Orientalism In The Stranger

Orientalism; the idea that Middle Eastern or Asian cultures are stagnant, savage, and only used to show the progress of a Western culture or person, can be seen in many works of literature. Novels such as Exit West, and The God of Small Things fight this system by depicting Eastern cultures as complex and independent cultures. On the other hand, many famous works like The Stranger, fail to break free from this trope.

The main instance of Orientalism in The Stranger comes when the main character Meursault (a western man) kills an Arabian man for no particular reason. The way Camus writes this ordeal is where Orientalism can really be seen. Camus refers to this Arabian man simply as “The Arab”. He is not given a name, a backstory, or a reason why he is killed. He is widdled down to the most one-dimensional version that a human being can become. As a metaphor “The Arab” possibly represents more, but as a character however, his only purpose is to die. Between this killing and the way he “objectified”, the Arabian Man and Meursault are as far away from mutual recognition as possible. The man is not depicted as a full human being and in the novel, his life only exists to be taken.

This is different from typical orientalism where an entire culture or nation is simplified because it is just one man. However, “The Arab” is the only “Eastern” character in the entire novel which means that the idea of Orientalism can still be applied. Throughout the novel, the only “Eastern” character is never given a life of his own, never shown progressing and is never even given a name. His only purpose is to interact with the western character (Meursault). Since he only exists to develop other characters, is never given an identity of his own, and is never recognized as truly human, “The Arab’s” treatment in the stranger is one of the most clear and concise examples of Orientalism in the literature we have studied this year.

Orientalism in American Media

America as a nation tends to believe that we are the best and the heroes of the story. Can you remember the last time you watched a movie where it was a non-American person fighting an American villain? Because I can not. In American media such as movies and even history books the Americans are always depicted as the good guys, or that the world revolves around them. This concept is better known as Orientalism. Orientalism refers to how the West tends to depict Eastern civilizations as barbaric and primitive, and then the West as civilized and advanced.

Orientalism is very prevalent in American movies. The genre of old western movies is plagued by Orientalism especially. In these movies, white people are portrayed as the heroes, while the savage Native Americans terrorize them. In reality Native Americans are actually very civilized, friendly people with a lot of culture. What adds to the misrepresentation of the native Americans is that during this period of time the native Americans were actually very peaceful people, they simply were just trying to keep the land they had been living on for years upon years before the white people came.

Furthermore, Orientalism is very prevalent in history books. In my experience with history classes, world history is portrayed as revolving around America. The books we are taught completely ignore the history of nations outside of America. In reality America does not have a big place in world history, it is a nation that has only been around for a couple hundred years, while other nations have been around for thousands with a lot more history to them which is all pushed to the side for the sake of American history.

Orientalism and the MET Gala

In 2015, the annual MET Gala theme was China: Through the Looking Glass. In essence, the event was an exhibit of Asian inspired designs made by western designers. The MET released a description of the event, stating the purpose of the theme was “to propose a less politicized and more positivistic examination of Orientalism as a site of infinite and unbridled creativity.” The statement implies Orientalism is a conversation rather than a system used to oppress eastern cultures.

Orientalism at its core is “a Western style for dominating, restructuring, and having authority over the Orient.” The use of American designers at an American event which targets Asian culture is doing just that – dominating and defining the culture for the Western world. The suggestion that Orientalism is a site of “creativity” implies that the culture is something Americans can play and explore with rather than a region’s way of life.

We like to believe that racism and Orientalism are things of the past, but in reality they are so deeply embedded into our culture that they become trends for the Western world to capitalize off of. The MET Gala is just one example of Orientalism in America, but its certainly one of the most blunt. Hopefully, the MET will do a better job of picking appropriate themes in the years to come.

Orientalism in Lord of the Rings

The Lord of the Rings was my favorite book and movie series growing up. I argue that the series is better than Star Wars and The Godfather by a large margin. That being said, I think all lovers of the trilogy should consider an orientalist perspective when experiencing the power of the one ring.

While it may not have been intentional, J.R.R. Tolkien created a world called “Middle Earth” that resembled a Eurocentric mindset. In Middle Earth, the west part of the map is filled with innocent white people (hobbits, elves, men, dwarves). The most extreme example is the snow-white elves. Further East in the map is Mordor where Mount Doom lies along with thousands of disgusting, uncivilized orcs.

