Personal Thoughts on Edward Said’s Orientalism

The author struggles with the identity of her own as a person in terms of culture. Born an American, yet Asian in blood and in education. It seems more fitting for her to pour her thoughts on Edward Said’s Orientalism.

Like this author, he too has his fair share of identity problems. He studied in the West, yet he was Asian, or Arabic. He used much of his personal experiences as the basis of the essay. While it was criticized for not putting much emphasis in other Asian nations (like India) and it being strangely forgiving to French Orientalist writers, it’s safe to say that it can be applied to other countries (in real life or in media). He deals with the concept of the Other, and how the West tries to make a distinction among them and the East (which could help them to take over the world (in some ways)), despite the fact the East also have their way of labeling others. Still, this issue lingers in people’s minds, regardless of where they are from.

The author found this a very personal thing in her part. Growing up seeing Western products come and go and living in a Third-World country (now a Tiger Cub Economy), she sometimes wonders where her nationalistic alliance lies with, nevertheless, she’ll be a Filipino no matter what happens, despite her American birth, and her Chinese blood. Like Said, she too is a product of Orientalism, except she’s West in birth, Asian in blood. This is a theory she finds the most intriguing in terms of personal experiences. One might say, Who am I?

That, some will never know, depending how long the problem lasts in a person’s mind. Regardless, this essay has helped her understand her condition as an Asian-American living in a Third-World, Tiger Cub nation. It makes her understand her stand in life, and her identity as a foreign-born Asian. This author will not be deter in her life, as she explores the world around her. No matter whatever people will say or think, she’ll always be Asian in mind, heart and soul.

 

Twisted Tales: Applying Hermeneutics & Rashomon in Once Upon an Ed

Ed, Edd n Eddy

It sounds so ironic that an Ed, Edd n Eddy episode can teach one a lot on Hermeneutics…   (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the Ed, Edd n Eddy episode ‘Once Upon an Ed’, the title named trio got trapped in a wall of an acquaintance’s room, and they told very different stories of how did they got stuck in the first place: Eddy’s tale has him as a very popular fellow who runs a Jawbreaker bank & his pals work there with the neighborhood kids nearly worshiping him like a god; Edd’s is more sensible and in the real world as well, with the trio running a ‘bank’ & Ed and Eddy scaring their first customer, while Ed’s is the most fictional (with their worst nightmare the Kanker Sisters turning into giantesses from eating radioactive-dosed mashed potatoes and chasing after them) and yet explains how did they got stuck there in the first place. Sounds familiar?
This is a case of the Rashomon effect: named after the Japanese film Rashomon which was discussed a few Literary Theory entries ago. This will also involve with the use & application of Hermeneutics & the film in applying concepts there.

Remember Stanley Fish & Wolfgang Iser. Their concepts will explain how these interpretation can go in this previous entry: Rashomon Analysis with Fish & Iser. Now to the basic parts: According to them, there are different interpretations people gained from looking at certain literary work (or in this case, a cartoon TV show). They also talked about interpretative communities as integral in analyzing any work of art. Fish also note that one will get different interpretations from reading different works, while many will have the same look at reading at the same work.

Kurosawa‘s Rashomon is the finest example of Hermeneutics: the witnesses & the people have different views of the incident (rape & murder) with them being the ‘innocent one’ & the others guilty, yet all of these (as well as the viewers’ own interpretations) are neither right or wrong. It’s possible that any can be correct, regardless of how one explains in so many ways.  Surprisingly, that episode is an ode to the film itself.

Let’s have these unlikely teachers’ tales being the examples.  All of them have different looks of how they got stuck into the wall. All of these can be correct, but these stories are not right, nor are they right. Fish is also right that the readers play an important role in making meaning to a text, instead of the author. In this analogy, the Eds are the Readers, regardless of their education per se; the hole incident is the text; their strange stories are THEIR interpretation.  Yet, these are open-ended and anyone can guess what happened or happens next after these are told.

Needless to say, Once Upon an Ed is a critical application of how does the reader look at anything can affect how the audience should see the work or event as what it should be see or told. As the first lines in Rashomon once explain, ‘I don’t understand…’

Sources:

* Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York City, New York, United States of America: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

* Rashomon. Dir. Akira Kurosawa. Perf. Toshiro Mifune, et al. 1950. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rashomon

Film Critique on: Four Sisters & a Wedding

This was written for the Art Appreciation Project of the 1st half of the 1st semester 2013-2014 last Aug. 7, 2013.

