I Am Middle Eastern/ American

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?

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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?

 

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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:

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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.

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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.

NICHOLAS BRODY


 

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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.

   ROYA HAMAD


 

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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:

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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.

Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUGDQo2Pb6g

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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?

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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.

Link: https://youtu.be/S5oRAF00RHA

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.

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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.

BIBLIOGRAPHY


 

         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&gt;.

Gordon, Howard. “Homeland.” Showtime. Dir. Alex Gansa. N.d. Television

 

 

 

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7 thoughts on “I Am Middle Eastern/ American

  1. Jasmine,
    your post was very meaningful and made me tear up. I am a softy, but truly, your words are powerful and the detail concerning the antagonistic imagery spreading throughout our media has infected the representation of a culture that is actually very beautiful and has “rich history of courtesy,” which “white” Americans are quite lacking.
    You’re first discussion about the film “American Sniper” really struck a fuse in me. Having not seen the film, I find myself siding with everything you said about the questioning whether this is true heroism. However, following your rhetorical questions also gave great insight for me in that I was siding one way or another about this issue, not entirely the same way as you whom is stretched across the answers from both American cultural perspective and Middle Eastern Perspective, but just the very essence of siding on something. When you wrote “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,” it just made me sad. I don’t know how that feels.
    My FRINQ last year was Race and Social Justice, so here is some of my analysis when discussing how culture is defined. I am almost dominantly “white,” whatever that phrase may mean, but I am not bound to any culture except American, which I also do not know how to define American Culture. What I do know is that “white” means European descent. So why don’t we just say that instead of saying a color? People from Middle Eastern do not say “I’m dark brown.” Tones of our skins mean nothing. Latinos’ skin tones range from pale to almost looking African. No one knows I am actually 1/16th Cherokee, and no one knows I am a descent of Irish and Scottish. I look “white,” thus I am a descendant of simply Europe. But even in Europe, there are so many different cultures. Eastern Europe looks extremely different from Western Europe. As for Ireland, they used to speak Gaelic until England decided to take over and made them speak English. So the rich history of old Celtic folklore is lost because the language is mostly lost. But people associate those who are “white” speak English only, which is just not the case. Look at France. Germany. Switzerland. Netherlands.
    My main argument is that America does not know what culture means. And my interpretation of American Culture is that it is a diversity of culture. British invaded the Natives of this land. The French tried to rule but lost, but if they didn’t, we would be speaking French right now. Hispanics began emerging in this body of people as well. Africans were forced by chains to come to this land. We are mesh of so many different cultures, that that’s what America is. A diasporic culture. And it infuriates me when I read those twitter posts about the “American Sniper.” This one: “Nice to see a movie where the Arabs are portrayed for who they really are – vermin scum intent on destroying us.” A culture cannot destroy. It is people who can destroy, and some just happen to be a part of a culture. Hitler was from “white” culture, why is there no light shine on how “white” culture is “vermin scum intent on destroying [anyone that is not pure German descent]?” A culture does not harm others, it is the people who happen to be born in that culture who could do harm. People create culture, they don’t use their customs to hinder others. Culture is only a part of something, just like your hair is a part of your body. It’s just there. I think I am one of few “whites” who wish she was African or Arabic in order to have rich history to admire and feel a part of. Instead, my culture’s overall message in the media is to harass those who are not “white” and who do not speak English.
    Sorry for my rant, but your words are so powerful that it inspired me to discuss how I feel about culture. To really understand it, traveling to places helps so much. Being in Japan for a month gave me a humble experience when observing their religion versus my own. Oddly enough, I had a much more spiritual connection with someone who didn’t share my same beliefs, because we both believed in the same idea of something otherwordly. For others, the source of connection may be something different. Difference in cultures only means a different color to the similarities we all share in this world. And to simply put it, America is still trying to figure out what our culture is, but to me, it really is a collection of diverse cultures. That is its culture. And yet, we are a young society who are still in their rebellious teenager stage about whose right and who is wrong. In other words, the “whites” argue America is English speakers only, but we are so wrong. We are so much more, yet we do not praise the rich diversity we live in, and we do not encourage in our schools to speak Arabic, or Japanese, or French, or Luganda, or Syrian, or Portuguese, or Vietnamese, and so many others. If you ask me, we are not very United in our states as we might think.
    Thank for this blog post. It inspires me and gives me reasons to speak out my thoughts for accepting everyone for who they are and what they are, breaking free from Stereotypes. I hope after this class, you find other great ways to share your words and make people like me rant on about how truthful your words are.