Again, Tolkien most likely did not mean to hide a hate for the East in his books. However, the blatant contrast between the white westerners and orc easterners reflects a regional bias that may be prevalent among Europeans. Subconsciously, westerners may differentiate themselves from other regions, such as the East, based on race.

In the two biggest battles of the Lord of the Rings, there is a theme of everyone coming together in Middle Earth to defeat the orcs. The first battle is Helms Deep, where the men of Rohan are surprised by hundred of elves willing to fight along side them. Even though the idea is that two very different groups come together, both groups are still 100% white. Anyone who is not western is left out of the “good” alliance.

Tolkien had a clear lack of people of color in his book, but there is still no way I will try to cancel Lord of the Rings. But through this orientalist lens, we can see how a Eurocentric viewpoint can influence one of the greatest pieces of media in the last century.

God of Small Things and Parasite

“How could she stand the smell? Haven’t you noticed? They have a particular smell, these Paravans.”

Baby Kochamma, God of Small Things

“No, no, it’s not that. What is it? Like an old radish. No. You know when you boil a rag? It smells like that.”

Park Dong-ik, Parasite

*spoilers* GOST reminded me of many works of art, including Parasite, one of my favorite movies. Both works put smell at the center of tensions between classes.

This use of smell is very striking in both stories. Even though it’s one of our most powerful scenses, smell tends to be sidetracked in movies and books.

Class might visually or audibly present itself differently in different cultures. Scent is the most universally recognized measure of class; no matter where in the world you live, it requires privilege to have access to perfume, running water, and soap, and to live in an area that isn’t heavily polluted or have a job that doesn’t include interactions with trash/chemicals.

The effects of orientalism are also present in Parasite. I haven’t seen the movie for a while, but a detail I remember is that one character, Ki-jung, uses the fake name “Jessica” and claims to have studied in America when she tries to become the Park family’s art therapist. She seems more qualified to the Park family because of her English name and American education.

There are more similarities between the two stories. Both are about relations between families of different classes, and all families involved in these stories are destroyed because of these relationships. If you haven’t seen Parasite, I highly recommend it. Like GOST, it is as thrilling as it is thought-provoking.

Orientalism in Pirates of the Caribbean

Pirates of the Caribbean, a well known franchise adored by a large audience, is a fun, thrilling tale of the adventures of Captain Jack Sparrow and his companions. I grew up watching the films as a child and immediately fell in love with the series as soon as jack stepped off his sinking ship onto the dock of Port Royal. The first film follows Captain Jack and Will Turner as they attempt to catch the infamous ship, The Black Pearl, captained by Jack’s mutinous first mate Barbossa. The second film, Dead Man’s Chest, picks up right where the first left off and the viewer can jump right back into the fun. Although an enjoyable movie as a whole, the Caribbean native people in the film are portrayed as beast like cannibals who, are meant to be viewed as merely animals.

When we arrive on the island we follow will turner as he is brought before Captain Jack, who the native people believe to be a god. Immediately, the orientalist tones of the film are clear. Within the first few minutes, the white “civilized” characters are placed on a pedestal above the native people who are portrayed as uncivilized and unintelligent. The film depicts them as static, undeveloped savages who are outsmarted by their white overlord. As the story progresses, the native people, who believe Jack to be a god, decide to eat him in order to “Do him the honor of releasing him from his fleshy prison” In the end, Jack and his crew manage to escape the island on The Black Pearl and continue on their journey.

The portrayal of the Caribbean native people in this film is highly problematic. To the western viewer, who may be being exposed to them for the first time through the film, will not see them as people, rather as animals who act off of their instincts and primitive beliefs. The viewers may then internalize the sense of superiority presented to them about themselves and their culture to those that they view as the other. This belief only works to increase the divide and misunderstanding of people who have different cultures than what is commonly known in the west, increasing the prejudice and hate that we commonly see today.

The Art of Orientalism

When I was about 7 or 8, my dad took me to visit The Art Institute of Chicago for the first time. I had been to museums before, but I’d never seen anything quite like those galleries, 20-foot ceilings with walls coated in thick layers of gold filigreed frames and various conglomerations of paints. The rooms I always felt most connected to were the ones holding Van Goghs and Monets, feeling that connection they held to my heritage.