Normally, it usually takes a certain period of time to court/date someone you want to marry before those vows down along the aisle. Then everyone lives happily ever after, right? But in reality, as exemplified in the case of Four Sisters and a Wedding, it’s not an easy road to take, especially if you have a wedding that’ll take place in 2 weeks & you just informed your relatives all too soon; worse if they plot to sabotage the wedding out of concern, but in the wrong way.

While the story itself is original story-wise, its origins go back to a screenplay written by Filipino director & screenwriter Jose Javier Reyes, which might not have been translated to the screen for unknown reasons. The film tells of the Salazar siblings: recently-laid off Madrid-based teacher Teddie (Toni Gonzaga), New York-based communications manager Bobbie (Bea Alonzo), film producer Alex (Angel Locsin), high school teacher Gabbie (Shaina Magdayao) & only boy CJ (Enchong Dee) who have drifted apart for some time. Then things went mad when CJ revealed he’ll tie the knot with his girlfriend of 4 months, wellness spa heiress Princess Bayag (Angeline Quinto) in 2 weeks. Stunned by the news, the sisters take arms & plot to stop the wedding a la My Best Friend’s Wedding for their brother’s sake. But as they try to sabotage the plans, they have some major problems (particularly the 3 eldest sisters): Teddie is ashamed to tell her family about losing her job due to the Euro Crisis, Bobbie can’t seem to get along with her fiancée Tristan’s (Sam Milby) daughter from his late wife: Trixie (Samantha Faytaren) & Alex’s boyfriend Chad (Bernardo Palanca) is cheating on her (before her, he used to date Bobbie) with another girl. Soon, tons of obstacles, mishaps & a tragedy pile up and the girls have to face the facts, if they can live a happy ending.

The Salazars are portrayed realistically, in the sense that they presented as a family who needs to help each other to clear up the troubles they have gotten to & stick with each other. The opening showed the girls making a Christmas gift for Jesus out of Rebisco biscuit sandwiches when they were younger, which was later show again when they renewed their relationship with each other near the end of the film. The portrayal of the Bayag family as a very wealthy family is exaggerated throughout the film: their house looked like an expansive lot in the US, their house helpers are dressed up as if like they’re stuck in Edwardian England, they wore bright colors & flashy clothing; also, their personalities are also parodied for the upper class Filipino family (though Princess, personality-wise, wasn’t absurd as her parents).

To be honest, the cast were appropriately cast & effectively. It’s no secret for that Angel, Bea & Shaina are actually best friends in real life, so that somehow help in their roles. Bea & Samantha are also well-casted for Bobbie & Trixie’s rocky relationship from enemies with a common tie (in this case, Tristan) to the best of friends. Coney Reyes is excellent in portraying Grace Salazar to the right fit, with a face of concern that shows how much she’s worried about the children’s relationship going sour, & a mother’s love for all of her children. Angeline should been given good merits for portraying Princess as a well-off heiress without going too stereotypical, as evident in her scene with Enchong about their familial worries & their film chemistry is wonderful. Toni’s chemistry with Janus del Prado/Frodo is also as dynamic, especially with the scene where Teddie begged Frodo to loan her money to go home, with the condition that he pose for her ‘boyfriend’, a masquerade that’ll turn slowly into a relationship in the film’s progress.

The setting is proven effective in its part. The Salazar residence provides much of the major scenes in the film (from the opening to the charades incident & the sisters’ confessions to the sisters’ happy renewal of their familial love for each other). The spa also provides uncertainty over Frodo being ‘attacked’ by a masseur, with dark lighting for the massage area & bright lights for the reception area. The wedding theme is a clear parody of Disney’s The Little Mermaid: proof is found in the sisters’ gowns, CJ’s outfit looks like Prince Eric’s while the top bodice part of Princess’ gown looks like Ariel’s seashell bra top. The film’s cinematography is done with colors, with the scenes having a glossy finish. The lighting is also used well, for the film. The camera angles are effectively useful, with close-ups done for many major important scenes like Teddie, Bobbie & Alex’s confessions, most of CJ & Princess’ talk at the pool area of her house & most of Bobbie’s conversations with Tristan & Trixie. The music score is shown as effective, not cheesy or not too funny; just enough to give you a sense of a telenovela & a romantic comedy film (which the film really is) mashed into one sitting. No special effects were used, just the makeup needs for the exaggeration on the part of Carmi Martin/Jeanette’s look, due to the comedy essence in the film.

In the film, symbols were rarely used a lot. But the obvious ones were the Rebisco biscuit sandwich (which stands for the siblings’ very close relationship with each other prior to the main plot) &, surprisingly, the wedding (which became the full closure for all the characters’ problems).

