Monday, March 28, 2011

Situation I Propose to Analyze and Why

As seen from my last entry, I plan to analyze Orientalism beginning in childhood, where most thoughts and ideas are first developed. Because Orientalism also deeply involves the Mark of the Plural and Othering, I will also be exploring these concepts as they relate to Orientalism. I believe that Orientalist ideas are so deeply engrained in our society for many reasons, but the reason these ideas seem to be retained so long is due to the fact that they are conditioned from childhood.

So far I have researched some different avenues that reinforce Orientalist ideas on children. I have decided to group these things into five categories: news, music, movies, school, and other forms of entertainment. I realize that children don’t often watch the news, but their parents do. The primary way that children learn is through example, especially from their parents. It would be very easy for children to pick up Orientalist ideas from their parents who are reinforced by the news. As far as music that children listen to is concerned, I haven’t yet looked into much besides movie soundtracks. For example, Aladdin provides us with this gem of a lyric: “Where they cut off your ear if they don’t like you’re face. It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home!” Although this was later changed to “Where it’s flat and immense and the heat is intense. It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home!”, it was changed only after the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee claimed that the original line was not appropriate and racist.

For the category of movies, Aladdin is obviously a prime candidate of study. It is one of the most popular movies Disney has ever made, and is one of the only children’s movies that provides children with an image of the Middle East, whether it is accurate or not. Disney, of course, seems to have never shied away from straight racism – the “Red Man” in Peter Pan; the Jamaican-sounding, jobless crab named Sebastion from the Little Mermaid; the monkeys (the only characters in the movie who speak broken English) who want to be like real humans in the Jungle Book; the black, poorly spoken crows in Dumbo; the single black centaur from Fantasia (that was later cut completely from the movie); just to name a few. Because Aladdin provides the only example (that I know of) of racism and Othering in regards to Arab people specifically, I believe I will stick with the numerous examples it gives its audience.

Clearly, children learn many things in school – that’s the point of education. In the first reading for this class, J.M. Blaut says in The Colonizer’s Model of the World the following about textbooks: “Textbooks are an important window into a culture; more than just books, they are semiofficial statements of exactly what the opinion-forming elite of the culture want the educated youth of that culture to believe to be true about the past and present world.” Obviously these textbooks are quite influential, especially when the pictures they paint are often children’s only pictures of other parts of the world.

As far as other forms of entertainment, I plan to explore the topics of Disneyworld, specifically Epcot, and circuses. Having never been to Disney world myself, this topic may be a bit harder for me to cover. Also, if anyone has other specific examples of how Orientalist ideas are imposed on children, feel free to leave them in a comment! As you can see, examples abound in our society, but having more to choose from would be very helpful for my paper and presentation.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Aspects of Colonialism Most Interesting to Me and Why

The most interesting aspect of colonialism to me is Orientalism. Orientalism is the lens that Westerners, specifically those in the United States, use to view the East, specifically the Arab world. The main aspect of Orientalism that interests me is how these ideas become so engrained in our entire culture. In my experience, ideas such as this one are so deeply engrained in a peoples or culture because of two possible causes. The first is from personal experience. After all, it is through personal experience that people make the majority of their judgments. However, many people have not had very many personal experiences with people from the Middle East or have ever even visited an Arab country. Therefore, conditioning, the second cause, is most prevalent. If something is heard early and often, it sticks with people. I would like to focus my paper on how and why this bias and “lens” by which we see the Orient is formed and is retained.

I plan to go deeper into this topic by starting at the age where learning is begun – childhood. B.F. Skinner, the great psychologist and behaviorist, once said, “Give me a child, and I will shape him into anything.” Another wise man once said, “Give me a child between the ages of 5 and 10, and he’ll be mine for life.” These quotations simply mean that if one takes children and conditions them to think a certain way, they will probably think that way for the rest of their lives. I plan to explore how movies, textbooks, children’s books, Disneyland, and other forms of childhood entertainment and education lead to Orientalist ideas in adults.

Another plus about the topic of Orientalism is that it encompasses almost all the terms we have gone over this semester. In order to have Orientalist ideas, people must invoke at least one if not all of the following ideas: the mark of the plural, dehumanization, Inside/Outside thinking, Othering (alterity), the Other, Eurocentrism, diffusionism, and hegemony. All of these terms are used when describing Orientalist ideas and biases.