I wish I could say that, as an 8-year-old, I was able to spot the imperialism and Eurocentricity that binds together the walls of so many art museums, but that wouldn’t be true. Like many European Americans, the interest I had in ancient Chinese, Indian, and Japanese art came from a sense of exploration, exposing my mind to the foreignness of the sculptures and pottery. For many years, I suppose I assumed that the exploratory aspect of myself was sufficient reason for any inclination I bore towards East and Southeast Asian art, that the interest, in and of itself, was something to be proud of. However, the difference between the fixation I had for European Impressionist paintings and my curiosity surrounding the Asian galleries was an appreciation and understanding. Even now, I can’t honestly say that I understand every painting I see, but behind that, there is a search for understanding, a drive to comprehend the complexities of each brushstroke.

In the topic of Orientalism, the thing that separated cultural appropriation from appreciation is just the same; some people seek to enjoy the commodities of other cultures, and some people seek to respect them. Respect, not just acknowledgment, whether it be in tangible art, literature, or ceremonies, is what ensures that people do not simply see and take. Respect establishes civility, attentiveness, and accountability for all of the culture Eurocentricity has treated like a trend.

Marjane Satrapi and Feminist Orientalism

In 2003, Marjane Satrapi published her memoir in the form of a graphic novel titled Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. A year later she published the sequel, Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return. The two books consist of Satrapi’s experiences throughout her childhood in Iran and young adulthood in Austria. She wrote her personal narrative with the purpose of shedding light on the people and culture of Iran and as a way of challenging the Occident/Orient binary. I read both of Satrapi’s novels in middle school and for the purpose of studying Orientalism, I found a helpful article that analyzes Satrapi’s work thoroughly on this subject area. Diego Maggi, a doctoral student from Georgetown University wrote a journal article, “Orientalism, Gender, and Nation Defied by an Iranian Woman” that discusses Satrapi’s personal narrative and how it displays conflicting coexistence between the West and East.

Maggi’s article mentions the works of Edward Said on Orientalism, but he also adds that there are various critiques on it and one of them is that Orientalism is intersected by other aspects that complicate the Orient’s reality and tensions between the East and West. One of those aspects is gender, and more specifically the aspect of feminism which was said to have been scarcely discussed by Said. Many authors had critiques on Said’s theory, but Roksana Bahramitash established that there is feminist Orientalism and Orientalist feminism. The former is exercised as a way of enforcing the idea of Muslim women as victims and cements a colonial lens on women in the East by assuming superiority to Western feminism. The latter refers to a way of advocating and supporting women’s rights in the East.

Satrapi’s memoir is found to be complex because in the book she tends to follow European and North American culture and feminism. This leads Maggi to pose three crucial questions that he discusses in his analysis. Essentially, Maggi explicates that despite Satrapi’s fondness for Western philosophers and rejection of customs of Islamic women, Satrapi does not reject her nationality and culture. Satrapi rejects aspects of the Middle East that limit her as a woman. In fact, Satrapi’s memoir represents a strong sense of nationality that’s highlighted when she moves to Vienna for her studies and actively has to battle Orientalism and binaries related to civilization/barbarism.

In the introduction of the book, Satrapi explains perfectly why she’s telling her story and blatantly opposes Orientalism to be used as a lens to understand her life.

…this old and great civilization has been discussed mostly in connection with
fundamentalism, fanaticism, and terrorism. As an Iranian who has lived more than
half of my life in Iran, I know that this image is far from the truth. This is why
writing Persepolis was so important to me. I believe that an entire nation should
not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists. I also don’t want those
Iranians who lost their lives in prisons defending freedom, who died in the war
against Iraq, who suffered under various repressive regimes, or who were forced
to leave their families and flee their homeland to be forgotten.

(Marjane Satrapi, 2003, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood)

I highly recommend Marjane Satrapi’s memoir and Diego Maggi’s article as a tool to expand the impact of the books. Despite the political and cultural complexities, it’s a good read that puts you in the shoes of a young girl in Iran in search of individuality. It is a personal story that touches on a broad subject like Orientalism and can aid a Westerner’s better understanding of life in the East.

Orientalism in Avatar

When I first watched Avatar as a kid, I was too young to really absorb the story. Instead, I loved it for all the bright colors and fun action sequences. However, after rewatching the movie recently, I noticed that it follows the basic structure for Orientalism in movies. Jake Sully, a white man, becomes a part of a study of the native “aliens” (the Na’vi) of the planet Pandora. The beginning of the film contains many scenes depicting the Na’vi as a wild and uncivilized group that needed help from humans. The main researcher, Grace, even tried to create a school on Pandora in order to teach them to live like humans. However as the film progresses, Jake begins to learn the ways of the Na’vi people and eventually be integrated into their community. By the end of the movie, Jake Sully acts as the leader of the Na’vi in order to protect them against the humans trying to take over Pandora. Basically, a white American man is thrown into this uncivilized group, learns their ways and begins to appreciate them, and finally ends up being a better version of them and becomes their leader.

