Friday, February 12, 2016

Equality is a Two-Way Street

It's funny. I was looking forward to this week because of my connection to Asian and black culture. I was thinking of all the ways I could enlighten you "white folk" with my personal experiences and stories that would be relevant to the discussion.

However...

I got thinking about class, and how Professor Stein admitted feeling a little uncomfortable and unqualified about guiding a discussion on black culture (as a white man). The awkwardness was even more palpable among class members who were being careful not to say anything offensive or politically incorrect. Interesting points were made, however, and I wish we were able to get deeper into our discussion. 

Isn't any view on black culture or Orientalism relevant to the discussion, regardless of your opinions or personal experiences on the matter? Am I the only one who is entitled to this privilege because of the color of my skin? Have "PC Police" kept us from having real, progressive dialogue by over emphasizing the need to not offend anyone?



Someone made a comment in class about how black guys were quick to accuse her of being racist for saying no to their date requests, even though she's married. It got me thinking though, what if she wasn't married and still didn't say yes because she wasn't particularly attracted to them. Is that really racist? Don't we all have preferences when it comes to dating and companionship? Is a preference for blondes over brunettes any different than a preference for whites over blacks? Or Asians over Hispanics? Or women over men? 

In regards to pop culture, it it necessary to pull out the proverbial race card every time a minority doesn't win an award or isn't chosen to play a lead role? Is "guilting" our way to equality, truly equality?



I've been thinking about about progress and change, and how that ultimately happens. To be honest, I don't think true change can happen until everyone is part of the discussion. It also means that minorities need to secure enough to self-critique when necessary. It's always easier to criticize the other side than it is to take responsibility for your own role in an issue. Minorities have a responsibility to "own up" to their own faults and insecurities, and making sure the pendulum doesn't swing too far to the other side. 

Multiple projections show that by 2050, both the United States and Utah will be minority majority (which is the world my multi-racial son will grow up in). That's coming up pretty quick. What does this mean for those who are Caucasian? Will there be true equality by that time, or is the problem merely going to be flipped upside down? Will whites feel represented fairly in pop culture and media?



So what do you guys think? Do you feel like too much blame and responsibility has been unfairly placed on the old, white and male demographic for our inequality issues? What role do you think (racial, gender, sexual) minorities play in our fight for equality? Do you think minorities unintentionally stagnate or sabotage momentum by fighting stereotypes with more stereotypes?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

where did the people go

 The Legend of Korra was a big introduction in my world of someone of another culture, one that resembles the Inuits, is also a warrior woman (Dora might be the first big step...but I'm not including her in this), and is a main character. I guess since I know nothing about the Inuit culture, besides what I see on TV, I can't say if Korra shows any authentic resemblance.
In this animated show, it seems white people are a minority, most of the characters seem more Asian, Native American, and such. Since I first watched The Last Airbender, and I watch a lot of Asian and Bollywood movies/shows, seeing other races never wowed me. The fact that Korra was and is, one of the darkest skin colored characters on the show never got me thinking until now. Then there is a deeper thought on how all the lighter skinned characters, I don't know if I would classify them as 'white' all seem to live in an advanced technological world. Those of the Inuit like culture still live similarly to the primitive age. Is this showing a priceless culture tradition, or that being of a Native culture means being stuck in the past?
 With our recent readings in class I have discovered that there is no black representation in this bending shows. In most shows I can think of, there is either only a handful of black people, or the whole show is black. Never equal, but usually their is a white kid and a black kid paired as friends. But interracial couples are very rare. To me this shows producers just trying to make people happy by saying that since there is at least one person of color in their movie or show, then it is a well represented and happy film. So what would happen if media producers had their own way? Would politicians have people of different ethnicities stand behind them during their presentations in different states, would the rare occasion of dark on the white screen disappear, would anything change? 


