Hilarious Orientalism in Rotana Movies

Is 'Hamza's Suitcase' available to watch on Canadian Netflix ...

The Rotana Group is the Arab world’s largest entertainment company, and recently it released many of its goofiest movies into the international section of Netflix, making a presence in the Western world. The movies are unfortunately almost all in Arabic, which creates some issues for an American audience but as a Syrian-American, I can say that these movies have Orientalism at their very core.

Many aspects of Middle-Eastern culture and Arabic stereotypes are taken and exaggerated and distorted greatly. From views on women and homosexuality to camels to hookahs to terrorism to Arabian trap music; these movies paint a picture of the Arabic world that could not be farther from reality. The movies are a lot of fun to watch but the humor used is extremely shallow and can offer no new insight about the world (other than misleading Westerners that their stereotypes and presets about the Eastern world are true).

The Way Roy’s Writing Hits You

There are a plethora of disturbing books out there in the world, many of which I and our AP Literature class have read; but none hit harder than Arundhati Roy’s novel, “The God of Small Things.” There are two main reasons that her depictions of trauma hit hard: they usually come as a surprise and many moments are seen from the innocent mind of a child.

One of the most infamous and brutal places in the book is when Estha is molested by the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man. The scene starts out innocently, Estha is asked to leave the movie theater because he was being too loud. The refreshments guy in the lobby starts asking him questions in return for a free lemonade, which is disturbing on its own but then comes the real shocker:

“Now if you’ll kindly hold this for me,” the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man said, handing Estha his penis through his soft white muslin dhoti, “I’ll get you your drink. Orange? Lemon?”

Roy 98

There always seemed to be something off about the Orangedrink Lemondrink Man (a great name by the way), and maybe this behavior pattern was to be expected. However, the way Roy fits this horror into a sentence that makes us think one thing (that he was going to hand Estha an ingredient or the drink) and shatters this expectation with just one word is simply cruel.

But Roy does not stop there, towards the end of this scene, Estha’s hand is covered in “White egg white, Quarter-boiled” (Roy 99). Needless to say, that description from the point of view of a confused child scars readers on a whole other level. God of Small Things is a book that does not refrain from giving the full story, no matter how gruesome it might be, and because of that, it is powerful.

“Dumb and Dumber”: Laughter Without Meaning

Image result for dumb and dumber

The 1994 comedy directed by Peter Farrelly, “Dumb and Dumber,” still manages to impress audiences worldwide with its complete and utter stupidity to this day. You might want to check out the trailer and this list of 100 dumb things that happen in this comedy for context and a laugh.

Lloyd (Jim Carrey) and Harry (Jeff Daniels) are the two main characters, and Lloyd, a taxi driver, falls in love with a rich woman which he drove to the airport, who leaves a suitcase full of money behind. Seeking to return the money to her and gain her love, the two begin their journey to Aspen, the woman’s destination, pissing off several people along the way. Little did they know, the money left behind was ransom for a kidnapping, leading to several complications. Of course, on their journey, Harry and Lloyd spend “a little bit” of the money, only enough to get them each a lamborghini and a full new wardrobe, and at the end, one of them gets the girl.

In an Aristotelian sense, “Dumb and Dumber” can be considered a classical comedy (ignoring the semi-cliffhanger ending of the film). But unless one considers learning how to be a nuisance as valuable, this film is as far from meaningful as a film can be. There are multiple hyperbolized references to societal prejudices against the poor and women, but the way they are portrayed in the movie, the audience is not given a chance to even notice while they are uncontrollably gagging. Stereotypes are also evident and exaggerated throughout the movie, but are not critiqued in any way, shape, or form.

These comments on “Dumb and Dumber” can be extended to almost all laugh-out-loud comedies in the contemporary film genre, where the goals of the film makers do not extend far beyond making people exhale through their nose for money. However, comedies that tend to be more literary and a bit less stupid and where seeds of meaning can be scattered throughout can enhance the audience’s understanding of the world around them There seems to be a tradeoff between the amount of enjoyment a comedy can bring about and the weight of the meaning it carries.

The Surprisingly Meaningful Satire Behind Clickhole.com

Clickhole.com is a satirical “news” outlet that publishes daily content ranging from articles to quizzes on seemingly crude and unimportant matters. These images are representative examples of the content one would find there:

It is difficult to believe that this vile stream of content has a purpose more significant to make people laugh, but through these messages, clickhole.com is able to parody online outlets such as Buzzfeed and Upworthy that rely on clickbait to make a living. Clickhole does this by hyperbolizing the various techniques clickbaiters use to attract attention to themselves.

One of these techniques is the classic list. Whether it is “10 things you can do RIGHT NOW to lose weight” or “15 things you didn’t know you could do with an eraser,” lists tend to be attractive because the audience expects to gain multiple pieces of insight in a short period of time that they believe will change their lifestyle. Once the unsuspecting internet surfer clicks on the article and glances at the list, they realize there is nothing there for them to take in. But it does not matter for the creators of the advertisement-infested article, they make money whether the user likes the content or not. Articles like these are hyperbolized to cause internet users to ask themselves, “Who would click on this garbage?” and to discourage them from falling in the clickbait trap.