I was shocked when I first noticed this. How did a sci-fi movie about an entirely different planet still manage to have Orientalism? This really scared me. A movie that isn’t even about Earth managed to spread the message of Orientalism. What’s even scarier is that Avatar is the #1 top grossing movie. How many people have watched it and not picked up on its problematic message? Although it has been criticized many times in the past, I doubt most of the world really took the time to look into what is so problematic about it. How many children have watched this movie and are subtly being influence they are better than people from other cultures? I also wondered, how many other movies have I watched with not-so-subtle Orientalism that I just didn’t even pick up on? How many other movies are spreading these messages around without anyone noticing or caring? Although I doubt that I will always pick up on all the different problematic themes in movies, I definitely will be paying more attention from this point forward.

Seeing Through the Fog of War

According to Edward Said’s theory of Orientalism, the western perception of the Middle East is clouded systematically and structurally to the point that even actual experiences are casted in the same light of ‘mysticism’ and ‘strangeness’ of all past depictions, creating an oriental blind spot for many in the West. He specifically identifies this as being especially present for Europeans, for whom the Middle East has been the locale and source of much of their history, while Americans typically associate the Orient with the Far East.

However, I want to discuss specifically the impact of Orientalism upon the Western perception of Afghanistan and America’s 20-year war there which ended last year. The US first sent troops to Afghanistan following the attacks of 9/11 upon the twin towers to seek out and kill Osama Bin Laden, eventually doing so in 2011. However, the rest of the years were spent on a nation-building project to move Afghanistan from a Taliban-led religious state to one organized around a democracy, something which has obviously not been effective in the long run, given that the Afghan government backed by the United States fell in mere weeks following the official withdrawal of US forces.

However, despite the continuous efforts (or perhaps more aptly described as ‘failings’) of the US to build up the Afghan nation in a ‘democratic’ image over the past 4 presidential administrations, what remains striking is how the perception of the Afghan people has changed and not changed. Even with the continued interaction between the US and Afghanistan, the overall image of Afghanistan has remained as a place where conservative Islamic values hold sway and a place to be bombed indiscriminately, no matter who is fighting or why. This image has only been reinforced as American attempts to ‘civilize’ the nation have failed drastically, making it seem as if the Afghan people could never hold to western values and ideals for fundamental social, political, and historical reasons. The problem with this image, however, is that it lacks a lot of nuance. The nation-building first commenced by the Bush administration, for all of its flaws, has made progress in emphasizing women’s rights and increasing the literacy rate, and the apparent exodus of Afghans following the Taliban victory also seems to indicate that there is not as much appetite for Taliban rule as might be perceived.

Afghanistan is now wracked by a series of humanitarian crises, several of which are triggered by the freezing of government assets (now Taliban assets) outside of the country. It seems that American perception of Afghanistan has taken on a new dimension, being that since Afghanistan has proven impervious to change, we should take no efforts to do so. It will be interesting to see how Orientalism will continue to affect our views of the Middle East, for better or worse, as the region continues to develop and change.

The Orientalist Nature of Western Media’s Coverage of Conflict

As I write this, it has been just over one week since Russia reinvaded Ukraine. Over the past eight days, Putin’s War has already resulted in hundreds of deaths, both civilian and military. Coverage of it has blanketed American news channels around the clock. Yet, the Russia-Ukraine conflict is far from the only ongoing conflict in the world, and the incredible amount of attention directed towards it is in large part due to orientalism and the direct impact that it has on Europe compared to the other conflicts.

Take, for instance, CBS reporter Charlie D’Agata. Last Sunday, D’Agata reported on this conflict from Kyiv, saying, “This isn’t a place, with all due respect, like Iraq or Afghanistan, that has seen conflict raging for decades. This is a relatively civilized, relatively European — I have to choose those words carefully too — city, one where you wouldn’t expect that or hope that it’s going to happen.” Note the adjective “civilized” to describe Kyiv, as if to contrast with the “uncivilized” cities of the Orient. D’Agata even seems to recognize how his words could be (rightly) perceived as orientalist and white supremacist as he notes that he has to “choose those words carefully” — as if instead of by describing Kyiv as “European”, he really means to describe the city as “white”.

