terms and phrases need to be defined.

So what is actually meant by the ‘Arab world’? The Arab world comprises 22 countries in the Middle East and in North Africa. Arab countries are very diverse in terms of religious, ethnic, and linguistic communities. Among them are Armenians, Kurds, Berbers and others (cf. TeachMideast). Even though there is no globally accepted definition of what the Arab world is, all the members of the ‘Arab League’ are considered part of the Arab world (cf. Frishkopf 61).

What then is the Arab League? “The Arab League was formed in 1945 and can be seen as a regional organization attempting to “give political expression of the Arab nations” (Questia). In other words - “The purpose of the League is to draw closer the relations between member States [sic] and co-ordinate their political activities with the aim of realizing a close collaboration between them, to safeguard their independence and sovereignty, and to consider in a general way the affairs and interests of the Arab countries” (Yale Law School). So while the phrase ‘Arab world’ can be considered an expression with the focus on geography, culture and language to a certain degree, the phrase ‘Arab League’ can be deemed the equivalent to the ‘European Union’. It basically consists of the same 22 states and territories that constitute the Arab world, namely Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, the Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen (cf. ALFF).

The common adjective and also demonym of these two phrases is ‘Arab’. How can this term be defined? “Arab is an ethno-linguistic category, identifying people who speak the Arabic language as their mother tongue” (TeachMideast). Alternatively, an Arab is someone who, besides the afore-mentioned language affiliation, lives in an Arabic country and can be considered being a part of, or being in sympathy with the aspirations and culture of the Arabic people (cf. Reynolds 1).

Arab-Americans are consequently Americans of Arab descent. Today, there are people from each Arab country living in America. The first immigrant wave took place in the late twentieth century. The second one started after the Second World War and is still ongoing (cf. ADC).

Even though they are part of the same region, there is a huge difference between Persians and Arabs, or people belonging to the Arab world. Persia used to be a huge empire which can now be equated with the area of contemporary Iran (cf. Britannica). Furthermore, Persian can refer to people as well as to a language. The people who are called Persians, can also be called Iranians today. A common belief and misunderstanding is that Persia or Iran is not only part of the Arab world, but also that Arabic is the language spoken there. The region or country, however, lies outside the Arab world (geographically as well as culturally), and the language Persians or Iranians speak is Farsi (cf. Eilers).

Who can be referred to as Muslim? A Muslim is simply a follower of the religion of Islam. According to estimates, in 2015, there were about 1.8 billion Muslims in the world, which then made up 24% of the global population (cf. Lipka). It is important to note that while most Arabs are Muslims, the majority of Muslims are not Arabs (cf. ADC). The ‘Middle East-North Africa’ region only makes up around 20% of the world’s Muslim population, whereas the Asian-Pacific region accounts for around 62% (cf. Muslimstatistics).

The last phrase to define would be ‘the Middle East’. First of all, it is not a fixed term. It has its origin in the early twentieth century, and designates the area between India and the Near East - meaning the western part of the Ottoman Empire and the Balkans (cf. TeachMideast). The exact territory the term designates varies, however. Usually it comprises the Arab countries ranging from Egypt to the Persian Gulf, including Iran and Israel. In some definitions, Turkey is part of the Middle East, in others it is part of Europe. Gray area countries that are sometimes considered being a part of South Asia and sometimes being a part of the Middle East are Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh (cf. ADC).

In any case, the term itself is of course indicative of a European perspective, since the Middle East can only be considered ‘east’ relative to a western European angle. “Had the Chinese had the power to impose their perspective in our maps, the region might have been known as the Midwest” (TeachMideast). And this is where ‘Orientalism’ comes into play.

2.2 Orientalism

So just by defining these geographical and cultural terms, it becomes obvious how diverse and complex issues in this context are. This, however, does not stop certain people from subsuming human beings associated with some of the afore-mentioned qualities under terms such as Arabs or Muslims.

In his work Orientalism, Saïd critically takes on the myths surrounding the Orient that were common by the time he wrote his book, and are still common today. These myths have been disseminated by European science and colonial literature, and still are, by western media, fiction, and popular culture in general. His book can be considered of substantial influence for the field of post-colonial studies. With Orientalism, he illustrates that the understanding, the use, and the development of this term and subject, as well as the production of knowledge about ‘oriental Others’ and their cultures, have been far from straight-forward, benign, clear-cut, and unbiased. In his introduction, Saïd mentions that for him, Orientalism has several meanings. One is the academic meaning: “Anyone who teaches, writes about, or researches the Orient, either in its specific or its general aspects, is an Orientalist, and what he or she does is Orientalism” (2). In another, more general, definition, he suggests that:

Orientalism is a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between ‘the Orient’ and (most of the time) ‘the Occident’. Thus a very large mass of writers, among whom are poets, novelists, philosophers, political theorists, economists, and imperial administrators, have accepted the basic distinction between East and West as the starting point for elaborate theories, epics, novels, social descriptions, and political accounts concerning the Orient, its people, customs, ‘mind’, destiny, and so on. (Saïd 2f)

In contrast to the other two meanings, the third meaning of Orientalism, according to Saïd, is a rather historical and material one.

