"Evil" Arabs in American Popular Film: Orientalist Fear

"Evil" Arabs in American Popular Film: Orientalist Fear

"Evil" Arabs in American Popular Film: Orientalist Fear

"Evil" Arabs in American Popular Film: Orientalist Fear

Excerpt

The "evil" Arabs of American film are illusions. Much like those perplexing and ambiguous paintings of the celebrated Renaissance artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1527–1593), or those more simplistic drawings that are developed for entertainment and perception analysis in books featuring optical puzzles, the "evil" Arabs are also constructions for entertainment and have implications for the perceptions of the American cinematic audience. Samuel Tolansky has provided us with a useful term when discussing the type of illusions similar to that of the "evil" Arabs: illusions of "oscillating attention." Tolansky notes,

These are cases where the diagram is designed such that attention
can alternately be concentrated on one of two possibilities. In some
instances the mind seems actually to oscillate between the two pos
sible interpretations in rapid succession, and it is difficult to decide
just what is being seen.

While Tolansky cites concentration, attention, and distinguishing between light and dark as the causes of oscillating attention, writers like Patricia Ann Rainey, J. R. Block, and Harold E. Yuker believe that the driving force of what the viewers see first in an illusion of oscillating attention is "perception." Rainey tells her viewers/readers that perception is simply how people see things, or how people look at the world. She adds,

Differences in religion, ideology, political beliefs, and even prejudice
can be explained in terms of how people perceive. Thus knowledge
of perception will give an understanding of human beings.

Many of the portrayals of Arabs, at first glance, give the impression of cultural and ethnic traits that are inherently inimical to Western civilization. Even so, are not "evil" Arabs actually fictional characters that we have . . .

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