 I will say over the past few years I have finally found women characters I like, that's rare for me. I've liked these women because they are athletic, strong, independent, still found ways to be feminine, and are not barbie dolls (ex, Disney Princesses). The first one that came to mind that I feel like has no sexuality to it, besides a nice little love story, is the movie The Croods. Eep is cave(woman) funny and seemed like a big step, to me, in the animation world of a strong woman with no other objectives. Do caveman count as a different ethnicity? 


Why Does the Black Guy Always Die First in a Horror Movie?

If you are interested in horror movies, you probably have heard the stereotype that the black guy dies first. In fact you have seen it over and over. I don't particularly like horror movies, but I am well aware of the trend in horror movies where the black guy gets killed.

This video illustrates the trend of black people being the first to die in a horror movie. WARNING IT IS GRAPHIC! These are horror movie clips, so if you are uncomfortable with blood, gore, or strong language, just know the black guy dies, and you don't have to watch it.



I recently watched an episode of the 1990's Goosebumps series, and there were three children as the main characters in the episode. My first question or guess was whether or not the black kid would die, because that's the trend with his adult counterpart. Apparently since he was a child, Goosebumps decided to keep him alive, because according to my friend kids never die in that show. He said adults will be killed, but children will not.

I wondered what black people thought of being depicted in this way, so I went to YouTube to see if I could find any reactions to the fact that black guys always die first. I found a lot of clips discussing the topic, and the discussions were very similar.

In all of the videos the person discussing it would talk about how black people would not actually be in that situation in real life. They said they would be smarter, and not actually do any of the things that they are seen doing in the films. I wanted to use a number of the clips, because they had very good points, but for the sake of avoiding complete vulgarity, I have chosen to use the video that did not use the F-word extensively.

My question is why do we accept this as a norm? There isn't a rule set out anywhere that says the black person always has to die. Why do we kill the black person first, and what does that say about our outlook on black people, as well as other minorities?

War and the perception of truth


Hollywood’s interpretation of war has predominately come in two forms; either it portrays the war and its cause as noble or it tries to show how wrong it was and point out that men lost their lives for nothing. Each of these ideas tend to be tied to two very distinct wars in American history. The idea of a noble cause and it was worth the lives it cost is usually the perspective that is used in movies about World War II and the idea that the war was wrong and men lost their lives for a lost cause is usually tied to the Vietnam war. Ironically enough, these ideas are tied to a war we consider a victory and a war that we did not finish and therefore consider a loss.  

                I think that these specific notions are tied to each war for a number of reasons. We as a society consider World War II a noble and heroic cause because we were attacked and later we discovered how cruel and sadistic the Nazi regime was. It also helps a lot that we won the war, so I think that Hollywood wants to highlight these ideas to help justify and sensationalize what happen in World War II. I mean just look at the movies like Saving Private Ryan. Here you have an idea that the lives of six men are worth saving one man just to get him home to his mother because she has lost all of her other sons except for him. This is a romantic notion that helps the masses tie value to the destruction and chaos of war.


                The Vietnam War is a very different story in the world of Hollywood. This was a very unpopular war with the American public in the 60s and had many protests. I think that because we were not attacked ourselves and we never declared a state of emergency (or war) on Vietnam, and the fact that the draft was utilized again for a cause that the public did not understand caused a lot of discontent. These are all things that contributed to the fact that we never finished what we started in Vietnam, so we consider this a loss. This is where Hollywood steps in and continues to paint the war in Vietnam in a negative light and try to pain the picture that men lost their lives for nothing. Even in the movie “We Were Soldiers” tells a story of honor and brotherhood, it is still painted in a negative light because it is about the war in Vietnam.

