Friday, August 8, 2008

What the West Wants to Hear

Two articles published today brought to mind a certain discomfort for a certain type of literature touted by our media that confirms popular stereotypes. I was thoroughly disappointed by the much hyped Kite Runner, found Reading Lolita in Tehran uninteresting, and Persepolis well executed but a story that has been told frequently of late. Much of this material is based on the writers' own experiences; there is value in that and sometimes even art, but the sudden popularity of a large part of their shared message must at least be put into context. In the Lebanon Daily Star, The Challenge of Having Western Readers See Past Culture and Gender: Women Writers from the Middle East Talk About How They're Read in the West, Alice Fordham interviews Arab women writers dealing with this very issue. Rajaa Alsanea, auther of well received (I haven't read this yet) The Girls of Riyadh states that "...she was saddened that the journalists who wanted to interview her seemed to know what they would report before they spoke to her. She wanted to raise questions, not to see her country condemned across the Western world."

Counterpose that with a blurb from the Edinburg Fringe Festival for "The British Ambassador's Belly Dancer." Again, a woman who was oppressed by her background finds a certain kind of freedom through belly dancing and prostitution and connections with freedom in the West through the British Ambassador in Uzbekistan. Again, this is a work that is based on a true life. While I recognize the individual pain involved, the timing of the popularity and presentation makes it seem not at all "fringe" but rather formula for what the mainstream West wants to hear.

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