Orientalism and the Coronavirus

When we first started getting news of a disease in China, the detail many American kids were captivated with was its supposed origin: a wet market.

A wet market is, simply put, an outside butcher, where vendors sell raw meat, fish and produce. Rumor has it that Covid-19 came from the consumption of a bat from a wet market in Wuhan. When I heard that news I was devastated, not because I’m a vegetarian or because I really like bats, but because of the racist backlash I knew would follow.

Every year my Chinese class goes to Brooks middle school to talk about the Chinese program. This year, in addition to the usual comments about eating dog, we got many insensitive questions and comments about cooking bats and the coronavirus. The whole experience made me really mad

I’m not mad with the Chinese person who ate the bat, or the market that sold it, or the culture that deemed it okay, because its not my culture and it is out of my zone of control. I was mad at the inability for Western people to think from a different perspective because the Cultural norm, that is of course not shared by all Chinese people, to leave nothing to waste deserves so much more respect.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I suggest you read the book, Sichuan Pepper and Shark Fin Soup by Fuchsia Dunlop. In this book, Dunlop tells the story of her travel to China and her discovery of the province of Sichuan through its food. Most notably, Dunlop describes the practice by many Chinese people, to eat the whole animal and to leave nothing to waste. The parts that we Americans tend to leave aside, like intestines, eyes, and fins, are incorporated into some Chinese dishes.

Along with this norm comes the rare consumption of unconventional-seeming animals like turtles, dogs, and bats. I don’t think it’s wrong, not that my opinion really matters, to consume animals such as these. What’s normal is different in different places. For example, the rampant consumption of beef in America may be appalling for many Hindus who believe the cow is sacred and our normalcy of Cheese Wiz may, and probably does, make everyone else want to puke.

Now, what does this have to do with Orientalism? Well, Orientalism is the tendency to warp and exaggerate the differences in the West compared to the East. I believe that the difference in food consumption is one of the many things that has been exaggerated. Yes, the average American eats differently from the average Chinese, but the difference is not as stark as we make it seem and the American horror surrounding these differences really stems from ignorance.

Blogging God of Small Things …

Since we are all getting back into the groove, I thought I would re-articulate the blogging expectations during our reading of God of Small Things. I am imagining our unit spilling over a bit into next week, so the deadlines might bend a bit as the week progresses.

The blogging assignment is to complete at least TWO of your own blog posts and at least THREE substantial comments on other classmates’ posts. See “Blogging Responsibilities” for general guidance to the assignment. Since we reading God of Small Things this week, though, here are some specific recommendations:

  • Posts: At least one of your posts needs to reflect a close reading of God of Small Things (most likely, quoting — and citing page #’s — for multiple passages). The second blog post should probably be an evaluation and/or application of the theory of Orientialism (see the separate resources on Orientalism that will be part of a separate assignment this week) — but it could be another close reading of the novel, if you are inspired.
  • Comments: The main idea here is quality over quantity. I’d rather see ONE lengthy engagement with another classmates’ ideas than 3-4 quick comments that just affirm what is already being said, although quick affirmations are great too.
  • Extra Credit/Makeup: If you are inspired to add more than two posts and are extra-active in the comments, you will be rewarded. The week after Spring Break, besides the start of the 4th Quarter and the rest of the year, is also the time our administration has given us to shore up any incomplete 3rd Quarter assignments. So one of my first thought will be to find a way to go back and give at least partial points back on missed assignments.

Important: The blog is our space in which we will try to recreate a version of class discussion that both allows us to share our ideas, listen to the ideas of others, and advance all of our knowledge. We can certainly be passionate and have fun with it, but it should be approached with seriousness and a sense of community.

The Mask That We Call Comedy.

What more could Elle Woods want? Life has been nothing but easy for her, challenges are foreign to the young spunky blonde. The missing key to her perfect life is boyfriend Warner Huntington III, he just won’t propose. Woods lack of substance when it comes to her personality is the reason for this. In hopes of changing her mind she finds herself enrolled in one of the top ranked law schools, Harvard University. The experience helps her to defy the stereotype of a sorority-sister valley girl while staying true to herself although, does the film really capture the right message?

Director Robert Luketic builds off of the early 2000s stereotype of the “dumb blonde” as it fails to enhance reality to its fullest. It acts as a mask to underlying issues like gender inequality, sexual harassment and even abusive relationships. As main character Elle Woods defys the most typical form of this stereotype she doesn’t completely break through it. As much as her intelligence is presented it is also undermined just as often. For example, she won one of her court case by having intense knowledge of last year’s shoe trends, along with being an expert in post-perm hair care. Yes, she won the case but not in the traditional way which doesn’t really grasp the full effect.

Starting as early as the opening scenes gender rolls are put to use as seen in most current American films as we see arbitrary body shots of Woods. These shots also include stereotypical feminine actions such as brushing her hair, shaving her already perfect legs, engaging in Cosmopolitan, applying makeup, and (most alarming) getting catcalled by a bunch of men in a car, and smiling in their direction. What does this teach the younger generation? Elles intelligence is addressed throughout the film but that’s the only thing that separates her from the stereotype which is problematic. Not only this but unrealistic expectations makes this never ending cycle really hard to break since Woods social and economic status also played a major role in what she had to overcome.