                I think that these examples show how the concept of the ‘regime of truth’ that Michel Foucault presents works in our society. You look at movies like Rambo or Platoon, they are not historically accurate, but because that is what Hollywood has presented that is what the masses think of when Vietnam is mentioned. The media has such power to mold and sway public perception especially that of a War.
                I find this to be fascinating because one of the biggest arguments against the Vietnam War is that innocent people were being killed by Soldiers. This is ironic because we dropped two atomic bombs on japan killing thousands of innocent people during World War II and even put Japanese Americans in our own forms of concentration camps, but those seem to be after thoughts. I think that this is because when we understand a cause, we are more willing to justify wrong doings, but when we don’t agree or understand the cause we will protest these awful actions. Being in the Army myself, I tend to watch war movies with a grain of salt, but I do find it amazing how inaccurate things can be portrayed and no one expect those who have experience in the military notice.
I also find that due to my profession I have a better understanding of what War is and why certain decisions are made. Unfortunately, a lot of people do not understand that War is horrible and awful and that will never change.
 That certain decisions that are made in life or death circumstances will never make sense to someone that has never been in those circumstances. That is why we have a military to protect the average citizens from ever having to experience the atrocities of War.  This in my opinion is the ‘regime of truth’ at work, it doesn’t matter what the truth is, it matters what the perception of truth is. Popular Culture and the media help shape that perception of truth.
Discussion Points:
How does the media create perceptions within society?
Why do you think the masses put so much trust and validity in the context in which the media portrays events?

A Critique of Orientalism through the lens of Ratatouille


Image result for ratatouille

In the text The Orientalization of Disney’s Cartoon Heroines From The Little Mermaid to The Hunchback of  Nortre Dame, Celeste Lacroix talks about the Disney heroines and their inferior orientation in contrast to the leading Male characters. In the article Smoodin (1994) it explains that

“Disney’s pretense to innocence is shattered under the weight of a promotional culture predicated on the virtues of fun, innocence, and most importantly consumption.”


This rhetoric is both materially and metaphorically consumed. This consumption creates a culture in which we as viewers feed into.  Lacroix feels these messages promote conservative ideas though I feel that Disney has now diverged from such notions. Where the movies of the past decade promoted inferior ideas of women, I feel the movies of today are far more feminist.  I first noticed this when I watched the movie Ratatouille.  For those of you not familiar with the film, the story mainly consists of a rats desire to enter the kitchen as a chef and society’s view on such creatures.  In traditional Orientalism the rat would never had made it to the kitchen.  In fact I think the story would have been more like this.. A chef is struggling to make a living; rats are infesting his restaurant and cooking bad food.  In the end the Chef relocates the infestation and creates amazing dishes once again. The Male chef is the hero but unfortunately Ratatouille is not. 

In Ratatouille the Strong successful white collar male is actually the villain.  In fact it is a lowly male chef and a rat that succeed in the end.  It is for this reason the film intrigued me.  I felt it not only elevated the supporting female character to a higher level, it got us thinking about things that are not quite the norm, if a rodent could cook in the kitchen?  Then why not a women/gay/lesbian/transgender do the same?   Lacroix argues that Disney is shaping the minds of our children and I agree. They are touching on wider spectrum than just conservatism. 

What themes have you recently seen in Disney stories?

Do you feel Disney has a right to send messages of sustainability, feminism, etc?


Kung Fu Stereotyping: How Hollywood Portrays Asians in the Martial Arts Context

Much of my childhood revolved around the martial arts.  What started as a love for television series such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers eventually led to intensive training and a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo.  Through it all, I developed a fascination with martial arts in film, ranging from 3 Ninjas to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (and, I admit, these movies have stayed with me through the years longer than my actual training).  However, until recently, I never realized the stereotypical representations potentially at play in these films, specifically how Asian men and women are portrayed within the martial arts context.