It’s not just that coverage of Putin’s War has been in many ways a thinly-veiled embodiment of orientalism and European supremacy — it’s also that its coverage has been at the expense of other conflicts that take place in other countries in Asia and Africa (i.e. the Orient). Wikipedia lists four ongoing conflicts in addition to the war in Ukraine as “major wars”: the Tigray War (a civil war in Ethiopia), the Taliban’s efforts to maintain control over Afghanistan, internal conflict in Myanmar, and the Yemeni Civil War, which have led to about 400, 500, 3,300, and up to 5,100 deaths so far this year, respectively. Apart from coverage of the Afghan conflict several months ago following the American withdrawal of troops — itself only covered due to western involvement — there is zero coverage of any of these conflicts. In fact, I would venture to guess that the majority of Americans had no idea the Ethiopian, Myanmar, or Yemini wars are even happening, or would even be able to identify the three countries on a map.

Now, I do agree that in many respects, this most recent conflict does necessitate more coverage than most others. Russia is, after all, a nuclear power, led by a reckless and dangerous dictator who just a few days ago threatened the use of nuclear weapons, and whose forces set fire to the largest nuclear power plant in Europe just hours ago, whereas none of these are true for the nations involved in other wars. The potential for global ramifications are absolutely greater here than with any other conflict in my lifetime. But that doesn’t mean other conflicts, in which thousands of people have been killed, can simply be ignored.

Orientalism in The God of Small Things

While reading the theory of orientalism, I reflected on how casually and habitually orientalism shows up in television, works of literature, and every day discussion in Western countries. This theme is repeatedly incorporated throughout The God of Small Things,, specifically through its emphasis of “the other” and the power dynamic that this perspective enforces.

Exaggerated contrasts of culture are highlighted with the initial greetings of Sophie Mol and Margaret Kochamma. For instance, Margaret Kochamma exclaims, “How marvelous!…It’s a sort of sniffing! Do the Men and Women do it to each other too?” which is returned by Ammu, ” Oh, all the time!…That’s how we make babies.” Chacko then requests that Ammu apologizes to which she responds with, “Must we behave like some damn godforsaken tribe that’s just been discovered?”(171). Ammu’s sarcasm and frustration with Margaret Kochamma justifiably stems from the condescension of not only her inquiries, but the suggestion of other cultures being exotic or strange by Westerners as a whole. Moreover, this exaggeration of differences establishes the power of Westerners, as cultures of the East are further pushed into the label of being outsiders or labeled as “the other”.

Furthermore, the idealization of Sophie Mol further emphasizes the presence of this perspective on a global scale. For example, “‘She has her mother’s color,’ Kochu Maria said. ‘Papppachi’s nose’, Mammachi insisted, ‘I don’t know about that, but she’s very beautiful,’…Sundari kitty. She’s a little angel’. Kochu’s Maria’s insistence of Sophie Mol’s possession of solely her mothers physical characteristics and continued use of the word “beautiful” to describe her continues to reinforce the idea of orientalism, especially considering Estha and Rahel’s consequent perspective of what “beauty” is. Roy notes, “Littleangels were beach-colored and wore bell bottom. Little demons were mudbrown in Air-port Fairy Frocks…”(170).

Orientalism. Ruining the People

Orientalism has become more and more relevant in people’s life through media and the east are losing what their real culture is like. A film that has Orientalism is “A Passage to India” a lot of critics were saying how this is the directors best film yet which means they are believing what they see in the film as how the east is actually like. People were falling into that trap of how the east was portrayed in cinema and the east was losing their real culture. This movie shows the east as these blood thirsty people who were always attacking the English people in the movie, even at one point a man was dressed as a monkey and jumped on the English woman’s carriage. People were believing that the east were all just fighters which made the east lose culture as people were becoming scared of them. The media is ruining the east and still is today in Disney films such as Aladdin that little kids are growing up watching and seeing how the people are portrayed and that is how they are going to grow up knowing the east as. Orientalism needs to be stopped and when people see how cinema or television is portraying the east they should read up on what the culture really is like so they can see how extracted the media is showing them as. It’s time for people to see the real culture not the media culture.

Orientalism and Western Feminism

There is a clear orientalist perspective in the way western culture views and others Asian and Middle Eastern women. For the most part, images of Asian and Middle Eastern women in western media and entertainment are within the context of sex or service. 

