Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Suppression of Youths in Society

At least once in everyone’s life you experience someone telling you not to do something because of your age, your gender or even social standing. In my essay, I will discuss how Lou Ye’s Summer Palace and Disney’s Aladdin pertain to the suppression of youth in modern society and Said’s view on both of these pictures.

In the film Summer Palace, college students in China experience suppression from their government as it goes through political change in the late ‘80s, one of the most significant times in Chinese history. Like in The Rules of Attraction, these college students act out in ways that are extreme and the result of an imbalance in their lives, directly resulting in most of them perpetuating their unhappiness and insecurity. A major difference between the two films is that in The Rules of Attraction, the students act out not because they are suppressed, but because they have too much freedom, while in Summer Palace and even Aladdin, the characters act out in their own forms of rebellions not because they have no restrictions but rather because they have too much structure and regulation in their lives. These social constraints force the college students in Summer Palace and in Aladdin to express themselves in ways that according to their culture are wrong.. In The Rules of Attraction these students have too much money, too much time, too few restrictions and so they experiment with drugs, sex and alcohol. They tend to commodify people and even obsess over those they cannot have just because they enjoy the thrill of the chase; consequently not being able to have this person allows their imaginations to run rampant with extreme fantasies. In Summer Palace, the sophomores are actually devoid of many of the luxuries while in The Rules of Attraction the main characters are told how to live their lives in ways that will benefit society the best. Because the Chinese students feel so overwhelmed by the control of their government they actually rebel by having sex, (which they are specifically told to avoid because it would interfere with their education) and experimenting with cigarettes and alcohol. The students are also exposed to Western influences such as American music and culture. This exposure to Western traditions has made them vulnerable to external cultural influences, in turn changing the patterns of their rebellions. For example, in the past, youth might have defied their parents by running away or doing the opposite of what they were told to do. However, due to Globalization, even before the advent of the internet, has allowed for anyone to experience the culture of another society from the opposite end of the globe. Currently, if youth wanted to rebel against their parents they would have the excuse of saying “But the Americans are doing it,” and begin to smoke or listen to the music that is popular in America. Throughout the movie I noticed that a lot of people were looking to what the United States was doing and reflecting on their own situation, and maybe it was the rebellious birth of this country that inspired the students in this film to stand up against their government and assert their freedoms in a counter revolution.

In Disney’s Aladdin, the subjugation of women and youth is parallel to that of Summer Palace, in the sense that the Princess Jasmine is portrayed as a different kind of Disney Princess. She rebels against royal life, social structure and tries to make her own way, unlike the princesses of the past who chose to wait for their rescue, or even dream of being Princesses. In the movie, the first thing that we learn about Jasmine is that she is not afraid to stand up for herself and be forthright with her words and actions. This is something radical not only for a princess, but much more because she is an oriental princess, her role should have been no more than a symbolic figure and of submission. Traditionally, Jasmine would have no rights, any and all decisions would have been for her by her father or husband; she however, does not see it that way and decides that the royal life isn’t for her, so she runs away-something that is reckless, but we see that all the rules and regulations have pushed her to the brink.

Another example of Jasmine being radical is her response to her father’s persistence in finding a suitor for her. She states “The law is wrong… I hate being forced into this.” Jasmine cannot accept the fact that she must be married by her 18th birthday, which is in 3 days. She tells her father that she wants to be married for love. We learn that Jasmine has never done anything on her own, had real friends or been outside the palace walls. That night Jasmine decides to sneak out to experience the city for herself and leave her life of being a princess behind. She returns when Aladdin is captured and does her best to fight for his freedom. A similarity that both Aladdin and Jasmine share is that they feel “trapped.” Aladdin feels trapped because he is always hiding from the guards and has to steal food to survive. Jasmine wishes that she didn’t have people telling her where to go and how to dress and that she could make her own decisions.[i] Most importantly, although her father means well, she does not want to be forced into marriage, she wants to be able to make her own decisions and get married out of love, not convenience. The mutual feeling that these two share is a basis for their friendship and eventual marriage. The interesting thing about this film is that it is aimed at children, and so the message about suppression will be different, if not sugar coated. Moreover, the lives of these two individuals are changed shortly after Aladdin finds the magic lamp containing Genie. Aladdin is able to escape his suppression by making his dreams of riches and being with the princess a reality. The magic lamp also helps Jasmine escape by introducing her to new characters, especially the magic carpet which allows her to leave the palace more easily.

