Friday, August 22, 2014

Final Paper: Orientalism within Mulan and the Western Influence

        Throughout history, the concept of the East has always fascinated the West because of it's exotic goods for trade. Even when America was discovered, the Spanish, French, and British were all looking for a quicker route to access Asia and obtain spices and other trade materials. Over time, Eastern cultures have fascinated the West in various ways that go beyond products and into behaviors that exist within society, including traditions and practices. Edward Said's Orientalism discusses the high interest in the Orient by Western society within the past; this interest has grown and infiltrated popular culture, as seen in films such as Mulan. Disney incorporates Western depictions of Chinese culture through the actions of the main character Mulan. Her role in Chinese society becomes an obstacle when attempting to find her identity and even save her father from dying in war. The Chinese patriarchal culture is depicted as getting in the way of Mulan's true identity while at the same time questions whether or not a woman should follow the social norms expected by family, community, and the government. In relation to Said's writings, Mulan demonstrates the Western view of the Orient as going beyond the geographical differences and into the issue of sexuality and the role of women in Eastern society.
        In the film, Mulan's attempt to impress the matchmaker turns into rejection and ultimately encourages her to discover herself by joining the army; this incorporates the Eastern patriarchal expectations of women in society as well as brings into question the idea of a women in a male dominated field. According to , “'Finding oneself' is a modern American concept and a noble goal from a western perspective, but one that conflicts with East Asian perspectives regarding the more communal nature of the self.” (219) Disney places the Western idea of finding oneself as a goal into a culture that expects the individual to act in the interest of the community. This incorporation of the two cultural traditions creates a conflict for the character to overcome, and since the film ends happily, it sends audiences the message that Western ideas can infiltrate and dominate traditional Eastern practices. The film does show features of China that accurately represent the country geographically, such as images if The Great Wall, yet ultimately, Mulan changes the accuracy of Chinese culture by acting more Western in terms of identity.
        Mulan's role as a male-disguised female who joins the army is greatly criticized by the other characters in the film, which reflects how Western society interprets Eastern views of women in comparison to men within their society. During the army training, the other male soldiers make fun of Ping (Mulan's fake male name) by calling her a girl in order to make her feel lower than them. According to Simone de Beauvoir's, The Second Sex, “humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being.” Mulan's role as a woman is only defined by her actions as relative to the ideas of men. For instance, her father plays a dominant role in her decision to fight in the army: it is important for Mulan to bring honor to her family otherwise it will disappoint her father. Although she desires to form an identity, she seeks to do so only in relation the men in her culture. Even when Mulan speaks out about her wishes to have her father not be drafted, the officer who hears her plea tells her to keep quiet in the presence of a man. Again, the film depicts Eastern culture not only for it's location and customs, but it also reflects the struggles between the sexes, especially for women.
        Although Mulan's feminine role in the film is influenced by Chinese traditional culture, it manages to satisfy Western ideals through making a connection between politics and Orientalism, which ultimately reduces the value of Eastern traditions. According to Crystal S. Anderson, “A transnational feminist lens comes more to bear in the discussion of Disney’s treatment of Mulan...[she] sacrifices elements central to her character in the Chinese source material, such as seeking justice, in order to appeal to a global audience.” Mulan's actions reflect not only the constraints of Chinese culture onto women, but it also incorporates a desire to “seek justice” in order to appeal to men and women of different ages and cultures. This “transnational feminist lens” allows Westerners to view the Orient in a way that is relatable, not just different and exciting. Yet, the attempt to make Mulan universally relatable, strips away the realistic aspects of a woman's role in Chinese culture, altering the perceptions of the Orient in perhaps a negative way. In the words of Edward Said,

The closeness between politics and Orientalism...provokes unrest in one's conscience about cultural, racial, or historical generalizations, their uses, value, degree of objectivity, and fundamental intent...the political and cultural circumstances in which Western Orientalism [has] flourished draw[s] attention to the debased position of the Orient or Oriental as an object of study.”