Breaking down the comedy aspect of why women have become targets of such classification can be tied to various reasons. One perception is that humor is a tool used to facilitate work by lightening the mood, making difficult problems seem less extreme while also encouraging positive attitudes and healthy interactions. A second perception is that humor is disruptive — a distraction from the seriousness of work while demonstrating less commitment to work. Jokes including those about dumb blondes project the greater anxiety of men afraid of a threat to their social position. These fears are nothing new as losing masculine power could be traced all along the history of gender relations and numerous prejudices. Stereotypes of women include not only lower levels of achievement, but also the expectation of increased family responsibilities. Because it is so difficult to dedicate time to both work and family responsibilities, this has led to the perception that women are less dedicated to work causing society to view them in a humorous way.

In conclusion as much as we want to believe Woods represents that step in the right direction for image of women it really just masks it, like the rest of the world. Although its a step in the right direction there is still more that can be done to ensure and protect women so they are no longer the laughing stock of society.

GOST Helped Me Rediscover My Love of Writing

I used to love to write fiction. When I was little, writing scary stories or a silly poem could captivate me for hours. However, I learned to hate writing as soon as it became an assignment and teachers gave me a strict template to follow.

I found that the writing of The God of Small Things is different. Roy writes with no constraints on her sentence structure, her timeline, and the point of views she uses, and yet she is praised for her amazing writing. This boundless writing is exemplified in the passage below,

“Steelshrill police whistles pierced holes in the Noise Umbrella. Through the jagged umbrella holes Rahel could see pieces of red sky. And in the red sky, hot red kites wheeled, looking for rats. In their hooded yellow eyes there was a road and redflags marching. And a white shirt over a black boy with a birthmark. Marching (76). “

In this passage, two of the sentences are incomplete, two begin with “and”, and one is in passive voice. These structural issues would be something I would get points off for, that I would be deemed a sloppy writer for, but Roy is celebrated for it. It works.

The passage above also shows Roy’s tendency to over-describe, to ramble on sentences, adding extra clauses, to shove in extra details. I liked this style of writing, so I began to write my own story without bounds, just like Roy did. I experimented with perspective, detail, and incomplete sentences, and I found joy in doing so.

Thank you Roy for helping me make this quarantine a little less boring.

A Lesson in Harmony

As an educator, one of the questions I get asked most frequently is “How can I play this without people thinking I’m bad?” Today I’m going to show you how to fix simple music so that you may play it without being embarrassed of yourself.

Let’s start with the classic method book melody “Ode to Joy”

Gross. Hal Leonard needs to fire whoever wrote this garbage.

But don’t worry, we’re going to fix it. Here it is again with some spice

Wait actually,

That’s better. A good rule of thumb is that any time you can do something, you should do it.  Otherwise, how will people know that you can?

Now I know what everyone is probably thinking: “The common practice period is over, wake up and smell the jazz chords”, well you’re right. So was I actually. Just because triads were good enough for Bach doesn’t mean they’re good.  Duke Ellington said it best: “It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got those jazz chords.”

Oh yeah, also you have to end on the sharp eleven. Every time. Now we’re getting somewhere. But anyone can modulate to the subdominant. Big deal. Sure it sounds good, but if we’re going to impress people outside the nursing home gig, we need to do something a little more hip.

That’s more like it. However, it’s not art until we break the confines of functional western harmony. And it’s not intellectual until the harmony can’t fit on the page. Let’s try something a little more nonfunctional.

Ah yes. Now were getting somewhere. But in order to truly express ourselves with total harmonic freedom (the only aspect of music that matters) we simply need more notes. We need more clusters. We need more syncopation. We need a half-swung quintupletey drum track.

We have transcended. Now this is music. The general public will be so impressed they won’t even know what to say. But their silence speaks volumes. The less people enjoy it, the more sophisticated it is.

Another classic fixed. No need to thank me. Tune in next time to hear me improve our national anthem.

Ryan Michaud (PhD) has been educating the masses online for 45 years. A brilliant author, teacher, and scholar, he is a such an intellectual that he still has less than 1,000 listens on all of his music.

Orientalism and Asianness

If it’s not already abundantly clear from my name and appearance, I’m not actually Midwestern.

I’m actually … Southern!

Well, in name only anyways, I moved out of Arkansas when I still had all of my baby teeth, and I’ve lived in Oak Park ever since. But, this answer isn’t satisfactory right? To cut to the chase, I’m also Chinese, my parents were Chinese immigrants, and on the weekends (and if I’m lucky the weekdays too) we eat store-bought dumplings and pickled vegetables. However, I’ve always resisted being “Asian”.

After reading and watching about Said and Orientalism, the point I took home was the pervasiveness and strength of the Orient. While now, I doubt anyone regularly uses such antiquated terms, I feel like it’s undeniable that the idea persists even to this day. And, consequently, I believe we can most clearly see its effects in the nebulous concepts of Asia and Asianness.

Ah yes, Aisa, constituting ~60% of the world’s population and culturally distinct nations from Saudi Arabia to Kazakhstan, Taiwan, India and Myanmar.

I don’t like Asia, but that’s mostly because I feel like the term is ever specific enough to warrant its use. However, for most people, I don’t think that this Asia, the geographical Asia, is the Asia that people refer to. Just in daily dialogue, people would likely never talk about Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, etc. as though they were Asian nations but rather Middle Eastern. This example only serves to illustrate how Asia is rarely a useful descriptor for regular use. That being said, Asia still exists a continent and an idea that still exists, despite the fact that Asian nations hold little similarities besides their being colonized by Europeans (specifically mostly the English and French) and different than Europe.