. . . Orientalism can be discussed and analyzed as the corporate institution for dealing with the Orient - dealing with it by making statements about it, authorizing views of it, describing it, by teaching it, settling it, ruling over it: in short, Orientalism as a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient. (3)

This is why, as a whole, Orientalism, for Saïd, is more valuable as an indication of the power of the West (in this case, mostly Europe and the USA), than it is an actual discourse that has substance and can be taken seriously. However, this is what the discourse of Orientalism claims to be on an academic level (Saïd 6).

According to him, Orientalism can be traced back as far as the post- Enlightenment era. He points out the need for the study of Orientalism as a discourse. Otherwise it would not be possible to understand how it came about, as well as to see the discipline of Europeans with which they were able to manage, and also produce, the Orient in scientific, ideological, military, sociological, political, and imaginative ways (cf. Saïd 3). Furthermore, Saïd calls the Orient a discursively constructed realm (cf. 148). With certain claims, assertions, and the conjuring up of a self-interested and tailor- made history regarding the Orient, Europe was able to rationalize its colonialism within this realm. The East was thus constructed as not only different, but also inferior, and consequently as being in need of help, in order to be led from chaos and barbarism to order and civilization.

Moreover, Orientalism can be seen as “a way of coming to terms with the Orient that is based on the Orient’s special place in European Western experience” (Said 1). A special place indeed, since the Orient is the place that hosted Europe’s oldest and most prestigious colonies, and can also be called the origin of its own civilizations and languages. The Orient, however, also has a more straight-forward connection to the Occident, if one looks at the binary opposition this pair constitutes. The Orient also defines the West by being its contrasting image, idea, experience, and personality (cf. ibid.). The Orient can thus be argued to function as a creator of Western self- identification. The Orient is othered, and the West can define itself against this othered concept, and consequently construct a Western ‘we’ (cf. Merrill 267). This ‘we’ is then, however, not constructed through knowledge about the East, but rather through preconceived archetypes that consider all Eastern societies as basically similar, and at the same time essentially different from Western societies. The antithetical relation between East and West is thus constructed by means of alleged knowledge generated through historical records and literary texts, which quite often are not scientifically sound or based on the reality in the Middle East (Mahrabiyya). Implicit in this idea is what Saïd expresses in his dogmas of Orientalism:

[O]ne is the absolute and systematic difference between the West, which is rational, developed, humane, superior, and the Orient, which is aberrant, undeveloped, inferior. Another dogma is that abstractions about the Orient, particularly those based on texts representing a ‘classical’ Oriental civilization, are always preferable to direct evidence drawn from modern Oriental realities. A third dogma is that the Orient is eternal, uniform, and incapable of defining itself; therefore, it is assumed that a highly generalized and systematic vocabulary for describing the Orient from a Western standpoint is inevitable and even scientifically ‘objective.’ A fourth dogma is that the Orient is at bottom something either to be feared (the Yellow Peril, the Mongol hordes, the brown dominions) or to be controlled (by pacification, research and development, outright occupation whenever possible). (300f)

With Robert Nichols, who rather focuses on Foucault, discourse and representation, it can be said in a rather abbreviated way. According to him, Orientalism is a “complex process of dominating the representation of non-Western peoples through the production of specific forms of knowledge about the non-West” (Nichols 119).

Hasan Shahpari points out that art historians, literary and cultural studies scholars use the term in order to depict certain aspects of Eastern cultures. He furthermore states the geographical regions that are subsumed by Orientalism, namely the Middle East, South Asia, as well as East Asia. He considers Orientalism a “way of seeing that imagines, emphasizes, exaggerates and distorts differences of Arab peoples and cultures [and e.g. the Persian people and culture] as compared to that of Europe and the U.S. It often involves seeing Arab [and Persian] culture as exotic, backward, uncivilized, and at times dangerous” (Shahpari 342). Saïd, too, sees the Orient, which he deems an almost European invention, as having been associated with romance, haunting memories and landscapes, exotic beings, and remarkable experiences since antiquity (cf. 1).

