Reponse to Orientalism and Subalterns

During our CDG, we all agreed to continue the discussion on Orientalism. Right off the bat, Nathan asked: Why is this important? What makes Orientalism something that we have to talk about? Well Nate, here’s your answer! Orientalism supports the notion of conquering through knowledge, like epistemic violence. The knower constructs the known according to the knower. This brings us back to Freire’s oppressor/oppressed. The knower is the oppressor as they have the power to control the knowledge of the oppressed (the known). Nathan brought up the sub-alterns that we talked about earlier in the semester with Gramsci and now with Prakash. Can the subaltern speak? We concluded that people who fall into the subaltern groups do not have a channel to speak, that their expression is in terms of their oppression.

We also shared our responses to the clips we watched in class. Savannah and myself both agree with the feminist studies and how we identify ourselves as a women, thinking as a women. What about the luxury and sexuality presented in Arabian nights? These images are images of paradise, almost utopia, of what isn’t the norm. They symbolize freedom for the Western world, of adventure. They are a means of escape, yet if we consider women to be in the subaltern, there is no “rise” as Gramsci calls for. Savannah stated: “What if the suppression of sexuality did not exist in our culture?” In our mentalities, sexuality is viewed as taboo and unacceptable. We declared this to be the case due to looking at sexuality from a patriarchal lens. Another example we came up with was the Half the Sky documentary whereby Kirstoff asks one woman, bluntly, “does your husband beat you?” Similar to this example, we inherently think of the world as male-dominanted. The West perpetuates patriarchy, although we also invent patriarchy with our imagery of the dominance of man. Women fall into the category of the subaltern because they do not know they are oppressed. Yet, in Going to India, we argued that the British woman knows shes oppressed.

In Going to India, we were uncertain of the intentions of the film itself: what was it ultimately trying to portray? When talking about the film, we brought up the idea of expatriate cultures. Although not an Asian or Middle Eastern country, I brought up the example of two men I met along the coast in Kenya. A few of us went to talk to locals and when we came across these two older British men, we decided to find out what brought them to the coast. After an interesting and detailed conversation, the one man used to be a pilot and now resides in Mombasa with his “lover,” a young–much younger than him–Kenyan woman who didn’t say anything during this conversation. I definitely think Orientalism can be applied to Africa, especially post-colonialism and the idea of the “orient” as exotic. With a Western angle of vision, we perceive her to be oppressed. Yet, she could be totally content. Again, this perception relates back to our power as the knower to construct the known. We also discussed Asian women’s heightened sexuality in the West. What about the idea of “mail-order” brides? Does this even exist?!?! We create an identity of an Asian woman as exotic and attractive, which creates the space for her to exist in our space. So many spaces!

One issue we couldn’t quite come to a conclusion on was the ending of The King & I. He saves her, they fall in love. This is the opposite of what one would think–especially when thinking in a Western hegemonic perspective. Does the ending mean that since he saved her, women are even more subaltern than the orient? That he was able to rise above the subaltern? Definitely some questions to ponder…

Lastly, Nathan showed us a Coke advertisement from the Superbowl and the controversy that ensued. Here is the ad itself:

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After this ad was shown, it sparked a controversy.

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Ultimately, it was declared to be unfair for the camel guy to not be a choice in the online competition of who will win the chase. Nathan argued that it becomes too much. If the white guy was on the horse and the horse didn’t move, he believes that no one would have said anything, or the guy on the bike and his tire popped. This ad and competition keeps a check on the dominant groups, especially since the reporters in the second video are of subaltern groups. I was wondering why they used show girls…what group do they represent? Women? What if women were the one on the motorcycles? The whole ad just illustrates the knower and known discussed earlier, whereby the corporations and media have the power to control the discourse, thus they are constructing the “known,” the subaltern groups.

When is critical analysis too much? Can we ever see an ad, a movie, a TV show without deconstructing each image or identity?

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