As Said stated, the Orient and Occident are constructs created by Europe to, among many things, define themselves in contrast to the Other. I hope that I’m not taking too many liberties when I say that Asia is just the modern version of this construct. And following the doctrine of Orientalism, it still lives not as just a stereotype or myth but in academia. Although I’m sure there are other examples, the most poignant one to me is the race questions on the SAT. On the SAT, race (ethnicity is also used, but only to distinguish Latino, Spanish, or Hispanic origin) is separated into:

  • American Indian or Alaska Native
  • Asian (including Indian subcontinent and Philippines origin)*
  • Black or African American
  • White (including Middle Eastern origin)
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander

Although I can understand the desire to limit categorization to a meaningful few options, I still don’t feel like label of Asian is specific enough to hold any worth. They may also be using the Asian category also due to the similarity in test score range in order to give their scores some context for colleges (e.g. those in the Asian test category tend to test higher than those in another); however, the fact the Asian label is still being used illustrates the commonality of Asia and Asianness.

For all these observations, I feel like I should summarize why the label of Asia and Asianness matters.

For one, in daily life, Asia and Asian just doesn’t really work that well as labels. Although Europe and European are also labels, I don’t think I’m going too far when if I say that Europe is much more homogenous than Asia. I’m not trying to ignore the nuances between nations, it’s only that I find that regions like the Middle East and East Asia are just as distinct with each other as they are with Europe.

Second, Asian is too vague of label to be useful for people. No disrespect to you Mr. Heidkamp if you’re reading this, but when I heard that his “Asian-American” friends had faced discrimination due to the coronavirus, I couldn’t help but wonder if he meant Indian, Pakistani, Chinese, etc. His friends are most likely East-Asian, probably Chinese, considering the origin of the coronavirus, but I only understood that from context and the connotation that Asian has with East-Asian. But why should I rely on the connotation? Why not just say East-Asian?

Third, and probably most importantly, the Asia and Asian carry a lot of baggage with them. To say someone is Asian likely brings to mind the usual stereotypes: having immigrant tiger parents, focusing heavily on school (the STEM and medical fields specifically), and being an overachieving model-minority. I don’t think it’s wrong to say that all stereotypes hold a little bit of truth, in fact, I myself have immigrant parents, care probably too much about school (and STEM), and have relatively well-off parents. However, it should be obvious that stereotypes, even positive ones, are limiting. The Asian-American stereotype in particular is harmful because it, to some extent, takes hard-work for granted. I’m sure everyone’s heard at some point that all Asians are good at math. But what this phrase ignores is the passion and work that’s needed for such aptitude. This effect unfortunately leaks into academics and specifically college admissions.

Some supporters of the lawsuit

The lawsuit against Harvard, to put reductively, was focused on how Harvard consciously discriminated against Asian-Americans in their admissions process. Harvard won, but the case demonstrated an undeniable implicit bias against Asian-Americans who were generally given much worse personality scores.

There are many things to take away from the lawsuit, but the easiest one for me to talk about is how the model of the Asian-American not only over-generalizes a sizeable chunk of people, it adversely affects those unfortunate enough to be saddled with the Asian-American label. In turn, anyone stuck with the label is also isolated from other minorities who seem to benefit from such race-conscious decisions. Whether this distinction is a good thing or a bad thing is for debate; however it should be noted that while this lawsuit finished the admissions scandals came out, demonstrating a more serious issue of wealth and legacy in college admissions.

In short, from small annoyances to life-changing decisions, the baggage of Asia and Asian is simply unacceptable.

While I bring up all my issues with Asia and Asian, I only hope to demonstrate an issue that I felt Orientalism fit in perfectly. As such, any solution to the problem of Asia(n) should stem from Orientalist theory. The take-away from Orientalism is that Asia, as a label, stems too greatly from colonist-colonized and us-them to be an accurate, nuanced descriptor. So, I propose that instead of Asia and Asian, we should just use Eurasia and Eurasian! That way, continents make sense and the label is now complete in its uselessness. More seriously, we should strive to find new borders and terms that better convey the distinctive cultures and experiences of the people known now only as Asian. I think that Middle-East, East-Asian, and Indian-subcontinent work alright now, but really, I just hope that in the future there’s no need to make a distinction. I just dream of a world in which people are just a name, and if it’s helpful, and a first language.

Thanks for reading, and hope you’re doing well during this quarantine. 再见!

Aladdin & Orientalism

Like many people, I don’t always respond in the best way when my favorite childhood stories are called out as problematic. So, even though I’d heard the Disney film Aladdin described as “Orientalist” many times, until learning about the concept of Orientalism in a more in-depth manner, I refused to believe it. “So what if Aladdin over-romanticizes the medieval Middle East?” I thought. “Disney movies romanticize whatever place they’re set in, that’s kind of the point. It’s fantasy. Plenty of their films romanticize medieval Europe.” However, after watching Edward Said’s talk and reading the summary and excerpts of his writing, I now realize how wrong I was. Orientalism is about so much more than just romanticizing a region of the world (although that is part of it), and Aladdin is guilty of many of its worst aspects. 

