One of the main aspects of today’s living is that people in Western countries most commonly form their opinions of those who profess different cultural/religious values, based on how these ‘others’ are being represented by the mainstream media.
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This situation, however, cannot be referred to as being fully normal, because the manner, in which media-products stereotype individuals that happened to be culturally and psychologically different from Westerners, implies the concerned people being somewhat less human. In its turn, this creates objective preconditions for the stereotyped people to be treated cruelly, without ordinary citizens raising any objections, because of that.
The validity of this suggestion can be well illustrated in regards to the documentary ‘Reel bad Arabs – How Hollywood vilifies a people’, in which Jack Shaheen elaborates on the specifics of how Hollywood movies contribute to the maintenance of Arabs’ image, as innately ‘wicked’ people, who represent the ‘curse of humanity’. In my paper, I will discuss the documentary’s main ideas, in this respect, and reflect on how they expose the very essence of stereotyping-technics, deployed by American movie-makers, in regards to Muslims, in general, and Arabs/Palestinians, in particular.
The foremost idea, promoted throughout the documentary’s entirety, is that ever since the early days of Hollywood, many Hollywood producers/directors used to make a deliberate point in dehumanizing Muslims/Arabs, as people that are innately alien to the very notion of a civilized living, “Arabs are the most maligned group in the history of Hollywood. They are portrayed basically as sub-humans” (00.00.19). In the documentary, Shaheen mentions the following discursive techniques (deployed in many Hollywood films) that are meant to delegitimize the Arabs in the eyes of viewers:
Stressing out the ‘immorality’ of Arabs
According to Shaheen, the common feature of Hollywood movies, in which Arab characters play more or less prominent roles, has always been the accentuation of these characters’ ‘moral repugnancy’. In its turn, this used to be accomplished by the mean of representing these characters as sex-obsessed individuals, thoroughly unaware of the notion of behavioral decency stands for, in the first place.
Hence, the stereotypical depiction of Arabs, as people strongly committed to the practice of polygamy. This also explains why Hollywood films commonly portray Arab characters, as individuals who never cease experiencing an irresistible urge to rape White women. Similarly, Jews used to be depicted in movies produced in Nazi Germany (Carr, 1985).
The dehumanizing effect of this cinematographic practice is quite apparent – while exposed to movies, which imply that there is indeed a link between the characters’ racial affiliation and their tendency to indulge in anti-social behavior, viewers grow comfortable with the notion of ‘natural born criminals’. This, of course, naturally results in endowing viewers with the assumption that the extent of just about anyone’s criminal-mindedness can be well measured about the specifics of his or her ethnic uniqueness.
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Emphasizing the lack of intellectual refinement, on the part of Muslims/Arabs
According to Shaheen, “Over and over, we see Arabs in movies portrayed as buffoons, whose only purpose being to deliver cheap laugh” (00.06.51). One can hardly disagree with Shaheen, in this respect. After all, Hollywood movies do tend to depict Arab characters, as not overly smart individuals, arrogant to the extent of being unable to take practical advantage of the ‘fruits of civilization’, introduced to them by Whites.
A good illustration of this statement’s validity can serve the famous scene from the 1981 film ‘Riders of the Lost Arc’, in which the character of Indiana Jones simply fires his handgun at the menacing-looking Arab, armed with a saber, instead of fighting him fairly – as if this ‘evil’ Arab was nothing but an annoying animal of some sort. This is also the reason why there is an undeniable tendency among Hollywood producers to depict Arab characters, as such that talk with a heavy accent – even if the characters in question are American native-born citizens.
One cannot help but conclude that this is being done to accentuate the Arabs’ presumed intellectual inferiority even further. It is needless to mention, of course, that the Hollywood movies’ subtle promotion of the idea that the intellectual abilities of Muslims/Arabs cannot even closely match those of Westerners, adds even further to upholding the socially constructed image of these people as ‘savages’, who should be kept in submission for their own sake.
