Mirror Essay: Who lives in the Middle East???

Matthew Atiyeh


Popular Culture

Daneen Bergland



What do you see?



Popular culture has effected how people think of their own identities in many ways. Music, TV, Movies, even books have developed stereotypes around many of our identities, from African-American teenager to female college student. Today I am going to be talking about how my identity as a Syrian-Arab is portrayed throughout popular culture.

Middle Eastern stereotypes are shown in many different forms of popular culture. Usually these stereotypes are shown in a form of comedy, leading people to think they do not have a negative impact on society because “it is all in good fun”. However these stereotypes can negatively affect the way that consumers of pop culture view people from the Middle East. The first piece of pop culture that I want to share with you is a Coco Cola commercial (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgUbmoWX7KU) that aired during the 2013 super bowl. In this commercial we see four different groups racing towards a Coca-Cola. In the commercial we have a group of females racing in a big bus, a group of men riding horses whom also have guns, and another group of men riding in cars and motorcycles, and then we have a Arab man dressed in stereotypical Islamic attire riding a camel.

There are few different reasons why I believe that this commercial shows Arabs in a negative way, the first and in my opinion the most serious is that it shows Arabs behind the rest of the world. It does this in a few different ways, firstly the Arabic man is completely lacking in resources and technology compared to the other groups. The Arab man is a one-man army with nothing but a camel while the other groups have fast vehicles one group even has guns. I think that this sends a negative image about Arabs to the commercial viewers; I feel that it shows the Middle East behind the rest of the world in technology and recourses, and it brings out the age old stereotype of Arabs being “camel jockeys”.

The Arab man in the video really does not even stand a chance in this race against the other groups, pay attention to section 0.23 of the attached video. While all the other groups are flying passed him, the Arab man is shown struggling to move his camel. I feel that this is really symbolic in a way of trying to say that the Middle East has fallen behind compared to the rest of the world. Another thing that I found interesting, as well as possibly insulting, was the second part of the commercial (1.13). In this scene the groups finally make it to the real coke. However where is the Arab man? All of the other groups made it to their final destination, however the Arab man was left in the dust, or sand.

Another thing that I found interesting was the possibility that the Coco-Cola company new exactly what they were doing by introducing a Middle Eastern man into this commercial, and it was all a marketing tactic. This commercial made national news, because it was found offensive by so many Arab-Americans. However all publicity is good publicity. While I found the commercial stereotypical, it still made me want a can of coke after watching it. The simple fact that this commercial was seen as racist and stereotypical gave it the opportunity to be seen by many more people. This could have been what Coca-Cola’s marketing team was hoping for from the beginning.

One of the biggest stereotypes surrounding Arabs and the Middle East as a whole is that Arabs are terrorist. This common stereotype has gotten so bad that anytime people hear about the Middle East or Arabic people they atomically think of terrorist and visa-versa. Anytime a person hears about a terrorist or terrorism they think of Arabic people and the Middle East.

There are many pieces of popular culture that I could show as an example, the news, different movies, TV shows; these stereotypes are shown in popular culture all the time. The one that I have chosen to analyze and show to you as an example is a scene from the movie “Get Smart” starring Steve Carell, and Anne Hathaway. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmMJppqj394) In this scene Anne and Steve are both on a plane, Anne turns around and sees a very large dark-skinned man, Dalip Singh, who was born in India, enter the plane. Dalip’s character is wearing a traditional Middle Eastern man’s Galabiyya, as well as a turban headwear. When Anne sees the man she immediately profiles the man and becomes very frightened and assumes that the man is an assassin. Steve then turns around sees the man and says “Oh wow, that is a bad guy”.

If that is not racial stereotyping than I do not know what it. This is a perfect example of how racial stereotypes are often overlooked in popular culture because they are in a comedy setting and “it is all in good fun”. However media such as this has a very negative effect on Arabic people, especially Arab-Americans living in the United States. Media like this puts a negative image in viewers mind causing them to associate terrorism or assassins with Arabs, or even people just dressed in a certain way. When stereotypes shown in are shown in Media it can cause people to profile certain people based off of what they have seen in pop culture without them even realizing it.

Another reason why I chose this particular example is because the characters happen to be on a airplane. Stereotypes revolving around Arabic people and the Middle East got drastically worsened after the events on September 11th. After 9/11 some people even admit to feeling a little uneasy and nervous when they see a Arabic person on a airplane or at the airport. For this movie to bring out an already serious stereotype, and make it even worse with them being on a plane is even more insulting, but also more harmful to society.

Another harmful stereotype associated with the Middle East and Arabic people is, the Arab Sheik. A Sheik is originally a term to define an Arab leader or head of Arabic tribe, family, or village. However it is turned into a term to define any rich Arab and now is usually associated with wealth from oil. Many people seem to think that the countries in the Middle East all are rich with oil wealth and that many Arab-Americans living in the United States are all rich from money that their families have made from oil in the Middle East.

A good example of how this is shown in popular culture is the song by Busta Rhyme “Arab Money” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcuAw77J8_Y) . This song is about a rapper who claims to have so much money he is comparing himself to a Arab man who made money off of oil, he even calls himself a Sheik “I got Middle East women and Middle East bread I got oil well money, in the desert playing golf, Go chase short stack Sheik with a Louis scarf.” Even though being called rich isn’t exactly a negative stereotype it can still negative impacts on people from the Middle East. Any presumptions of people have the possibility to be harmful; whether they are that you are a Sheik or a terrorist.

Stereotypes have always been a problem, and lately with new and exciting means of popular culture growing in popularity it seems to only be getting worse. We all have our own identifies, and it is us to define that identity for ourselves, it is up to us to decide how that identity is going to be looked at by the rest of the world. It should not be up to any means of popular culture to decide for us.




Work Cited



“Arabface! – The History of Racist Arab Stereotypes.” Arabface! – The History of Racist Arab Stereotypes. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2015.




Arab Money; Busta Rhyme (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bcuAw77J8_Y) .




Coco Cola Commercial ((https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgUbmoWX7KU)



Get Smart Scene ( (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KmMJppqj394)



“Reclaiming Identity: Dismantling Arab Stereotypes | Homepage.”Reclaiming Identity: Dismantling Arab Stereotypes | Homepage. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Mar. 2015.









One thought on “Mirror Essay: Who lives in the Middle East???

  1. Matthew,
    Being Arab myself, I can see how these stereotypes are very consistent in popular culture. It seems like it is all fun and jokes until people start believing what they see and hear in the media and gain a skewed perception of Arabs. I enjoyed reading your interpretation of the Coca-Cola commercial. I think even with the type of music they played at first when they introduce the Arab man on the camel displays how American society views Arabs as being very behind the rest of the world. The fear of Arabs phenomenon definitely has a lot to do with the incidents that happened on 9/11. Now there are countless stereotypes that all Arabs are terrorists, and people even joke around about it, when in reality there is nothing funny about it. As far as the song, Arab Money, goes, I have always loved that song but from the first time I heard it I knew that by listening to it I was contributing to the stereotypes of my own ethnicity but it is hard not to enjoy it because it is such a catchy song! In creating this song and making it catchy, it becomes easier for people to grasp the message of the song, therefore it becomes easier to gain a skewed perception of Arabs.

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