*By the way, I’m talking about the 1992 animated version of Aladdin in this post, not the 2019 live-action version. I’ve never seen the live-action version, though I have heard it’s problematic in plenty of the same as well as in new ways.*

According to “An Introduction to Edward Said, Orientalism, and Postcolonial Literary Studies” by Professor Amardeep Singh, “The stereotypes assigned to Oriental cultures and ‘Orientals’ as individuals are pretty specific: Orientals are despotic and clannish. They are despotic when placed in positions of power, and sly and obsequious when in subservient positions. Orientals, so the stereotype goes, are impossible to trust. They are capable of sophisticated abstractions, but not of concrete, practical organization or rigorous, detail-oriented analysis. Their men are sexually incontinent, while their women are locked up behind bars.” Unfortunately, many of the characters of Aladdin fit these stereotypes to a tee.

Take the movie’s villain, Jafar. Jafar is certainly “despotic” and power-obsessed in his position of power as the vizier. However, he also is “sly and obsequious” when he tries to win the favor of the king, the only person in the kingdom with more power than him, and is “sexually incontinent” when he tries to force Princess Jasmine to marry him and makes some really gross advances on her. 

Speaking of Princess Jasmine, if Aladdin was believed to be an accurate depiction of the Arab world, it would be true that “their women are locked up behind bars.” Jasmine, the only female character in the film, is imprisoned in the gilded cage of her palace by her father, who is also trying to force her into an arranged marriage (supposedly, her bedroom was actually designed to evoke the look of a birdcage). Showing that Middle Eastern cultures oppress women is another flavor of orientalism, another way to paint them as “backwards” compared to a “progressive” West that values women’s rights. Jasmine’s father himself is childlike in disposition and an incompetent ruler, infantilizing him in a way often done to people of color (especially those who live in places that White people want to colonize) to show how they cannot take care of themselves without White rulers. As Said said, Orientalism and imperialism rest on the idea that, “you’re not just robbing the people of their ivory and slaves and so on. You are improving them in some way.” Jasmine’s father, the sultan (as well as the psychopathic Jafar for that matter), is meant to depict how badly “Orientals” rule themselves when left to their own devices and why they therefore need to be colonized. 

Central to Orientalism is its purpose–to justify the subjugation and exploitation of African and Asian peoples for Western profit. As Said wrote, “Orientalism, therefore, is not an airy European fantasy about the Orient, but a created body of theory and practice in which, for many generations, there has been a considerable material investment.” Aladdin, as a piece of Orientalist media, is no exception to this goal. I found a couple very interesting articles suggesting that Aladdin vilifies Middle Eastern culture by making the goals that the “good guys” strive for (for example, marriage for love rather than royal duty in Jasmine’s case) correspond with what Western culture values as well as giving them a more White/Western-associated appearance and manner of speaking than the “bad guys” have (for example, the Genie makes jokes about American pop culture). By doing these things, especially the former, it sets up Western ideals as superior and therefore provides a justification for why the United States should try to enforce these ideals in the Middle East and on Arab and Muslim people in general. This served as fuel for the fire of American Islamophobia that had its roots in the early 20th century and was not becoming any less vicious in the years leading up to and following Aladdin’s 1992 release. The effects of anti-Muslim and anti-Arab sentiment in the United States are very real, and have shaped everything from foreign policy to immigration policy to the daily lives of Arabs and Muslims living in the United States. Whether intentionally or not, media such as Aladdin continues to perpetuate Orientalism and therefore shapes how the West sees itself as superior to the East. 

See, I’m Not Crazy

Seeing as to the lack of any actual class time including the promised timeline, I have decided to make my own and prove that there is a discrepancy in the timeline.

As we all well know by now the plot of the book centers around the death of Estha’s and Rahel’s cousin Sophie in December of 1969, and coming together 23 years later. Now, I’m going to warn you, this next part does have math. 1969+23=1992. So the year that the reunion takes place is 1992, this means that because Ammu was 27 in 1969 she was born in 1942 and died at age 31 in 1973. The fact she dies at age 31 is important, for when her children meet all those years later they were also 31. Now, 1992-31=1961. That is the time line as we first see it.

Click here for a visual representation of my timeline.

But then Roy makes an … interesting choice. On page 40 it states that Ammu was 8 months pregnant when the Sino-Indian war broke out, In October of 1962. Meaning they were not born it 1961 as was originally calculated but instead November of 1962. This, for a lack of a better term this monkey head soups this all up. If this were true, then they were 31 between November of 1993 to November of 1994. Meaning, Arundathi Roy made a mistake.

Orientalism In Cinema

Orientalism refers to the Western imitation or deception of certain characteristics and aspects of the Middle East and Asia. The film Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is an example of Orientalism. The film was released in 1984, and was banned as soon as it was released. In the film the main antagonist is a cult that practices inhumane rituals, such as lowering humans into a lava pit and pulling out the victims heart.

Image result for indiana jones and the temple of doom india cult

This image shows the cult underground performing inhuman rituals.

Another example of Orientalism in the film is when Indiana Jones and his companions are about to have dinner at a Palace. The course of the dinner featured a snake with little live snakes moving around the table to spiders, huge black beetles, and monkey brain soup with eyes floating.

Image result for temple of doom dinner scene real

For desert they are having frozen monkey brains

In the film of Temple Of Doom, the film inaccurately represent the lives of Indians and their beliefs. With the the use of inhumane cults capturing kids and enslaving them, bizarre food items such as money brains for desert. I personally have never noticed the negative portrayal of India’s culture because the first time I saw the film I was a little kid and only knew that Indiana Jones is like a super hero helping everyone and doing the impossible. Unfortunately this isn’t the only film that represents Orientalism because Hollywood is known for it, films like Isle of Dogs and, Dictatorship.

