Orientalism in Pop Culture Highlights the Need for Informed Representation – The Oberlin Review
Each passing year brings us more and more entertainment media to consume. Whether it’s TV shows, movies, or video games, we’re witnessing more diverse and inclusive stories than ever before. However, these stories are not always accurate or well-informed representations of marginalized identities and backgrounds, and they are not always properly funded, researched, or valued for the problems they aim to address. Unfortunately, many calls for adequate representation are simply swept under the rug, and we are continually left with the same questions: why aren’t we telling more people’s stories, why aren’t they more authentic, and why are these aren’t the same people included telling them?
Orientalism is a term that many have probably heard and perhaps even used, but are unlikely to be able to fully explain its meaning or how it manifests itself in storytelling. Defined by Palestinian researcher Edward Said in 1978, Orientalism is the interpretation of Asian cultures by Westerners that is often objectified, stereotyped and prejudiced. Orientalism is most commonly used to describe depictions of the Middle East and North Africa. Orientalism is a heavy and complicated subject, so I’ll leave it up to you to watch YouTube videos about it on your next lunch break. What I’m specifically here to talk about is how we still see pesky examples of Orientalism in the media today. While the depiction has improved and better intended, it’s often ultimately disappointing and leaves us wondering why we haven’t addressed this pervasive problem.
Dragon House, the prequel series to game of thronesaired its first-season finale on October 23. I do not know well Obtained lore myself, but considering the character and settings of the series as well as the aesthetic of the new series, there is clearly an Islamic, Middle Eastern and Arabic influence in this adaptation of George RR Martin’s saga . It doesn’t take much internet browsing to get an idea of how strongly Orientalist themes and stereotypes played into the original series, especially with the portrayal of the Dothraki people. Their resemblance to MENA cultures (or their perversions) and stereotypes is disturbing.
Just by looking at the furniture, windows, wall arches, and other decorative pieces in the new exhibit, I can see Arabic design elements. One of the main countries Dragon House was filmed in Spain, which has a long history of cultural influence and immigration to the MENA region prior to the Spanish Inquisition. Political and military events in the 8th century led to a large population of Muslims and Arabs in southern Spain near North Africa. This period of history would eventually be known as Islamic Spain. In this context, there is a precedent for the Arabic language, Islamic art and Islamic architecture in Dragon House, but there are just as many reasons to portray characters from the Middle East and North Africa (and actors to portray them). The design is superb and adapts to the context, but it stops at the aesthetics.
It’s all subtle compared to other heavy hitters like 2021’s dune, which was criticized for its clear use of classic MENA concepts – which is true to the books – without a consistent cast to include MENA actors. None of this is meant to be sweeping statements, but it is food for thought as we continue to see the same issues and fail to address the root of the problem: the lack of inclusion at all levels of development. It is very important in any form of storytelling to thoroughly research the different sources or cultures you are drawing from and to work with experts in those areas because doing poor research or just guessing always shows in the product. final.
As an aspiring game artist and button mashing expert, I’m particularly attuned to this topic in video games. In this industry, we still see silly and frustrating misrepresentations that highlight a lack of basic understanding of other cultures and a lack of commitment to working with people from the MENA region. Just last year, Hitman 3 debuted completely backwards and disconnected Arabic throughout the first level. Call of Duty: Vanguard that same year, disrespectful pages of the Koran littered the ground under the players’ dirty boots and blood. Perhaps worst of all, after more than 10 years of people telling deaf developers that Six days in Fallujah, a game set in 2004 that depicts a massacre of Iraqi civilians, is not appropriate, slated for release next month. Violent and evil depictions of people from the Middle East in video games are nothing new, but we shouldn’t see such outrageous choices just yet. Many of these issues wouldn’t even be a problem if studios and development teams just hired more creative and talented people of color.
By using diverse casts, incorporating different cultures and traditions, and representing often misunderstood and underrepresented people and ideas, there is a moral imperative to get it right. You need to work with people who truly understand the content you’re including, and you need to tell your story in a way that’s respectful to the communities you’re borrowing from or speaking on behalf of. Not only does this help dispel harmful misinformation and preconceptions, but it also makes the art much more engaging and rewarding. Ultimately, all of these forms of media aim to do one thing: tell a story. No one can create a AAA game or an Oscar-winning movie alone, but you are part of the puzzle. The best person to tell your story is you.