LOOKING IN THE POPULAR CULTURE MIRROR: I AM MIDDLE EASTERN/AMERICAN
By: Jasmine Carter-Sadek
I am Middle Eastern/American, and my identity as this comes into play with every decision I make in my daily life. Often times I find myself torn, where I have to choose between my beliefs on my American side and the beliefs and values I have in my Middle Eastern culture. Society through pop culture does not make it easy for someone to identify himself or herself as Middle Eastern/American, but essentially forces you to believe that you are one or the other. I am constantly forced with the question:
Do I go this way or do I go that way?
Sometimes I feel like a double-sided coin rolling down a hill and in the end when I come to fall, where will I stand? Who will I be? Or is essentially having multiple identities a single identity?
The media is powerful, and has the capability to insinuate ideas, beliefs and values. Through strategic tactics the media is implanting and manipulating the minds of people. Throughout different types of media this is introduced both subtly and deviously. Persons of a Middle Eastern identity are stereotypically portrayed in pop culture and in many different forms. I focus on films, TV shows, and commercial ads.
These artifacts are here proving to me that the media is wrong on the different generalizations they reinforce on Middle Easterners. These artifacts remind me to take a look at whom I really am and the part of myself that can’t and won’t be denied.
MIDDLE EASTENERS IN POPULAR CULTURE: FILM
Through film, filmmakers are able to tell you a story; they are able to draw you in mentally by toying and provoking your thoughts and emotions. Films are very powerful and affective when it comes to prevailing a message. This is simply due to the mass audiences that go to see these films. Films are able to manipulate the audience into believing what they put on the screen is essentially right or true. Persons of a Middle Eastern identity are portrayed stereotypically through film in many ways. Society has created stereotypes portraying them as the “outsiders” or “enemies”. Through the media these stereotypes are continuingly reinforced. As a person from a multicultural background I look at these stereotypes from both points of views: from an American cultural perspective and a Middle Eastern cultural perspective. The way the media portrays middle easterners, generalizing them into labels such as a terrorist or the enemy is not the way I view all middle easterners and our culture. This is because I have first hand experience with my culture and its rich history of courtesy. In the end I find myself torn between which sides I really abide too.
The film titled American Sniper is a documentary film of the life of the United States Navy SEAL, Chris Kyle. This is a film directed by Clint Eastwood and is based on a book titled American Sniper written by Navy SEAL Chris Kyle himself. Chris Kyle was the most successful sniper in American military history having 160 confirmed Kills, and 255 claimed kills during his six-year military career. The film American Sniper convinces viewers that Chris Kyle is what heroism looks like. This film also portrays the general racialization that all middle easterners are the enemy. This portrayal takes place especially in the opening scene where Chris Kyle is conflicted between shooting a woman and her son due to a suspicious object. Chris Kyle described Iraqis as “Savages, and despicably evil” or using terms such as “Rag Heads”. This war film brought up a lot of controversy in the media. There were two perspectives I analyzed with both being the question of: Is the American Sniper, Chris Kyle a hero or not?
An article titled “Chris Kyle — a True American Hero.” written by Elise Cooper in the American Thinker Newspaper is written in a perspective that glorifies and hales Chris Kyle to be a true American hero, hence the title. The author of this article emphasizes that sniper Chris Kyle was sent out to do a job, and that his different job experiences ended up making him a warrior-hero. By serving ones country and sharing his story on the postpartum mental effects of war in his autobiography he impacted the lives of many people in the United Nations.
Another Newspaper article titled “The Real American Sniper Was a Hate-filled Killer. Why Are Simplistic Patriots Treating Him as a Hero?” written by Lindy West depicts Chris Kyle and this film in a negative light. Stating that this is not what America should be portraying a true American hero is. Instead this article portrays Chris Kyle as the enemy, who is being glorified for unethical reasons. The portrayal of people of the Middle East in such a stereotypical way has led to where people are now lashing out on social media attacking and generalizing even a whole religion, for the insinuated ideas they interpreted from this film. The below image is of multiple tweets regarding the film:
Analyzing these two main perspectives is where my multicultural identity comes into conflict within itself. I am American but I am also Middle Eastern. I was born an American and was raised with the American culture background but also raised practicing my Middle Eastern culture. When watching this film, I was in conflict of the same question; Is Chris Kyle a true hero or not? Is this representation of people of the Middle East true or not? My American side would tell me that yes he is a hero; he is soldier risking his life serving and protecting our country for my freedom. Then my Middle Eastern side challenges these thoughts on the way they portray people of the Middle East. I do not believe that the representation this film portrays; that all people in the Middle East are the enemy’s, is true. In American popular culture Middle Easterners are represented in a negative light, so as an American do I fear my other identity and call them terrorist? Since this idea is what most Americans are subjected to in the media? When all I have ever known from that side is generosity and compassion? In one culture Chris Kyle is a hero and in another he is a Villain, and if I side with either culture I am either an outsider or one in the same.