The notion that the West looks upon the Orient as static, is another one of Saïd’s points of criticism regarding the Orientalist tradition. To him, “’Arabs’ are presented in the imagery of static, almost ideal types, and neither as creatures with a potential in the process of being realized nor as history being made” (Said 321). His argument, however, is that the East is “capable of change and not eternally transfixed” (Graf). People from the Orient being static goes along with another point of criticism uttered by Saïd, namely the dehumanization of citizens of the Orient: “[A] white middle-class Westerner believes it is his human prerogative not only to manage the nonwhite world but also to own it, just because by definition ‘it’ is not quite as human as ‘we’ are” (108).

Saïd, moreover, sees Orientalism being carried into the present, which in turn makes it meaningful to continue with its implementation. This is necessary, since the topic is still of ongoing significance. Times have changed, and not only is there more differentiation throughout the world now, it is furthermore important, to no longer just consider Europe as ‘the West’, but also the United States of America, when it comes to the discourse of Orientalism. Through Hollywood, the USA have become very influential when it comes to the proliferation of dominant images of certain parts of the world - especially the Orient (cf. Sharp 25). Over the past decades it has become obvious that motion pictures and TV series, among many other media productions play a vital role when it comes to establishing and maintaining certain realities. Movies and TV shows have the power to not only construct felt objectivities, but also mold the public’s perceptions.

2.2.1 Critique towards Saïd’s Understanding of Orientalism

Despite the influence Saïd’s work Orientalism had in the realm of post-colonial studies, it nevertheless has its critics. Some of these points of criticism will be presented in this subchapter, in order to generate awareness of the concept’s potential shortcomings.

One point of criticism, for instance, is Saïd’s tendency to use and argue in binary oppositions, which is what he basically criticizes himself in the first place. Another point is Saïd’s Occidentalization of the West. His characterizations of the West, throughout his book, frequently show that he characterizes and essentializes the West in the same way Western scholars or Orientalists do when they try to characterize and define the East (cf. Croydon 430f). Prof. Landow of Brown University criticizes that Saïd’s work neglects Japan, China, and South East Asia, and only covers India to a small degree. Even though his study seemed to intend to cover ‘the East’, it only covers a small fraction of it for the most part, namely the Middle East. Furthermore, Landow also sees the generalizations regarding the Orient as repeating or rather committing the same kind of Orientalism it criticizes elsewhere (cf. Landow). In other words, Saïd uses the very ‘falsely unifying rubrics’ and ‘invented collective identities’ he warns the reader about in his 2003-preface.

According to Bruce Robbins, Saïd “can be charged . . . with keeping the unrepresented from representing themselves, substituting their own elite intellectual work for the voice of the oppressed even as they claim to represent those voices” (154). Thus he appears to be vindicating the right to have authority over the East, even though this is exactly what Orientalists do.

Other critics take up the position that Saïd’s point of view is one-sided. This is due to his presentation of the Orient as the constant Other and victim of the Occident, in which he does not consider the fact that cultures of the West also sometimes portray themselves as ‘the Others of their Others’. Another point he does not pay any particular attention to is the fact that non-Western cultures, conversely, Occidentalize the Occident in order to serve their very own political objectives (cf. Moscovici 143). Here, Landow criticizes that Saïd’s work assumes that the negative ideas of the Other and its harmful political consequences are only emanating from the West, and not from the East. Or to put it more encompassing, it is rather something that all societies do to each other. The West and its colonialism is thus treated as unique (cf. Landow). As a further point of criticism, Prof. Landow accuses Saïd of the assertion that American and European scholars cannot ‘know’ the Orient, and that every attempt by scholars to do so is always an act of oppression. Landow considers it the ‘greatest single scholarly sin’ to silence others by preventing them from participating in the debate (cf. ibid.). However, despite these points of criticism, Orientalism is still a widespread and highly useful framework, which will serve as the basis for the upcoming analysis.

2.2.2 Versions of Orientalism

As Sharp notes, “Orientalism is still with us but in a slightly different form, as there is more differentiation between parts of the world” (25). This is why, in addition to the types of orientalism Saïd mentions, quite a few things have changed since 1978, including a whole set of new forms of orientalism.

Saïd, in his work already distinguished between ‘latent’ and ‘manifest orientalism’. He describes the latent version as referring to cultural differences that are ‘almost unconscious’, and neither seen nor easily identified by Westerners. Here he refers to manners of thought and speaking. The western perspective on the Orient was one that he described with the words eccentric, silently different, backward, separate, passive, and sensual. This perception originated from the afore-mentioned comparison with the technological progress in the course of the industrial revolution. In the eyes of the West, the East had to be picked up and taken along, rather than being left in isolation and stagnation. Manifest orientalism, according to Saïd, concerns the rather obvious and more visible, prominent characteristics of Eastern cultures. In this case,

Saïd refers to things like clothing, art, languages of Eastern societies, architecture, history, literatures, as well as sociology. So, in any case, things that are commonly perceived by Westerners as opposing the own culture (cf. Saïd 206ff).

