Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East since 1945

Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East since 1945

Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East since 1945

Epic Encounters: Culture, Media, and U.S. Interests in the Middle East since 1945

Synopsis

Epic Encounters examines how popular culture has shaped the ways Americans define their "interests" in the Middle East. In this innovative book--now brought up-to-date to include 9/11 and the Iraq war--Melani McAlister argues that U.S. foreign policy, while grounded in material and military realities, is also developed in a cultural context. American understandings of the region are framed by narratives that draw on religious belief, news media accounts, and popular culture. This remarkable and pathbreaking book skillfully weaves lively and accessible readings of film, media, and music with a rigorous analysis of U.S. foreign policy, race politics, and religious history.

The new chapter, titled "9/11 and After: Snapshots on the Road to Empire," considers and brilliantly analyzes five images that have become iconic: (1) New York City firemen raising the American flag out of the rubble of the World Trade Center, (2) the televised image of Osama bin-Laden, (3) Afghani women in burqas, (4) the statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Baghdad, and (5) the hooded and wired prisoner in Abu Ghraib. McAlister's singular achievement is to illuminate the contexts of these five images both at the time they were taken and as they relate to current events, an accomplishment all the more remarkable since--to paraphrase her new preface--we are today struggling to look backward at something that is still rushing ahead.

Excerpt

The first edition of Epic Encounters was published in September 2001. That coincidence of timing meant that it was inevitably read in light of the painful questions raised by the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington. the book’s concerns—with U.S. cultural representations of the Middle East, U.S. foreign policy, the role of religion in politics, and the politics of race, among others—brought it into a broad conversation in the United States and elsewhere about history, culture, and September 11. I believe the particular contribution of this study was its analysis of the ways in which popular culture and foreign policy have intersected over the last fifty years, as diverse groups of Americans have fashioned for themselves a series of political and cultural understandings of the Middle East. Popular culture, public debates, the news media, and various social and religious movements forged a web of meanings that have often facilitated—and sometimes challenged—the expansion of U.S. power in the Middle East, even as they worked to construct a self-image for Americans of themselves as citizens of a benevolent world power.

There were, of course, many questions that the first edition of Epic Encounters did not address. It did not discuss Osama bin Laden, although he had been behind several attacks on U.S. installations in the 1990s. Nor did it analyze the history of U.S. involvement in Central Asia, which was outside its geographic focus. the book also could not answer, except indirectly, the question “Why do they hate us?” since this study was, and remains, an Americanist account of the construction of U.S. interests. I consider those interests to be both political and cultural, or rather, to be the product of the intersection of the two, which are intimately and inevitably intertwined. As I hope the book also shows, the construction of U.S. ‘‘interests” is not an uncontested process. There has never been a univocal . . .

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