When Will We Stop Stereotyping People?

“Orientalism” is a way of seeing that imagines, emphasizes, exaggerates and distorts differences of Eastern peoples and cultures as compared to that of Europe and the U.S. It often involves seeing their culture as exotic, backward, uncivilized, and at times dangerous.

One of Edward Said’s central ideas in Orientalism is that knowledge about the East is generated not through actual facts, but through imagined constructs. These constructs imagined “Eastern” societies as fundamentally similar and sharing the characteristics that are not possessed by “Western” societies. Said argued that such knowledge was and is built through literary texts and historical records which are often limited in terms of their understanding of the authenticity of life in the Middle East. He further said that a long tradition of false and romanticized images of Asia and the Middle East in Western culture has served as an implicit justification for Europe and America’s colonial and imperial ambitions. 

How did this happen?

Said outlined a theory where Orientalism arose out of a need for the West to define itself as the opposite of a counterbalancing entity. Europe found this counterbalancing entity in the crusades to be the East. The West found itself in positions of political and military power over what it saw as the East and subsequently used this power to subjugate it. Once a tradition of superior values of the West and a static view of the East developed, the tradition solidified. And it was and is difficult to break free of these constructs. However, we have the ability to make our own history and help remove these stereotypes from society. 

Therefore, it is necessary for groups of people to speak for themselves and create discourses of their own history. They must share and dialogue with other people groups with the goal of true knowledge of the other and not merely political and “scholarly” knowledge.

Orientalism provides a critical theoretical framework through which people can explore numerous issues including: participating in systems of inequality, affirming commitments to social justice, and supporting those harmed by stereotypes and oppression, particularly those viewed as coming from the East. Conceptually, it also helps people make sense of certain types of knowledge construction associated with cultural competence, negative perceptions of Arab and Muslim women, aspects of international social work, Islamophobia, anti-Arab sentiments, speech, and practices, and more. 

So, how can we overcome this issue?

I think as a society we must realize and accept that people everywhere are just as good or bad, just as varied, and have the same fundamental needs and concerns, as people everywhere else. We all live and breathe on the same planet, Middle Easterners are not aliens from far away, they are human beings, just like “us” Westerners. That is the biggest, and first, step to overcoming Orientalism . Additionally, educating yourself and encouraging those around you to do the same about this lens will help grow awareness to avoid the consequences and move past it. 

“Ran” and “King Lear”

There is no doubt that Ran strongly resembles that of William Shakespeare’s King Lear. Both tales of betrayal involve rulers who relinquish their thrones and pass their power and land down to their offspring, causing two of the children to turn against them, while the third supports them in their old age. Whereas Ran’s Hidetora has three sons, King Lear has three daughters: Goneril, Regan, and Cordelia. Hidetora’s jealous sons are also more ruthless than Lear’s opposing daughters. Not surprisingly given their status, both Ran and Lear suffer from a good old-fashioned case of overzealous pride, and both banish anyone that disagrees with them. And of course, in typical Shakespearian fashion, both tales end with the death of the entire family.

The director of Ran, Akira Kurosawa, seems to portray King Lear in a form of Japanese drama intertwined with history. Although the film became heavily inspired by Shakespeare’s play, Kurosawa began using it only after he had started preparations for Ran, and from the portions that I watched, it is interesting to analyze the similarities and differences between the two.

To me, the most obvious difference between Ran and King Lear lies in the dialogue. Ran has almost none, while Lear is an example of poetic and dramatic use of the English language. While viewing the scene where Hidetora’s two sons physically attack him with the full force of their armies, it is clear that Ran’s plot development and artistically directed scenes help create a much more powerful film. This film also seems to be a lot more direct. Rather than the verbose speeches and poetry of King Lear, there is subtlety and interpretation rejected for battle scenes and unambiguous dialogue.

I think it would be very interesting to watch the full movie of Ran, but it is 2 hours and 42 minutes, which is just a little too long for me.

Self-Expression Through Music Poetry

Poetry can be a type of literature that conveys a thought, describes a scene, or tells a story in a concentrated, lyrical arrangement of words. So then what is music? It seems to be poetry sung with instrumental sounds added in the background.

Ritt Momney’s song “Put Your Records On,” the viral cover of Corinne Bailey Rae’s hit debut single, is musical poetry. It is a joyful, hopeful song and, if read aloud as a poem, reveals a deeper meaning within the lyrics.