As a result of altering Mulan's female role, the study of the Oriental places Chinese culture in a “debased position”, which ultimately influences how Westerners view and treat Oriental societies.
When Mulan is discovered as being a female, the main leader of the soldiers is disappointed. Throughout the film, Mulan wins the soldiers over by working hard and overcoming physical obstacles, yet when they find out about her lie, the issue of her being an untrustworthy person becomes more important than her achievements. Although Mulan explains the noble reasons for her deception, she is still left behind and shunned by the leader and the other soldiers. This represents the value of a woman in relation to the opinions of men in the Orient society. This also reflects the laws and expectations of the government on women's rights to make choices and even fight in war. The dual representation of Chinese laws and the limitations on what women are allowed to do combine Western views of the Orient that satisfy both cultures. It reflects Said's notion that Orientalism goes beyond just the facts of Oriental culture based on geography; it demonstrates how the conflicts which arise between the sexes can exist within all cultures.
        Although Mulan does have some accurate depictions of Chinese culture, it is important not to depend on it as a source for understanding Oriental cultures, especially in the way women are viewed and treated in society, or the way they act in relation to men. According to Ruben Chuaqui's “Orientalism, Anti-Orientalism, Relativism,”

we can come to know substantial stretches of human and nonhuman reality, although we should at the same time be cautious and prepared to revise what we know. ..not everything that we can learn about human beings and societies depends on a knowledge of their institutions and cultures, although vast portions do depend on them.”

While it is important to know about the “institutions and cultures” of China, it is also necessary to “revise what we know” and to not just depend on what Disney tells the world about characters like Mulan. One of the most fatal outcomes of inaccurate depictions about the Orient includes the lack of research and knowledge that should accumulate from other sources besides films and media. Unfortunately, popular culture tends to simplify information in the most entertaining form in order to make profit and gain popularity rather than accuracy. This is fatal to the perceptions of the Orient not only about China but of other Eastern and Middle Eastern countries. The earlier fascinations of the Orient have progressed from wanting goods and materials for trade/investments to wanting to fit the different Oriental traditions into the Western lens that just strips away the many aspects of the Orient. It is ultimately the responsibility of the audience to determine what portion of films like Mulan should be viewed in an entertaining way and what parts should become a tool to educate the individual about the differences between Eastern and Western traditions. 

Anderson, Crystal S. "Mulan’s Legend and Legacy in China and the United States by Lan Dong (review)." American Studies 52.1 (2012): 196-97.Project Muse. Web. 21 Aug. 2014.

Beauvoir, Simone De. The Second Sex. New York: Knopf, 1953. Print.

Chuaqui, Ruben, and Marc T. Brudzinski. "Orientalism, Anti-Orientalism, Relativism." Nepantla: Views from South 3.2 (2002): 373-90. Project MUSE. Web. 21 Aug. 2014.

Hsieh, Ivy Haoyin, and Marylou M. Matoush. "Filial Daughter, Woman Warrior, or Identity-Seeking Fairytale Princess: Fostering Critical Awareness Through Mulan." Children's Literature in Education 43.3 (2012): 213-22. Web of Science. Web. 21 Aug. 2014.

Said, Edward W. Orientalism. New York: Vintage, 1979. Print.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Facebook: Like or Unlike it

Facebook is one of the most popular cultural advances on the web. It reaches millions of people and connects you to anyone who has a profile (many do). While the site attempts to bring individuals closer together in a quicker way, it seems to be making relationships and friendships ore disconnected than ever.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Neoliberism and It's Connection to Popular Culture

According to David Harvey, "Neoliberalism is in the first instance a theory of political economic
practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade…"

"The assumption that individual freedoms are
guaranteed by freedom of the market and of trade is a cardinal
feature of neoliberal thinking, and it has long dominated the US
stance towards the rest of the world.7"

"If neoliberalization has been a vehicle for the restoration
of class power, then we should be able to identify the class forces
behind it and those that have benefited from it. But this is difficult
to do when ‘class’ is not a stable social configuration."

