Cultural Hegemony: Islamophobia

Many beliefs held by the people of westernised societies have been questionable and imposing these ideas on people through media plays on the idea of ‘cultural hegemony’.  Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci described cultural hegemony as “the spontaneous consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group; this consent is historically caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production”(Lears: 568). The fact is western cultural influence in media is affecting how we view other portions of the world. Examples can be found in the many stereotypes, prejudiced comments and blatant ignorance for the genuine image of certain ethnic and racial groups.

Examples of this can be found in a recent phenomenon that goes by the name of islamaphobia. Before September 11th, 2001 it was not a term that had been used before. Due to the events involving the so called “War on Terror” George Bush started there rose a stigma revolving around the Middle East and it began affecting the lives of certain people of Arabic descent in the United States and even in Canada. Contemporary media did not aid the attacks on these people by using it as an opportunity to make countless parodies and jokes towards people who wore turbans or anything on their head besides a ballcap. What many people don’t understand is that not only the people of the Islam religion port headwear. Sikhs wear a version of a turban named a ‘dastar’, people of the muslim religion wear them as well. But due to the hegemonic views of the western populations they just all categorize them as “Arabs”


The motion picture “The Dictator” contains countless racial, ethnic, class and gender based stereotypes that no matter how ridiculous area good example of how the media is poking fun at a people whose reputation has been tarnished by incidents that were performed by extremists. In the clip below it demonstrates a cultural stereotype from the movie that Americans are all islamaphobes.


This American Anti-Islamic stigma has moved its way into the schooling system and is turning into a unique form of bullying. With cases of verbal and physical abuse popping up across the United States it is inherent that the racial and cultural hegemonic views change in the following article it gives a few examples of children as young as elementary school being bullied for being associated with the Arabic culture. These views come as a result to the rising stereotypes being expressed through the media.

Another example that was brought to my attention by Professor Jane Tolmie was Jeff Dunham, a skilled ventriloquist, and his act of Ahmed the Dead Terrorist. This comedy routine makes fun of the Muslim extremists and the religion in general, making comments on their approach to gender, other races and towards western culture. This demonstrates another example of contemporary media and their ignorance toward diversity of culture. The video on YouTube has over 5 million views and the following performances have brought in up to 20 million views. This means that millions of people are subject to this stereotyping and the image being portrayed is extremely negative. The mass societal views of the Islamic community have been tainted by shows such as this.


The cultural hegemony that is being held up by these expressions of arrogance towards people of Arabic descent is just one example of the mindless influences of western beliefs on populations. Even the term the “middle-east” is derived from inferring we are the centre. If one were to make a parody movie on slavery in the U.S. or the holocaust it would be immediately discredited due to the fact that they are tabooed by their cruelty. Cultural hegemony can be way to open a populations eyes to an issue that is plaguing contemporary society.


Lears, T.J. Jackson. “The Concept of Cultural Hegemony: Problems and Possibilities.” The American Historical Review 90 (): 568. Print.


Anarchy or Peace

When watching Axe’s Peace fragrance Super Bowl advertisement one must ask what racialized and gendered messages it conveys. It makes reference to different eras of world conflict and that this fragrance has led to their resolution through romance. It attempts to glorify conflict by developing a message that even in the middle of conflict a small spark of love can rectify what is going on. The Axe Peace ad campaign plays on the stereotypes of certain areas of the world and although it may not make direct reference, there are uncanny resemblances between the scenes and real world events.

