Drawn-Out: Stan of Arabia

So this is old. 2005 old. But I just saw it so I’m writing.

I’m not the biggest fan of animated cartoon series like South Park, The Simpsons, Family Guy, and American Dad. Mainly because I believe that there are so many underlying messages that you don’t notice you’re exposed to because they’re packaged in this cutesy way that makes you let down your guard and get sucked in. They perpetuate ideologies and modes of thinking according to the whims of the scriptwriters—whether they be supremacist, Orientalist, anti-fat, etc. Intentional or not, it happens.

(And this is true even if you go way back to Disney when messages weren’t as overt. The Little Mermaid? Disobey your parents [while of course having impossible body proportions]: you’ll still get the person you love and your parents will eventually come around to your way of thinking. Aladdin? A thief. Etc., etc.).
So let me demonstrate this reality using the episode of American Dad I happened to watch while waiting for iftar with baited breath: “Stan of Arabia.”

The title itself should have given me fair warning that this wasn’t going to be a mindless piece of entertainment (It’s a spin off of Lawrence of Arabia).

American Dad revolves around Stan Smith, a CIA agent who is constantly on the alert for terrorist activity to protect his beloved America. He’s a titular giant-jawed all American super-patriot with a blonde wife (Francine) and two kids: a surly feminist teenage daughter and a dorky pre-teen son. And for some reason there’s an alien (Roger) living with them in the house.

You can watch the part 1 of the episode here and part two here. Or you can just read the synopsis here.
But basically, the story is that Stan gets his boss mad and is sent to Saudi Arabia as punishment.

Since our job here is to critique portrayals of Muslim women, I won’t really get into the way Saudi Arabia itself is portrayed. I’ll just list some of the many horrendous generalizations and messages that made me gnash my teeth:

• The first clip we see is sand and desert, of course.
• In the airport Stan says “Quick cover your mouths, that’s how they [Saudi Arabians] enter your body and lay their eggs.”
• Stan locks the doors “so [Francine] won’t get beheaded when I’m out.”
• Everyone rides camels (you can even pack them onto the plane, haha).
• Everyone has a gun: the Smith family hears them in the car, a little boy has guns in his room, and the men have guns slung over their shoulders.
• Houses are castles straight out of Aladdin.
• The Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice carry swords and run after ‘whores’ and ‘harlots.’ They shoot you for singing in public.
• Jews are horrible and Saudis hate them.
• Infidels are stoned in a big coliseum-type stadium, with people watching while wearing foam fingers. The stoning is shown on TV.
• Hypocrisy abounds: a Saudi man seduces Stan’s daughter by telling her he was a terrorist; alcohol is available in certain homes, R-rated movies are sold in the bazaar, etc.
• The bazaar sells: guns, chickens, watermelons, carpets etc. The typical bazaar image. There’s even a moustache shop. And background music is always Oriental music (you know what I’m talking about).
• A woman was in jail for 23 years for stealing a candy bar. And her left hand was cut off.

Oops, that was a long list. But now on to the meaty stuff: women.

Saudi Arabia, I’m sure we all know, is a restrictive country when it comes to women. As pops up in almost any news story about Saudi women: Saudi Arabia is a patriarchal country where women have to abide by a dress code, need a male escort for many things, and can’t drive. Though they can, of course, leave the house without a male escort.

But the way women are portrayed in this episode is just… there are no words. This clip of Francine complaining of what she doesn’t like about Saudi Arabia will give you a small idea of what the episode is like:

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8691142418537649695

(Particularly horrendous for me are the men portrayed with their feet on women’s head, and the man asking ‘what’s a clitoris?’ i.e. an allusion to circumcision/ clitoridectomy, which doesn’t even exist in Saudi Arabia).

First off, the episode turns all women into a homogenous bunch, with no character or individual personalities. They all exist to serve men, and what’s more, they’re happy doing so. Stan’s wife visits her neighbours, and all three women get up immediately as soon as “husband is home,” the first asking him how was his day, the second if he wants a snack, and the third saying she will draw him a bath, with the latter two actually carrying him into the house on their shoulders.

And the men of course tell Stan “what do you mean you asked your wife and she said no? You mean you told her and she obeyed.” Stan is ecstatic, because of course that’s the dream of every man: that his wife obeys his every word (Stan actually sings “I don’t want a partner, I want a wife” early on in the episode). Women in Saudi Arabia are also portrayed as property—the police who bring back Francine at knife point when she goes out alone ask Stan, “This belongs to you?”

