The Mysterious Middle East

The following blogpost is a follow-up to a project on “Stereotypes and Archetypes.”

Do we really know that much about this region?

Do we really know that much about this region?

The Middle East: a land full of sand dunes, people covered in robes, and violence. The imagery that the worldwide media around us depicts mostly follow among those lines. It is this narrow vision of this region that has caught our attention and has provoked us to ask questions — where do these stereotypes about the Middle East come from? This project delves into the media that exists today and have existed in the past to search for the archetypes that gave birth to the several stereotypes that are strongly associated with the Middle East.

Where else could he be from other than the Middle East?

Where else could he be from other than the Middle East?

While reviewing the stereotypical images found, our group was surprised to see how much we were influenced by the stereotypes the media has been feeding us. We had originally believed that the Middle East was made up of Arabic men wearing turbans and holding guns in some cases, suppressed women fighting for rights, barren deserts and plains, camels, and war-torn villages; however, what the media portrays is just a small part of the Middle East. The media has only showed us the most attention grabbing and entertaining aspects of the Arabic world. Only a minority of women fights for independence and most women choose to wear hijabs, not all Arabic men wear guns and turbans, and most Arabic nations have buildings (they do not live in the desert with camels).

Welcome to the Middle East... or should I say the Middle of Nowhere?

Welcome to the Middle East... or should I say the Middle of Nowhere?

Although our group was aware that the funny Arabic man in the movie and the Arabic terrorist in the cartoon were stereotypical images, in our minds a connection between the images and the ethnic group had formed because we did not have sufficient information on the Middle East. Osama Bin Laden and the Al Queda had been the faces of the Arabs in our minds. Our group is glad that we were given such a project and believes that it has helped us get rid of the stereotypical images and preconceptions we had about different ethnic groups, and especially the Arabs.

Can you ever be the odd one out in the Middle East?

Can you ever be the odd one out in the Middle East?

Before we go off to college, where we will mix with students from various ethnic groups, we believe that it is important to realize that stereotypes portrayed by the media are just stereotypes and that they should not be used to judge other ethnic groups. It is important to get rid of the stereotypical ideas we have about other ethnic groups mainly because they are not true and because they can cause unnecessary conflicts and tension between students from different ethnic backgrounds. Through this project we were able to accurately identify who the Arabs actually were and get rid of the stereotypical images the media has been feeding us.

Above is a video that perhaps best exemplifies the degree to which the media portrays the typical stereotypes of the Middle East. Even though this fan trailer shows us the use of exaggeration for comical effects, the fundamental elements within this clip and the movie represents some of the mainstream stereotype an average Westener may have about the Middle East. Before we delve into investigating where these stereotypes may have stemmed from, look through the film with an open eye.

Religious fanatics in the Middle East are called Muslims, not Arabs, nor terrorists.

Religious fanatics in the Middle East are called Muslims, not Arabs, nor terrorists.

Considering the widespread stereotypes concerning the Middle Eastern population, our group was able to easily identify the stereotypical images, such as images that depicted the prevalent notion that Middle East is entirely made of deserts, or that all men wear turbines and white robes. However, in almost every aspect we have touched, it was hard to pinpoint the archetype of the category. For instance, our group soundly came to the agreement that people have a singular image of how Arabs dress up, and that people think all Arabs have the same name, we had a hard time finding the original root of such stereotypes. However, for categories such as “violence” or “environment,” we realized that the media, notably the internet, was filled with archetypical images, such as Osama Bin Laden, Al Quaeda, and the movie Lawrence of Arabia.

Seems familiar? Try turning on a news channel right now.

Seems familiar? Try turning on a news channel right now.

We first began our search for archetypes with the imagery of Middle East as the “middle of nowhere,” filled with nothing but sand and occasional robed men with camels and pyramid sites. An average Westener would not have been able to visit the Middle East to see this sight first hand, nor be able to be a wide enough influence to impact the majority to think of Middle East as it is portrayed today. We were able to find that the movie Lawrence of Arabia released few decades ago was a perfect archetype that, for the first time, depicted the Middle East with a certain light that in turn afixiated the audience for decades.

Lawrence of Arabia: it's where media begins to muddle with the viewers.