There are two main stereotypes of particularly eastern Asian women in western media, the China Doll/Geisha and the Dragon Lady. The China Doll or Geisha stereotypes are the view of eastern Asian women as sexual and “exotic” objects with the purpose of pleasuring men. This stereotype is based on male fantasy and has significantly contributed to the fetishization of Asian women in western culture. Popular examples of the China Doll or Geisha stereotype are Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Miss Saigon (1989), and Full Metal Jacket (1987). Also perpetuating the fetishization and hypersexualization of Asian women, the Dragon Lady stereotype is the view of eastern Asian women as domineering, deceitful, and villainous, often shown as using sex as a weapon to trick and harm men. Popular examples of the Dragon Lady stereotype are Rush Hour 2 (2001), You Only Live Twice (1967), and perhaps most famously Alex Munday (Lucy Liu’s character) in Charlie’s Angels (2000).

This hypersexualized view of Asian women by western culture leads to discrimination and violence against Asian women, particularly in the United States. For example, the Atlanta spa shootings in March of 2021 where 8 people, 6 of whom were Asian women, were fatally shot by a white man whose actions, in his words, were caused by “sexual addiction”. These shootings were motivated by both race and gender. The gunman specifically targeted three Asian-owned spas and stated he was attempting to remove the “temptation” of “these places”.

This doesn’t just apply to western culture as a whole, western feminists often overlook Asian and Middle Eastern women in their activism. Western feminists often don’t include Asian and Middle Eastern women in their efforts, fight against stereotypes directed towards them, or recognize the different and intersectional experiences of Asian and Middle Eastern women. Additionally, western feminists often look down on Middle Eastern women for conforming to cultural or religious values. They view Middle Eastern women as people who need to be saved from their culture, specifically in regards to things like hijabs, without considering how Middle Eastern women actually feel about the cultural or religious practices that western feminists have deemed oppressive. 

Overall, the orientalist depiction of Asian and Middle Eastern women in western culture is extremely harmful, othering, and leads to exclusion, discrimination, and violence.

Orientalism in Star Wars

While Star Wars is one of the most popular and (in my opinion) greatest movie franchises in cinematic history, it still has its flaws. Nearly all of those problems are in the storyline of the most recent trilogy, but on a more serious note there are crucial flaws in the original trilogy, and one is the portrayal of different groups of people throughout the movie.

The first movie starts with Luke Skywalker on Tatooine, a sandy, desert planet. The inhabitants of the planet vary, but one of the most obvious native groups to Tatooine are the Sand People. The sand people are portrayed as an uncivilized race that steals from others and wear ratty sand robes, and this is shown clearly in the first part of the movie when they rob Luke. The problem with this is that this aligns closely with the Western view of the Middle East. The vast deserts with no civilizations represent the terrain, and the torn-up robes covering their bodies and heads closely resemble hijabs and other traditional Middle Eastern clothing. The savagery of their lifestyle emphasizes the western idea that these countries are uncivilized and barbaric. This portrayal results in westerners seeing the Middle East as insignificant, and it continues the cycle of racism that already exists in America. While some may see this comparison between the Sand People and Middle Easterns a stretch, it also doesn’t help that these scenes were filmed in Tunisia, a Northern African country with many deserts.

Later in the trilogy, Yoda travels to Kashyyyk, a dense forest planet. This planet seems to have humid, warm weather, and closely represents a jungle climate such as a jungle in Southern Africa or Southern Asia. Of course, Star Wars continues their orientalist theme, and the inhabitants of this planet are Wookies, the same species as Chewbacca. The Wookies are large, gorilla like animals that are seen as rather dumb, and mainly used for their strength. They are rarely seen as dynamic characters, and are usually one sided and cannot help themselves without a leader. Throughout the series all Wookies seem to have a master, whether its Chewbacca with Han Solo, the Wookies on Kashyyyk being led by Yoda, or Krrsantan being led by the Hutts and then Boba Fett. While this may seem to be a coincidence, it still spreads the idea that in the real world, the people from these jungle regions are uncivilized animals, and are desperate for someone to come save them. This enforces the discriminatory views associated with eastern countries and encourages racism. Similar to the situation on Tatooine, the scenes for this part of the movie were shot in Thailand, increasing the idea that the people from these regions are similar to the Wookies in the movie and have animalistic tendencies.