This song is very motivating and almost empowering for everyone. In this song, the singer is reassuring all the girls out there that it’s going to be okay. They do not need to stress too much about how they look. Many girls and boys put too much pressure on themselves to be “perfect”. They try to alter how they look and hide how they truly feel so that they get accepted by the world. But this song is basically saying that it does not matter what the world thinks. What really matters is what you think and how you truly feel about yourself.

Don’t you let those other boys fool you
Gotta love that Afro hairdo

The lyric is a message to the original artist’s, Bailey-Rae’s, younger self to embrace her natural hair. When she was a teenager, the trend was to have straight hair and the singer feared being out of step if she didn’t follow the fashion.

When you gonna realize that you don’t even have to try any longer?
Do what you want to

Girl, put your records on, tell me your favorite song
You go ahead, let your hair down

The hair down is a metaphor to get loose, not to worry, and embrace your inner beauty, which is cool since it’s what many of us do when we are at home and want to relax. We let our hair loose and enjoy the feel of being ourselves.

Love in Migration

By showcasing minor characters with the freedom to migrate instantaneously through doors, Exit West shows that people immigrate to other countries to find possibility, which often takes different forms. One is that is demonstrated is love.

Early in the novel, the people who go through the doors follow the classic narrative of the endangered refugee in search of safety. What we see with Saeed and Nadia, life in their own city became impossible, without freedom, privacy, or financial opportunities there was no opportunity to deeply love and thrive together. The two travel through a door to a new beginning in hopes of growing their love, but also in search of safety together.

Later, in Chapter 9, the wrinkled Brazilian man goes back and forth between Brazil and Amsterdam until his relationship with the Dutchman turns into a romance: “A week later a war photographer…[was] a witness to their first kiss, which she captured, without expecting to, through the lens of her camera, and then deleted, later that night, in a gesture of uncharacteristic sentimentality and respect” (176). He migrated to find love.

Or even the maid in Chapter 11 chooses not to migrate at all because she assumes nowhere else in the world can accept her and no possibilities exist outside her community. Even the love and support of her daughter can’t convince her to begin the journey to a new life. Whatever the initial motivation behind migration, the characters in the novel all search for new possibilities, which can mean safety, opportunity, or love.

Are You Happy?

Camus’ argument states that with the human condition, happiness is connected to the discovery that our world and our fate are our own, that there is no hope, and that our life is purely what we make of it. He states that people see life as a constant struggle, without hope. Any attempt to deny or avoid the struggle leads to unfulfillment. Camus’s single requirement for society is to live with full awareness of the absurdity of one’s position.

He applies this conclusion while transforming the reader’s thoughts of the myth. While Sisyphus is pushing his rock up the mountain, there is nothing for him but toil and struggle. But in those moments where Sisyphus descends the mountain free from his burden, he is aware. He knows that he will struggle forever and he knows that this struggle will get him nowhere. Happiness and the absurd are closely linked, suggests Camus. They are both connected to the discovery that our world and our fate are our own, that there is no hope, and that our life is purely what we make of it. During the time he walks down towards the rock, Sisyphus is totally aware of his fate. Camus concludes: “One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

I agree with some of his thoughts and ideas about the human condition. It reminds me of self-improvement. In order to actually improve one’s mindset and over well-being, they must recognize where they are in life and accept it. This will allow the said person to begin their journey of happiness because they are in control of their fate. However, the one part that I do not understand is what really is happiness. If it is just being aware of your fate, what comes next? From the perspective of Camus, is there more meaning to life than working to accept your fate and ultimately being happy?

The Weather Affect

Upon hearing news of his mother’s death, Meursault is dispassionate and nonchalant, as if he’s heard of a poor weather forecast for the upcoming weekend that may inconvenience his plans. “Maman died today” (3).

Throughout the first chapters of the novel, the sun is a symbol for the feelings and emotions, which Meursault cannot deal with. The sun becomes a distraction from Meursault’s everyday life and he cannot handle it. It first presents a problem to Meursault at his mother’s funeral.

The weather during the funeral had been beautiful, keeping a neutral tone on Meursault and he felt no grief or sadness. However, once the funeral procession began to walk the “glare from the sky was unbearable” (16). It was very hot and bright, which made him drowsy and showed how he was disinterested in the funeral and bored.

Again the sun makes another appearance towards the end of chapter six, it is the sun shining in his eyes that allegedly motivates Meursault to murder the Arab man. The sun’s heat and glare are enough for Meursault to kill a man, just as in the whole of life, there is no greater meaning there. Ultimately, the sun appears to encourage Meursault, who is already a rather passive fellow, to begin with, to react to the world with the same indifference as reality itself.

Ironically, heat becomes associated with death and the absurdity of life in general.