Another kind of orientalism that offers a quite recent account of orientalism, and could thus be termed ‘contemporary orientalism’, is described by Saïd in his chapter ‘The Latest Phase’, in which he pictures the Arab as contemporarily stereotyped by the Westerner as untrustworthy, dishonest, menacing, anti-Western, irrational, and prototypical (cf. ibid.). Those descriptions can be considered the outcome of the orientalism before the nineteenth century, and they are very hard to discern, overcome, and object. One reason for it being hard to overcome these views, according to Saïd, is that this process is obstructed by conflicts throughout the Middle East and by the events of September 11 (cf. McDonnell Twair). Another reason is the . . . sermons on the objectivity, the fairness, the impartiality of a real historian, the implication always being that Muslims and Arabs cannot be objective but that Orientalists . . . writing about Muslims and Arabs are, by definition, by training, by the mere fact of their Westernness. This is the culmination of Orientalism as a dogma that not only degrades its subject matter but also blinds its practitioners. (Saïd 319)

Apart from Saïd’s latent and manifest orientalism, as well as his description of a contemporary orientalism, there are several other forms of orientalism. Some of them will be listed and briefly explained here, as part of the working definition list that serves as a basis for the upcoming analysis. Among the most common alternative forms of orientalism is for example ‘parallel orientalism’. This phrase denotes orientalism within an among minorities, and includes the creation of ‘model minorities’, as well as, for instance, the contrasting juxtaposition ‘good Muslim vs. bad Muslim’. The latter can, however, be problematic, as is the case with most dichotomies, according to Fachrizal Halim, instructor in religious studies at the University of Saskatchewan. He contends that there is “little to no grey area in between” and, in this context, poses the question “How do you define good and bad?” (Porter). Saïd remarks “There are good Arabs (the ones who do as they are told) and bad Arabs (who do not, and are therefore terrorists) (306).

‘Counter orientalism’ can be described as resistance to orientalism by means of ‘diachronic instabilities’ which are produced by the colonial subjects. It can also be referred to as ‘anti-orientalism’, for instance in post-colonial novels (cf. Malreddy 8). A rather new form of orientalism could be witnessed in the Occident right after, and in connection with the terrorist attacks of 9/11. This revival of orientalism can be termed ‘neo-orientalism’ (Behdad and Williams).

If one considers war as a site of orientalism, in which, through strategies of war, the concept of the ‘wild East’ is constructed, then one could speak of ‘military orientalism’. Through this construction, fears in the West, survival, and identity can be argued to be constantly reassessed and measured (cf. Malreddy 7).

If orientalism is cultivated by the Other, or the oriental subjects themselves, it is called ‘internal orientalism’. Examples would be Black orientalism of the Americas, Turkish orientalism of the Kurds, tribal orientalism of South Asia (cf. ibid.).

There is, furthermore, a kind of orientalism that is mainly featured in fictional works from authors of the Orient. An orientalism which rewrites the formerly established ideological coordinates. This way, it critiques the distinctions of the classical, orientalist Self/Other binary, and thus renders the repositioning of Oriental subjects possible. The subjects are then given peripheral positions that serve as ‘covert vantage points’ (cf. Lau and Mendes 4). The proper terminology to be used in this case is then ‘re-orientalism’. According to Lau, re-orientalism is a relatively recent development in the South Asian genre. Since Saïd already noted, that not all Orientalists are necessarily Westerners, it does not come as a surprise that orientalism can also take place in the Orient itself. He furthermore states that “[t]he construction of identity . . . involves establishing opposites and ‘others’ whose actuality is always subject to the continuous interpretation and re-interpretation of their differences from ‘us’. Each age and society recreates its ‘Others’” (332).

Another form of orientalism is ‘traveling orientalism’. Here it is seen as a discourse that is “received and applied well beyond its set geographical coordinates” (Malreddy 7). Examples are Hispanic orientalism, Black orientalism, and Irish orientalism.

If one speaks about orientalism in news media, comics, children books, pulp magazines, Hollywood blockbusters, popular literature, cartoons, violent rhetoric of street gangs, music hall songs, fights on the football pitch, etc., then this is called ‘pulp orientalism’. So basically orientalism that can be described as ‘bubbling up from below’ in a pejorative sense (cf. Irwin), or orientalism which is ‘dumbed-down’ and ready for mass consumption (cf. Malreddy 8).

