Orientalism and Western depictions of the East and Africa

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Edward Said has been celebrated for his most influential piece of work, Orientalism, where he makes us aware of the orient, and how the orient is a political construct which has more to do with how the West depict themselves, and how they depict the East and Africa with little to no understanding. Orientalism can be defined as a constellation of false assumptions underlying Western attitudes toward the East as well as Africa. As said above, the main idea behind orientalism is that the Western knowledge about the East is not based on facts or reality, but rather from predetermined epitomes that visualize or make it seem like all Eastern societies as primarily similar to one another, and primarily dissimilar to Western societies. This builds up an idea an idea of the East being antithetical or contradictory to the West. A prominent example of what orientalism is could be colonisation. One could argue that orientalism has presumed and made way of a certain justification for European colonisation/ imperialism which is based on a self-serving history in which “the West” has made “the East” seem like they vary tremendously and are also inferior, hence they were in need of Western intercession or “saving”. Others can say that colonialism can be seen as a cultural dominion and control which impose on social change. Colonisation talks about the social system whereby the political defeats done by one society of another leads to “cultural domination with enforced social change”. A good example to look at when examining colonialism is the British overtake of India. The British did not have much understanding when it came to the Indian culture, this ended up creating a lot of problems such as an unrest during their rule.

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Orientalism In Contemporary Art

People may not be completely aware of this but orientalism is also shown in contemporary art, whether it be music, movies or even paintings. According to John McCormick, he defines ethnocentrism as looking at a group of other people from one’s own culture, rather than seeing the other’s point of view or terms. That way it is safe to say that orientalists are ethnocentric, because they believe their ways are better than others. One example that people do not really look into is the things we watch on television. Take for example Disney. Walt Disney is a diversified mass media company, there have been numerous amounts of movies over the years, but what many might have not realised is that the movie “Pocahontas” (1995), it can be seen as a contemporary example to what orientalism is. But how?

In order to understand orientalism and how it can be applicable to a film which takes place in the Western world, that is far away from the orient, a foundation detailing the components of Orientalism must be constructed. Traditionally, Orientalism’s main focus is how “the East” is portrayed, if not the east then places that are considered to be a part of the orient (the east). The basic conflict in the movie Pocahontas is based on the basic dissimilarities which were established between the Native Americans and the British settlers. There is a big dissimilarity when it comes to their languages as well as cultures, and even skin colour differ between the two. Each group has a tendency of viewing the other group as foreign, or as “the other.” For the sake of the argument, America and the American Indians represent the orient, known as “the East”. Britain and the British settlers represent the occident, also known as “the West”. The variances in language, culture, and skin colour between the groups are fearsome for each. The cause of conflict comes from neither group being familiar with the other and customs of one another. Even though, fundamentally, both groups are obviously encompassed of human beings, the variations between the orient and the occident are too extensive to overlook. One could suggest that the only way to understand indigenous people in this modern world is to get to know indigenous people on a personal level because the representation of indigenous people in the media is misleading, insufficient, and inaccurate.

Orientalism in Africa

As a result, intellects such as Charles Darwin and many other academics of the time believed that Western cultural superiority was most powerful and successful than African culture and this then led to an idea whereby Africans characteristically were seen as human beings who should be subjugated as well as controlled or put under authority. These influential yet false logical depictions of the Africans bring about a certain message in a section in Said’s Orientalism: “Once again, knowledge of subject races or Orientals is what makes their management easy and profitable; knowledge gives power, more power requires more knowledge, and so on in an increasingly profitable dialectic of information and control.”

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Orientalism and Western depictions of the East and Africa. (2020, December 14). WritingBros. Retrieved February 24, 2024, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/orientalism-and-western-depictions-of-the-east-and-africa/
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