By: Lindsay Geier, Waverly Hurd and Elizabeth Hagele
September 12, 2016
Many social institutions have influenced our society’s culture. All forms of media, school, family, and churches convey a similar message that has the power to socially construct and/or influence the masses. Through the use of symbols, corporations are able to communicate certain messages to specific audiences. This evidently influences our culture as it produces societal norms and specific behaviors making our world meaningful. Reel Bad Arabs directed by Sut Jhally, which is an extension from the book by Jack Shaheen, is a film about a Hollywood stereotype about Arabs who are portrayed as “sub-humans.” This film recognizes the influence of images on society. The main objective of this movie is to shed light on the negative stereotypes, which are constantly being portrayed and reinforced through social construction.
“When media professionals produce content that we read, listen too, or watch, meaning is being shared and culture is being constructed and maintained” (Baran, 9). Due to the fact that culture is made up of learned actions, shared values, traditions and behaviors, media has the power to convey and construct societal norms. Thus, producing predictive generalization, which is when we form preconceived notions and stereotypes before we even begin to know the group being discussed. From our class discussion we evaluated common stereotypes of Arabian men, which consisted of violent barbaric men, dominant over women, often portrayed as an evil “terrorist,” and seen as the “other.” The common stereotypes Hollywood portrays for women have transitioned from being naïve, pursuing lust and extravagance, and being the submissive, to more violent, emotionless, and powerful. These stereotypes help shape society’s perceptions of Arabs, which transcends to the mistreatment of Arabs on a daily basis. Through Hollywood’s portrayal of the Arabian man and woman, it has influenced people to believe the negative connotations as it continues to dehumanize their culture.
The documentary makes reference to Father of the Bride II as Hollywood continues to reinforce the negative gender role stereotype of portraying the woman as the submissive.
In this example, our class made note of the Arab man treating his wife poorly as he instinctively dismissed her from speaking. This scene accurately demonstrates the socially constructed beliefs towards Arabs. Socially constructed views of Arab culture have led to our American society to believe that Arabs are the “other.” Another movie that the documentary makes reference to is the opening scene of Aladdin. The song that is played in the opening credits continues to dehumanize Arabian culture and its individuals, as the lyrics say, “Where they cut off your ear. If they don’t like your face. It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home” (Howard Ashman, Disney).
Through previous class discussions, we made note of the influence media has on young generations and how it influences their opinions of Arabian people from a very young age. This transcends back to the term, predictive generalization, which is the notion that our society formulates stereotypes about specific cultures before they are even given the opportunity to begin to learn about the group being discussed and the effects it yields (Kittler).
Similarly, to The Truman Show, Hollywood reinforces these stereotypical norms for gender roles. Truman Burbank is portrayed as the breadwinner, while his wife stays at home cleaning and cooking. These gender roles are constantly being reinforced through different forms of media, ultimately influencing our society to believe that men at work and women at home is a societal norm. One of the trends of mass media communication is audience fragmentation, which is where larger companies narrowcast their messages to specific target audiences (Baran, 37). Despite the many multiple networks posting “same stories,” each segment produces a different bias on the story. Depending on which companies own these smaller networks, that is how the information portrayed is encoded or decoded by the audience members. Despite an individual’s personal perception of the story, the larger corporation can manipulate and ultimately decide how the story will be presented. This causes narrowcasting. According to media theorist, James W. Carey (1975), said: “Communication is a symbolic process whereby reality is produced, maintained, repaired, and transformed” (Baran, 7).
Due to current events, it is of no surprise that people have continued to believe that different races are the cause of many controversial issues and tragedies. Dean Obeidallah in his article for the Huffington Post, shares his personal opinion on the effects of the September 11th horrific event, 15 years later, as he states:
“9/11 was not just a tragedy, it was the beginning of a terrible chaos we are still suffering from in the Middle East”
The continued negative portrayals of Muslims through the media have left a lasting affect on current and future generations. Jhally and Shaheen’s book and documentary are imperative in our culture’s future of understanding the influence media has on manipulating beliefs towards different races, religions, and cultures.