MIDDLE EASTENERS IN POPULAR CULTURE: TV SHOW
Middle Easterners are stereotypically portrayed in media not only in one hit films, but also in on going TV shows. I analyzed a T.V show series titled Homeland that was developed by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa. This show is for an American political thriller loving audience. This being a television series it is meant to entertain, but the propaganda embedded in it also brings out political messages.
Analyzing this show I had caught on to the nonchalant racism that manipulates the viewer into believing in typical Middle Eastern stereotypes. This show has a creative way of linking different stereotypes to form one big generalized conception. For example through portrayal of race, prayer, and violence this series connects Middle Eastern to Islam to terrorism. This is what is creating the generalizing effect. This is affecting ordinary people in real life, where if a person identifies as Middle Eastern they are often categorized as “terrorists”. These labels lead to real life consequences. One example being; Homeland had used the name of the former Pakistanian Ambassador, Hassaim Haqqani, as the same name as the terrorist they are trying to track down. Now potentially when people see and think of the Pakistanian ambassador they could generalize that he is also a terrorist, and that Pakistani people who follow under this ambassador are terrorist.
Certain characters in this show and their background story position also incorporate ideas to which people with a Middle Eastern cultural background pose as a threat to Americans.
A character in this show is a man named Nicholas Brody who is a white marine hero who converts to the religion of Islam. When Brody’s wife had found out about Body’s conversion she says, “ Nicholas had it all, white, a hero, a family man, but he threw it all away by becoming a Muslim.” This direct quote in the show from Brody’s wife is in my opinion Islmaphobic. The quote also reinforces the audience of the typical true identity of an American stereotype. Through Brody’s character I had drawn the conclusion that a white man that is Muslim is more acceptable to society than a Middle Eastern, darker skinned Muslim. Although they portray Brody as being more “acceptable” to society, him being Muslim is still seen as a threat but is just portrayed more sympathetically throughout the show.
In season two of this television series was a stereotyped “infiltrating Muslim” character named Roya Hamad. She was stereotyped this way due to her superstitious power and access to acquire information through the government. Roya is a well-educated television reporter from Oxford University. Roya is working with Brody for the Muslim terrorist leader. In my opinion the presence of the character Roya Hamad was to implant the idea that no matter how well integrated and accustomed to the American culture the Middle Easterners or Muslims (Since homeland uses them as interchangeable terms) and their culture are always going to be a hidden threat.
I have noticed that in some scenes of this show the cinematography, lighting and camera angle is a big manipulation tool. When a middle easterner is in front of the camera the lighting tends to be dimmed and darker than usual. The camera angle is usually pointed down at the Middle Easterner as if the white all American government official is taller or essentially of power looking down on them.
A blog post titled “Arabian Street Artists” Bomb Homeland: Why We Hacked An Award- Winning Series.” Written by Heba Y. Amin discussed the outbreak of a graffiti artist on the set of Homeland. The artist incorporated graffiti written in Arabic stating, “Homeland is racist “ on the wall of one of the set scenes. These graffiti artists were hired by the Homeland producers to add authenticity to their set scenes in the second episode of the 5th season. The art they had portrayed was something Homeland was not expecting. Some of the graffiti was labeled “Homeland is Racist” “Homeland is not a series” “Homeland is a watermelon”. The directors did not catch this and filmed their scene anyway to later find out. This blog post depicts why these graffiti artists did what they did and provides many pictures of the different messages they had put out there. This blog post extended my own ideas on what Homeland’s political message is to its viewer and the different inaccurate and bigoted portrayals it has on Muslims and people in the Middle East. The directors of Homeland being unaware of the graffiti that read, “Homeland is racist” in their scenes has prevailed to me that “The truth always comes out”.
