Threat of the Mainstream Media

The Western mainstream media’s naturalization of stereotypes cements a hegemonic hierarchy that fuels the globalization of capitalism and projects political propaganda.  I absolutely agree with Reena Mistry’s article on Gramsci’s theory of hegemony and the racist images lacing television programs and cinema alike. Disguised by ideological innocence, the reproduction of “harmless” yet distorted ethnic representations in the media appropriates cultural codes and perpetuates prejudice points of view. This cinematic essentialism not only denigrates democratic solidarity, but also supports the socioeconomic interest of the power that be. As the world at large wholeheartedly and naively embraces the ideals and values engendered and exported by the multinational media conglomerates, the spectators subconsciously succumb to the overt racism and veiled dogmas of capitalism that permeates the mainstream, rendering its audiences hostage to the hegemonic influence of the West.

The danger of the media lays not only in the political propaganda and distorted racial representations it projects, but more so in the misconception that it is, in theory, socially harmless. Given that its release paralleled the geopolitical war waged in the Middle East, Walt Disney’s Aladdin serves as a perfect illustration of how films are manipulated to empower hegemonic views and spread political propaganda. Aladdin’s construction of the Orient not only depicts the Arabs as a backwards people, but also represents the Middle East as an anarchistic civilization where cobras are lured from baskets and law has no place. Furthermore, the animation’s geographic depiction of the region is far from accurate as it essentializes the Middle East as a vast desert, audaciously neglecting to recognize the diverse topography of the expansive territory.  In fact, the original version of Aladdin was initially set in the “fictitious” city of Baghdad.  However due to the outbreak of the Gulf War, the name was changed to Aghrabah, which in Arabic translates as “most strange.”  In spite of this revision, the political motivation fueling this film’s production is but thinly veiled.

The cinematic essentialism of the mainstream visual culture is not only ahistoric and moralistic, but supports a social hierarchy rooted in ethnic superiority, constructing a reality wherein human rights and equality prove incapable of transcending the segregating legacies of race. Cultural familiarity with such stereotypes leads one to perceive political issues in a vein that can be traced to individual ethics, unleashing the inclination to judge a person based on their race, religion or nationality. Employing the age-old Manichean allegory, the medias’ objectification and appropriation of minorities is indisputably fueled by the political agenda of the powers that be. But perhaps the greatest danger of television and cinema alike lies namely in the perception that it is socially harmless: as we have seen however, this could not be farther from the truth.

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