EDUCATION AND MEDIA: "Evil" Arabs in American Popular Film: Orientalist Fear
Alsultany, Evelyn, The Middle East Journal
EDUCATION AND MEDIA "Evil" Arabs in American Popular Film: Orientalist Fear, by Tim Jon Semmerling. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 2006. viii + 255 pages. Bibl. to p. 285. Index to p. 303. $55 cloth; $22.95 paper.
Reviewed by Evelyn Alsultany
Tim Jon Semmerling's "Evil" Arabs in American Popular Film: Orientalist Fear is a welcome addition to studies on representations of Arabs and the Middle East in the US media. Semmerling argues that representations of the "evil" Arab in American popular films are self-interested constructions that have been created in relation to US ideologies and myths. Though a simplistic argument, the book unravels US narratives of "self and "Other" at different historical moments from the post-Vietnam War period to 9/11. In addition to an introduction and conclusion, the book is organized around six chapters, each on one film: The Exorcist ( 1973); Rollover ( 1981 ); Black Sunday (1976); Three Kings (1999); Rules of Engagement (2000); and CNN's America Remembers (2002). Each chapter offers a close reading of the visual tropes and narrative structures of the film, with attention to the ways in which the narrative reveals a form of US insecurity during a particular historical period.
The introduction provides a review of some writings on media and discourse analysis and US interests in the Middle East. Chapter one, which is fascinating, examines the film The Exorcist, demonstrating that not all Orientalist films have a distinct Arab character. Semmerling states that most film critics ignore the first few minutes of the film, which begins in the Middle East and establishes that the demon is from Iraq, representing an example of Orientalist fear and assault on the image of the US as a modern, civilized, and secure place. Chapter two, on Rollover, examines how the film is based on a narrative about the United States as a capitalist center of wealth and power threatened by Arabs, thereby tapping into US nationalist fears of economic insecurity in the aftermath of the 1973 oil embargo. Chapter three, on Black Sunday, examines an America weakened in the period following the Vietnam War, but saved from Arab savagery and terrorism by a powerful Israel. Chapter four, on Three Kings, continues the theme of the frontier, narrating a strong, remasculinized, and victorious America after the 1991 Gulf War, while questioning the value of victory. Chapter five, on Rules of Engagement, offers a compelling analysis regarding how the film is an attack on multiculturalism and political correctness and opens a space for anti-Arab racism. …