‘Nesting orientalism’ is what Petrović describes as “a tendency of each region to view the cultures and religions to its South and East as more conservative and primitive” (141). In other words, nesting orientalism explains the circumstance of a group, having itself created orientalized others, also being subject to orientalization by another group, and so forth (cf. Cela 18).

Yan and Santos describe a form of Orientalism that can essentially be seen as a ‘reconfiguration’, and even an ‘extension’ of Orientalism. What they call ‘self- Orientalism’ is not simply defined as an autonomous creation of the West, but rather a phenomenon the Orient itself helps constructing, circulating, and reinforcing (cf. Yan and Santos 297). In the next subchapter, the concept of ‘American orientalism’ will be dealt with in more depth.

2.2.3 American Orientalism

While in the context of Saïd’s orientalism the main protagonists are, for the most part, Europe and the Orient, the perspective in terms of American orientalism of course shifts towards the United States on the occidental side. In order to be able to draw a distinction between the two forms of orientalism, a brief historical detour is necessary, in order to explain the orientalist traditions.

Saïd’s argues that “historically and culturally there is a quantitative as well as a qualitative difference between the Franco-British involvement in the Orient and - until the period of American ascendancy after World War II - the involvement of every other European and Atlantic power” (3f). He furthermore contends that “to speak of Orientalism therefore is to speak mainly, although not exclusively, of a British and French cultural enterprise” (Saïd 4). In other words, Americans did not get in contact with Orientalist ways of thinking until their ‘political ascendancy’ following the Second World War, while the British and the French had a much longer tradition with orientalism, and were involved in the orientalism project for much longer. This, however, aroused criticism, since the United States could actually be argued to have been involved in endeavors pertaining Orientalism - only in a different form than the British and French at that time. It is of course right that the United States were not as much involved in Middle Eastern geo-political affairs as others, but this does not mean that there was no involvement at all and no points of contact with orientalist thinking (cf. Rosenblatt 52). In the US, there was a form of material, patrician orientalism. Through the United States’ diplomatic, military, and economic involvement with the Far East, European types of orientalism were adapted by the US and consequently formed this patrician orientalism, which could be described as a social form of orientalism, “conferring status on those who possessed Chinese things and ideas” (Tchen xx). According to Rosenblatt, orientalism that appeared as the expression of cultural superiority in terms of material possession, was linked to the Far East and can be traced back to approximately the mid-nineteenth century (cf. 53). It was also at that time, that a material orientalism - in this form now mostly pertaining Arab countries in the Middle East - developed as an American ‘retail strategy’. As part of this kind of orientalism, the exoticism that was seen in the Orient was put to the forefront and consequently linked with sensuality, luxury, and even debauchery (cf. Higashi 90).

McAlister argues, that the US did not always portray the Middle East according to the particular logic of orientalism. However, Saïd’s binary understanding of orientalism somewhat does link America’s encounter with the Middle East to orientalism. Namely when it comes to comprehending and domesticating the Middle East in the context of ‘consumption’ (cf. 12). Regarding the relationship between orientalism and consumption in the West, Saïd argues that the Orient is a vital part of culture and material civilization in Europe (cf. 2). However, here one has to point out, that during the increase of Victorian American consumerism as well, Oriental aesthetics were a crucial part of, and of growing interest for material culture in America (cf. Rosenblatt 53). In order to take advantage of this special, new, and enticing form of aesthetics, and in order for businesses to increase their revenue, American department stores were turned into “emporiums laden with enticing Orientalist displays of merchandise” (Higashi 154).

So even though the United States were not engaged in Middle Eastern geo- political affairs in terms of imperial presence at that time, the ways in which Americans encountered the Middle East were significant enough to leave an aesthetic mark when it comes to expressions of American orientalism. During the eighteenth and nineteenth century, these encounters were primarily made by merchants, tourists on religious pilgrimages, and missionaries. Especially during three decades in the early nineteenth century, which featured a large number of encounters with Middle Eastern pirates at sea, the image of the brutal, uncivilized, and barbaric oriental developed. Little contends, that these “three decades of sporadic maritime warfare with the Barbary pirates helped spread these orientalist images to the public at large” (Little 12). An image that helped create the binary logic of orientalism in the United States was the label that was attached to the war between the Greek rebellion and the Ottoman Empire in 1821. The literary journal ‘North American Review’ called it “a war of the crescent against the cross”, and continued with the outlook that “wherever the arms of the Sultan prevail, the village churches are leveled with the dust or polluted with the abominations of mahometanism” (ibid.). Rosenblatt remarks that with these statements, not only the divide between the Orient and the Occident was reinforced, but also a crusade of Christian civilization against Islamic civilization (cf. 53). Other common stereotypes in the nineteenth century were Turks being described as irredeemable barbarians, unspeakable, and ‘general impediments to civilization’. Armenians were said to be bigoted, cunning, servile, ignorant, and mercenary, while Arabs were stereotyped as biologically violent, fanatical, larcenous, and mendacious (cf. Edwards 19). Regarding these generalizing and exaggerating depictions, there was only little reaction throughout the public then. The reason for that was that only very few people actually had had the chance to travel to the Middle East, and thus only had very little experience, which would have been necessary to take steps against those stereotypes (cf. Rosenblatt 54).