Later on in the episode, Stan marries a Saudi woman as a second wife. She of course has a husky come-hither voice; arched eyebrows plucked to within an inch of their lives; Bratz doll eyes (huge eyes with long eyelashes) and is wearing green eyeshadow.

Because even though she’s this oppressed woman having to cover her face and hair, well, she still must be exotic and sexual. Who cares if that’s a dichotomy? And since she’s Saudi of course she’s just a mindless drone—”I will serve husband in this life and the next” she intones. She cooks, she actually bows (!) when handing Stan a sandwich, and is seen by him as a maid to help Francine around the house. He can’t pronounce her name so he calls her Thundercat (a reference to the animated TV series perhaps? Cat-like humanoid aliens?) She’s just a Saudi woman after all; she doesn’t really need an identity right?

Dress-wise, all the women are portrayed as wearing abayas, headscarves, and face veils (never mind that face veils are not mandatory in Saudi Arabia, nor are headscarves). The alien Roger is ‘sold’ to a fat old Saudi ruler who lives in palace where alcohol flows freely and the women there (of course) live in a harem-type setting, all in bikinis (but with their faces and hair covered), swimming in the pool, being fed grapes, getting massaged and fanned.

The first problem I see with an episode like this is that it selectively chooses the worse aspect of the culture to portray. Not to mention introducing things that are blatantly untrue. And not only that, but it takes truths and twists them or portrays them in a way to make them seem so much worse than they really are (for example, if you do go out alone, you’ll immediately be trailed by men with swords who will chase you). It makes a mockery of aspects of Arab culture and reinforces all the stereotypes the ‘West’ has of Arab women: oppressed sexual beings.

The message here is clear: by going to Saudi Arabia, the fundamentalist Islamic state, the Smith family gets to see how much they appreciate America (in fact, while almost getting stoned for being infidels Stan fantasies about President Bush showing up to save them, bringing democracy, Bibles, and jeans to Saudi Arabia. Now that’s a whole different post).

Popular culture is so much stronger than many people give it credit for. “It’s just a cartoon” some people will say, “it’s meant to be humorous and of course we know that it’s not really like that—you’re not really going to be killed for singing or held at sword point for flashing your ankles.”

But visual ‘input’ is rarely forgotten. Think of any movie you’ve seen. Can you visualize at least one scene? Chances are, you will. (And this is real by the way, research it online).

Not to mention that for those who don’t really know anything about Saudi Arabia, chances are they’re not going to watch this episode and then immediately go and research the country and its culture and norms. And even if they do, what’s going to be more memorable? A broadly stereotyped nightmare of the Middle East which made them laugh, or the Girls of Riyadh?

And just like this article mentions,

“Stereotypes brought to the public through media as overtly innocent as animated cartoons might be more effective than actual news broadcasts. The stereotypes of Saudis promulgated in “Stan of Arabia” are probably therefore extremely effective and penetrating.”

Portraying Saudis as woman-hating murders and thugs (and would-be terrorists at one point) may make for entertainment, but it’s wrong on so many levels. It’s demeaning and downright insulting to Saudi Arabians to have them portrayed like this. It’s bad enough that we as Muslims or Arabs have to deal with all the negative media now (we’re terrorists, we hate America, yada, yada). Why dredge up misconceptions that we’ve more or less dealt with (I really do hope no one still thinks I live in a pyramid and take a camel to university).

According to the Fox Network, the original broadcast of Stan of Arabia brought in approximately 7.3 million viewers. That’s not counting the millions who have watched it since.

I think the only part of the episode I laughed at was Stan staying: America doesn’t want to enslave all Arabs. Just the ones with oil.

So I have a twisted sense of humor.

  • Ethar

    If for some reason the video doesn’t work (it doesn’t for me), you can watch it here:

    http://www.sanchi.ro/view_video.php?viewkey=837b508c6b305aebe1e3

  • Anna

    Great post. Thanks for really breaking down everything that was wrong with that episode.

    I have one tiny disagreement though–

    and the man asking ‘what’s a clitoris?’ i.e. an allusion to circumcision/ clitoridectomy, which doesn’t even exist in Saudi Arabia).

    I didn’t see that as an allusion to clitoridectomy at all, but rather an attempt at a joke about Saudi Arabia’s (assumed) total lack of sex education.

    I know plenty of WASP dudes who have no idea what a clitoris is, either.