Overall, the Orientalism in Star Wars may not be as obvious as in other movies because the characters portraying these groups of people aren’t human, but that also magnifies it because it emphasizes the animalistic and savage tendencies. The Sand People and the Wookies are obvious examples, but the further you dig, the more Orientalism you will find. It is important to recognize these portrayals and continue to resist the subtle racism incorporated into movies.

Insight on “Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom”

Lunana: A Yak in the Classroom has been nominated for Best International Feature Film in the 94th Academy Awards ceremony and as I watch the film, I notice similarities between the movie’s plot, and me watching it as a member of the western world. The film stars a young man who is a teacher but no longer wishes to be. Ugyen is then sent to the most remote school in the world, Lunana, where he is convinced, he will quit and leave. The teacher begins to enjoy the village and teaching more and more as he starts to appreciate what a teacher can really do for the world. “A teacher touches the future,” is what the villagers believe. Throughout the story, the teacher becomes humbled by the villagers as he transitions from his city life. Humbled in a way that he begins to appreciate the hard work and the simple beauty of the village.

As I watch the film, I cannot help but see motifs within the movie. The city the teacher hails from represents western culture with the fun pop music, professional hiking shoes, and a (possibly) Nike jacket. These are the things westerners are comfortable seeing because we do not have to make any sort of effort to understand. These things are exactly the same in the west. As Ugyen transitions into the village, he gradually starts to ease his hold on his familiar city life. Singing is a motif within the film and the contrast between the songs the villagers sing compared to Ugyen is stark. The songs are not something a western person can easily pick up and Ugyen has the same problem, therefore starting to humble us both. The viewer has just as much learning to do as the new teacher. The film teaches both Ugyen and the viewer to always try to understand another person’s way of life. Ugyen constantly complained about Lunana until he started to understand it. As westerners, we make assumptions about the ways others live, even within their own country. I live in a very urban environment and have assumptions about people who live on farms, let alone people who live on a different side of the world, have a different language, different traditions and simply a different way of life. It should be common decency for someone to always try to understand another person’s life before making any assumptions about them.

Fiction for Fissures in Orientalism

In my life, I feel like my learning of the East and “other” cultures is pretty limited and after hearing about Orientalism it makes sense when I get a certain confusion about other cultures and lifestyles. The confusion can be frustrating and the lack of knowledge I have sometimes is real and this makes me think about why. The TV I watched or the books I read glamorized finding oneself in the East or oversexualized women from different cultures and realizing the extent of that is scary. The framework of analyzing these images has been opened up to me through discussions of literature that immerse readers into the “other’ that Orientalism misrepresents way too often. 

Last year, I got into reading and a fantasy fiction two-book series caught my attention, which inevitably led to a reading binge with breaks to eat, sleep, and repeat. Written by Hafsah Faizal, We Hunt The Flame and We Free The Stars raptured what I originally expected in reading a book. The books are based on ancient Arabia and I recall starting the book and being so clearly confused that I was desperately looking up terms like what sirwal were or what damma meant. Now reflecting on it I think Orientalism that has been around in my life became all too normal to me and while reading those concepts were challenged with the precise details that brought wonder and a desire to know more in this different setting. Faizal incorporated all these aspects into these characters’ lifestyles with terms and structures that I had little to no knowledge of. In my learning of history, I acknowledge the bafflement that comes with the fact that I did not cover much of it with the importance it deserves and being immersed in a society based with Orientalism, there is a lack of understanding that comes with trying to know real aspects of different lifestyles around us. Instead of associating deserts with personal European discovery journeys, the author immersed readers into the realistic details of life at those times for people not normally represented accurately in media with aromas, food, clothing, hierarchies, transportation, and decor. Despite the series being a part of fiction, the books taught more to me in the value of self-reflecting on what knowledge I lacked and thinking about wonder/romanticizing the details of different cultures than I ever really had known. I acknowledge that numerous factors are playing into the perception of these cultures that Orientalism in our society puts into categories such as exposure, effort, and conscious thinking but I still believe that literature opened me up to perceptions that cracked the one mind path track that Orientalism tries to manipulate into being accurate. 

The East’s stolen property and how can we return it?

The East was robbed in their say of how they should be portrayed around the world. Westerners have a tendency to meddle with other cultures by absorbing traditions and customs to try and make them their own. This is harmful within itself, but the extent to which this can be taken is far more dangerous than some think. It is important to portray other cultures correctly and is a step forward that everyone should be making.