Representing Arabs as ‘natural born terrorists’, regardless of what happened to be their age and gender
As if the earlier discussed techniques of how Arabs are being demonized in American movies were not enough, Hollywood directors never skip an opportunity to represent these people as bloodthirsty maniacs, whose foremost priority in life is inflicting terror upon Western ‘infidels’ (Mandel, 2001). For example, it would represent a practically impossible task to find even a single Hollywood film (concerned with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict), which contains hints, as to the Palestinian cause’s legitimacy.
Instead, Palestinians are being portrayed as religious fanatics, unable to even comprehend the notion of peaceful living. In its turn, this causes the members of Western viewing audiences to think that the genocidal policies, deployed by the Israelis in the Palestinian occupied territories, are indeed fully justified. While dehumanizing Muslims/Arabs, some Hollywood directors go as far as advocating the idea that there is nothing wrong with killing and crippling Muslim children. For example, there is a shot in the 2000 film ‘Rules of engagement’, which exposes viewers to the image of a legless 5-year-old Muslim girl making her way down the street on crutches. By the end of this film, viewers are shown the photo of the same girl (presumably taken earlier) pointing a gun at American soldiers.
After the attacks of 9/11, Hollywood directors began to exploit another dehumanizing myth about the Arabs – namely, the idea that it is in these people’s very nature to conspire against Americans. What is particularly notable about it is that the Arabs’ hostility towards Americans is represented as being of an essentially irrational nature. This, of course, provides Westerners with yet an additional reason to regard Muslims, in general, and the Arabs, in particular, as nothing short of hatred-driven criminals.
After having watched the earlier mentioned documentary, I became even more convinced that there is indeed a good rationale in referring to the manner, in which Hollywood movies depict Muslims/Arabs, as utterly dehumanizing. What is particularly ironic, is that the advocates of political correctness, who go as far as suggesting that the terms ‘woman’ and ‘men’ should no longer be used, due to their ‘sexual suggestiveness’ (and consequently ‘offensiveness’), turn a blind eye on the fact that, as time goes on, Hollywood movies continue to treat Arab characters, as if they were nothing short of animals. In its turn, this can be explained by the well-established fact that both: the hawks of political correctness and Hollywood’s most prominent producers are strongly affiliated with the Jewish lobby in this country (Fairclough, 2003).
This answers Shaheen’s rhetorical question, “Is there an unwritten code in Hollywood, saying ‘we cannot and will not humanize Palestinians (Muslims/Arabs)’?” (00.25.38) – judging from what we can see in Hollywood films that feature Arab characters, there is indeed such a ‘code’. Even though the very philosophy of American living is based upon the assumption of people’s equality, many Hollywood directors continue to exhibit their adherence to the Orwellian (paraphrased) idea that ‘all men are created equal but some are more equal than others’.
Therefore, it is fully explainable why American soldiers, stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan, are being periodically caught killing civilians just for the sake of it as if the latter were nothing but soulless shooting targets (Shahrani, 2005). This simply could not be otherwise – having been born in the country that endorses the production and distribution of despicably racist movies, meant to promote the idea of Muslim people’s lessened humanity, these soldiers could not help being endowed with the irrational hatred towards Muslims, ever since the time of their early-childhood.
This situation, of course, cannot be regarded as tolerable. It is either American policy-makers pass the law that would forbid Hollywood producers to dehumanize Muslims/Arabs, or they might as well abandon the currently enacted policy of multiculturalism, as such that is being inconsistent with the de facto state of racial affairs in this country. I believe that this conclusion fully correlates with the paper’s initial thesis.
Carr, W. (1985). Nazi policy towards the Jews. History Today, 35 (11), 1-8.
Fairclough, N. (2003). ‘Political correctness’: The politics of culture and language. Discourse & Society 14 (1), 17-28.
Mandel, D. (2001). Muslims on the silver screen. Middle East Quarterly, 8 (2), 19-30.
Shahrani, N. (2005). Squandering U.S. credibility in Afghanistan. Journal of Academic Studies, 7 (25), 103-107.
theTRUTHprincess. (2011). Reel bad Arabs – How Hollywood vilifies a people. Web.
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