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.


  1. Mara, I'm so jealous of your topic! I love it! I'm doing my practicum in a second grade classroom this semester, and it's really interesting to see exactly what pictures/information about other countries, even about other parts of the US, are included in the books. I would suggest looking in the LRC for examples in textbooks- they have at least one textbook for every subject on every grade level. You could also look at all the award-winning children's books that they have in the LRC. I've had to read quite a few of them, and there are only a few with multicultural pictures/themes. I am so excited to read your future blogs!

  2. This is a great topic. Aladdin was my favorite childhood movie. I watched it numerous times and never noticed any of the things that were pointed out in the Said film or that you mentioned. It is amazing how we are conditioned to overlook certain things.
    It will also be interesting to read what you find out about the way children learn about cultures. In class, I remember we mentioned categorizing. This seems like a simple technique to get children to understand the differences in culture, but it is never expanded on as they grow up. I remember the first exposure I had to other cultures was taught almost like a check list. (These people do this but not that.) It would be interesting to know other options with teaching children.

  3. And the thing with textbooks continues up to the college level. I have seen some appalling examples of Orientalism in French books over the years. Jonathan is looking at the same basic idea with Native Americans--and how are they portrayed in films, and popular culture?
    I like your organizational strategy. Let me know if I can help with anything.