American Popular Culture And Orientalism Cultural Studies Essay


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Since the eighteenth century, American collective imagination was already permeated with representations of Middle-Eastern peoples conveyed either through European literary works or the accounts of American missionaries, merchants, and archeologists. For e.g Mark Twain's account of his passage to the Middle-East seethed with his biases towards the Arabs and Muslims portraying them as backward, servile, and untrustworthy.

By the late nineteenth century, the Tripolitan wars, the popularization of travelogues, and popular contemporary Christian attitudes about Arabs made "Orient" synonymous with romance, mystery, and barbarism. In wake of burgeoning consumerism, American vendors and businessmen took advantage of these aesthetics to encourage consumer spending and indulgence.

Mass media and movie industry developed throughout the twentieth century to become the main purveyor of information, images and attitudes about the region to the public at large.

For e.g. National Geographic magazine had in an issue an article entitled "Sailing with Sinbad's Sons" describing sailors of the Bayan by reinforcing classic Orientalist myth of the primitive, happy Arab native. The "Arab Muslim" thus came to be associated with notions like lechery, dishonesty, sadistic, treacherous and low again depicted through blockbusters such as The Sheikh (1921), The Thief of Baghdad (1924) and Beau Geste (1939). There was little domestic reaction against these stereotypes; however, as few Americans had actually travelled to the Middle East thus lacked the personal experiences necessary to combat these cultural generalizations

During the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries, a number of specific luxury items became intrinsically associated with the Orient - most particularly the cigarette. Producers saw the Orientalist aesthetic as the ideal forum for advertising their products, and launched the most sustained campaign to capitalize on oriental motifs which continues to be the same to some degree although some qualitative changes are taking place in the American culture's discourse on Orientalism which favour a much broader and holistic view about the "Other".

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