Below are photos of the graffiti:
MIDDLE EASTERNERS IN POPULAR CULTURE: COMMERCIAL
This is a Coca-Cola Commercial titled “America the Beautiful” that aired during the 2014 Super bowl. Its purpose was to send out a positive message showing people of all different backgrounds and multicultural identities together enjoying the same product.
This commercial includes a belief that needs to be reinforced more often in media. This is one of the few positive messages I have seen in advertising that promotes unity with different cultures here in America. Some people might have taken this commercial for the positive message it was intended to give but others took it in a negative direction. There had been a lot of controversy on this commercial. After watching the commercial, could you guess why? Take a look at these Facebook comments, and tweets. Now can you guess why?
People had displayed that it is offending Americans due to portrayals of a Muslim women wearing the traditional headscarf or “Hijab” and the big one, “America the Beautiful” being sung by bilingual Americans in seven different languages: English, Spanish, Keres, Tagalog, Hindi, Senegalese French and Hebrew.
A YouTube video had brought this controversy to my attention.
This video is of an analysis review of the Coca-Cola ad “America the Beautiful” Super Bowl commercial titled “Coke’s Superbowl Ad Drives Right Wing Racists INSANE” by the TYT University YouTube channel called the “Common Room”. This video has 4 people; two males and two females who are discussing the dilemma that America had on the Coca-Cola commercial. They discuss how this ad had been depicted and analyzed in media by the number one factor being; the song “America the Beautiful” was sung in another language other then English. Immediately in this YouTube talk review one woman had said the “problem” with the commercial was “Muslims” which I had found provocative. After watching this I had noticed that I don’t typically see woman in the traditional Muslim headscarf the “Hijab” in ads by companies who are trying to sell their product.
Coca-Cola linked a positive advertising technique that touched me emotionally which is my opinion is a strong tactic in selling their product. This commercial featured happiness and pure joy with smiles and laughter while also being surrounded by loved ones and enjoying a refreshing coke. This commercial is one that I think represented people of different multicultural identities in a positive light. The bright colors and different sceneries set the positive tone and mood of this commercial. By having everyone enjoying the same thing, the refreshing coke, and the “America the Beautiful” song sung in different languages is what made the connection and brought the cultures all together.
SIGNIFICANT LEARNING MOMENTS
There had been many significant learning moments throughout this term but there was one moment that has really help shape the way I think, and has really enhanced my critical think skills. During week 3 and 4 of this course we discussed first the history of adverting and the influence of advertising. While using the steps of the “Deconstructing A Advertisement” model, I was able to further look into the meaning of advertisements and I have applied these rules when analyzing the Coca -Cola ad in my big picture blog post. I also have been applying these techniques to other classes such as my sociology class. After being introduced to the book Ways of Seeing by John Berger, I was blown away but how much I had learned, and how I had never thought of how to look at certain pieces of artwork or advertisements the way it assists you too.
Another significant learning moment would be this big picture blog project. I was able to chose an identity of mine and really go into depth and see how it is portrayed in popular culture. By doing this I got to ask myself questions I had never had been asked before, and learned a lot more about who I am and how the news, media, anything in pop culture affects me.
TYT University YouTube Channel. “Common Room” “Coke’s Superbowl Ad Drives Right Wing Racists INSANE”, 8 Feb. 2014. Web. <https://youtu.be/S5oRAF00RHA>.
Amin, Heba Y. ““Arabian Street Artists” Bomb Homeland: Why We Hacked An Award- Winning Series.” Web log post. HebYAmin. N.p., 14 Oct. 2015. Web.
Cooper, Elise. “Chris Kyle — a True American Hero.” American Thinker 27 Jan. 2015: n. pag. Web.
West, Lindy. “The Real American Sniper Was a Hate-filled Killer. Why Are Simplistic Patriots Treating Him as a Hero?” N.p., n.d. Web.
American Sniper. Dir. Clint Eastwood. By Jason Hall and Chris Kyle. Perf. Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner. Warner Bros., 16 January 2015. DVD.
CONTROVERSIAL: “America The Beautiful” Coca Cola 2014 Super Bowl Commercial | Political Topics. Youtube. Coca-Cola, 3 Feb. 2014. Web. <https://youtu.be/vUGDQo2Pb6g>.
Gordon, Howard. “Homeland.” Showtime. Dir. Alex Gansa. N.d. Television