Another technique used by many companies to attract attention to their content is wholesomeness, or in other words, the “aww factor.” Clickhole satirizes this technique by beginning with a sarcastic phrase (“Absolutely Heartwarming” or “True Love” in the examples above) hinting at wholesomeness only to destroy that feeling with gore within the same sentence. This allows internet users to see how easily their emotions can be played and teaches them to avoid falling for this trickery.

Clickhole has the underlying theme of combating clickbait, but each article also has its own message, usually being that society pays too much attention to meaningless things such as royal families and celebrities and scandals that will be forgotten in a day or two. Despite being a load of fun to play around on and laugh at, clickhole.com was created for a purpose: to educate internet users the ways companies will use them to gain revenue and to waste their time. Unfortunately, Clickhole was bought by Cards Against Humanity and will no longer continue to produce new content as of just one week ago, but I believe that its message will continue to live on.

Will God be there?

“Will You Be There” is a song by Michael Jackson which was released as a in 1993, it is part of the album Dangerous and also appeared on the soundtrack to Free Willy. The speaker is clearly Michael Jackson himself, or anyone placed in the difficult situations he was in when composing this song. However, the audience of the song is a strange one indeed, nothing of this world makes sense to be the true audience – except for God. When looked at in this fashion, this song turns into a plea for divine help from someone in the darkest times of his life. The song begins:

Hold me
Like the River Jordan

After doing some digging, we find that the River Jordan is a sacred river, whose waters have a spiritual significance that make it distinct from other rivers. It is also supposedly the place where Jesus was baptized, so we can conclude that Michael Jackson is personally asking God for him to be held metaphorically like he was on the first day he entered into his religion. Towards the end of the song, Jackson asks for forgiveness claiming:

But I’m only human

These few words can be taken to mean many different things. The simplest meaning or the most literal is that Jackson is complaining about the strict standards for men in today’s society mentioned earlier in the song. However, it can also be seen that in this line, the speaker is letting go, completely giving up, recognizing that the problem is out of his hands and placing the burden on God’s shoulders. After all this drama buildup, the last two lines bring in a hopeful and much needed twist:

You’ll be there for me
And care enough to bear me

These lines can serve as a volta, similar to a sonnet, where the problem and the emotional intensity and dissatisfaction become resolved at a divine epiphany at the end, very often immortalizing or idealizing some kind of love or person, which is exactly what happens with these lines, in which Jackson gives an affirmative answer to the question “Will you be there?”

Beloved and Exit West

After letting both books sink in for a while, a similarity between the two works really started to make sense. Both works are set in real-world places and real-world times with real-world problems, Exit West is set in what seems to be civil-war ridden Syria and Beloved is set in the brutal time period of American slavery. However, they both have one element that distracts from the real world and adds a deeper level of meaning, making the story truly powerful.

The magical doors in Hamid’s novel and the reborn baby in Beloved serve add much more to the story than just a bit of spice and fantasy. Beloved serves as a metaphorical representation of the collective memory of slavery, coming back long after its abolition to haunt its victims and their loved ones, and the doors play with the idea of an immigration crisis to combat the idea of restricted immigration laws.

I thought it was very interesting to see how effective placing an out-of-the-ordinary element in a very serious book could be in creating advanced statement about the real world and how it makes the book a work of art and not just a fun page-turner.

Islam in “Exist West”

I was raised in a Muslim family my whole life and Islam dictates in a lot of ways how I see the world. However, when reading Mohsin Hamid’s novel Exit West, I feel like my Islamic world and the characters’ views of Islam are completely different. One example is the meaning of prayer in the novel, which strangely does not seem to mention God or worship in any way, shape, or form but is “a gesture of love for what had gone and would go and could be loved in no other way” (202). However, in real-life Islam and for most people, prayer is a way to glorify God and to reach some form of inner peace, and it is not optional in the way the novel makes it seem. Praying the five daily prayers is a requirement and one of the fundamental pillars of one’s faith, but this is not a reason to complain. Many people including myself and Saeed “value the discipline of it, the fact that it [is] a code, a promise [we have] made, and that [we] stood by” (202). Prayer is a truly mysterious thing and the experiences formed within it can be miraculous but can also be plain, depending on point of view.

On the other hand, some parts of the novel are ‘Godless’ and contrast heavily with the topic of spirituality. You would think that someone who seems to be so into their faith would abstain from smoking a joint whenever they want without feeling a sense of regret, but in this novel it happens. I believe Hamid wants to showcase religion as something that is more important at some times than at others, a sort of artificial, abstract idea that we refer to as a last resort, similar to what Albert Camus is getting at in his novel The Stranger. Personally, I believe that religion can be much more than that but in the strange world Nadia and Saeed are in, with its doors and long sentences, this is somewhat true.