The Problem of Whitewashing

Tuesday’s class was so stimulating for me because we got to talk about the problem with whitewashing Middle Eastern and Asian culture and cultural appropriation in general. As someone who stays in touch with movie news, one of the major problems I think the industry has is whitewashing people who are originally supposed to be Asian. Two recent examples of this are the casting of Tilda Swinton as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange and Scarlett Johansson as Major in the movie adaptation of a popular Japanese Manga called Ghost in the Shell. Both characters would be huge representations for Asian people, specifically women, in media today, but instead the movie decided to cast popular white actresses. I have more of a problem with the casting of Johansson in Ghost in the Shell though, because this comic is huge in Asia so it would only be fair for the main character to be an Asian woman, like it is in the comics. The only reason they wanted Johansson is because she is a big name in Hollywood today, but this movie will end up alienating its main audience – Asian’s – because they will see that this character they already love is white.

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Asian women are severely under represented in movies today – the last movie I saw with a somewhat main Asian character in it was Suicide Squad, and while the actress who played her was racially correct, she only had three lines of dialogue throughout the whole movie! Her character, Katana, is supposed to be a main member of the Suicide Squad, but has so little screen time that I think most of the audience forgot she was even there. Her introduction was rushed, she shows up out of literally no where and her backstory is told to the other members of the team by who is supposed to be the white male leader of the group in about two lines of dialogue. She does not even get to utter her own name, the white guy does it, even though she is perfectly capable of speaking for herself and can speak in English since one of her three lines are in English. Two other Asian female characters who got this treatment were Jubilee and Psylocke in X:Men Apocalypse. While, Jubilee ultimately uttered more lines than Katana got to, no one even mentions her by name throughout the whole movie. She is just there as part of the young X:Men. Psylocke is treated even worse with only two lines of dialogue. And while, she is included in an action scene unlike Jubilee, her outfit is so skimpy and unpractical for someone to actually fight in.

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In fact, I think the only major Asian actress that I can think of in Hollywood today is Lucy Liu, and I do not even know if she has been in any movies recently. So as you can already tell, whitewashing’s only purpose is to get white people to invest their time and money into whatever a movie, airline ticket, purses, clothing, perfume, and other ads are trying to sell, yet they do not keep in mind that they are misrepresenting Asian culture and ultimately won’t care if they do as long as they get plenty of money.

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The Problem of Consent in Waiting For the Barbarians

As we started the new book, Waiting for the Barbarians, for Humanities Core, I was so relieved that we moved on from paintings and Rousseau to an easy read. The book started out fine, but it quickly got disturbing when the narrator took in a “barbarian” girl that was tortured. This barbarian girl is blind, she is only able to see out of her periphery vision, and since she is an outsider, she was reduced to begging on the streets. The narrator, feeling sorry for her and somewhat responsible for her torture, brings her into his home and cleans her up. He starts out with unwrapping the bandages around her feet. The Colonel broke both of her ankles, so she cannot walk right, and the magistrate starts washing her feet. Now, the washing of the feet is an obvious allusion to Christ, and to the reader, it makes the magistrate seem kind and compassionate. Then things start to get a little bit creepy, the magistrate washes her completely, I don’t know why, it is not like the barbarian girl cannot wash herself, but he does so anyway. Now even though this was creepy, and red flags were going off in my head, I thought well maybe he was still doing this out of kindness, maybe she was so exhausted that she couldn’t wash herself. I thought that this would only be a one time thing. But I was very wrong – the magistrate bathes her and rubs her every night! There is absolutely no indication at all that the girl wants this in any way! One of the many quotes that stand out to me is, “She lies naked, her oiled skin glowing a vegetal gold in the firelight. There are moments – I feel the onset of one now – when the desire I feel for her, usually so obscure, flickers into a shape I can recognize. My hand stirs, strokes her, fits itself to the contour of her breast,” the magistrate literally touches this poor woman every night, and since we experience the book through the narrator, we never hear her agree to be touched (40). Another thing that greatly bothers me about this quote is that the magistrate is so delusional, he obviously desires this woman, he wouldn’t touch her every night if he didn’t, but refuses to admit it to himself because she is a “barbarian” and to him barbarians are animals. He even compares her to an animal when he says, “I keep two wild animals in my rooms, a fox and a girl” (34).