A Bird’s-Eye View

The personal is political.

Second-wave feminist slogan

In AP Literature Class, we’ve talked a lot about power, including massive power structures such as race, class, and gender. However, I know that for me, sometimes these concepts can become very abstract. I don’t always connect our talk of these issues with the real world, because in my everyday life, power structures have always just surrounded me, as seemingly natural as the air I breathe. I am desensitized to them, and I have no way of seeing the extent to which they actually shape my life. That is, until, every once in a while, a really good piece of literature makes me zoom out and gives me a bird’s eye view of life with which I am able to realize how much large-scale power structures do impact individual lives. In my opinion, The God of Small Things might do this the best of any book we’ve read this year. 

The God of Small Things deals not merely with power dynamics, but it makes clear their consequences in a very poignant way. By juxtaposing the characters’ personal power struggles with their power struggles on a systemic level, it shows how large-scale power structures can have deeply personal impacts. 

One quote that I believe shows this very strikingly is on page 101. It consists of Estha’s thoughts as he has just come back into the auditorium after being molested by the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man and is watching the Sound of Music. He wonders if one of the characters from the film, Baron von Trapp, would be able to love him and Rahel and be a father to them, and imagines that Baron von Trapp has the following questions that Estha and Rahel must answer before he can decide.

(a) Are they clean white children?

No. (But Sophie Mol is.)

(b) Do they blow spit bubbles?

Yes. (But Sophie Mol doesn’t.)

(c) Do they shiver their legs? Like clerks?

Yes. (But Sophie Mol doesn’t.)

(d) Have they, either or both, ever held strangers’ soo-soos?

N… Nyes. (But Sophie Mol hasn’t.)

“Then I’m sorry,” Baron von Clapp-Trapp said. “It’s out of the question. I cannot love them. I cannot be their Baba. Oh no.” 

To me, this quote is particularly heartbreaking because it highlights so many of Estha and Rahel’s vulnerabilities and insecurities due to both the state of their personal lives and their status in society. 

First of all, their desire for Baron von Trapp to be a father to them shows their yearning for a father figure in their lives because of the absence of their own father. While this is personal to them, it is also connected to the political because the reason their parents divorced was because their father was abusive, and the reason Ammu even got into a relationship with an abusive man in the first place was because she was desperate to escape from her own abusive father and was not allowed a college education because she was a girl, so she had few options other than marriage (38-39). Therefore, Estha and Rahel’s lack of a father, while it is very personal, is also connected to issues of women’s rights and feminism. Likewise, Baron von Trapp’s questions about whether Estha and Rahel blow spit bubbles and shiver their legs also shows how their relationship with Ammu can be tense because they sometimes remind her of their father (especially when they blow spit bubbles an shiver their legs) (80), and therefore how the effects of something as large as sexism can be felt even in a deeply personal sphere.

Another way Roy blends the personal and political nature of Estha and Rahel’s insecurities in this quote is the mention of all the ways Sophie Mol meets Baron von Trapp’s standards while Estha and Rahel don’t. Estha and Rahel are acutely aware of how much their family adores Sophie Mol, and this not only sparks in them children’s natural jealousy at another child seeming more loved by their family than they are (if any of you have little siblings, you might have felt this when they were born), but also a sense of inferiority based on a WHITE/person of color and WEST/east power dynamic. Estha and Rahel are cognizant of the fact that Sophie Mol is so beloved by their family not only because eight-year-olds are cute and it’s always fun to see a family member who you haven’t seen in a long time, but also because the fact that Sophie Mol is white-passing and British makes her somehow extra special and superior. Thus, once again, Roy shows how large-scale systems of power such as racism influence things as intimate as family dynamics and children’s’ self-esteem. 

But for me, the word that blends the deeply personal and the political the most strikingly is the word “clean.” 

(a) Are they clean white children?

No. (But Sophie Mol is.)

The idea of Estha and Rahel not being as “clean” as Sophie Mol and the white children in The Sound of Music is a really loaded concept in this passage in so many ways. On one level, it reflects racism, as people with darker skin have often been seen throughout history as less “clean” than people with lighter skin, particularly in the West and countries that have been subject to Western colonialism. However, it also relates to Estha’s experience of abuse, as it is not unusual for survivors of sexual abuse to feel they have been made “dirty” somehow by their abusers if they have not yet been able to come to terms with what happened to them. So, as Estha sits watching The Sound of Music, he feels doubly “dirty” both because of what happened to him on an individual level and because of what society tells him about who he is. To me, Roy’s multilayered use of the word “clean” and her repetition of it throughout the chapter is a perfect example of how the lines between personal struggles and political struggles can become very blurry for marginalized people and how each type of struggle can have an impact that is extremely profound.

Chatta and Mundu

From being from the west, I was curious what type of clothes they would being wearing in the book. I also wanted some sort of visual of what it would look like. The author mentioned in Chapter 8 that Kochu Maria still wears her “spotless half-sleeved white chatta with v-neck and her white mundu.”(161) She explains that this is the traditional dress for the Syrian Christians women. However, she further explains that some have decided to start wearing saris.

Kochu Maria says she will not stop wearing this type of dress because she does not want people not see her as a Syrian christian despite her low paying job. She wants to be seen as a “touchable, upper-class Christian”(162) She is using her appearance to further her position in a very tight caste system in the novel.