Axe Peace Advertisement

                The different settings of the Axe Peace advertisement resemble 4 separate times of major conflict in the world. Examples are: the war ravaged streets of a European city, what looks like Kim Il Sung Square in North Korea, rice fields of Vietnam and the palace of an Iranian prince. These resemblances are not by coincidence. The makers of the commercial placed these in for a reason in an attempt to implement diversity, but it was at the expense of reinforcing racial stereotypes. First of all the scene depicting World War Two contains two white, presumably German/Russian people, both Caucasian and one being of what Hitler described as his Aryan Race(blonde hair/blue eyes). The male exits a tank and the woman runs and embraces him. The setting assumedly North Korea, bears witness to a scene that is under a communist regime from the perspective of the leader, there is a lack of emotion being portrayed except a mild hand-hold at the end of the scene. Leading to the image that communist North Korea lacks emotion. The scene similar to the Vietnam War combines what looks like an American G.I. and a Vietnamese rice farmer, from a poor environment deep in the forest giving the image of the humble rice farmer. The man exits a helicopter loaded for battle and the man and woman embrace passionately. Lastly there is a scene believed to be some form of Arabic royalty, containing what appears to be an entourage of advisors and servants all characters are dressed in long robes and adorned with a lot of jewelry. The Arabian royal figure is holding what seems to be a bomb detonator. Thus enhancing the stigma of islamaphobia and how many perceive people of the Arabic culture as terrorists who blow things up. All of these scenes are enhancing stereotypes through racial messages of how contemporary society views these events.


Kim Il Sung Square, North Korea


Scene from commercial

                All 4 scenes contain what are recognized as potential stressful situations. But as the advertisement progresses it is evident that all characters are in love and romanticized events occur. The Europeans embrace on the tank when the male emerges, the North Korean leader appears to be proposing to his wife, the Man jumps out of the helicopter to kiss the Vietnamese woman and the Arabic leader sets off fireworks with the detonator. These events seem to be romanticizing war and touching on male fantasies of what they believe war would be like.

                If one looks at the gender roles of all the characters, the male is the dominant figure with the power, influence and weapons while the female seems to be submissive and in the background until they are wooed by their male counterpart. The Vietnamese and European women are both civilians caught up in a war. The Korean and Arabic women are the partners of a leader of some sort. Thus establishing the gendered roles of dominates male and the subordinate role of the female. The commercial is objectifying women as trophies for men to win with their romantic acts.


Axe is infamous for their unorthodox commercials that sexualize cologne. They market through expressing fantasies of the average male. Their target market being men ranging from 18-mid 30’s. In previous commercials Axe sexualizes cologne in the sense that if one were to use it that man would be irresistible to women. Axe Peace gives the image that chivalry works just as much as sexuality and that the man wearing axe peace will have a romantic experience of royalty.

                The advertisement for Axe peace exemplifies what should not be included in commercials. The racialized and gendered messages being conveyed are enhancing unhealthy stereotypes. It is prying scenes from past times of extreme global conflict and promoting the cologne with western ideas of how these events occurred.


Struggle, Internal or External

After attending Kingston’s annual LGBT Reelout film festival I have been left with a different perspective on the fight for LGBT rights. One of the movies I was able to see, called The New Black, follows the fight for those rights in the state of Maryland. Directed by Yoruba Richen, director of award winning films such as Promised Land and Take it from me, The New Black embodies the division and discrimination of the black community in the state of Maryland. It gives viewers an insight into the debate on the legalization of gay marriage and the LGBT communities struggle to gain their right. The opposing party, which is composed predominantly of the African American Church, is openly opposing the idea. The movie interviews dozens of people from both ends of the spectrum and gives the viewer the chance to form their own opinion without bias. The film makers leave much up to the viewer’s own interpretation. The debate throughout the movie is on a “Question 6” which in the 2012 election between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will decide on whether to legalize gay marriage in the state of Maryland. In the previous election there was a proposition 8 which made it legal for domestic partnerships but did not give them the right to marriage. If voted for Question 6 will give the LGBT community the right to legally marry under God in the state of Maryland.


The New Black interviews and follows the lives of many different people from both sides of the debate. One of the main characters that seem to be leading the charge for Question 6 is Sharon Lettman-Hicks; she is the leader of a group called the National Black Justice Coalition which moves to empower individuals within the African American LGBT community. She herself regularly attends church and bears witness to the discrimination and oppression of the LGBT community. Coming from a family that shares the views of the Black church and who are aggressively against the legalization of gay marriage it fuels her desire to fight for her beliefs that all should be treated equal.