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I think the reason why I dislike this book so far is because we see these events play out through the magistrates eyes, and his unwanted sexual behaviors toward this woman, make me feel extremely uncomfortable, especially since I am a woman myself. I think getting a chapter through the girl’s point of view and even Colonel Joll’s point of view would have elevated the novel. That way the reader could get all three perspectives, one through the capital’s eyes, one through the “barbarian’s” eyes, and one situated in the middle  (the magistrate).

Paint by Numbers

As we moved on from the Roman Empire and the Aeneid in lecture. I didn’t expect paintings to hold really any interest to me at all. While I do think some paintings are beautiful, I have never been much of a fan of them, especially the ones that just has paint splatters on them, or just of few dots of paint. I never really liked going to art museums, or museums in general, until more recently. So, I was not interested when our lecturer talked about paintings. What did at least somewhat interest me though, is the contrast between beautiful and sublime paintings. When I did go to museums, I remember that beautiful paintings never really grabbed me, to me it was just a painting of some nice stuff. It was always the more darker painting that grabbed me. I liked all the dark colors and the tone it created for the picture. For example, this painting by Thomas Cole, which was shown in lecture, creates a tone of chaos and panic.

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Now, that probably says something about me, but I won’t comment on that right now. Some of the paintings showed in lecture actually did gravitate to me, even the more beautiful ones. Why? Probably because they were of ruins. It’s just so interesting to me to see everything that is left of some great city or empire. That once thousands, maybe millions, of people lived in this place and now all that is left is rubble and rocks. Being relatively well-traveled for a person my age, I have never really seen grand ruins in real life, the closest was when I went to New York City and visited the World Trade Center when I was about eight years old. I’m also the type of person who wants to travel more and would love to visit Italy to see these ruins in real life. Anyways, like the lecturer talked about I think I really love painting and pictures of ruins because of memento mori. Everything must come to an end eventually and ruins are what is left behind. It makes me think of ruins in a more hypothetical sense because when I die I wonder what will be left of me? While I hope that as a Film and Media major that a few of my movies will outlast me. But when I really think about it, will anyone watch my movies a hundred years from now? As a sort of movie buff myself, I know that I am not all that well versed in classic and old movies. I still haven’t seen The Godfather, let alone Casablanca! So, while the idea of having something of yours left behind of you when you die is nice, won’t the wind eventually blow what is left of your ruins away? While some people like Stanley Kubrick or Vincent Van Gogh has legacies after their death, as later generations of people live on, will they eventually be left in the dust as well? We only know about Vincent Van Gogh and other artists because we are taught about them in school, but won’t schools eventually stop teaching about Van Gogh if another amazing dead painter comes along? Won’t he eventually be so far back in history that we cease talking about him? The question that I leave you all with is – will all of our ruins eventually just disappear and be forgotten about? Or do will we somehow live forever through those ruins?

Philosopher Ruins

Last week when we moved on from The Aeneid and onto philosophers, ruins, and paintings, I was disappointed. Like said in discussion, the first weeks of lecture were just facts. Facts I can understand – it’s pretty straightforward, but philosophy is a different story. I took a philosophy class in high school once, and when the name Immanuel Kant came up in lecture, I recognized it, but could not remember what theories he came up with. What surprised me was the fact that Kant is both a racist and a sexist. Now it might have been the fact that I went to a Catholic, private high school in Texas, but I know we never went over this before with any of the philosophers we studied, which included names such as Descartes, Aristotle, and John Locke. So while, Kant is considered one of the great philosophers, his non-progressive line of thinking is his ruin. His quote highlighted by the Friday Forum that “Man should be more perfect as a man, and the woman as a wife” lines with the stereotypical line of thought during that time that a woman should just serve her husband.  Now whenever I see anything written by him, I know that he was actually a garbage human being.