I researched this type of dress, chatta and mundu, and found it was very common in the late 19th century to early 20th century and originated in southern India. It was influenced by European colonialism. This style of dress went out of style sometime in the 1950s which furthers Kochu Maria’s traditional mindset.

Image result for HOW TO WEAR KACHAMURI

The Barbarians

“Swaying the wide world, I have but one aim in view, namely, to maintain a perfect governance and to fulfil the duties of the State: strange and costly objects do not interest me. If I have commanded that the tribute offerings sent by you, O King, are to be accepted, this was solely in consideration for the spirit which prompted you to dispatch them from afar. Our dynasty’s majestic virtue has penetrated unto every country under Heaven, and Kings of all nations have offered their costly tribute by land and sea. As your Ambassador can see for himself, we possess all things. I set no value on objects strange or ingenious, and have no use for your country’s manufactures. This then is my answer to your request to appoint a representative at my Court, a request contrary to our dynastic usage, which would only result in inconvenience to yourself. I have expounded my wishes in detail and have commanded your tribute Envoys to leave in peace on their homeward journey. It behoves you, O King, to respect my sentiments and to display even greater devotion and loyalty in future, so that, by perpetual submission to our Throne, you may secure peace and prosperity for your country hereafter.”
-A letter from Emperor Qianlong of China to King George the III of the United Kingdom of England, Whales and Scotland.

By the 1700’s Britain was not in a good place. It had just lost the majority of its New World colonies after the American Revolution and had a ludicrously huge trade deficit to what was then the world’s most powerful economy, China. This was due impart to the various trade restrictions placed on any foreigners attempting to trade. As a result the British government sent a group of men carrying the greatest inventions of the Western World to demonstrate the benefits of trade with Britain. The result of this can be seen in the Emperor’s letter.

In the eyes of the Chinese, China was quite literally the center of the universe. Their name for themselves was Zhong Guo, literally Central Kingdom, as in the center of the world. Any outsider was a barbarian destined to one day be conquered by the emperor. Any arts or sciences from these people was to be ignored. This letter eventually lead to Britain to sell ungodly amounts of opium to the Chinese to make up for the loss. China did not like this and started the Opium Wars as a result, leading to China’s century of humiliation.

The reason as to why I am bringing this up is to Illuminate the fact that the driving reasoning behind what Said calls Orientalism is in fact merely human nature. It is a cross cultural phenomena unique to nobody. We are discussing this from a European perspective, flip it around 180 degrees and we see the the same thing from an Oriental perspective.

Orientalism in Law and Order

Law and Order has seen many soon-to-be stars make appearances on the show: Idris Elba, Bradley Copper and Kerry Washington to name a few. However these guest stars tend to play some very stereotypical roles. Young African-American men always seem to be portrayed as gang members and young Middle-Eastern actors always seem to play someone connected to a terrorist or a terrorist themselves.

This reminded me of Orientalism. This viewing of people from the East as less then and in a very stereotypical way despite knowing it can’t always be true. Law and Order is unique example because it has been on even before 9/11. The show has a distinct shift in how Middle Eastern actors are portrayed on the show. Everyone that was Middle Eastern was put into a box of terrorism.

This racist idea is very harmful for the relationship between the West and the East. I read an article which made the connection that the majority of serial killers are White American men but that does mean that everyone assumes all white men are serial killers. However, this not making assumptions does not seem to stretch to people of color. Despite the fact, that majority of terrorist do come from the Middle East, it does not mean that everyone from the Middle East are terrorist. Orientalism is a way to describe this generalization in Law and Order.

Orientalism and the Real Orient.

As I was reading the Orientalism article, I feel like I need to step out and say something as a Chinese as well as a transfer student. Personally, I never received any weird comment since I came here. However, I can say people here do have some prejudices or misunderstanding about the Asia. Although I don’t talk much, I record the world by my mind like an observer. One of my friend called Amy, she is also a student of OP. I remember she once asked me if she looked like Chinese because people around her all assumed she was a Chinese. I told her that, first of all, she doesn’t look like Chinese. What’s more, if I can’t tell, I will ask her nationality before making any conclusion as a respect to you. I am not saying that people here are rude, but most Western people actually regard the south Asia as a whole. In other words, people may not recognize that so many different countries lie in that place.

Shanghai highway in city

Another example is that different events no matter from big to small as long as it’s about China here are all kinda of lacking creativity. What does it mean by that? Most of the Chinese-Americans, American artists or Asian scholars prefer to perform the ancient part or traditional culture of China or other Asian countries, but what I want to say is that those old-fashion things can hardly attract me not to mention foreigners. I can understand those people them want to present the cultural charm of Asian, but too much same artworks just make people’s thoughts got locked. Like, if I say what you think of Chinese culture, you may come up with lanterns, dragons or dumplings. It’s fine if you really like those things. However, the reality is that we have not only lanterns, dragons or dumpling, we have share bikes that they are available in all the streets in cities in China which nicely solve the environmental problems; we have the best transportation system in the world that in Shanghai, it just looks like a sky maze which made of intricate highways; we have the widest spectrum of food that includes 8 main styles of cooking that each province got over hundreds of localized dishes and we change the menu along with seasons, weather, even your health condition; Our famous novel series is known as the fantasy of heroes with Kongfu’s adventure, and how many people know the deep love and hatred behind martials and the pageantry existing between the sky and the earth before they criticize Chinese literature.

