Yankee Pashas and Buried Women: Containing Abundance in 1950s Hollywood Orientalism
- Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Film and Television Studies
- Center for the Study of Film and History
- Volume 31, Number 2, 2001
- pp. 13-24
- Additional Information
Brian T. Edwards | Special In-Depth Section Yankee Pashas and Buried Women: Containing Abundance in 1950s Hollywood Orientalism Brian T. Edwards Northwestern University Baghdad! Don't underestimate Baghdad! A city rich in romantic Oriental lore. Baghdad! You must investigate Baghdad! And learn afew ofthefacts you never knew before. Ourpalaces are gaudier, Our alleyways are bawdier, Our prince is more autocratic here, Our beggars more distinctly aromatic here. — Kismet: A MusicalArabian Night (1953)' COLD WAR ROOTS OF 1990s ARABPHOBIA With the end of the cold war, a new foe quickly took the place of Soviet communism in the imagination of many Americans . Much of the same energy that animated Americans' fear of the "red" menace (the allegedly inexorable and atheistic plot for world domination on the part of the Soviets) shifted during the 1990s to panic in response to the "green" terror (the unpredictable use of terrorism by militant Islamic fundamentalists).2 The fear ofusually unseen terrorists vaguely and sbirietimës erroneously described as "Arab" recurs in many of the same forms used to express the paranoia of Soviet invasion. As during the red scare of the late 1940s and 1950s, the phobia of Islamic terrorism is intensified by the impossibility of locating a single source and thereby containing it. Individual citizens imagine collaborators everywhere and redefine "un-Americanness" in terms of ethnic and religious difference, supposed pillars of American tolerance. The impulse to put anationality, an ethnicity, a religion or a race on the work of scattered individuals, and to hold the millions more who share some ofthose identities equally responsible for the crimes ofthe few seems an impulse left over from the cold war, which was characterized as a Manichaean struggle between "good" and "evil" in stark national, religious and racial terms. A strong American antipathy to the national Other left in place by the cold war provided for the success of U.S. government rhetoric during the 1990s about the threat to national security posed by Iraq. Iraq replaced Libya in the post-cold war American imagination as the properArab whipping boy (with the economic collapse of the USSR, Libya's socialist state seemed How to represent global supremacy? The pharaoh (Jack Hawkins) returns victorious from war in the opening scene of Land ofthe Pharaohs. less ominous than Saddam's designs on Kuwaiti oil). Indeed, American military victory in the GulfWar arguably provided for the transition from cold war global tension to the proclamation of a post-cold war "New World Order" to be presided over by the United States. The GulfWar thus may be considered constitutive of a final stage of the cold war—its coda.3 In the post-GulfWar 1990s, Iraq, economically vanquished and politically enfeebled, could nonetheless be bombed regularly by the U.S. and further and further "degraded," in the language of the Defense Department underWilliam Cohen; cold wartriumphalism notwithstanding , the (new) national Other still had a function to serve. If the GulfWar itself focused on containing Saddam within Iraq's borders , the post-GulfWar fear of Iraq focused on Saddam's alleged infiltration ofAmerican bodies via the development ofbiological weapons and the so-called GulfWar syndrome, whichrepeats and extends the cold warparanoia ofthe invasion ofU.S. bodies by an ominous Other who must be contained. Now, in the first years of the 21st century, when the global flow of capital, peoples and cultural forms has challenged our belief in the coherence of the Nation as an idea and a practice, it is appropriate that the man demonizedby theWest since 1998 as Public Enemy Number 1 is a stateless Arab with a transnational network. (Saddam Hussein, contained within parallels, was at the same point downgraded—too much degradation; the leader Vol. 31.2 (2001) 1 13 Edwards | Yankee Pashas and Buried Women: Containing Abundance in 1950s Hollywood Orientalism of a nation-state too enfeebled to sustain the role of national Other.) Osama Bin Laden supplants and supplements Saddam as the figure ofevil, the terrifying and fascinating (trans)national Other toAmerica.4 The horrible attacks of September 1 1, 2001, would seem to many to justify retroactively the widespread American mistrust ofArabs, at home as well as abroad, throughout the 1990s, and to excuse...