Media has always been the tool for capturing reality, yet the presentation thereof has never been accurate, especially in movies. It is very easy to see Hollywood as a money-grabbing machine that is trying to cash in on people’s fears and prejudices. The latest foray into attempting at explaining the basics of the Arab culture to the American citizens, Tyrant falls flat as such, being a hypocritical redesign of the traditional clichés and stereotypes related to Arab people.
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On the one hand, Tyrant can be viewed as an attempt to make a fresh start and to open a new page of relationships between the Arab and the American cultures. With an update of the setting to the present days and the shift to the identification of the traditions of the target culture, the series seems a rather promising start. However, some of the tropes that the moviemakers use to portray the characters, including both positive and negative ones, applaud to the existing prejudices about the Arab people and the Arab culture. For example, the series is oozing with the idea that Arab people are intrinsically cruel:
I’m curious. What twisted path brought a pathetic Western whore to think that she could come to my county and dictate to me her perverted misinterpretations of the Koran? Did your parents not love you enough? Is that why you lay with murders? Is that why you stood by while the people of this house were slaughtered? So you could sleep in their bed and call it your own? (Tyrant 2015)
There is a slim argument that the citation above subverts the typical representation of an Arab person, as the lead character goes against the traditional patterns of the expected behavior by stressing the pointlessness of violence. However, the very fact that the issues regarding the outrageous behavior and traditions are brought up needs to be acknowledged as a nod in the direction of an Arab stereotype. True, some of the Arab traditions, especially the ones rooted in the ancient concept of gender and social relationships, are imperfect and are most likely to be viewed as bizarre in modern society (Kymlicka & Pföstl, 2014). There is no fault in bringing these issues up; however, the series does nothing to address the issues that they raise, resorting to merely pointing out the societal and cultural problems instead of suggesting the ways to correct them.
The lack of emotional stability is also somehow attributed to Arab people as an intrinsically negative feature, which is especially evident in the series mentioned above. For instance, at one point of the conflict development, Molly tells Barry:
I forgot to tell you, Barry, how badly you’ve destroyed me, how badly you’ve damaged our family, and that you’re a horrible person. Since you’ve called, I’ve had moments where I found myself wishing you were dead. Truly dead. Gone. (Tyrant 2015)
At first, the monolog above might seem comparatively innocent as it does not imply any innuendoes concerning terrorism and does not incite an intercultural conflict. On second thought, however, Molly’s complaint defines Barry as the representative of the Arab culture and, therefore, the rest of the people that belong to it, as barbaric and lacking basic human qualities, such as compassion, sympathy, and kindness. The episode, in general, perpetuates the image of an Arab person as a tyrant, as the titular series title suggests.
It is quite remarkable that the Arab-related stereotyping of the contemporary era has gained a range of new characteristics, the tendency to vilify the representatives of the culture has become more subtle and less noticeable, yet nonetheless effective. The producers do not explicitly choose a particular set of traits for their characters. They seemingly have an intention to make their villains vain, aggressive, and impulsive as a part of the plot and character development, and, somewhere along the line, it turns out to make them look threatening.
An overview of the characters portrayed in the show will display a complete absence of a comic relief that is typically incorporated into the plot of a TV series. Arguably an improvement in terms of character development, the lack of comedy in the series could also be attributed to the intent to portray Arab people as threatening and, therefore, worth being feared.
The setting, in which the characters are placed, though admittedly reflecting the hardships of life in the state prone to mutinies and terrorist attacks, also serves as the means of reinforcing the existing prejudice against the Arab people. Even the trailer, which is supposed to set a bar for people’s expectations for the show, mentions the issue above at some point.
However, Hollywood is hardly malicious in this regard, being, perhaps, only somewhat thoughtless about the message that it is trying to convey. The movie directors tend to assign their characters with a set of particular traits without fully realizing the implications. One could argue that the mass hysteria concerning the possibility of another terrorist attack is the primary factor that defines how Hollywood portrays Arab characters.
Therefore, Hollywood arguably tends to assign its characters certain features without fully realizing the implications. After all, the current representation of Arabs in Hollywood movies can be viewed as an attempt to take advantage of the tropes used by the people who were intentionally trying to make the Arabs look bad.
One could argue that the above tendency to make Arab people look threatening to the American society came on the heels of the social attitudes, particularly, the fears that the notorious political issues had caused. Hollywood, in its turn, may have merely taken advantage of the situation, using people’s fears as the means of making quick cash, thus, perpetuating the image of the quote-unquote “bad Arab.”
Unfortunately, after a thorough scrutiny of the TV series in question, one will have to admit that the stereotypical images of Arab people are often used by Hollywood filmmakers. However, even as far as vilifying Arab people goes, Hollywood has been taking a rather hypocritical stance on the subject matter, preferring to maintain the policy based on silencing the issue. Therefore, instead of helping Arab people gain better visibility in the media that has made them invisible, at best, and straight-out vilified at worst, Hollywood continues foisting the stereotypical image of a “bad Arab” on the target population (Shohat & Stam, 2014).
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The analysis of Tyrant, therefore, has shown that media affects society. Therefore, the time to change the current stereotypical patterns of portraying the Arab population in media has come. People deserve to know more about the Arab culture, and portraying it in a one-sided, bigoted manner as Tyrant does should be discouraged.
Kymlicka, W., & Pföstl, E. (2014). Multiculturalism and minority rights in the Arab world. Oxford, UK: OUP Oxford.
Lehmann, M., Nir, A., Fitzpatrick, H., Yates, D., Raff, G., Wright, C., & Gordon, H. (Executive producers). (2015). Tyrant [DVD]. New York, NY: Fox 21 Television Studios.
Shohat, E., & Stam, R. (2014). Unthinking Eurocentrism: Multiculturalism and the media. New York, NY: Routledge.