The return of the condor heroes

If Covid-19 Began in Italy…

Hello all! This has been an interesting break from school to say the least. From reading the news about the spreading virus and its global impact, I thought that Edward Said’s novel, Orientalism, tied perfectly into the current state of the world.

Orientalism is essentially the lens in which the West looks through at the East. Throughout history, it has been seen that the East is portrayed as the “other”, seeming to be far different from Western society. Orientalism, therefore has made it very easy for prejudices in the West to be formed against the East.

We all are aware that Covid-19 can be traced back to Wuhan, China; with many sources pointing to the large animal market in the city as being the epicenter of the virus. At the beginning of the outbreak, when the virus was primarily only seen in Wuhan, I saw many disturbing posts directed towards marginalizing and blaming Chinese people. For example, there were images surfacing of a woman eating bat soup (presumably in China), and without even knowing the source of the photo I heard people were BLAMING the virus on that one woman/the people in China eating bat soup. In addition to this, The President also stated in one of his tweets that this was a “Chinese Virus”. Although yes, the origin of the virus was in China, placing such a name on the virus only leads to racism and discrimination! (There are many more examples of racism I saw online, these just stood out the most to me).

For starters, blaming anything on a group of people/race marginalizes that group from the “western” society we are used to. This in effect leads to mass racism. Asian-American’s are coming out online saying that non-Asian people literally walk away from them on the streets… as if they somehow automatically have the virus for looking a certain way? Unbelievable.

I have seen many people post and make racial jokes/comments about the virus, when most of the time, the people making the comments are simply not educated on the topic. It is heartbreaking to see this happening because this is a time when we all need to support one another. People are being hateful towards Chinese people without realizing all that the Chinese have done to try and minimize the spread of this virus. Instead of spreading hate during this difficult time, we should lift one another up and talk about all the good things that are being done around the world to stop this pandemic.

Overall, my question is: would the world look different if this virus originated in Italy? Would people be avoiding “Little Italy” as they were “China Town” in Chicago?

I hope everyone ruminates upon this, and thinks twice about a racial comment they may choose to say. The entire world is suffering, so again, let us take our orientalist glasses off, and appreciate all that is being done to help stop this virus.

A Feminist Look at GOST: The Power of Female Characters

I recently read this paper about feminism within GOST and thought this sentence summed up my thoughts perfectly: “The God of Small Things portrays the truthful picture of the plight of Indian women, their great suffering, cares and anxieties, their humble submission, persecution and undeserved humiliation in male dominating society.” (article here!) As a reader we get to see the unique experiences of being a woman in 20th century India, a time when women had little autonomy and faced the prospect of arranged marriages and were essentially barred from receiving education. We also get this window into severely abusive relationships. Some of the most powerful moments I’ve read so far have been about Ammu’s and Mammachi’s experiences with abusive and controlling husbands.

I specifically like that Roy gives female characters a sense of agency even in a deeply patriarchal society; Ammu chooses who to marry, when to leave the marriage, and reclaims her life, and Mammachi runs a successful company on her own. Even after reading these last few chapters, my favorite passage is still when Ammu’s background is described. To me, this remains one of the most powerful scenes and is laced with a lot of great feminist discourse. In describing Ammu’s wedding, Roy writes:

“Ammu had an elaborate Calcutta wedding. Later, looking back on the day, Ammu realized that the slightly feverish glitter in her bridegroom’s eyes had not been love, or even excitement at the prospect of carnal bliss, but approximately eight large pegs of whiskey. Straight. Neat”.


In class we talked about how these lines are the kind that stay with you for the entirety of the book. This is an especially powerful moment because Roy builds up the excitement of a wedding and young love, and then completely subverts expectations all in two sentences. A page before Roy wrote, “…in the pit of her stomach she carried the cold knowledge that, for her, life had been lived. She had one chance. She made a mistake. She married the wrong man” (38). This entire scene functions to emphasize Ammu’s struggle for independence. In what she thought was an act of independence- running away to marry a man her parents disapproved of- was instead an entry-way into an abusive marriage. Ammu’s realization is even more hard-hitting because of Roy’s syntax. She employs many stand-alone paragraphs and one-word sentences like “Straight” and “Neat”. Her writing style emulates how heavy and tragic Ammu’s past was, making this scene even more powerful.

As I touched on earlier though, what I appreciate with the story is that Roy gives these female characters autonomy. After bearing the brunt of male domination-from her father denying her education, to marrying an abusive husband, to raising kids alone- Ammu reclaims her body. In another powerful paragraph Roy beautifully writes: 

“Occasionally, when Ammu listened to songs that she loved on the radio, something stirred inside her. A liquid ache spread under her skin, and she walked out of the world like a witch, to a better, happier place. On days like this there was something restless and untamed about her. As though she had temporarily set aside the morality of motherhood and divoree-hood”


The phrase “liquid ache” combined with words like “witch”, “restless”, and “untamed” evoke this sense of female liberation. Ammu is further described as wearing flowers in her hair and taking midnight swims. She is also described as having this deep, almost insatiable, love for her children and having this sporadic energy that mirrors the women’s liberation movement in the 70s. Moreover, I think all of the female characters in GOST play such a pivotal role in defining the common female experience. Over four generations, we see a lot of similarities with all of these characters, but we also get to see their individual agency and yearn for happiness in a patriarchal society.  

