This is a visual essay I made for a subject at university. It looks at the misrepresentation of feminism by celebrities in the media and why we need feminism to focus on basic human rights for all women. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love Beyoncé and Miley, however I think more responsibility needs to be applied when representing serious social issues like gender inequality. It can’t all be sequins, booty, free the nipple etc because how is that going to help the women in the world where gender inequality affects their everyday life? We need to not only act for ourselves, but also for those who are not given the opportunity or right to.
Welcome to the Internet. A strange and wonderful, dark and deep place that can be accessed by nearly anyone, from nearly anywhere at anytime. The Internet is a vital part of our current society, playing a crucial part in communicating our ideas to the world. However, because the internet is so complex and difficult to understand, with millions of sites, millions of users about endless topics, it’s easy to be overwhelmed if not afraid of the possibilities the internet can provide the world. We’ve already seen the internet do amazing, scary and wonderful things for society like connecting friends and family over Facebook, crowd sourcing money for new technology and even organise revolutions like in the Arab Spring, clearly demonstrating the power of citizens and the need for the freedom to share ideas.
‘The transformation of communication from mass communication to mass self-communication has contributed decisively to alter the process of social change. As power relationships have always been based on the control of communication and information that feed the neural networks constitutive of the human mind, the rise of horizontal networks of communication has created a new landscape of social and political change by the process of disintermediation of the government and corporate controls over communication’ (Castells, 2014).
The Chinese government exemplifies the immense control and regulation over the internet in order to satisfy government ideals. Commonly, the Chinese government is viewed as suppressing individual’s right to communication, whereas in fact China’s constitution allows ‘citizens freedom of speech and press, however can be regulated by Chinese authorities if they expose state secrets or potentially threaten then country’ (Xu, 2015), which of course is contradicting in nature. These restrictions are commonly known as ‘The Great Firewall of China,’ with potentially threatening websites like Wikipedia and Facebook being blocked (Xu, 2015).
Another alternative to complete censorship online is the idea of a ‘Magna Carta’ for the internet (MacKinnon, 2011). Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, believes that the internet indeed needs a Magna Carta to ensure net neutrality and privacy is obeyed (Berners-Lee, 2014). Net neutrality refers to internet equality. Berners-Lee uses Brazil as an example of how a government can positively influence ‘advancing web rights and keeping the web open’ (Berners-Lee, 2014). In her TED Talk, MacKinnon, an expert in Chinese media censorship, supports Berners-Lee’s internet Magna Carta, stating that the internet should be citizen-centric and that governments are supposed to serve the public interest and thus promote a sustained internet freedom movement (McKinnon, 2011). However, some argue that ‘net neutrality could harm minority groups and could potentially favour the rich and advantaged’ (Wasserman, 2014).
Regardless of your opinion of net neutrality or whether the Magna Carta for the internet is a good or bad thing, one thing is certain, and that is the internet will continue to change and evolve in the future and consequently affect society. It is important that our speech is protected and we continue to have the ability to spread our message to the world.
Whilst we find ourselves singing along to one of Katy Perry’s latest songs ‘Dark Horse,’ captivated by the glitz and glamour of her art-pop ode to an Egyptian deity, there are deep-rooted problems of Orientalism which must be addressed.
Edward Said was a Palestinian/American theorist (Osborne, 2001), and coined the term Orientalism which he defines as ‘Anyone who teaches, writes about, or researches the Orient’ (Evans, 2015). The Orient in this case, loosely applies to The Middle East (Egypt, Turkey, Libya), The Near East (Greece, Balkans) and the Far East (China, Japan) (Evans, 2015). My understanding of Orientalism put simply is, ‘the pre determined ways in which we think about the Orient which are sometimes limiting to our actual understanding of the true Orient.’ Orientalism is directly linked to colonialism. When European explorers traveled to the Orient, they brought back with them exaggerated and distorted paintings, depicting the Orient as ‘uncivilised, barbaric, spiritual, undeveloped’ (Evans, 2015). These distorted depictions were then used as a way for European empires to get away with colonisation, because after all, they were going to bring civilisation to these people.
Now, you might be wondering what any of this has to do with Katy Perry and Pop music. Well actually quite a lot. You see, based on these distorted depictions of the Orient, especially the Middle East that occurred during colonisation, the rest of the world’s perceptions of the Arab World and it’s people being distorted. Stemming from early reports in 1908 from a supposedly trusted, Lord Cromer who stated ‘untruthfulness, is in fact, the main characteristic of the Oriental mind’ (Evans, 2015), whilst living and writing about modern Egypt. One google news search of the word ‘muslim’ or ‘arab’ brings up an array of negative words such as terrorist, anti-muslim, ISIS, violence… the list goes on. And why? Because these negative stereotypes and Western control are continually perpetuated through the mass media.