Another aspect that these two films share is the element of Orientalism. In a blog published on March 5th, 2009 a student in New York shares his views about the Disney film in a piece titled The Stereotype of Aladdin. He writes “watching the first 15 minutes of Aladdin with a critical eye was an experience of revelation. Minute details that had been overlooked through the eyes of childhood, stereotypes of the Arab person that are rampant throughout the film, or even the lyrics to the beginning song ‘it’s barbaric but hey, it's home.’ All these things that I was now questioning and looking at make me go back to Said's theory of Orientalism as a Western method of institutionalizing the Middle East as a way of controlling it.”[ii] Said’s controversial theory attempts to answer questions such as: “Why when we think of a certain area we have pre conceived notions of what kind of people live, what they believe, or how they act even though we have never been there or met anyone from there?” His central argument is that the way we acquire our knowledge about the East is not objective, but highly motivated.[iii] When we read about or watch movies about the East, such as Aladdin we are watching it through a lens that distorts those people. Sohail Inayatullah, in response to watching Aladdin writes “The examples of Orientalism are numerous and obvious. The good guys are all clean shaven, the bad guys have facial hair typically associated with Easterners…the streets are lined with bartering Arabs and Hindu fakirs. [The Middle East] is the land of the exotic. Women are portrayed as erotic, swaying about, wearing the briefest of harem costumes. The only interesting and developed character is the genie, largely because of Williams but also because the genie is full of cultural richness. This is unfortunate since even though the genie was trapped in the Arab world, he only knows Western culture.”[iv] He also goes on to talk about specific differences in Muslim culture that I was not aware of until conducting research for this project. He says, “We should not be surprised at the Orientalist nature of the movie, we know this from the beginning. The story teller begins with the secular Salaam (peace) not the appropriate asalaam alakum (may god be with you). The story is secularized and westernized with Allah thrown out and Al thrown in. While cultures appropriating each other’s myths can enrich the world and help create a new culture, in this case cultural sharing leads to cultural cannibalism. A bit of history reading, a few attempts to understand Arabian mythology in its terms not in the terms of 1990's America could have created a universal fable, authentic to history but innovative in its ability to speak to the West and East, to create a cultural dialog. Instead we are given vicious pornography.”[v] Inayatullah is obviously very hurt by Disney’s altered version of the tale which originally appeared in The Book of One Thousand and One Nights.

Another interesting point that I found about Aladdin was that of political misrepresentation. “One cannot omit the other misrepresentation of the Middle East that the movie Aladdin perpetuates…when Aladdin first encounters the prince who is coming to court Princess Jasmine…she faces off with her father about not wanting to be forced to marry…This conversation is the misrepresentation of the Middle Eastern leader. You have the prince who callously would have trod upon the little child in his path, then jeers at Aladdin about how he is a nobody and the fleas on his head are the only ones who would mourn him. Then you have the…almost inept king and father to Jasmine, who is easily misled and controlled by his advisor, Jafar. Jafar himself, [is] manipulative, power hungry and evil. These are three examples of the people in leadership that one sees in the first 15mins of Aladdin. Judging from this depiction of Middle Eastern leaders is it not fair to assume that leaders in that parts of the world are either corrupt…narcissistic and self-important or weak and inept? That is assuming that Aladdin's depiction is true. If not, then how can this tarring of a people's image through popular media such as movies, be justified? I mean, Aladdin begins with a shifty looking Arabic merchant who is trying to swindle you into buying his wares, some of which are broken such as the hookah/coffee maker combo…Millions of Americans and people across the world who have watched Aladdin and those who will buy the DVD…will be viewing the institutionalizing of the Arab man as an unscrupulous and manipulating businessman who preys on the unaware. With this perspective, would it not therefore be right to side with Said in saying that the Western world has tried from all sides to denounce and denigrate the Middle Eastern, thereby controlling the world's perception of it?[vi] Enjoyable as…Aladdin is, it still does not plant positive images of the people that it depicts or even of their culture.”[vii]

In regards to Summer Palace, I gathered my information from Richard Spencer who spent six years in Bejing as the Daily Telegraph's China Correspondent. I have always tried, perhaps feebly, to defend the way China is portrayed abroad, particularly to charges laid by those who have read Edward Said’s celebrated book “Orientalism” that the country is victim of a racist…plot to justify neo-imperialist attitudes towards it. Put more simply, this is the idea (which Said mainly focuses on the area of his prime concern, the Middle East, but which clearly applies to the Far East too) that cultural references to the East’s exoticism, the refined but repressed sexual allure of its women, the cruelty of its rulers, etc etc, is a ‘narrative of power’ which justifies its subordination to the West.”[viii] Another interesting point that I found was the idea that even a small character, or an extra in a film can be feeding into Orentalism just by the way this person looks or acts. “It strikes me that in general terms, at least now, the authorities are quite happy to see films and other works of art that portray China as both exotic and cruel.