The Child That Lives Within

From the start of the book, Arundhati Roy’s writing style intrigued me. From the innocence she portrays through Rahel and Esta’s imagination to the dynamics of the familial relationships that she exposes through dialogue and flashbacks, there are so many meanings that are embedded in each line that she writes.

I could talk about the passages that might confuse me but those passages need context that we will get later on in the book. I’d rather discuss the passages where Roy surprised me with the world she builds around the reader. The way she uses certain techniques to portray the meanings of the book are ways I’ve never seen before and ways that certainly deserve a lot of attention and praise.

To be able to capture a child’s innocence and imagination is something that I’ve seen to be very hard for authors to do yet Roy does it so well and in such a unique way. An example that really stood out to me was in chapter 2 on page 45:

“Rahel thought that boot was a lovely word. A much better word, at any rate, than sturdy. Sturdy was a terrible word. Like a dwarf’s name. Sturdy Koshy Oommen—a pleasant, middle-class, God-fearing dwarf with low knees and a side parting.”


When I read this passage I was genuinely shocked at the way she played on the world of creativity and imagination that kids live in. No adult or teenager would think so creatively about a single word yet kids do this with most new words that they learn. The way Roy had Rahel give a full name to this dwarf and even an in depth description on how it looked was refreshing. It was refreshing to dive into a world we all once lived in yet had forgotten about and no longer use. To me when I was a kid just like Rahel and Esta, words were all based on the way they sounded and they resembled magical creatures or places. When we grow up, life becomes more practical and logical. We learn the way things are and should be rather than imagining all the things they could be.

Roy presents the way our imagination and innocence fades away with age through the way it does within Rahel and Esta. Once upon a time, Rahel and Esta thought they were one person. They imagined their cousin doing cartwheels at her funeral and imagined words being mystical creatures. However, they had gone 25 years without seeing each other and aren’t the same wide-eyed kids they once were. It amazes me how Roy captures the purity of Rahel and Esta when they were young and contrasts it with their cold outlook on life 25 years later to represent the loss of innocence in the book.

Discussing God of Small Things …

To get us started, how about taking a close look at a passage that intrigues you — or one that confuses you — or one that made you bow down and admit you are not worthy of Roy’s literary skillz?

Remember, all grammar, sentence structure, and format rules apply here, but as far as the content of your post, feel free to mix in literary analysis with personal reflection or connections with the larger world.

Satire in Jordan Peele’s “Get Out”

Jordan Peele’s 2017 thriller, “Get Out” features a black photographer named Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), and his white girlfriend, Rose (Allison Williams), who both go up to Rose’s parents house for a weekend. Rose’s parents start acting weird as soon as they meet Chris, which is assumed to be because Rose’s family aren’t used to interracial relationships and are trying their best to get used to it. As the movie progresses, we get to see a much more shocking reality that we could’ve imagined.

Later in the film, Chris meets all of Rose’s family friends and neighbors, who ask him lots of uncomfortable questions or say things like “black is in fashion”. This is when the satire starts to become clear. Later, we learn that Rose’s family have been putting white people’s brains into black people’s bodies, keeping black consciousness buried deep within “the sunken place”. This means that when white consciousness takes over the black body, the original mind is still aware, but helpless to stop the invasion. Two people essentially live in one body as a conquered territory. Jordan Peele is not only saying that Chris’s body has been declared less valuable by White America, but now he’s literally taking away Chris’s right to control his own body.

Comedy Allows Compassion

Comedy is the easiest way to the heart of the viewer, a horror movie may need minutes of an empty hallway with suspenseful music to build up a scare, and a drama may need an hour to entice the viewer and get the excited for a climactic scene. However comedy can make its impact in a single line, getting a laugh out of the audience before even diving into the deep story that also exists. One of the main aspects of Aristotle’s definition of a comedy lies in the “hero”, or main character. This main character must be likeable to the audience, allowing them to relate things going on in their life to the character and to root for them. Aristotle also includes in his definition that the character experiences a “rise in fortune”, or happy ending. This makes sense, as a comedy provides laughs, and positive energy to the audience, while allowing the audience to connect themselves to the protagonist, therefore the main character will always end the comedy on top. 

My favorite comedy of all time is Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, I watched it repeatedly as a kid on days home sick from school or in long car rides. This movie is about an extremely likeable central protagonist, Ferris, who skips school and has a day of fun in the city with two of his close friends. This movie breaks the fourth wall on many occasions, with Ferris delivering monologues facing the camera as he gets ready for his day on the town. The central idea of these monologues is consistent with the theme of this movie, as he states “If you don’t stop and look around every once in a while, you might let life pass you by”. 

We learn this lesson through Ferris as we follow him on his day of adventure and ultimately no consequences, which breaks up the repetitive nature of our days at school or work. If you are not able to immediately picture yourself abandoning all responsibility and just having fun, Ferris’ best friend Cameron relates to you more. He at first denies all of Ferris’ requests to let him borrow his dad’s Ferrari and join him in the city, but he eventually goes with and has a great time, and gets the strength to stand up to his unloving father. Before Cameron finally agrees to go with, he sits in his room cursing and pacing, thinking of the options, this is relatable to the audience who may be anxious or just nervous about risk taking. However the audience feels like they are going along with Cameron and Ferris on their exciting day in the city, and gets to enjoy the excitement firsthand.  By allowing us to see this day from multiple perspectives, and connect ourselves to the characters, and in the end are reminded of the lesson that if you don’t take time to enjoy life, you can get caught up in the same routine.