Despite the war of religions and clash of civilizations, as it is often termed, the United States entertained business relations with the Middle East, which was part of a frequently discussed paradox in terms of oriental stereotypes. The afore-mentioned (rather) positive characterizations such as ‘luxurious’ and ‘opulent’ - which were, among other things, associated with the opium crop that the United States were buying from Turkey (cf. McAlister 14) - as well as ‘mysterious’, ‘sumptuous’, and ‘alluring’ stand in contradiction to descriptions such as ‘barbaric’, ‘inclined toward despotism’, and ‘irrational’ (cf. ibid. 9) - which were, among other things, created and maintained by means of American military actions against the Orient. And yet these two different, on the one hand intriguing, on the other hand threatening views of the oriental Other existed parallel to each other. Little credits Mark Twain with a slightly different interpretation regarding the United States’ relation with the Middle East, which, however, also contains contradictory factors: “Indeed, Twain was among the first to interpret the U.S. relationship with the Middle East as the byproduct of two contradictory ingredients: an irresistible impulse to remake the world in America’s image and a profound ambivalence about the peoples to be remade” - a statement against whose background Little gives the following definition of American orientalism: “a tendency to underestimate the people of the region and to overestimate America’s ability to make a bad situation better” (3).

In addition to the orientalist aesthetic of American department stores and consumer culture in general, Rosenblatt mentions the film industry as an important site where American orientalism takes place. In the early stages of the motion picture industry, this medium had the ability to show spectators what they otherwise would not have had access to. This includes exotic regions, events, and people, which Hollywood showed to American audiences, thereby representing the world abroad. Consequently, the film industry has also engaged in exploiting the Orient, by turning regions such as the Middle East, among others, into an audio-visually accessible commodity for the United States populace (cf. Rosenblatt 61f).

While Rosenblatt gives a fairly positive outlook regarding American orientalism, Little sees rather hardened fronts through the continuous proliferation of negative stereotypes about the Orient in American media. Rosenblatt contends that as a result of the United States’ engagement in more ‘intimate diplomatic and cultural contact’ with countries throughout the Middle East over the course of the last century, traditional orientalist aesthetics that can be seen as traditional have begun to fade. For her, the events of September 11, 2001 have made it even clearer that it is necessary to work on a cultural understanding (cf. 62). Little, on the other hand, argues that Although there is greater appreciation for the complexities of the Muslim world than a generation ago, most Americans still view radical Islam as a cause for instant alarm. Having been fed a steady diet of books, films, and news reports depicting Arabs as demonic anti- Western others and Israelis as heroic pro- Western partners and having watched in horror the events of 11 September 2001, the American public understandably fears Osama bin Laden and cheers Aladdin. (Little 314)

Spoken from an American perspective, Saïd sees the United States disadvantaged, or rather handicapped by such stereotypical views and understandings, due to factors such as books with screaming headlines about terror and Islam, such as ‘Islam exposed’, ‘the Arab threat and the Muslim menace’, or would-be specialists on

Islam and the Orient, warmongering news on TV, as well as tabloids and evangelical or right-wing radio hosts (cf. xv). According to him, they all “re-cycle the same unverifiable fictions and vast generalizations so as to stir up ‘America’ against the foreign devil” (ibid.). Or in Sharp’s words, they “[create] a binary imagined geography that . . . [divides] the world into the west and the ‘axis of evil’ to the east” (Sharp 25). In the next subchapter, the terms ‘representation’, ‘othering’, and ‘stereotyping’ will be defined and examined in more detail, since they will be vital with regard to the upcoming analysis.

2.3 Representing, Othering, Stereotyping

Since this thesis will be a representational critique, and its goal will be to scrutinize the portrayal of Middle Easterners in contemporary North American TV series on the basis of orientalism, there are three central concepts involved that need to be covered. One is, in a very general sense ‘representation’, another one is the key process implicit in orientalism - ‘othering’ - and a third one is the act of ‘stereotyping’.