"According to theory, the neoliberal state should favour strong individual
private property rights, the rule of law, and the institutions
of freely functioning markets and free trade.1"

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Rebel Without A Cause

In class, we watched the movie, "Rebel Without A Cause" with James Dean, directed by Nicholas Ray in 1955. The film brought to mind a lot of the identity struggles that come about during teenage years. I certainly remember my teenage moments where I was overly dramatic and eager to fit in.

The film is iconic not only because of the famous actors who played in it, but because it introduced the idea of the teenager which didn't always exist in popular culture or even within society. The title of the film is an accurate sense of what teenagers do, and that is they rebel without any reason or cause, except for the fact that they can and have the desire to go against social norms.

Parents and adults play a dominant role in the life of a teenager. Values and traditions begin to be questioned as well as gender roles. The character Judy is very rebellious and doesn't seem to get the same attention from her father as she did growing up. Family life begins to become a challenge as well as a disappointment. Although Judy loves her father, he begins to treat her differently becomes she is a girl becoming a woman. Their connection begins to deteriorate and it breaks Judy's heart. Her father views her and her actions in a disappointing manner, leading her to rebel rather than be obedient.

Jim, played by James Dean, has a very iconic seen where he screams out to his parents, "You're breaking me apart!" This line reveals the essence of being a child who has to deal with parents having conflicting views on decisions that effect the child. Jim becomes frustrated and acts out. This reveals the immaturity that teenagers tend to posses because they are still growing and still learning, yet are torn apart by adult decisions and childish desires.

I really love this film. It really shows that no matter how much time passes or how the roles of men and women alter within families and society, the concept of the teenager remains significant and continues to exist throughout the years.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Crazy, Stupid, Love" Presentation Contribution

In class yesterday, I presented with my classmates Nicole and Anthony on the popular culture that is embeded within the film "Crazy, Stupid, Love" starring Ryan Gosling, Steve Carell, Emma Stone, and Julianne Moore. In order to contribute to the presentation, I created a powerpoint that had several slides of information related to the lecture notes as well as readings assigned for class. I wrote about the three components of romantic comedy and quoted several sentences related to the meanings of terms like class, gender, and identity. I helped come up with some of the questions that we wanted to ask the class at the end of our presentation, such as "How do you define class?" "What are 3 components of a romantic comedy?" and "What is your experience of love? Do you have faith in it or is it all stupid? Is there such a thing as a soulmate?"

As I watched the film, I noted the scenes that represent human relations as seen in society today. I thought that the advice which Jacob gave to Cal at the bar, not once but twice, was a significant influence on how men behave throughout the film towards women as well as how women are viewed through the eyes of men in society today. In thinking about the question, "How does the film resist and/or reaffirm old ways of seeing human relations?",  I looked for scenes that demonstrated both resistance and reaffirmations. As a result, I found that Emma Stone's character, Hannah, represents old ways of viewing relationships between men and women because women have always expected men or boyfriends to propose, as she does in the film and since her character in the film is a lawyer, it resists the idea that women are only meant to be caretakers at home; instead it suggests the woman's ability today to thrive in a typically male dominated role/career.

Initially, my contribution to the group presentation consisted of watching the film on my own several times, rereading the chapters assigned for class in order to make connections to the film, creating a powerpoint presentation with images and text to break information down for the class to understand, and I also talked to my group members about questions we could ask the class as a part of the group activity. It was a great experience. I now view the film on a completely different level of interpretation thanks to the analysis suggested in our text book. Nicole and Anthony always answered any questions or suggestions I had which allowed me to contribute in a productive and helpful manner. If we were allowed to dissect every character or scene in the film, I'm sure the presentation would have taken up several class meetings as this film depicts many aspects of popular culture, human relations, society values, and gender roles from the past as well as the present.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Superhero: Clara Tudo