Western media has such a big influence on the people who engage in it. From cinema to television, the things that are portrayed on these platforms can fuel the mindsets of its viewers. Our minds tend to absorb the things we view and it’s hard for one to decipher whether something is accurate or blatantly offensive. Western media has done a particularly poor job of portraying Eastern life in many different ways. “Aladin” is commonly brought up when discussing orientalism in film. You see a bloodthirsty Arab man and a poverty-stricken setting where we can get a first look at what westerners think of the East. For a company as large as Disney, it’s disappointing to see the Easterners being robbed of their true story all for the benefit of the western people. This is especially dangerous due to the movie’s preferred age group being children, a group that is so easily influenced by media.

Edward Said’s ideas expand on concepts far deeper than “Aladin”. The way he would see a movie like “Aladin” is that people are choosing what they want to see. Meaning, we love the beauty and elegancy of Eastern culture but chose to also depict them as violent and poor. You cant do that. If you are going to take the true beauty of a culture, then you can’t turn around and decide to depict them as something else all based on how it appeals to you. We see in Cardi B’s music video for “Bodak Yellow” her riding a camel in the middle of a desert, wearing a hijab. This is her idea of what she thinks is beautiful and although it is, it is unfair for westerners to pick and choose when they want to respect Eastern traditions and cultures.

Returning one’s culture isn’t nesasarilly something that is done overnight. Going back to “Aladin”, if your going to depict a beautiful princess and castle of a certain culture, their counterpart should be equally presented with the same respect and truth. And if that is defective to the plot then questioning the story as a whole should be considered.

Motifs In “Lunana: A Yak In The Classroom”

The film “Lunana” is beautiful because of its delicate and precise construction. Every shot is carefully thought-out with the meaning of the whole film in mind. Within the film, there are several motifs which also help to contribute to the meaning.

Singing is one such motif. In the first act of the film, so to speak, we witness Ugyen singing in English in a club in the city, after proclaiming that he was going to quit teaching and wants to leave the country to sing in Australia. Singing for him is somewhat of an escape from his work and home life, and is also a way in which he connects with other people. Ugyen also listens to music during the climb up the mountain, until his device runs out of battery. We next see singing while Ugyen makes his ascent to Lunana with his two guides, while they are making camp for the night. He asks them what they are singing about, and they explain to him that they are yak herders. I believe it is significant that this moment comes after Ugyen is forced to take off his headphones, and it could be argued that listening is part of the singing motif.

Singing/listening is also seen in the relationship between Ugyen and Saldon; in fact, the sound of Saldon singing is what caused Ugyen to seek her out in the first place. Furthermore, the interaction where Saldon teaches Ugyen the song she was singing is one of the most significant in their relationship. Asking why different people sing, and what the different kinds of listening are, will lead us to some of the more general thematic concerns of the film.

Another motif that the film explores is yaks, and more specifically, their dung. What I found most striking was the respect that the people of Lunana have for the yaks. I would go as far as to say that they have achieved mutual recognition with the yaks, while at the same time Ugyen is struggling to achieve something similar with the people. In conjunction with the motif of song, one of their most treasured songs was written about how a herder was forced to slaughter his most prized yak. The use of the dung to make fire, and the fact that Ugyen immediately starts collecting the dung with his bare hands, is also significant. I think that this motif leads us to themes concerning city life versus rural life, as well as animal and human relationships.

I am certain that there are many more motifs that could and should be explored further, and such exploration is encouraged by the clever approach taken by the filmmakers and writers.

The tiers of orientalism

Orientalism is best described as a patronizing attitude that westerners can hold towards societies in the east. However, there are tiers of orientalism.

The first tier is the least harmful, but still bad idea that people from the east are “weird.” These can be the basis for jokes, like jokes about Asians and their thinner eyes, for example. When you think a group is odd based on their differences, you are committing the act of orientalism. Instead, one should celebrate the differences that others have, not belittle other societies or races for being different.

The second tier is the idea that people in the east need “civilizing”. This was common through the colonial period when people like Kipling would write poems about the burden of having to ‘civilize’ others. This idea is misguided at best and leads to blood-lustful imperialism at worst. A society being different does not make it worse, and there are ways to improve other countries or help them without thinking that they are fundamentally misguided or that you’re the only one that can help them.

The third tier of orientalism is not viewing people in other hemispheres as human. An example where this was prominent was during slavery. When one is viewed as property and not as a person, it is the highest form of patronization. This is worse than viewing someone as “funny” or “lesser”, this is the full-blown dehumanization of someone from another place.