The film, overall, is a very effective movie, in the sense, that it addresses to the importance of familial bonds, accepting change as a part of life & renewing ties broken. The story is well-written & well-executed by both cast & crew members involved in the film. If one wants a good dose of a local rendition of a wedding-themed dramedy film (without any excessive drama or comedy elements that would have overwhelm the story) a la My Best Friend’s Wedding, Four Sisters and a Wedding will definitely take you on a well-balanced adventure.

Information on the film: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Sisters_and_a_Wedding

Rashomon Analysis with Fish & Iser

Rashomon is a story of different views of an event, not one is consider right, nor is it wrong. In light of this, Hermeneutics is used to analyze the story itself. Wolfgang Iser stated that the interaction between the text & the reader is the main point in reading of any literary work. He also says that a literary works has 2 poles: the artistic (author’s text) & the aesthetic (a realization done by the reader). It also is the very lack of ascertainability & defined intention that should bring about the relationship of the text & the reader. He also mentions loopholes, gaps known as ‘blanks’ that are missing in the seemingly trivial. They motivated the reader to fill in these blanks with all kinds of projections.  Stanley Fish, on the other hand, said that creating meaning in any literary (& non-literary) work is made from various interpretations. He also said that every different interpretation of a work is significant, even to the point that all attempts in finding which reading is correct fail.  He also explains that one person will have different performances when reading two ‘different’ works, while different readers will have the same interpretations when reading the ‘same’; in other words, both stability of interpreting among the readers & variety of interpretation in a reader’s career would seem argue for an existence of something independent of & prior to the interpretive acts & he said that these two are only functions of interpretive strategies, not of text. Fish then claims that the readers play an important role in making meaning & purpose in the text more than the author themselves.

To apply these, let’s say that the Text is the event: the murder of a samurai & his wife’s rape; the witnesses & the people involved are the Readers, & Interpretative Communities. They saw the events leading to the rape & murder differently; the people involved painted them differently as if one is the true victims, while others are responsible for such problem. The Ambiguity lies in their inconsistent testimonies which complicate the trial & the event more; these inconsistencies are also the blanks that the viewers have to figure out themselves, since none of these may be true or false. All of these fallacies are all sugar-coated attempts to save one’s skin for sure.

Also true is that if one tries to find a way to stiff up which testimony is correct, then it’ll be a failure, since many have their own versions, & it’s possible that they’re lying, as lampshaded by the woodcutter to the priest & commoner about the samurai’s testimony from the Underworld. In the end, they’re the ones have made the story of the murder & rape more complex with their story-telling & interpretations of the event in their eyes, rather than just coincidence (the author here) itself, blaming one or two for the misfortune they suffered, until reality looks very murky to no end.

Thou Shall Not Harm the Royal (Thai) Family: When The King & I meets Edward Said’s Orientalism

Last May 2013, the Resorts World Manila run of Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s The King & I ended with great success. What not many play-goers know this is that the play have made fatal errors in portraying King Mongkut (the King in the story) in a bad light, leading to a ban on this play in Siam/ Thailand, even until now. Why, you may ask? That’s because of the lese majeste law in Thailand that no one shouldn’t insult the Royal Thai Family, whether intentional or not and regardless of what method or source of outlet is used. But it also unintentionally committed another foul: it’s an ironic example of Orientalism.

The top row consists of the original play, the 1990's cartoon film, the 1956 live-action film & the 2012-2013 Resorts World Manila run of The King and I. The bottom row has the real King Mongkut & Anna Leonowens. What do they have in common? They're all victims of Orientalism.

The top row consists of the original play, the 1990’s cartoon film, the 1956 live-action film & the 2012-2013 Resorts World Manila run of The King and I.
The bottom row has the real King Mongkut & Anna Leonowens.
What do they have in common? They’re all victims of Orientalism.

For this analysis, the author will use some elements found in Edward Said‘s Orientalism, which paved the background for Post-Colonialism. The background on this essay is that Said is Arabic (Palestinian) but was educated in the United States for his higher education & taught comparative literature at Columbia University until his death in 2003. Said mentioned about Arabs much in the essay due to his personal background but rarely mentioned India (one of the most diverse in culture, but one of most baldy-portrayed & criticized of all nations) & left out East Asia (particularly China and Japan), and Southeast Asia (but it doesn’t mean that anyone can apply it to these other forgotten places even when in need, too). Another fallacy he unintentionally made was that the essay assumes that all harmful political actions are done by the West onto the East, while in reality, all Asians also do this onto each other & also to the West, and it was strangely forgiving to French Orientalist writers. Yet, one point is clear though, the reason why the West made a distinction between the Orient & the Occident is one, they want to control the East, and, ironically, two, the West lacked an identity, a cultural identity. The East has a lot of cultural identity (from the Great Wall of China, to pogodas in Myanmar to the Banaue Rice Terraces of Benguet), deeply rooted in the past, even until today; the West, on the other hand, is too future-oriented, they were too busy competing against each other & building empires, until they’re reduced into social climbers, power hungry mongrels & economic clogs. Not to say that all Westerners are like this, though, but it’s in a historical sense.