  • http://jamericanmuslimah.wordpress.com Jamerican Muslimah

    I remember when this first aired. I couldn’t even make it through the first part of this episode I was so pissed off…

  • Ethar

    Could be. Only they had no problem cringing while she labeled other female ‘parts,’ which is where my assumption came in. But you may be right. So let me rephrase that as “might be an allusion to circumcision/ clitoridectomy.”

  • Arianne

    With all due respect, I understand why you’re upset, but I think your frustrations are a bit misplaced.

    I don’t think I should have to feel guilty about loving a cartoon, even if it’s offensive. There was an episode of Family Guy (which has the same maker as “American Dad”) that made fun of the Irish (it regurgitated the stereotype that Irishwomen only pray and make babies while Irishmen are drunkards who beat their wives), but I loved it, even though I have Irish heritage. Another episode stereotyped gays, and I loved it as well, even though I am gay myself. There was also an Episode of “American Dad” that ridiculed the anti-Middle Eastern racism of of the main character. In fact, the entire series is a satire on of the stupidity and bigotry of the main character. If you watch more of the series, you’ll find that the number one thing that the show ridicules is American ignorance, not Muslims or Arabs. Not all Americans or CIA agents are like the dad from the show, but does it matter? It’s funny.

    I’ll confess: I laughed my pants off at “Stan of Arabia.” I don’t feel bad about it. And you know what? I would never, in a million years, take it seriously or base my opinion of Arabs on it.

    One reason I love the shows you don’t like (“Family Guy” and “South Park” are probably my two favorites) is precisely because the writers aren’t afraid of being totally offensive. The writers of the show don’t assume that everyone who watches the show is a fool who would actually take everything seriously and come up with prejudiced opinions because of it. They don’t buy the censors’ nonsense about how certain things must be unspoken because certain people are so vulnerable and naive that they can’t be trusted to deal with controversial satire. The writers actually understand that viewers are more sophisticated than many people assume.

    Just my opinion. I am open to critiques.

  • Tom

    The whole genre of these shows is based on massive exaggeration of stereotypes, so remember that it’s not just Saudis who get this treatment – Australian’s are idiot country bumpkins who ride camels, Texans are cowboy oil barons, Indians have 25 children etc…..

    But normally this kind of satire hints at a real underlying idea, and there is no doubt that Saudi Arabia is basically seen in the West as the most culturally evil country on Earth today.

    Girls of Riyadh – at least the English translation – certainly does not paint a happy picture of life for Saudi women, and their treatment at the hands of the most important men in their lives.

    It would make for better understanding of Saudi Arabia if people read that book rather than watched this show, but I seriously doubt that it would do much to change the common perception of the country.

  • Ethar

    @ Arianne: Of course you shouldn’t feel guilty about enjoying cartoons; it was never my intention to guilt those who do. I did say I wasn’t the biggest fan of them, but that doesn’t mean I don’t indulge in watching every now and again. In fact, since my sense of humor is snarky/ cynical/ sarcastic, a lot of episodes actually make me laugh.

    Poking fun of certain ‘groups’ is nothing new, and your examples illustrate that clearly. But Islam and Muslims—and I hesitate to say this—are ‘special’ because of the current global condition.

    Let’s suspend reality for a second and say that a cartoon series was shown during the black civil war depicting African Americans in a derogatory manner. Would they have said, oh its ok, its just humor? No, because they knew they were at a certain stage where people’s beliefs about them were being shaped, and episodes like this just cement the image.

    So I believe that an Irish/ Australian/ Cowboy stereotype isn’t as bad as the Muslim/ Arab stereotype because although those stereotypes may be insulting, they’re not as potentially harmful. To clarify: I wouldn’t have minded the episode so much if it was portraying Arabs/ Muslims simply as people who drink tea all the time and with an unusual love for camels. I hate tea, but I don’t mind if everyone believes I drink tea all the time and ride a camel. It’s the portraying Muslims as terrorists and thugs who treat women like chattel that I object to—things that show that Islam is inherently incompatible with the world we live in today (and untrue for the most part).

    As for stereotypes about gays—at least you have the comfort of knowing that (for the most part) ‘western’ culture is fighting for their rights and for their acceptance. On the other hand, Muslims in general are, conversely, being excluded and bogi-fied in western media. I know (or at least feel) that every new book, movie, or even game (google Muslim Massacre which was launched just this week and involves ‘wiping Muslims off of the face of the earth’) that portrays Muslims as the enemy we end up sinking deeper into a hole that will be hard to get out of.

