Stereotyping has existed for a long time, and a lot of the generalizing that occurs today has its origin in historical events like wars or colonialism. Such events often spark insulting and trivializing images of the other and a use of propaganda which promote feelings of hate (Khorana, 2014), and these images, or stereotypes are very hard to get rid of. In old Western movies it was the Mexicans and/or the Native Americans that were depicted as villains and savages and in modern Hollywood we are introduced to Arab and Muslim terrorists (Khorana, 2014). As the media contributes to these stereotypes they communicate a negative and false representation of other cultures.
Interestingly though, after the war on terror, propaganda has become less effective and the acts of warfare has become more transparent in the media and therefore it has become increasingly important to communicate ‘positive’ representations of our enemies so that we appear as ‘good-doers’ in the midst of our wars (Alsultany, 2013).
Evelyn Alsultany (2013) therefore talks about a new type of race representation in the US after 9/11 which blends negative and positive traits of an ethnic group; she calls it “simplified complex representations“. It challenges traditional stereotypes but also justifies discrimination by contributing to a multicultural ‘illusion’. For example; TV-shows and films have incorporated patriotic Arab or Muslim Americans into their plots who assist the Government in fighting terrorism to counteract stereotyping, in TV-dramas they are often victimized to create empathy, sometimes we are led to believe that they are the leading terrorists but later it is revealed that it was someone else (‘flipping the enemy’), and in news media we are often first given a disclaimer (“these are not Islamic practices”) before we are told about the brutality of Islam.
Alsultany (2013) argues that such representation “do the ideological work of justifying discriminatory policies” because simultaneously as the Arab or Muslim American is e.g. victimized, the storyline often also express that it is unavoidable due to the national security crisis, and in the news media diversity and complexity is loosely mentioned but the majority of evidence supports the negative outlooks of the ethnic group.
Khorana, S 2014, ‘Race and Representation’, lecture, , BCM310, University of Wollongong, 05 May.
Alsultany, E 2013, ‘Arabs and Muslims in the Media after 9/11: Representational Strategies for a “Postrace” Era’, Project Muse, vol. 65, no. 1