SAC 372 Paper 2 - "The White and the Orient: It's All...

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“The White and the Orient: It’s All Relative” Sasha Wang Professor Mark Kligerman SAC 372: Contemporary Film Theory 12/09/10 Richard Dyer attempts to define whiteness in his article, “White,” while Edward Said tries to define the Orient in his work, “Orientalism.” Their methods are similar in
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Wang 2 that they both stress how crucial it is to relate their terms to their opposite, or Other. Dyer claims that one can explain whiteness with “reference to that which is not white, as if only non-whiteness can give whiteness any substance” (736). In accordance, Said notes that “The Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience” (87). Dyer and Said both agree that it is impossible to reach a definition without a discourse that includes comparison. One such comparison that Dyer uses in “White” is the relation of power between white and black characters, which he analyzes in three films: Jezebel (Wyler, 1938), Simba (Hurst, 1955), and Night of the Living Dead (Romero, 1969). Jezebel is the most explicit paradigm of this relation of power. The protagonist, Julie, is a white Southern Belle who has a black maid, Zette. Black Zette obeys every request that white Julie voices. It is Julie’s duty as a powerful white woman to be proper and not call attention to herself. When she acts out against this custom and parades herself in a promiscuous red dress, her peers as well as her fiancé, Pres, frown upon her. Julie consequently offers the colored dress to Zette, who gladly accepts it. Zette has no reason not to; she is permanently a lowly black servant who does not need to impress her peers with white restraint. Zette can act freely because she has no position at the top of the power ladder to ascertain. Dyer says that this “associates whiteness with order, rationality, rigidity, qualities brought out by the contrast with black disorder, irrationality and looseness,” differentiating the properness of white superiority from the loud ruckus of black inferiority. (736) This statement is very similar to Robert Stam’s reference to Said’s argument in “Film and the Postcolonial,” in which he says that “the ideological
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Wang 3 production of European ‘rationality’ went hand in hand with the production of Oriental ‘irrationality’” (294). Said brings focus into the relation of power between the Orient and the European. He notes that the term “Orientalism” has more significance when it pertains to European- Atlantic rule over the Orient than when it just discusses the individual Orient without considering his relationship to the Other. “Orientalism,” says Said, “is─ and does not simply represent─ a considerable dimension of modern political-intellectual culture, and as such has less to do with the Orient than it does with ‘our’ world” (91). In support of this, he refers to the 1975-1976 civil war era of French colonialism in Beirut Lebanon, which depicts Christian European power over the Muslim Lebanese Orient. He proceeds
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This note was uploaded on 01/18/2011 for the course SAC 372 taught by Professor Markkligerman during the Fall '09 term at University of Michigan.

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SAC 372 Paper 2 - "The White and the Orient: It's All...

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