What is the first image that comes to mind when you think of Middle Easterners? Did you picture a Muslim terrorist? Is this image often repeated and reinforced in the media?
We now see some Muslim heroes. NCIS: LA now features two Muslim agents, including series lead LL Cool J’s character Sam Hanna. Special Agent Omar Adom “O.A.” Zidan on FBI is also a practicing Muslim. But these few heroes are still far outnumbered by the Muslim terrorists who continue to be hunted on these and many other crime and spy shows and movies.
When you think of Indians or Pakistanis, do you think of convenience store owners? Do you think of Apu? The 2017 documentary The Problem with Apu called out The Simpsons for this stereotypical depiction:
Many would claim that The Simpsons has always been an “equal opportunity offender,” making fun of each and every group of people in society, so it’s unfair and “PC” to complain about any one stereotype in the show. But does a recurring stereotypical depiction on such a popular show carry more weight because there are so few other media depictions of this racial/ethnic group in American media? (White actor Hank Azaria decided to stop voicing Apu after 30 seasons.)
What comes to mind when you think of Asian men? Kung fu fighters and tech nerds?
Tech nerd and good at math don’t sound so bad. Aren’t those good traits? Are positive stereotypes okay, or are they just as reductive as negative ones, promoting the idea that everyone in the race is exactly the same?
And what about Asian women? Are they often stereotyped as Dragon Ladies and/or sexy and “exotic”?
[Warning, this video is especially obnoxious; the band later claimed the controversial video was meant as parody, but few bought this explanation.]
Of course these stereotypes often come together in the many media depictions of Asian women who are victims of sex trafficking. Do these depictions exploit the scantily clad Asian women on the screen even as they purport to be appalled by the women being exploited within the narratives?
And again, American media blends many distinct Asian cultures, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, etc., as one, never acknowledging the differences between them, or the diversity within each. Also, what does it say that we refer to western Asia and Egypt as the “middle east” and Asia as the “far east”? East of where? Is this yet another reminder that European culture sees itself as the center of the world?
But what happens when White artists adopt elements of other cultures in their performances?
Is this homage or exploitation? Are they appreciating their sources or appropriating them?
Victoria’s Secret has often been accused of appropriating other cultures.
Does the issue of appropriation take us back to the “two worlds” question from last week? Must mainstream White culture now “ask permission” to interact with and engage in the experiences, fashions, culture of “others”? Must they now at least acknowledge and credit their sources? And in doing so, must they first recognize there is indeed more than one world?