2.3.1 Representing

If we look at the cultural realm, of which TV series, the Orient, and notions about Middle Easterners are a part, one can take ‘representation’ as a basis for all of these issues. Representation, according to Stuart Hall, is a practice that is central to the production of culture. Regarding the link between culture and representation, his understanding is that culture is about ‘shared meanings’, and when it comes to making sense of things, language is the preferred medium, since it serves as receptacle in which meaning is produced and also exchanged. And the only way by which meanings can be shared, is a common access to language. This way, language takes a central position in terms of the production of meaning and culture values (cf. Hall, “Signifying Practices”

1). Moreover, meaning, which is produced through representation, gives people a sense of identity, of who one is, and also with whom one belongs. This way representation (by way of meaning) is also connected to issues regarding the use of culture when it comes to define, delimit, and maintain identity within groups on the one hand, and difference between groups on the other hand (cf. Woodward 1). What is especially interesting in the context of orientalism is that representation produces meaning whenever one expresses oneself, consumes, appropriates, or makes use of cultural matters. So, when one incorporates these matters in different ways in one’s everyday life and gives them value and significance this way - or when fantasies, stories, and narratives are woven around them (cf. Mackay 69ff). Representations also have the power to organize and regulate people’s practice and conduct. They are part of the process that sets conventions, norms, and rules, through which social life is governed and ordered. Consequently, they are also something that people who want to regulate and govern the thoughts and the conduct of others desire to shape and structure (cf. Thompson 1).

Another vital aspect of representation and meaning in view of orientalism is the distinction between two views. Conventionally, ‘things’ were seen as just existing in the natural and material world, with their natural or material characteristics constituting or determining them. Furthermore, they were thought to have an obvious and clear meaning outside of the representational process. So from this perspective, the forming and constituting of meaning comes before the actual representation of a respective matter. After the ‘cultural turn’, however, meaning became to be thought of as constructed or produced instead of just ‘found’. Hence, one is talking about a ‘social constructionist approach’ now, in which representation is seen as being part of the constitution of things. As a result, culture is seen as a constitutive process and directly linked to the shaping of historical events and social subjects (cf. Hall “Signifying Practices” 5f).

If one turns to Judith Butler, who is known for having a constructivist stance on the topic of gender, it becomes all the more clear what the connection between the constructivist nature of representation and concepts such as ‘the Middle Easterner’ is. One of Butler’s quotes about gender being a constructionist or constitutive act can, for example, be modified by exchanging the word ‘gender’ with the phrase ‘Middle Eastern’.

[Middle Eastern] identities are constructed and constituted by language, which means that there is no [Middle Eastern] identity that precedes language. If you like, it is not that [a Middle Eastern] identity ‘does’ discourse or language, but the other way around - language and discourse ‘do’ [‘Middle Eastern’]. There is no “I” outside language since identity is a signifying practice, and culturally intelligible subjects are the effects rather than the causes of discourses that conceal their workings. (Butler 145)

In this context, it is also interesting to talk about concepts such as nationality, ethnicity, and religion, which can be viewed from a similar perspective. Ethnic identity, for instance, cannot be seen as a universal essence that is fixed. It is rather an ‘ordered way’ of referring to people. Ethnicity can be described as already constituted by representations that are shaped through discourses of power. Consequently, the language of ethnicity does not mirror a reality that has been there before - a ‘pre-given reality’ so to speak. It rather constitutes ethnicity and develops subject positions that enable us to actually talk about what it looks like, what is part of, and what it means to be - if we remain in the Middle East context - Iraqi, Iranian, Afghan, or Arabian. Seen from this perspective, it becomes obvious that ethnicity, but also nationality and religion is performative, and thus constitutive (cf. Barker and Galasiński 125). Another quote from Butler renders this even more visible. If one exchanges, like in the above example, the word ‘gender’ with ‘nationality/ethnicity/religion’, this is the result:

It can be argued that [nationality/ethnicity/religion] can be seen as performative. . . . The [national/ethnic/religious] act that one does, the act that one performs, is, in a sense, an act that has been going on before one arrived on the scene. Hence, [nationality/ethnicity/religion] is an act which has been rehearsed, much as a script survives the particular actors who make use of it, but which requires individual actors in order to be actualized and reproduced as reality once again. (Butler in Komitee 13)

In contrast to language, which plays a major role with regard to how culture and representation work, scholars in recent years, however, have shifted the focused to ‘discourse’ and its broader role in culture. According to Hall, “[d]iscourses are ways of referring to or constructing knowledge about a particular topic of practice: a cluster (or formation) of ideas, images and practices, which provide ways of talking about, forms of knowledge and conduct associated with, a particular topic, social activity or institutional site in society” (“Signifying Practices” 6). What these discursive formations, as they are called, do, is to define the level of appropriateness when it comes to formulations and practices in relation to a particular social activity or subject. Discourse, furthermore, determines what kind of knowledge is deemed relevant, useful, and ‘true’ in a certain context, but also who embodies its traits and characteristics. In matters where culture, meaning, and representation are considered ‘constitutive’, the term ‘discursive’ has thus become a key concept (cf. ibid.). The next central term of this subchapter will be ‘othering’.