According to Edward Said (as quoted by John Storey), "Orientalism can be discussed and analysed as the corporate institution of dealing with the Orient - dealing with it by making statements about it, authorising 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 (ibid.)" (Storey, p. 172).  Given what I have seen in just a handful of films in which martial arts greatly contributes to the story line, Hollywood appears to make Said's point by frequently creating Asian characters, going as far back as the Bruce Lee era, that fit one prevailing (and highly profitable) stereotype:

Asians really know how to fight!

asian bruce lee muscles flexing

Whether this stereotype of characterization is deserved or misleading, or even just an extension of Asian filmmaking, its recurrence pervades U.S. cinema and suggests a long-standing corporate intent to manage and market the "Asian image" through this homogenizing lens.  By my own estimate, setting aside the Bruce Lees of the world, characters within this stereotyping often assume one of four narrative roles:

(1) THE MENTOR

(Note: Explicit language.)

In this narrative role, a wise, caring, mysterious, and lethally trained individual guides his or her pupil in the ways of [insert form of martial arts here], culminating in the pupil overcoming seemingly impossible odds or adversaries.

(2) THE SIDEKICK


This narrative role, perhaps the most subservient of the four, places a highly trained and generally competent individual at the loyal service of the main protagonist (or antagonist, in some instances) who, without such aid, would undoubtedly lose or fail.

(3) THE VILLAIN


In this narrative role, a nefarious, shadowy, and violently trained individual seeks to accomplish his or her vile scheme whilst being constantly obstructed by the story's hero(es), who may or may not be trained in [insert form of martial arts here].

(4) THE PARTNER

(NOTE: Explicit language.)
       
This narrative role is probably the most deceptive and culturally detrimental of the four (as the above clip depicts). On the surface, this role sees an effectively trained individual paired with an arguably incompetent or down-on-his-luck American (no European examples, to the best of my recollection).  However, despite the appearance of greater ability or integrity on the part of the Asian counterpart, or even when it appears that the duo is an equal partnership, an attitude of superiority (what Said might term an imperialist mindset) seems to occupy the American counterpart, which affects his communication toward and treatment of his partner.

Crafted around any of these four roles, the stereotype of Asians in the martial arts context reinforces, in my opinion, an Orientalist form of cinematic storytelling that does not accurately reflect the rich diversity of Asian culture.  It places Asian characters more or less in supporting roles that subject them to and drive the plot or narrative for the central protagonists.  As entertaining and memorable as these stereotypical characters may be, they generally serve to spotlight, and even act as foils to, the other (more hegemonic) characters.


QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION: 

To what extent do you think this form of Asian stereotyping exists?

How does this stereotype help or hurt the Asian image?

Consider a case study involving the Rush Hour trilogy, in which Jackie Chan plays "the partner." Based on the following scenes, to what extent is the Jackie Chan/Chris Tucker partnership equal?  To what extent (if any) does Chris Tucker's character manifest an attitude of superiority? (NOTE: Explicit language.)

Scene 1 (Rush Hour)


Scene 2 (Rush Hour


Scene 3 (Rush Hour)


Scene 4 (Rush Hour 2)


Scene 5 (Rush Hour 2)


Scene 6 (Rush Hour 3)


Scene 7 (Rush Hour 3)







Edward Said and Reel Stereotypes

I've always believed that stereotypes exist for a reason. Whether good or bad, right or wrong, inclusive and exclusive, there is a driving force behind every stereotype. How we interpret those stereotypes can significantly impact our existence. Watching Said, and listening to opinions on Arabs made me think about my own experiences in the Middle East and with Middle Eastern Culture.

I think stereotypes develop because of history, and our own personal experiences.


On the left is our friend Aladdin along with his friend Abu. They live somewhere in the Middle East. On the right is me and my new friend I made in a Middle Eastern Country. Our friend Al is a complete stereotype, but as evidenced by my Arab Market experience, he is deeply rooted in experience. The Disney team behind Aladdin was not there with me and the monkey, but it is a safe bet that I am not the first person to have a monkey jump on their back in the Middle East. 

Aladdin is a peaceful Arabic stereotype and as the videos stated, many Arab caricatures are rooted in violence and malevolence. I can agree that much of it is based in stereotype. I can't say I agree that all of it is disrespectful. In fact some of it is based in experience and respect. 