It is films which portray the responses of its characters as normal (as westerners would see it) that worry them, such as Summer Palace, the film by Lou Ye they tried to stop being shown at Cannes a couple of years back. There’s a reason for that, of course: the government wants China to be seen as having a long history of autocracy which makes instant political reform ‘unsuitable’ and against whose horrors its own alleged crimes seem minor.

I’m reminded of a Marxist critique of Orientalism I once read, which argued that the “exotic” images of which Said complains were not created by the West, even if we promulgated them, but by those societies’ own feudal rulers.

Eager to justify their continued dominant position to the western colonial powers, they portrayed an image of themselves as “people who you could do business with” in contrast to the chaos and corruption inherent to their societies as a whole. What would happen if they were disposed of?”[ix]

When we juxtapose The Rules of Attraction, Summer Palace and Aladdin we see that these characters all reacted in different ways that either hurt them in ways that crippled them such as in Rules of Attraction, where they are all on drugs and where they take advantage of each other and use one another to their own personal avail. Heidegger would say that we should stop and reflect upon the way that we see each other is simply as tools, we don’t see another human being as our friend our companion and we should work together to further ourselves. Instead we see another human being as a way for us to reach our goal and it doesn’t matter if they are willing or not, they are a tool for our use and nothing more. While there are these elements in Summer Palace and Aladdin it is not for self indulgence. For example, in Summer Palace when they used each other for sex and even drugs it was mutual both parties wanted it, not only that but it was in response to their oppression furthermore they cared for one another, they had a genuine interest for each other. They saw each other as a great way to release the frustrations and demons they were experiencing but never use each other as a tools to be tossed aside later on. The same goes for Aladdin she didn’t use him to get out of the palace, even to a lesser extent he didn’t use her to fulfill his dream of living in the palace, and he didn’t even know that she was a princess when he first helped her in the Bazaar. He saw that she needed help and so he went to her rescue, she didn’t ask him for assistance.

[i]Youtube, “Aladdin 3 HD,” ( 5 Feb. 2009) <> (14 Dec. 2009)

[ii]Orentalism and Occidentalism, “The stereotype of Aladdin,” (5 Mar. 2009) <> ( 13 Dec. 2009)

[iii] Youtube, “On Orientalism-Edward Said,” 12 June 2007)

<> ( 15 Dec. 2009)

[iv], “Aladdin: Continued Violence Against Islamic Culture,”

<> (15 Dec. 2009)

[v], “Aladdin: Continued Violence Against Islamic Culture,”

<> (15 Dec. 2009)

[vi] Orentalism and Occidentalism, “The stereotype of Aladdin,” (5 Mar. 2009) <> ( 13 Dec. 2009)

[vii] Orentalism and Occidentalism, “The stereotype of Aladdin,” (5 Mar. 2009) <> ( 13 Dec. 2009)

[viii], “The Exotic ‘Other,’” ( 16 Mar. 2007) <> ( 14 Dec. 2009)

[ix], “The Exotic ‘Other,’” ( 16 Mar. 2007) <> (14 Dec. 2009)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I Heart New York

The clip I chose from Sex and the City exemplifies the personality of New York. In this scene, Big (Carrie’s on-again-off-again-boyfriend) decides that he has had enough of “old New York” and wants to move to Napa, California. The title of the episode is “I Heart NY” which can also be interpreted as “I heart Carrie” because she represents New York City in the episode, especially when she states “you can’t slick out of town this way, we gotta do it up right. A proper goodbye; you, me and New York- you owe it to us.” This quotation shows us how similar to the city she is. The components that match the Barker 12 Chapter reading which this episode demonstrates are the concepts of place, space and urbanization. In this clip, I was able to identify more than one topic from the reading and decided to apply more than one to this clip. The short definitely has features of “place” because it mirrors the textbook definition of having “elements of being a socially constructed location marked by identification or emotional investment… [as well as] bounded magnifications of the production of meaning.” Here, Carrie is attached to the city of New York; she compares Big to being the Chrysler Building and says that because of that he does not belong in Napa. She creates her own meaning for the city not only by it being the place where she works, but also associating parts of the town with important people in her life. Next, Big demonstrates “social space” by using his power in society to change social construction. While Carrie is enjoying a horse and carriage ride with Big through Central Park, she receives the phone call about Miranda going into labor. Big gives the driver $400 to leave the park and head to the hospital as quickly as possible. The driver agrees and breaks state law to do as Big says. Moreover, New York City naturally holds elements of being a “metropolitan zone” just because it has a cityscape and capitalist industrialization. It was through capitalism that Big made his money and Carrie can show off her money and outfits in the thriving metropolitan city.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Revised: Reponse Paper

