Re-visioning Arab Identity in US Popular Culture

Curator's Note

The edited clips in this brief video were constructed by Jacqueline Salloum to complement Jack Shaheen's book Reel Bad Arabs. The underlying concern expressed here is that the Arab identity projected in US popular culture positions members of this community as overly simplistic, barbaric villains, rather than recognizing the contributions, depth and complexity to this community. Moreover, the narratives dominant in US popular culture resonate clearly with the narratives of news and educational media, building on an Orientalist perspective. These mediated portrayals contribute to a climate of harassment and discrimination among Arab Americans; to misguided and tragic foreign policies and intervention in the Middle East; and to warped knowledge and limited tolerance among others within the US. There are a variety of potential responses to this problem, ranging from attempting to change the media industry from within, to protesting against industry practice, to building alternative media through supporting individual creative professionals as well as media products. What strategy would best address this issue?


Salloum's piece is great, Karin. I will definitely use this in my class. It really makes clear how rampant these taken-for-granted stereotypes are in American media. Thank you for sharing this. To (sort of) address your question, I was reminded of the recent, well-intentioned Hollywood effort, Syrianna, which tries to complicate the "us" versus "them" dichotomy, but inevitably ends up replicating the idea that the "good arabs" are westernized (even if the West rejects these subjects as trouble makers) and the rest are either tyrannical, impoverished, or fanatical, as if there isn't a spectrum of possible Arab identities. Is this a case of one step forward, two steps back, or a baby step forward in terms of providing complex and heterogeneous Arab characters?

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