And bring in Katy Perry. Whether intentionally or not, her video clip for Dark Horse is religiously and culturally insensitive and plays on Orientalist views of portraying the ‘East’, in this case Egyptians as, traditional, uncivilised, spiritual and undeveloped. The worst part is that the video clip is completely unrelated to the song itself. Katy Perry, just like many other Hollywood celebrities (Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Rita Ora, Gwen Stefani), indulge in cultural appropriation, where they selectively borrow certain traits from a culture and use it to fit their agendas (Nittle, n.d), which if appropriated with respect, is acceptable. However, exploiting cultural traits from a whole nation and misrepresenting, it’s people, it’s history, it’s struggles and it’s stories into a costume and a 3 minute song is not.
Whilst I acknowledge that we’re not going to see a dramatic change in the music industry overnight of pop stars appropriately adapting cultural traits, it is something that we as consumers must be aware of. To challenge our own perspectives and question why we have these views of people. Instead of judging people based off of pop culture and Orientalist outlook, getting to know a person for who they are and not how the media represents them.
The video below discusses Orientalism and it’s relationship with music. Skip to 10min30secs and you will see Mr Sheppard look at Katy Perry and her Orientalist approach to music and performance.
Osborne, R 2001, “Orientalism” in SAGE Publications Ltd, London, http://ey9ff7jb6l.search.serialssolutions.com/?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2004&ctx_enc=info%3Aofi%2Fenc%3AUTF-8&rfr_id=info:sid/summon.serialssolutions.com&rft_val_fmt=info:ofi/fmt:kev:mtx:book&rft.genre=book%20item&rft.title=Megawords%3A+200+Terms+You+Really+Need+to+Know&rft.au=Richard+Osborne&rft.atitle=Orientalism&rft.date=2001-01-01&rft.pub=SAGE+Publications+Ltd&rft.isbn=9780761974741&rft_id=info:doi/10.4135%2F9781446221532.n160&rft.externalDocID=10_4135_9781446221532_n160¶mdict=en-US, accessed 27 March 2015
Now that we’re challenging out preconceived ideas of a world map and the world itself, let’s shake it up further with this image.
One glance at this image our brain registers it is a world map, but why does it leave us with an uneasy and unsatisfied feeling? A simple act of flipping the world Mercator map that we’re all familiar with, not only makes us look twice but also challenges our perception of the world and why we’ve come to accept a world map the way it is. I’m completely guilty of naively staring and accepting a world map as truth (Monmonier, 2014), studying borders, cities and routes, planning epic adventures… However, recently I’ve come to question if a seemingly innocent map of the world is really that innocent.
Maps are ‘used by powerful elites to satisfy their agenda’ (Evans, 2015), and these agendas can influence ‘national pride, borders, conquests’ (Monmonier, 2014) and much more. Criticisms of the Mercator world map include its Eurocentrism and disproportionality of countries, which both contribute to a skewed vision of the world. It presents some countries like the United Kingdom and the United State of America as large, dominant and important as they are positioned the top left and middle of the map whereas other countries like Indonesia, Japan and even continental Africa as smaller and less significant due to their positioning underneath America and Europe.
Even a simple case study using the University of Wollongong as seen on Google Maps, demonstrates the relationship between wealth, power and dominance. This is the University where I study and I encourage you to search your university or home town to see which features are most prominent and question why that is so. Why is Panizzi and Out for Lunch but not the Yard or Rush? Why is the Materials Engineering, building 4 shown but not the Communications Centre or the Law Humanities and Arts building not? ‘We map what we want to see, not what is there’ (Evans, 2015).
On a more political note, the conflict between Israel and Palestine clearly demonstrates the use of maps to not only own and control land, but also relates to culture, history and it’s people being erased as well. The decrease of Palestinian land and growth of Israeli land is not purely about land ownership but is directly related colonial issues and political control when the British handed the land to Israel (M.S, 2010).
In 2013, Google Maps changed ‘Palestinian territories’ to ‘Palestine,’ however, when typing ‘Palestine’ into Google Maps in 2015, this is the image produced. There is no distinct area that is labelled as ‘Palestine,’ which raises the question of political power and influence a company like Google Maps has over political control (Groll, 2013).
It is important to be aware of maps ability to lie to us and distort our image of the world, countries, ethnicities, nature and people and it is up to us to be vigilant in seeking answers.