     Throughout the past, Superheroes have given hope to mankind when facing various problems. As our capitalistic society continues to lack value in education and increase it's attention towards perfecting physical beauty, more people, especially women, are altering themselves through cosmetic procedures and attempting to fit into an image set up through media outlets, rather than try to understand their identity through education. According to …,by Charles Moss, “With the Internet and an endless slew of television news channels, the world is exposed to a constant stream of media coverage, and at times, the world seems a more cynical place than ever” (2). One Superhero who is attempting to change the cynicism that exists in the world, is Clara Tudo. With her superpower ability to retain and promote all knowledge that exists in the world, Clara tries to help society gain strength by being smarter in order to form a real identity, not just imitate one that is depicted in magazines, television, or films. Clara's goal is to save humanity from deterioration and mass media manipulation. As seen in places around the world, such as Beverly Hills, beauty is defined by physical attributes and education is not deemed as having as high of value; rather, it is seen as a distraction from gaining power or attention through acts of purchasing products or cosmetic procedures being advertised. In order to save humanity, a Superhero like Clara needs to exist and interfere in the silent manipulation occurring between media, corporations, and society in order to prevent the world from deteriorating. Individual human development and the formation of an identity relies greatly on being educated, which is Clara's greatest intent for mankind.
     Clara Tudo is a young female with a mixture of every race because she represents all of humanity, not just a specific type of people. Therefore, everyone can relate to her in one way or another. Her name is short for Praeclara Pulchritudo, which is Latin for “Brilliant Beauty”. Not only does Clara have a brilliant mind, but a beautiful body as well. She was Born July 1st, 2013 from a Cloud called Luminis meaning “beautiful light”. She dropped onto Earth in Beverly Hills, CA 90210 on Rodeo Drive in the form of rain drops that watered a rare flower. This flower opened up with a seed in the middle. The seed fell out and as soon as the rain stopped, the suns rays hit the fallen seed and without it being planted into the ground, grew and blossomed instantly into a beautiful woman, eager to learn about the world around her. As Clara observes life in Beverly Hills, she realizes that cosmetic procedures and materialism have poisoned the minds of men and women in this city. Born with great knowledge and an obligation to save society from the evils of mass media, Clara promotes education and exposes the effects of stereotypes through the use of her superpowers.
     Clara Tudo has knowledge of all facts ever written, in every subject (math, science, art, history, literature, languages, politics, governments, sociology, psychology, etc.). She never recalls anything inaccurately and has an impeccable photographic memory. She does not have biased opinions that get in the way of facts. Her superpower gives her the ability to instill a sense of joy in learning through an inner ball of light that forms within her hand. As her knowledge increases, so does her superpower. The origins of her super abilities are a result of being created from a cloud, not from other human beings. Her limitations are that she does not have emotions and is a purely logical creature, unlike human beings. This limits her ability to experience love, like other people. Clara is also not able to create something herself; she is only able to correct information or regurgitate it in the most accurate form. She is different because she does not have the ability to make mistakes and learn from them like other human beings. She is always dressed in a white dress with a ponytail and constantly carries a different book in her hand in order to stay up to date on the latest concepts and information. Well aware of her natural beauty, Clara does her best not to flaunt it or look in the mirror too often in order to stay focused on protecting humanity. Her white dress represents her as being neutral to both sexes and her ponytail represents her femininity while keeping a distance from her eyes so that she doesn't get too distracted or tempted to constantly fix it up for others who may enjoy seeing her look that way.
     Society is in danger of deteriorating because mass media is poisoning the thoughts of men and women, especially in places like Beverly Hills where physical beauty is greatly valued as an asset. According to Lorrie Blair and Maya Shalmon, “If the messages carried by visual culture are not interpreted, we will be unwittingly buying, wearing, promoting, and otherwise consuming opinions with which we may not agree” (17). Clara observes this lack of understanding that men and women have about why they consume and promote products that are advertised. She is also aware of the consequences that a lack of knowledge has on the development of the human mind. “Unwittingly buying” products without a real reason leads to debt, dissatisfaction because it leads to a desire to continue purchasing more and never feeling truly satisfied, as well as insecurity because there is a constant comparison to other people who make similar or better purchases. In order to protect society from giving into the tempting advertisements that mass media bombards us with, education and awareness are the core of Clara's superpowers. Without her help, the world may continue to lose balance and be brainwashed to the point of no understanding as to why anything occurs or exists.
     Clara may not be fighting crimes that put people into physical harm, but she fights an even bigger battle against the more subtle yet significant enemy; mass media and the poisoning of the human mind. Media and advertisements that promote beauty in terms of appearance, wealth, and overall materialism impose the greatest harm on the development of any society because it distracts people from knowing why they do something and who they really are, which effects how society operates as a whole. According to “The Politics of Superhero” by Matthew Costello and Kent Worcester, “...superheroes can shape as well as reflect public opinion, by providing images, narratives, and rhetoric that can inspire action...” (86). Clara is certainly capable of shaping public opinion because her superpower, a ball of light containing knowledge, provides images that give people a better understanding of how they are being manipulated and why it is better to refrain from giving into the lies. The less people are educated and the more they are distracted by aesthetics, the greater the accessibility and power that mas media has to gain control as wells as dumb-down people in order to simply make a profit.
     While some may praise Clara Tudo and her mission to help make citizens more aware of the capitalistic society in which they live in, others may not agree that they are being brainwashed or poisoned in the first place. For instance, there are many wealthy housewives in Beverly Hills that can afford cosmetic surgeries or designer clothing and feel joy when they make such purchases for themselves. This obliviousness about being manipulated into making such purchases is a direct result of the effectiveness of mass media. The ability to spend a lot or a little amount of money is what determines class and racial diversity/inequality. Upper class society may fear that the separation which exists between he classes and races is what creates a sense of stability in life, and therefore should not be interfered with, especially by a superhero. In short, Clara is favored by some and feared by others. Overall, she is the greatest hope for society because she promotes independent thinking and individual success, in the form of an education rather than a physical appearance. In order for there to be a balance of both, it is essential to separate from the hold of media, take a step back, and assess the environment in terms of needs rather than desires. Clara is the greatest hope for the world because she provides the education that everyone desperately needs.