    You might not take such episodes seriously, but others might. And even if the viewers say they aren’t taking it seriously, subliminally they’re affected. I would never go as far as to say episodes like this shouldn’t be written, but just that it would be great if they were based on truth (and nothing but the truth). Then we can critique, analyze etc, and not waste time correcting what’s false. As a journalist, I know all about spinning news, slanting, framing, agenda setting etc, and they’re all tricks to manipulate people into believing certain facts or seeing things in a certain way that the writer wants them to. TV is even more powerful.

    Plus an episode like this negates the efforts of those struggling hard to show that their country is NOT like what is shown. Their efforts cannot compete with an episode like this, which touches millions of viewers.

    @Tom: I was only using the Girls of Riyadh as an example, of course it in no way paints a true picture of what life is like in Saudi Arabia. It only gives a glimpse into the life of a few. My point here was that people should read/ watch something that, although might be offensive, controversial etc, at least gives real insight. It won’t change the perception, but it’s a step in the right direction.
    I’ve been working for 14 straight hours so forgive me if I’m not being very articulate here.

  • Arianne

    Ethar –

    If I understand your first main point correctly, you are saying that Muslims are in a unique position compared to other potentially victimized groups, making particular stereotypes against them (like ones linking them to terrorists) especially harmful.

    For instance, you wrote:

    “As for stereotypes about gays—at least you have the comfort of knowing that (for the most part) ‘western’ culture is fighting for their rights and for their acceptance. On the other hand, Muslims in general are, conversely, being excluded and bogi-fied in western media.”

    It sounds like you are trying to say that Muslims are more oppressed/ vilified than gays are in Western culture. I completely disagree with you on this point. Of course, since you are Muslim and (I’m assuming) heterosexual, you are going to be more exposed to Islamophobia than homophobia. Likewise, as a gay non-Muslim, I am more exposed to homophobia than Islamophobia. Based on my experiences as a gay person, I think that it is extremely over-simplistic to say “Western culture” is fighting for my rights. I have been ridiculed for my sexual orientation, even coming from one of the most gay-tolerant places in the world. Remember, most Americans oppose gay marriages; I’m not aware of there being a proposed amendment to the US constitution that would ban Muslim marriages. According to FBI statistics (http://www.fbi.gov/ucr/cius_04/offenses_reported/hate_crime/index.html#table2_35), there are far more reported hate crimes against gays/bisexuals than against Muslims. Then again, I’m not aware of people who are harassed and deported by the FBI/CIA for being gay, nor am I aware of any countries the USA is bombing due to having a large gay population. I’m just trying to say than Islamophobia and homophobia are two equally bad/prevent problems that manifest themselves in society in different ways — you seem to be implying that homophobia is currently less prevalent than Islamophobia and hence I as a gay person don’t really understand the problems with stereotyping and prejudice as much as a Muslim would. I take issue with this notion. Correct me if I’m misunderstanding your statement.

    Your second main point seems to be that, even though I don’t take such episodes seriously, others will. I completely agree with you that this is the case. I also agree with you that this is a big problem. However, I just don’t think that it’s the fault of the TV show makers if SOME ignorant people take the show too seriously. I think the TV writers are entitled to assume that their viewers are more sophisticated than that. Of course, if other TV writers want to assume otherwise, namely that their viewers aren’t always so enlightened, they are also entitled to do so as well. Like I said before, one reason I love these shows is because the writers DON’T assume that I’m an easily brainwashed idiot who will act on whatever I see or hear. Instead, they focus on (at least what I think should be) their number one goal: making me laugh.

    Thanks for the response,
    Arianne

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    Okay, we are NOT doing the Oppression Olympics: “Muslims vs. Homosexuals” here. Keep it on topic (the TV show).

    I have to agree with Ethar’s point about subliminal effects, however. Seeing something over and over again bores it into our minds (her example of Disney is incredibly apropos: seeing cartoons that do that same “a woman needs a man to save her” over and over definitely normalizes the idea that a woman needs a man to save her). To use an example of homosexuality (for you Arianne;), the representation of gay men as effeminate and preeny in TV shows like Will & Grace (no matter how much it makes me laugh) contribute to the overall characterization of gay men in a culture’s subconscious.