    Best,
    Leah

  2. I like the approach you choose to follow with this assignment; focusing on the fact that you feel torn between the two identities. With every analysis I read I feel that the media can’t get any identity right. I think its scary how films can manipulate people into believing a certain message that they want. No wonder our society has twisted views. I think being torn between two different identities is difficult; I myself come from Southern Europe and find it difficult to agree with the media’s representation of my people. I think you have well crafted writing and deep in thought analysis. I enjoyed learning about your identities and seeing how the media portrayed them.

  3. Jasmine, I really enjoyed reading your essay. I am half Persian and half European so I was also really was affected also. As a biracial person I feel like I can evener be accepted in either cultures. If I’m with Americans I am always the ethnic one, but when with a group of Persians, I am always the white one. Especially in America with many stereotypes in media as you listed. It doesn’t even matter what kind of Middle Eastern I am or anyone else is, we are all claimed to be foreigners or extremists. It is crazy to me because no matter if you are 1st or 6th generation Persian, you will always be the alien and never belong. Even if we are half or a quarter. I think that labeling people and for humans, stereotyping them, is a way to be feel safe and it is a coping activity to make you feel better about your situation. The thing is that this is 2015 and we don’t have to even do that anymore. Life is wild. Thanks for sharing.

    -Natasha Poole

  4. Jasmine, I really enjoyed your essay because I always thought that white people would more likely to stereotype about other races than their own people. I could see how you’re stuck between the two identities from your perfect piece of writing and arguments. I agree that films are very scary because they keep on deciding national traits instead of showing how beautiful a person is and can be. Thank you for sharing and teaching me more about your true identities!

  5. First of all, Jasmine, I want to let you know that I love what you did with the title, you put yourself into this research personally, and that made it so much more better and interesting to read.
    Each one of your research points were great in my opinion. I just watched American Sniper a couple of days ago and I guess the media and the movie got to me because I saw Chris Kyle as a hero. I did notice throughout the film that not all of the middle easterners were made to look evil, but the majority was. I like the fact that you brought up that the media only wants to make the Americans look like the hero’s, and make them look like the bad guys. But, in their point of view, we’re the bad guys, and there are a lot of things to back up their beliefs as well.

  6. Jasmine, I really enjoyed reading your essay. I am half Persian and half European so I was also really was affected also. As a biracial person I feel like I can evener be accepted in either cultures. If I’m with Americans I am always the ethnic one, but when with a group of Persians, I am always the white one. Especially in America with many stereotypes in media as you listed. It doesn’t even matter what kind of Middle Eastern I am or anyone else is, we are all claimed to be foreigners or extremists. It is crazy to me because no matter if you are 1st or 6th generation Persian, you will always be the alien and never belong. Even if we are half or a quarter. I think that labeling people and for humans, stereotyping them, is a way to be feel safe and it is a coping activity to make you feel better about your situation. The thing is that this is 2015 and we don’t have to even do that anymore. Life is wild. Thanks for sharing.

    -Natasha Poole

    Sorry, this is Natasha’s, I was on my older cousins computer.

  7. The first half of my comment was posted before I finished, so here’s the rest of it.
    I’ve never watched Homeland, but I’ve a lot of things about. I heard that it was a great show and people always tell me to watch it. I’m sure it is a great show, but some of the things that they do probably aren’t so great. Like the quote that you explained, “He threw it all away by becoming Muslim.” I could not say that I know how that feels, I’m Mexican, and there was a lot of shade thrown at the Mexican race not too long ago by someone who I will not name, but I’m sure you know who, but I believe the Muslim people have it so much worse, and I don’t even know why.
    You made this post great by including yourself, but at the same time you didn’t make this about your personal feelings. You kept it professional and it was intriguing to read.

    Great job!

    Arely Vidana

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