Once again on the left we have Middle Eastern culture portrayed in Pop Culture. The game that John Rambo is playing is called Buzkashi. It is the official sport of Afghanistan. In Persian Culture, a skilled rider should have the strength and agility to swoop a calf or goat from the ground at a full gallop. The sport has been played in Persian culture for literally thousands of years, except for a period of time in the late 90's through the late 2000's when the Taliban banned the sport in Afghanistan. The photo on the right is from a game of Buzkashi played on April 7th 2011 in the Afghan Province of Panjshir. I know this, because I was there and I took the photo. I watched and observed skilled Afghan riders carrying the carcass of a calf at a full gallop across a field of battle as an act of defiance to the Taliban.

The portrayal of John Rambo playing Buzkashi with Mujahhadeen Warriors in Afghanistan is completely accurate and fitting of the era in which Rambo was shedding blood. Mujahhadeen fighters spent much of the 80's fighting Soviet Occupiers and during the film, Rambo was assisting them. Buzkashi would have been a respected sport in that culture. 

Now with that being said, some portrayal of Arabic culture is very disrespectful. 


But so is any caricature. I bet I can find a female lawyer who might have a problem with a stereotype that is purely American. However that doesn't mean the stereotype is completely wrong. Stereotypes exist for a reason. 


Orienting does exist, because we are different. There is a difference in culture between Western countries and Arabic countries. How we portray that is not always accurate. Sometimes purposely it is offensive. Other times it is respectful. Sometimes it is painfully accurate. 
Lone Survivor

As a combat veteran I had a very hard time watching Lone Survivor. The movie was based on real events and the portrayal of Afghanistan was painfully accurate. I had issues for weeks following that movie. Not because it was offensive, but because it was very close to home. I have not been in the shoes of the SEAL team portrayed in the film, but I have experienced the same war. I have seen the bad things that the movie demonstrates and they are very very real. With that said, I know why the violent stereotype exists. Because there is experience with that, and it tells a good story. 

That stereotype is not always true either though. I just finished a blurb about Afghan men who tried to kill me, I have also met Afghan men who I consider true friends. Afghan men who are not violent and want peace. 

The man to my left, in the center of this photo, was born in Afghanistan. His entire life has been consumed by war. He literally fled Afghanistan for his life. Naturally, if we are to believe what we know then we would think that he is a violent individual. Nothing could be further from the truth. He is a thoughtful, compassionate and caring soul. If we placed the very real stereotype of Afghans being violent on him, it would not fit. That doesn't mean the stereotype doesn't have some validity though.

 I have been fortunate enough in my life to be able to witness both sides of the coin. Orientalism exists as a method for us to comprehend what we have seen that is different than from what we know. With Eastern Cultures that difference is vast and that fuels stereotypes. Stereotypes that are very real. They exist for a reason and the onus is on us to decide for ourselves to believe them. 

Have you ever labeled anything, or anyone whether intentionally or not with a stereotype just because of how you portrayed it? 

How many times have you been somewhere or saw something that felt familiar because of how you saw it portrayed in pop culture? 

Race and Corporations

          After reading Lacroix's article on Disney, it made me wonder about the year that Disney first released it's movie, The Princess and the Frog, featuring it's first black princess. Surprisingly, this was very recent - 2009. While most people know the story of The Frog Princess from their childhood (see below) Disney chose to put a different spin on the story. 
                                                   
The original book cover of The Princess and the Frog

          In Disney's version, we meet Tiana, a chambermaid for a white family. This movie is set in the 1920's, so the portrayal of roles in this time period could be considered factual, I suppose. Do you think that people should take offense to the roles of the characters played in the film based on their race?* View the opening video below and see what you think of it's portrayal of people living in New Orleans in the 20's. 