    My point is that representations of Muslims (and Muslim women in this case) contributes to a larger narrative that creates Muslim women as oppressed, brown, and exotic.

  • http://theyaoireview.wordpress.com/ SakuraPassion

    I like your analysis.

    My issue is with Stan of Arabia is that it may have seemed like they were trying to make fun of stereotypes about Arabs, but in the end what ended up happening is they ended perpetuating them instead.
    That clitoris issue, I took it as Saudi men being portrayed as not understanding or knowing about a woman’s anatomy. Or something along the lines of not having proper sex education.

  • Arianne

    I apologize if I got a bit off on a tangent.

    Another point I would like to emphasize: the most disagreeable/ridiculous person in the entire episode, indeed the entire series, is the American dad, not a Muslim or Arab. And, like I said before, the show’s biggest emphasis is not on Muslims, but American ignorance. Just because a show uses a stereotype doesn’t mean that it promotes it — in many cases, it’s just the opposite. I frankly think that if the average person on the street watched several random episodes of “American Dad” (not just this one), he/she will feel more disillusioned with prejudice than influenced by prejudice.

    Also, the fact that such shows are so popular only shows how sick so many people are of this whole notion that there are certain, forbidden things you just can’t say lest you offend anybody — in which case resisting these shows will likely only create more backlash.

    Peace out,
    Arianne

  • Maram

    but Ethar, not even talking about Saudi Arabia.. Egypt, my country, you know most women blame themselves for sexual harassment, and most men do it. And I was doing interview in Cairo university myself for one of the models (I was too sick of it I quit. I was too disguted by what my own people, educated, my age were saying). There was one question: do you think men have the right to beat their wives? and most guys (AND GIRLS) said yes!

    And about the clitoris thing.. sex in general is perceived in this sick view by most people, men and women, and there’s total lack of anything related to that..

    You know when the axis of evil came to Cairo, they told them not to make fun of anything related to politics, sex or religion.. even though they’re middle easterns. If we can’t make fun of our own selves, if course we can’t take it when other people do.. and yes.. I think most of the things that were portrayed in that episode were real. I watched it.. honestly I didn’t laugh at all, because most of those things (although exaggerated) came from real life. That’s why it wasn’t funny to me.. it reminded me of all ‘bad’ things in our part of the world.. which we have to face and change around..

    I still like your writing style..

  • Maram

    and yes. Men beat women all around the world, and there are lots of problems all around the world, but it is not seen as ok, and it is not accepted not protected by law or society as it is here.

    If a group of people see a man beating up a woman and approach them to stop him.. if that man says that she’s his wife, won’t that group back out and do nothing? since she’s his woman..

  • jamie

    hey ethar, just a quick comment. i completely understand your POV and think you defended your position well. I agree with you that even though the show is meant to be a satire mostly on the ignorance of Americans who seem to fit the sterotype of this show’s main character, there was no more realistic depiction of Saudis (men or women) to balance the satirical portrait, so it really does reinforce the sterotypes at a sensitive time in inter-religious/east-west relations. I don’t enjoy the same shows you mentioned (except for the Simpsons, which I think it is more aware and skillful at satirizing the stereotypes, and with the addition of team american world police) very much either because I think that some people find them a culturally-sanctioned way to enjoy being un-PC or whatever; these people somehow feel social pressure to have certain views but may question even subconsciously that their actual views are harmonious with those views. like they may harbor some related stereotypes but don’t want to admit it, so they feel better by watching an exaggerated version of them played out on screen as something they can point to as definitely “bigoted” and distinct from their feelings (which they can afterwards define as therefore “not bigoted”). If a show were truly working against those stereotypes, they would find a more clever way of doing so then simply depicting them all. instead, this show encourages a more subtle form of bigotry towards arabs and muslims. this shows some progress from feeling no social pressure to suppress certain kinds of bigotry (there are many examples of post-9/11 american media operating under this context), but can still be harmful to the development of a truly equitable society. and of course there are many examples of american media which do the same subtle reinforcement of alienation and even hatred towards homosexuals (as well as more blatant examples of bigotry). lastly, a quick answer to the free speech idea- while i do believe that people should be allowed (what that means exactly is another discussion) to say what they want in the appropriate forums and manner (without inciting violence against others), i would not want to supportcompanies such as those who produce and broadcast programs which only perpetuate “racial”, sexual, religious, etc. stereotypes.