The author notes that the problem Thailand has with the play is that at the time the play, or rather, musical was opened, the lese majeste law was already implemented since 1908. According to Dr. Borwornsak Uwanno in his article for Thailand Today called Lese Majeste: A Distinctive Character of Thai Democracy admist the Global Democratic Movement, it mentions about the concept of Deva-rāja (god-king) or Dhamma-rāja (righteous king). The article says that some foreign writers wrote that Thais look at their king as a god-king which is based on the Brahmic concept of deva-raja, despite the fact that most Thais are Buddhists. In the Agganna Sutta, Buddha spoke about that a king is Khattiya or mahāsammata” (“the people’s choice” or one whom the public acclaims as their leader), and also,a “rāja” (one who brings happiness or contentment to others); he went to say that a king attains these qualities through his virtues, not one’s vices. He concludes that ‘the king is best among those who values clans. But who has knowledge and virtue (dhamma) is best among gods and men.’

Now what is lese majeste? According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, lese majeste came from the Middle French phrase, which is also derived from the Latin laesa majestas, both meaning injured majesty. It means a crime (as treason) committed or done against a sovereign power, or in this case, royalty.

But the law doesn’t extend to the king alone, it goes out to the rest of the Royal Family. Several travel & tourism (including Thai websites) websites cautions tourists that the monarchy there is still in high reverence (akin to that of any Royal Family in the world), saying that if one commits any insult to the Family (direct or indirect, intentional or unintentional, etc.), they could face imprisonment for a certain number of years with a possible threat of execution. The Thais loved their King so much. Speaking of lese majeste in Thailand, Uwanno also cited other laws in other countries as well, such as Denmark, Norway, Spain, Netherlands, Belgium, and Luxembourg, to name a few. What these all have in common is that a the person of the King/ Queen (or any other member of the (state monarchical country’s name) Royal/Imperial/(or anything that deals with royalty) family is considered sacred, hence one must not question or even accused him/ her/ them of anything whatsoever that is negative. Also, it goes down to culture & politics. Look what happened in the United Kingdom’s history. Sure, they overthrew the Royal Family (which was then the House of Stuart) and replaced it with a Commonwealth at one point of their history, but even now, the Royal British Family (currently the House of Winsdor) is still alive & kicking, still well-loved by their subjects.

Back to the Musical, the problem with it is that it portrayed King Mongkut in a bad, negative light, and made real inaccurate points at its history. The following are taken from the Internet Movie Database’s Goofs & Trivia pages:
The film is riddled with numerous inaccuracies about the biographies of King Mongkut and King Chulalongkorn (see trivia), causing the film to be banned and shunned in Thailand/Siam as libelous and slanderous.

In Thailand (previously called Siam) the royal family is held in very high esteem. This film is banned in Thailand due to its real historical inaccuracies and the perceived disrespect to the monarchy. The real Prince Chulalongkorn grew up to be an especially good King Chulalongkorn and led the way for modernization, improved relations with the West, and instituted many important cultural and social reforms in Thailand.

See the points noted. The playwrights have made a terrible mistake that Said would’ve roll his eyes in dismay. Why did they humiliate the Royal Thai Family for the sake of promoting Anna Leonowens as some Mary Sue, and for the sake of entertaining countless people, even until today? The author admits she’s a victim of Orientalism: American by birth, Filipino-Chinese by blood, educated in Philippine schools yet have watched the movie & cartoon versions herself. Looking back, she felt bad for the Royal Thai Family now. The author recommends anyone to do careful research on any historical film before & after watching them. And to all tourists and Thais, please don’t insult the Royal Thai family or any Royal Family at all times, at all costs…

Sources:

* Leitch, Vincent B. The Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism. New York City, New York, United States of America: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001.

* http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049408/goofs?item=gf1146334

* http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0049408/trivia?item=tr0794683
* http://goasia.about.com/od/Customs-and-Traditions/a/Thailand-Etiquette.htm
* http://goseasia.about.com/od/thaipeopleculture/a/lesemajeste.htm

* http://www.horizonmuaythai.com/thai-culture-and-customs5

* http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/lèse-majesté
* http://www.thailandtoday.org/monarchy/elibrary/article/200