The Bitter Side of Unrequited Romance

Many of us have been in love before, tried to make compromises in relationships, and had our hearts broken. As Charlie Brown once said, “Nothing quite takes the taste out of peanut butter like unrequited love.” In the television show Californication, unrequited love is a theme that recurs in each season. The main character, Hank Moody, is still in-love with his long time off-and-on girlfriend, Karen, who is about to get married. The show Californication and the novel The Rules of Attraction are similar in that unrequited love is one of the main motifs of the two. Another similarity between the book and TV show is that this is a critique on the upper class of society and the amount of sex that occurs parallels that of The Rules of Attraction.

First, the theme of unrequited love is important because not only does it pertain to our class theme of the radical romance, but this constant pursuit of something that is unattainable feeds into unhealthy obsessions. By not obtaining something you are constantly thinking about you build up an expectation of this great thing and when you finally get it you are let down, because it is not as perfect as you made it out to be. In The Rules of Attraction each character pursues someone who is not interested in them and when they finally get closer to that person, they are let down. Unreal expectations are one of the best ways to get let down and detach yourself from reality, like the characters in The Rules of Attraction did. In Californication, Moody has the opportunity to be with his ex-girlfriend but during the second season, he realizes that it may not work out between them and is actually willing to let her go, after already spending so much time going crazy over her during the first season. One reason that I believe he was so persistent in going after his ex; even though she was going to be married was that he had a child with her, and he never really had the chance to marry her. The main reason was probably BECAUSE she was going to be married and he would have had to fight to win her over. According to the Barker text, “men are held to be more ‘naturally domineering,’ hierarchically oriented and power-hungry…” (Barker 285) This ties in with Californication, in that, Moody viewed his daughter almost as “property” and therefore could not leave his daughter, and ex behind. He would not allow another man to take them away from him and felt challenged by Bill Lewis, Karen’s fiancĂ©. Sean, from The Rules of Attraction, also exhibited this behavior in that he viewed women as commodities and displayed that he was “hierarchically oriented” by only sleeping with women who were attractive, popular and dressed nicely.

Another theme that these two works had in common was that of shrugging their responsibilities. In the novel, Sean did not pay for the abortion and Moody has free sex without worrying about the repercussions of his actions. In season two, just as Moody, Karen and their daughter Becca are all starting their new, happy lives together, Moody learns that Sonja- a woman he had a one night stand with- may be pregnant on the same day that he proposes to Karen. Upon hearing that he may have gotten another woman pregnant, Karen declines Moody’s proposal and it is then that he decides that it won’t work out between them.

Finally, the critique on the upper class and analysis of the sex that occurs in The Rules of Attraction, and Californication as an important concept within the two mediums. The Rules of Attraction is a social critique on the upper class because it illustrates ‘80’s nihilism and what college students do when they have too much time and money on their hands. For example, the students of Camden College know that they will never lose the support of their parents, so they take their relationships with their parents for granted and continue to use them for their money which they splurge because they do not know what else to do with it. They have an overabundance much like the characters in Californication. Moody, although he is losing his job as a writer takes his lifestyle for granted and spends a lot of money on weed. He does not pay rent at the places he lives, but they are always lavishly decorated, beautiful places in California or New York. The women he sleeps with are also wealthy and have a certain look. Moreover, the portrayal of sex in both of these acts makes it seem as though sex is something causal. The characters in The Rules of Attraction sleep with as many people as they can just because. They are not seeking a meaningful relationship with his person, just some fun. Moody looks for one night stands in order to try to forget about losing his ex to someone else. After he gets back together with ex, he stops looking at other women and focuses on her which is interesting. After the character in The Rules of Attraction get what they truly want, and if they are not tired of them, they actually seem truly happy. According to a study done by the founder of the Medical Institute for Sexual Health, Dr. Joe McIlhaney and Dr. Freda McKissic Bush, “humans are the healthiest and happiest when they engage in sex only with the one who is their mate for a lifetime...[due to the fact that] the most important sex organ is the brain.” This research may explain why the students of Camden are so unhappy and depressed, because they are just having meaningless sex. Their acts are solely physical and have no intellectual or emotional connection. Secondly this could also explain why the people in solid relationships in Californication (although minor characters) have happy and productive lives, because they have happy and productive marriages.