  • Anna

    Arianne,

    As someone who actually enjoys some episodes of American Dad, I have to disagree with your analysis. Yes, Stan is the epitomy of American ignorance and xenophobia. But Stan’s shtick only works in episodes where something happens that shows how wrong he is – i.e. in episodes where the writers go out of their way to break down and subvert the stereotypes that Stan espouses. That happened in the episode where Stan suspected his Iranian neighbors of being terrorists, but it turned out they were just normal folks born in Ohio. Nothing like that happened, however, in “Stan of Arabia.” Stan spouted ignorant stereotypes and then everything that happened in the episode SUPPORTED Stan’s view.

    That’s actually my number one beef with the “But we’re parodying the stereotypes, not regurgitating them!” defense. Guess what? You are just regurgitating the stereotypes, unless you do/show something that actually proves that the stereotypes are wrong. That’s how real parody and subversion works. “Stan of Arabia” doesn’t do anything to undermine, deconstruct, subvert, or parody the racist views of Saudi Arabia that Stan espouses; if anything, the butt of pretty much every joke in those episodes boils down to “Ha ha, Muslims are ignorant, savage, and sexually regressive!” I’m sorry, but that’s promoting stereotypes, not subverting them.

  • Arianne

    Anna –

    I understand your point that this particular episode may not have done the most artful job at parodying a particular stereotype and instead just came across as crude/offensive. However, I still think it’s a bit strange to complain about one particular episode that may be offensive to one group of people (Saudis) while not objecting to the fact that the entire show focuses on making fun of another group (Americans). When the the overlying attitude of our culture is “let’s only fuss about stereotypes of certain minorities and accept stereotypes of others,” then we’re not really promoting tolerance or understanding — it’s just plain political correctness.

    - Arianne

  • http://jamericanmuslimah.wordpress.com Jamerican Muslimah

    You know what? I’m sick of people creating racist caricatures, offensive cartoons or making racist remarks and trying to pass it off as satire. Where is the accountability here? It seems like satire is being used as a defense/excuse when individuals are called out on their racism. (I’m thinking Don Imus, The Obama waffles, The New Yorker, Family Guy etc.) I have to say I reject that 100%. I reject it as an African-American, a Muslim, a woman and as a human being.

    We are living in perilous times…excuse me if I cannot laugh at my own degradation.

  • http://Donthaveone Masoud

    Ethar pointed out something very important that these cartoons selectively choose the worst aspects of culture. Their use of visual inputs influences kids living abroad who are constantly bombarded by these negative messages.

  • http://Donthaveone Masoud

    Many Saudi women obey their husbans( with MUTUAL love and respect) because they adhere to the prophet’s hadiths and actions of his wives. Is this going to be communicated to the target audience? Definitely not.

  • Sobia

    @ Masoud:

    I’m going to read your comment as:

    “Many Saudi women obey their husbands ( with MUTUAL OBEDIENCE)…”

    Mutual implies the same in return. I don’t like the whole obedience thing being associated with appropriate Islamic behaviour unless IT is mutual. That may be their interpretation of some hadees but not all.

    Sorry, but the word ‘obedience’ makes me very uncomfortable. Children can be obedient to their parents and pets obedient to their owners, but women are neither children nor pets. Nor are they subordinate to men in any way, shape, or form. So there is no need nor question of obedience. Obedience implies subordination of some form.

  • Mariam Khedr

    GOD is “she”!! Visualizing her as “Angelina Jolie”!! Applying his wish by showing him her boobs!!

    OMG, this was really disgusting!! This should be offensive for every single person believing in GOD not just Muslims or Arabs!!!

    As for their nasty way in portraying the Saudi culture, your analytical criticizing Essay is more than enough.

    I just do have one simple silly question!! This cartoon, Is it for children or adults????

  • http://muslimahmediawatch.org/ Fatemeh

    @ Mariam: the cartoon is aimed at adults.

  • Ethar

    Salams,

    First off, I apologize it’s taken me so long to get back here, I’ve had a lot of interesting stuff to do this week I hope to share with you soon.

    @ Arianne: I didn’t mean to minimize the struggle you go through for acceptance and I acknowledge that as a Muslim I am more exposed to Islamophobia than homophobia. I was simplifying matters and in doing so I generalized so I apologize for that.

    I won’t go more into this so we don’t get off tangent, but like Fatemah said, regardless of which victimized group one belongs to, you have to admit the representation of said group in media/ popular culture makes a huge difference to how it is perceived.