         
          There are several things that stick out to me. Each person that Tiana comes across until 1:14 is black. The first white person you see is one getting swindled by the black voodoo villain. Then, the second ones you see are the rich white people in the luxury car. After the white man (we later learn he is called "Big Daddy") buys a newspaper, you see that the front cover of the paper is announcing the arrival of Prince Naveen of Maldonia (fictional country), who is a foreign visitor of a different ethnicity. After some digging, I discovered that Naveen is an Indian word that means "new". Disney was later criticized for making the prince non-white in order to avoid backlash of a portrayal of a mixed-race relationship. Do you think that companies can be criticized no matter what they do because their actions, in some way, can be taken offensively?*

         Finally, the one line of that video that struck me as the strangest was the line that sings "rich, people, poor people" and switches from the rich, white people in the luxury car to the Tiana waiting tables outside of a diner. It is probably the most obvious racial stereotype during the opening. Do you think that Disney did this intentionally?* Do you think we find these types of taboo or politically incorrect nuances only when we are looking for them?*

          I think that most of the population can agree that Disney has played on stereotypes in the past, but I am not sure I agree with Giroux when she says that these movies have "exceeded the boundaries of entertainment" and instead have become "teaching machines." (p. 214) I am not sure that children have the cognitive ability (or attempt to have the ability) to look for lessons in the films. I remember when I was a child that it was just a story. However, I do understand that children are also little sponges that learn even when they don't know they are learning. I am not going to claim to know the answer to this, but I do think that a more devious emphasis is put upon these films when it is not necessary. In fact, before Frozen was released, Disney hadn't had a white princess since 1991 (I learned this from an episode of 30 Rock centered around women vs black men):


Do you think that corporations such as Disney are strategic about socially sensitive topics? Or do you think they are truly in it for entertainment only?*

*Questions within post

A World Without Othering?




Saed says, “In order for the US to have a true understanding of the Middle East, or the Orient, the binary oppositions, perceived power of the West over the Orient, and ‘Othering’ constructed by Orientalism need to be erased.”  Said’s final message in his interview addresses learning how to coexist peacefully with people who are different from one another with regard to race, religion, and culture.  He said it is one of the biggest challenges facing not only the US, but the world as well.  Unless we as a people learn how to coexist and accept other peoples’ differences, violence across nations, cultures, and religions will only continue.

Islamic terrorists have been featured in TV shows including “24” and “Homeland” and in the film “Syriana,” and the lives of Muslims have been explored on the big screen in “The Kite Runner,” Three Kings,” “Kingdom of Heaven” and many other films. Some say Hollywood has been playing it far too safe in its portrayals. Some critics of Islam condemn Hollywood for not going far enough, others say the industry has a long way to go if it wants to portray them accurately, saying it routinely stereotypes Muslims as bombers, belly dancers and bad billionaires.

The Writers Guild of America has tried to address the topic with advice articles on its website, pointing out that Muslim “culture is rich, fascinating and had much more of a positive impact” than some would have you believe. An article entitled “Writing Islam Right” quips, “If you want to write a convincing Muslim character, spend a little more time fleshing out the ‘character’ and a little less time fixating on the ‘Muslim.’”
 

 

Image result for beautiful muslim man


With all that being said:



Can we live in a world without othering? 


In writing, there is a very important literary device used called a foil. A foil is a character who contrasts with another character (usually the protagonist) in order to highlight particular qualities of the other character. In some cases, a subplot can be used as a foil to the main plot. The word foil comes from the old practice of backing gems with foil in order to make them shine more brightly. This literary device is very important in creating a good story. I can’t think of a story that is good without opposition and I can't imagine my life being good without it either. If our fiction ( primarily pop culture) has such a strong effect on an audience’s perspective and psyche, like we have been discussing in class, then is the foil, or othering, something that will or should ever go away?

Here are some questions, and I’m sorry there are a lot: Is othering simply a given? Is it a built in part of human nature and human behavior? Can society exist without someone(s) being strong and someone(s) being weak? Can there be a world without oppositions? And if so, what steps would we have to take in order to make this so?