A second main character who is also a supporter and activist for Question 6 is Karess Taylor-Hughes. Born in Long Island, New York, she has worked in many campaigns and has years of experience with lobbying for LGBT rights. As an openly gay black woman who has had to deal with gender, racial and sexually oriented discrimination she is able to convert all of the negative experiences she has endured into a fight for her right to be accepted by the community.


The film makers in an attempt to eliminate bias, also interviewed people who are blatantly against the legalization of gay marriage. Pastor Derek McCoy preaches out of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville Maryland. He has served there for 18 years. He is also the president of the Maryland Family Alliance and Maryland Family Council which serve the community by overseeing the education of children, the strengthening of families and the implementation of a stable government in their community.


Yet not all members of the black church are opposed to the idea of gay marriage. Reverend Delman Coates of Mt. Ennon Baptist Church emphasizes the point that if he is able to preach his views about equality in the black community then he would be endorsing hypocrisy by condemning gay marriage. Gospel singer/songwriter Anthony Charles Williams II who uses the stage name “Tonéx” was also on the side of legalization. Considered celebrity in the religious community and holding considerable influence, it was a shock to say the least when he revealed himself as queer. These revelations delivered much support towards the LGBT community and many complications and confusion with the religious, homophobic community.


The characters of the movie could not have been chosen better. Addressing the concept of intersectionality, the intersecting of all discriminatory aspects in any given minority, an example of this would be Ms. Taylor-Hughes, being an African American, Gay woman she is subject to monumental amounts of discrimination by oppressive groups. Whereas the reverend who is lobbying against Question 6 has generally a good intersectionality being a powerful man, upper class and respected by the community only with the sole grounds of potential discrimination being race.

From opening scenes to the final credits the film-makers make comparisons between the fight for gay rights and the fight for civil rights that the blacks went through 50 years ago. This is what has infuriated the black community, the fact that people are asking themselves, “Is gay the new black”. It is blatantly put by Mr. McCoy that the church does not think so. He addresses points of the segregation between black and white, the separate water fountains, wash rooms, the “black” section of buses, movie theatres and restaurants. He is infuriated that their struggle, which they were born with, is being compared to the struggle of the LGBT which he believes is internal and can be hidden. The only right that is withheld from them is holy matrimony which, described by him, is a sacred right, not a civil right. That gay marriage is not right in the eyes of god.


My personal opinion is conflicted, not in the sense that I don’t believe in gay marriage, it is in the sense that I empathize with both sides. The LGBT community should have the right to marry whoever they want without any opposition. They should be accepted into the community as equals and not as outcasts or subordinates as they are so often perceived. Society should stop referring to the LGBT community as “they” and more as “we”, acceptance is the only option and this belief should be taught from the day a child is born. This is the reason I believe that the religious community is so opposed to gay marriage. They have been taught since they were children that the definition of marriage is the formal union between a man and woman under god and law. The changing of that definition frightens them. People are generally afraid of change and things they don’t understand. During the movie many sympathizers of the churches endeavour voiced that they believed being gay is a choice that is made. These people do not fully understand that it may be a choice for some but many are born this way and it is no different than being born Black, White, Asian or any other skin colour. It is understandable that they may be frustrated when people consider it the same as the Black fight for civil rights. Yes it is true that the LGBT community is not subject to the amount of discrimination and oppression that African Americans had to endure, but they do undergo their own struggles of growing up and living in a society that seems to accept only the binary girl/boy relationships. The two groups should be able to understand each other given the fact that they have both undergone the struggles of oppression by the majority population.

The New Black is quite inspirational and informative of some of the conflicts that are going on in our society every day. It is a movie that will invoke deep thought in its viewers and hopefully change or strengthen their views on cultural as well as gender and sex based equality. Director Yoruba Richen has made a movie that has the power to make a difference in modern society and bolster the impending idea that no matter what your race, sexual orientation or gender identity, society is making progress towards complete equality.

Richen, Yoruba, dir. The New Black. Film. 2014.