    As for your second point about TV writers assuming you are more sophisticated that taking what is said at face value, well, I disagree. I disagree because I believe lies and half baked truths that circulate in mainstream understanding eventually accumulate and become taken for granted, EVEN if the viewers know they’re not true.

    For example, I’m sure a lot of Americans know (or at least strongly believe) the Muslim who’s been living next door to them for so long isn’t going to kill them. But nevertheless, if they see their neighbours have visitors with niqab on, they’ll shy away from saying hello just because they’ve been exposed to too much media that scares them off and subconsciously they’re affected. I’m simplifying again, but I hope you get my point.

    As for your third point about the American dad’s ignorance being the focus of the show, I think Anna did my job for me :)

    Lastly, can I just add that freedom of expression and the press doesn’t necessarily mean everything has to be said/ published? Even newspapers don’t always publish everything submitted to them. We’re all free to say what we want, but we don’t, we filter our thoughts not because someone is forcing us to, but because of many other factors.

    @ Maram: I don’t think you realize, but Egypt is my country too :) And I disagree—most women don’t blame themselves for sexual harassment though our culture (for the most part) tries to shame us into believing that.

    As for your interviewees saying men had the right to beat their women, well, you just had the bad luck of choosing sources who misunderstand their religion. I’ve interviewed women who live in slums and peasant women out in the country, women with far less education, who believe that it’s not their husbands’ right to beat them.

    And just because this belief is shared by some in our society, doesn’t mean it’s actually manifested in Egypt (our domestic abuse rates are far lower than many other countries) or that Islam somehow mandates it. As for you saying a group of men would leave a man beating his wife, that doesn’t happen everywhere. But I won’t go into this more because my responses are long enough as they are.

    I disagree completely with you saying “sex in general is perceived in this sick view by most people, men and women.” Of course it’s not.

    I went to both Axis of Evil shows (the one in Sawi and the bigger one in the Conference center), and I’m sorry, but they talked about everything under the sun! We should make fun of ourselves; no one’s saying we shouldn’t and the Axis of Evil trio is a perfect example. But even when we do, we never make things up, do we? And can I just add that poking fun at ourselves is usually much more acceptable when it’s us doing it and not someone that doesn’t ‘belong’ to us?

    For example, I laughed like crazy during the Axis of Evil show(s), but not so much over Jeff Duncham’s “Achmed the dead terrorist” (look him up on YouTube). And that’s because I feel the former is laughing with us, the latter at us. Kind of. Plus you have to think of audience, reaction, will they believe what they hear/ watch or go find out the ‘truth’ etc

    No one is saying there isn’t a lot wrong with ‘our’ culture, but that still doesn’t mean we take the worst things and exaggerate them. And not everything in the episode was true.

    @ Jamie: Great comment! I particularly agree with you saying “some people find [these shows] a culturally-sanctioned way to enjoy being un-PC […]they feel better by watching an exaggerated version of [their steryotypes] played out on screen as something they can point to as definitely “bigoted” and distinct from their feelings (which they can afterwards define as therefore “not bigoted”).”

    @ Anna: Nothing to add :)

    @ Arianne: Like I said with Maram, it’s different when we poke fun at ourselves, and not when ‘others’ poke fun at us. And we shouldn’t be poking fun at any minority, not just because it’s PC not to.

    @ Jamerican Muslimah: *applause*

    @ Masoud: Although I agree with Sobia that the word obediance is perhaps not the proper word to use because of it’s connotations with right/ wrong behavior/ kids etc, I agree with you.

    @ Mariam: I know what you mean, but I didn’t want to get into that because I didn’t want to turn the discussion into “that’s haram! Etc”

    If you’ve read all this, thanks! And I promise I’l do better with responding to comments in the future.

  • Karim Elmansi

    Great article Ethar. liked your style and yeah stereotyped arabs have been rich source of material for sick-coms. but anyway i have some remarks. this is a cartoon, it is supposed to exaggerate. audience understands clearly that two women carrying a man on their shoulders is done for comic effect, and what they really mean is women in polygamist ma… Read Morerriages get a bit competitive (demand & supply u know lol)
    so what im saying is that most of criticism made in the episode (except the camels being the main way of transportation–although camel is still used as a logo for many national institutes in the gulf and saudi) most criticsm was targeting actual facts about saudi women ‘s status (bitter yeah but thats their point of view, exaggarated yeah but that wasnt an academic paper, it was a cartoon)

    keep them coming!


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