2.3.2 Othering

In order to talk about ‘othering’, one should first define the term ‘Other’ briefly. On a very basic level, “the ‘Other’ is anyone who is separate from one’s self. The existence of others is crucial in defining what is ‘normal’ and in locating one’s own place in the world. It can thus be argued that the construction of an ‘other’ is vital for the formation of the ‘self’. Through specific discourses, such as, for instance, cannibalism or primitivism, the colonized subject is defined as Other. This way, a binary separation between the colonizer and the colonized is established, and enforces the supremacy as well as the naturalness of the colonizers’ world view and culture. The constitutive processes of the dominant imperial Other and the colonial Other happen simultaneously in the exact same instance (cf. ibid. 154ff).

So othering, then, describes the manifold ways in which subjects are produced by colonial discourse (cf. Ashcroft et al. 156), and while the Other is constructed as inferior, it is the ‘center’ of this construction that has the ‘power to describe’ (cf. Jensen 65). Jensen, furthermore, defines it as discursive processes by which powerful groups, who may or may not make up a numerical majority, define subordinate groups into existence in a reductionist way which ascribe problematic and/or inferior characteristics to these subordinate groups. Such discursive processes affirm the legitimacy and superiority of the powerful and condition identity formation among the subordinate. (ibid.)

Regarding the concept of ‘othering’, Gayatri Spivak was the first who used it in a systematic way (cf. Jensen 64). She illustrates three dimensions of othering from the archives of the British colonial power in India, which can also be used as a general framework of othering. In a letter found in this archive, an English captain describes how he traveled throughout India on horseback, and told the natives that he is their master, in order to make the people aware of ‘who they are subject to’ (cf. Spivak 254).

In sociological terms, according to Jensen, this dimension can be linked to power in the form of making the subordinate natives aware of who is in charge, of who holds the power, and thus also about constituting the other as subordinate by means of power (cf. 64). As second dimension, Spivak points out a General, who, in a letter, writes about the native inhabitants of India. In his descriptions he uses phrases such as ‘these highlanders’, ‘possessing all the brutality and perfidy of the rudest times’, and ‘without courage’, as well as ‘without the knowledge of refinement’. Again, in sociological terms, this exhibits the construction of the Other as, on the one hand, morally inferior and, on the other hand, as pathological (cf. Jensen 65). As a third and last dimension, Spivak mentions a letter from the Board of Control in the British East India Company, in which the statement can be found that the members of the Indian Army in Colonial India should not be granted access to technology and knowledge (cf. Spivak 256). In sociological terms, this implies that technology and knowledge do not belong to the colonial other, but are instead property of the empirical self (cf. Jensen 65). Ashcroft et al. describe this in a similar vein, when they state - “For the Colonel is in the business of creating the enemy, of delineating that opposition that must exist, in order that the empire might define itself by its geographical and racial others.” (158).

Regarding the homogenization and the flexibility of the Other in this context, which will also be addressed in the next subchapter ‘stereotyping’, Pratt very interestingly argues that [t]he process of othering can occur in all kinds of colonialist narrative. […] The people to be othered are homogenized into a collective ‘they,’ which is distilled even further into an iconic ‘he’ (the standardized adult male specimen). This abstracted ‘he’ / ‘they’ is the subject of verbs in a timeless present tense, which characterizes anything ‘he’ is or does not as a particular historical event but as an instance of a pregiven custom or trait. (Pratt 132f)

2.3.3 Stereotyping

The last part of this chapter deals with the term ‘stereotype’ and the act of stereotyping. In this subchapter, a few approaches to define the concept, as well as their function, power, and their usage will be presented.


Excerpt out of 103 pages


Representation of Middle Easterners in Contemporary North American TV Series
Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg  (Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
648 KB
representation, middle, easterners, contemporary, north, american, series
Quote paper
Matthias Köbrich (Author), 2017, Representation of Middle Easterners in Contemporary North American TV Series, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Representation of Middle Easterners in Contemporary North American TV Series

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free