Lawrence of Arabia: it's where media begins to muddle with the viewers.

Further, we were able to identify the Walt Disney classic Aladdin as an archetype not only for the portrayal of the environment, but the people in the Middle East. From the mosque-resembling buildings with round tops to the short and robed Middle Eastern warriors with curved swords, Aladdin was one of the first to instill the stereotypical imagery of the Middle East in the mainstream media.

The land of magic, sandhouses, and warriors with curved swords.

The land of magic, sandhouses, and warriors with curved swords.

Also, the Arabs are commonly labeled as religious fanatics. When we think about the Arabs, images of men and women wearing white clothing praying to a single god in come in mind. This idea originates from history textbooks, which portray the Arabs as an ethnic group involved in religious wars. Instead of fighting like their civilized opponents in the picture, the Islamic people are fighting topless, illustrating how single-mindedly devoted the Arabs are to their religion. The media also contributes to this stereotype greatly. Arabic men and women in the media all wear hijabs, throbes, or egals. Unlike any other religious group, the Islamic people dress up accordingly with their religion; all Buddhists do not dress as monks and all Christians do not dress as nuns. The way in which the Arabs dress up seems to convey the idea that they are excessively devoted to their religion. Honor killings on the news, which show Arabic men killing women, are another source that presents the Arabs as religious extremists. Although honor killings are rare in the Middle East, they are frequently reported on the news, making honor killings seem like a common religious ritual for the Arabs.

The religious warfare that occured centuries ago still reflects in the inability for different cultures to understand one another.

The religious warfare that occured centuries ago still reflects in the inability for different cultures to understand one another.

Another common stereotype people have about the Arabs is that their language is very underdeveloped. “Team America” shows an American spy communicating with the Arabs only saying “Bakka Bakka Muhammad Jihad” in an awkward tone, making the language sound funny. In an episode of “The Colbert Report,” Colbert talks to a nonexistent president of a Middle Eastern nation, making up a name with a mixture of funny sounds. In general, the media seems to portray the Arabic language to be made up of funny sounding random syllables. This seems to be a result of the lack of information people have on the Middle East. When we look at Arabic texts, the letters are new and strange. The letters are connected and have dots and loops that are unusual. People seem to conclude that the Arabic language is strange and in a way underdeveloped, made up of a mixture of random syllables, due to its different appearance and sounds.

Above is a video that shows the epitome of how Middle Eastern looks are associated with terrorism and violence. Again, much like the Team America trailer, much of the exaggeration is for comical effects, but the fundamental elements are still there. Through our discussion and investigation on why and how the Middle Easterners became to be associated to such violence, we not only discovered the 9/11 event and the emergence of Osama Bin Laden as archetypes but also better understood the audience of most of the images we have searched for. These images target mostly non-Middle Easteners with plenty of access to all forms of media, who don’t know first hand about the Middle East. The audience was generally international except for a few satirical comedy clips like the video above which are strictly limited for Western audiences.

Through our research we have identified two major demographic groups that seem to be most widely represented; suppressed Arabic women and violent Arabic men, both within an age of about 20 to 40, seem to be the two most prevalent stereotypical images of Arabs in the media. The male and female elders seemed to be the least represented demographic, as there were hardly any images associated with such demographics in the media our group utilized.

True or False? All Middle Easterners are named Mohammed.

True or False? All Middle Easterners are named Mohammed.

We were amazed as to how abundant and uniform the images were. The research showed that the media has an incredibly parochial viewpoint about both the culture and the environment in which the Middle East exists. Almost all images and video clips we have found contained multiple stereotypical perspectives about the Middle East. Furthermore, the majority of the images found on the internet, including the ones we used for the presentation, showed a considerable discrepancy compared to the reality. Yet it was amazing to find that such stereotypical images and concepts were so prevalent as to overshadow almost completely the reality of the Middle East, as we had a hard time finding a counterexample for each stereotypes.

 

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2 Responses to “The Mysterious Middle East”

  1. […] 9, 2009 at 2:15 pm (Uncategorized) Click Here to see the follow-up to a project on “Stereotypes and […]

  2. […] Archetypes and Stereotypes Project By sohyaelee The blog assignment can be found on Eddie’s Blog. […]

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