Works Cited

Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2008.

McDowell, Sean. "Why Evolutionary Theory is Wrong about Sex." Worldview Times – Home,

29 April 2009. Web. 13 Oct. 2009.



Tuesday, September 22, 2009


I am sitting inside the Jack-in-the-Box on Reseda and Plummer; it is approximately 7 o’ clock. To my immediate left is an elderly couple; behind them, a group three of mid-to-elderly aged Filipino women and to my right a family. The first group I notice is the Filipino women because they are very loud and laughing with each other. The women decide to sit in a booth. The two middle aged women are sitting next to each other and their older friend is sitting on the side opposite to them. They are wearing casual clothes nothing extravagant and they seem to be good friends. I observe that whenever the older woman needs anything- like more fires or ketchup- one of her younger friends grabs it for her. The older woman has oxygen tubes running into her nostrils, but that did not deter her from smiling and joking with her friends. The family to my right is sitting outside and away from everyone. They have a son and daughter who are between the ages of 5 and 7. The two children walk around the patio before their food arrives. As children do they horse around, until their father says something to make them sit down. Soon after the food arrives, the husband and wife set up the fries and burgers they bought for their family. They gesture to the children to sit down properly before they receive their food. The whole family sits down together and begins to eat. Half-way through the meal, the children start getting antsy and begin standing with their food. The parents are almost finished with their meal and make sure that the children stay in the patio area until they are finished. Once everyone finished eating, the mother took the boy and girl to go wash up while the father proceeded to throw away the trash. The family reunites at the table and then proceeds to look both ways before crossing the street to their car. They drive away in a black Ford Expedition. The last group I notice inside the Jack-in-the-Box is the elderly couple to my left. I actually pulled in behind this couple while trying to find parking for the eatery. They were very cautious in the parking lot and moved very slowly. Inside the restaurant, the couple is hardly audible and exchanges few words. The husband and wife are sitting across from each other; they are fragile and grasp their hamburgers then proceed to eat slowly. Their food was brought to them by the manager and everyone in the restaurant made sure that they were well taken care of. They didn’t eat much, but it appeared to be filling to them. The elderly woman had short fading blonde hair and she wore a fancy silk blouse, while her husband was dressed in khaki’s and a white shirt with blue stripes. Their clothes were well ironed and matched rather nicely.

When I observed the Filipino ladies, it looked that they had a very god friendship. Being Filipino, it was easy for me to identify them and understanding the culture I knew that they were just a group of women who just enjoyed life for everything that is was. The fact that these women had no men with them played into the feminism we learned about in class. Instead if these women being “bound to their oppressors,” they were free of them- they were able to do whatever they wanted and it looked like the women really enjoyed the time that they spent together. So far as the relationship goes between this group, it was strictly friendship. It looked like these women maybe grew up together, or at least knew each other for a very long time. All the laughter they shared indicated to me that they either had a lot of inside jokes, or that they had a lot of catching up to do. As for the family, the father seemed to be the one in control of the household. This was a very traditional patriarchal family in the sense that it was the father who paid for dinner, and the mother who took the children to wash their hands while their father threw away the trash. They all seemed to get along and have a very strong family bond. Also, the parents were able to foresee that their children would not be able to sit in their seats for the entirety of their meal, so they decided to sit outside. They were the only customers during the time that I was there who decided to sit outside, and I felt that it was wise of them to do so. Their children were not rowdy or loud, but their decision to sit outside is a reflection of how well they know and understand their kids. The husband and wife had very good communication, playing into the traditional romance. I did not notice that one person overpowered the other to the point of fear or depression; or that one was too obsessed with the other, as was the case in Fatal Attraction. The mother did not have any characteristics of Anne Archer’s character, who was willing to kill to protect not only her child, but her way of life. Anne Archer was more monstrous than Glen Close’s character because not only did she have no remorse when she killed Close’s character but also she needed her husband to the point where she deemed it justified to kill so that she could stay with him and continue the life she was used to. The couple at Jack-in-the-Box seemed to make decisions as a team, but in the end the ultimate decision was left to the male in the relationship because he is the one who drove his family there, and paid for dinner. With the elderly couple, it was obvious since my first encounter with them that they took their time with everything they did; from entering the parking lot and carefully parking, to the meticulous creases in their clothes. The couple seemed content, nothing too extreme and they were average to the point where they seemed to almost blend into the background.