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Similarly, Jean Jacques Rousseau is another philosopher whose ruin is their sexism and racism. Saying things such as “Men will always be what is pleasing to women” is both offensive and untrue (The Basic Political Writings 17). Sorry to break it to you, Rousseau but a woman’s purpose in life does not surround men. Getting married to a man is not the end all be all for a woman, especially in today’s world. Not to mention that he is leaving out women who are lesbian, bisexual, and pansexual, who are not only attracted to men, but why would he since Rousseau is most likely homophobic as well. Also his line of reason to use Enlightenment ideas to argue against Enlightenment ideas is hypocritical and frankly doesn’t make much sense, though I am sure that he made some good points against the Enlightenment using this method. So, much like Kant, Rousseau is also a garbage human being.

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How does this all relate back to Empire then? Well, the way I see it is that Kant and Rousseau are the “emperors” of their philosophies and the people who believe in those philosophies are the people who make up the empire. So, while there aren’t really any physical innovations or some sort of army involved, like aqueducts or the Roman army, there are mental innovations since humans never thought so in-depth about human essence, reason, arts and sciences, etc. And Rousseau and Kant being the “emperors” of these philosophies means that they have the power, or supreme authority, which is how they get away with contradicting themselves. But much like empires, they fall to ruins, as you can tell from my points above, which explains why there is a lot of debate about whether or not we should continue studying Kant and Rousseau. My personal belief is that we should study the more non-biased parts of their works, though I think it is important to teach people that Kant and Rousseau were sexist and racist, which is what my high school failed to teach me.

 

How Discipline Instills Fear

One reason the Roman Empire got to its point of power was because of the discipline exhibited by both its citizens and soldiers. My question is how did they achieve this level of discipline? Surely, not everyone was willing to follow certain methods like murdering innocent villagers (which they did to completely demolish the city of Carthage), just so the Romans could conquer and control more territory in order to reiterate that they were better than everyone else, right?  Of course, tactics such as decimation and Manlia Imperia were used to keep Romans in line, but did no one think that those tactics were unjust and wrong? Did no one try to rebel against them? My theory is that nobody had the guts to rebel against these tactics because they were afraid that these tactics would be used against them. Nobody wants to die being beaten to death by their closest friends. They valued their life over their morality, which is what most people would do in that situation. I am just surprised that no one, at least no one historically famous, tried to take down the Roman Empire from the inside. Sure, one could argue that Brutus killing Julius Caesar, was an inside act of revolt against the Roman Empire, but Brutus only killed Julius Caesar because he did not want him to be the one and true dictator of the Roman Empire.

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Brutus did not wish for the whole Empire to collapse – he did not wish for inhumane executions to cease, and why would he? He was in a position of power in the Roman Empire, he was in the Roman Senate, he was of higher class; Rome overall has treated him very well. Yet, he later committed suicide out of fear when he saw that there was no chance for his army to defeat Caesar’s son, Octavian (later called Augustus), who wanted justice for his father’s death and saw Brutus’s actions as a betrayal against the Roman Empire (Source: History.com). Thus, reiterating my point that The Roman Empire’s ability to keep both its citizens and soldiers disciplined created a grave fear that anyone rivaling the Roman Empire inevitably felt when coming head to head with them.

The Roman Empire’s army structure, formation, battle knowledge, experience, and ability to follow orders gave them advantage over any enemy. As said in lecture, “Romans may not win all the battles, but they win all the wars.” In the Tacitus excerpt, Agricola is giving a rallying the troops speech to his army so they can defend Britain, yet he knows that the speech is all just a ruse. The Roman Empire has already conquered many lands and Agricola knows that they are going to face defeat. He is afraid of the Roman Empire though he refuses to show it in order to give his troops a sense of hope. Similarly, Hannibal was one of the Roman Empire’s most formidable foes, and considered one of the greatest generals of all time, yet he still ultimately failed to protect the city of Carthage and to defeat the Roman Empire. So, Rome’s discipline instilled fear into its citizens because otherwise it would lead to death and it instilled fear into its enemies because it did lead to death.