Works Cited

Blair, Lorrie. "Cosmetic Surgery and the Cultural Construction of Beauty." Art Education 58.3 (2005): 14-18. JSTOR. Web. 24 July 2014.

Costello, Matthew J., and Kent Worcester. "The Politics of the Superhero." PS: Political Science & Politics 47.01 (2014): 85-89. Web.

Moss, Charles. “What the World Needs Now: Societys Desperate Need for Superheroes.”            PopMatters. Popmatters, 4 Sept. 2008. Web. 21 July 2014. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Breaking Bad's Cultural Politics

     When I watched "Breaking Bad", I completed all five seasons in less than three weeks. Essentially, I binged on all episodes of this fantastically written television show because I was so taken by the depiction of the characters throughout each season. The storyline of a sick man creating a drug empire in order to achieve something beyond money, which is revealed in the end to be that of selfish desire, gave me a sense of connection to my own life and what risks I am willing to take if it means sacrificing those things which mean the most to me. I began to question what constitutes an action as being moral or immoral. Exploitation and corruption became more visible to me throughout the many parts of society, especially businesses and whatever requires power or domination in order to thrive.

     In class, Professor Wexler asked us what we defined as Popular Culture. In my response, I considered popular culture to be that which is enjoyed by the masses as relevant to the time period, media, trends, and things that are in demand. In other words, entertainment that reflects interests of society in relevance to the time period. "Breaking Bad" reflects the culture we live in today that is filled with people who abuse drugs and are greedy when it comes to making money. In America, there is a strong selfish mentality because so many are forced to be independent and succeed on their own. Children are expected to move out at 18 and getting ahead means gaining as much money and power for yourself as possible. The main character Walter White is constantly faced with opportunities to do the "right" thing or quit cooking meth in order to sell it and secure his family financially. In society, we are constantly bombarded with what we should do, like, think, and say. A lot of times people get fed up and often, aspects of our society's culture is reflected in media and in turn influences how we behave, including decisions we make. In the essay, "'The Politics of Culture'", Julie Rivkin and Michael Ryan discuss the cultural studies and the observation of how media effects society. According to the essay, "The social system…tends to reproduce itself through culture and through schooling"(1027). The corruptness of our social system in relation to drug use and unethical means of earning money are greatly reflected in America's popular culture through the television show "Breaking Bad".