TONIGHT ON THE TERRORDOME: Jack Shaheen on Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People

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Few institutions exercise as much power over national and international society as corporate media.

Corporations and the newspapers, magazines, movie studios, television networks, video games designers, web portals and more that they own offer a non-stop menu of images, sounds, and text for us to consume.
And while corporate powers like to tell us we have the freedom to choose anything on the menu, we’re conditioned to be unaware of one critical fact: we don’t get to write the menu in the first place.

Corporate apologists tell media critics they’re merely serving people what they want, and if people didn’t want it, they wouldn’t watch it, listen to it or read it. But let’s take the case of political hip hop, which was enormously popular in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

When major corporations took an interest in the multimillion dollar profits of hip hop, they bought out the small labels which were distributing the most creative material being made, and in a few years, the Africentric consciousness movement in major record releases was all but gone, replaced by gangsta rap.

Corporations will happily sell socially-relevant material if it poses no real threat. But once its creators do pose a threat, corporate leaders take out a contract. Not the kind given to assassins… but the kind written by lawyers… to buy out the consciousness before it can develop into sustained action. As Bob Marley wrote in “I Shot the Sheriff,” to “kill them before they grow.”

In some cases, though, corporate media creates and distributes products of such pronounced racism and bigotry, that the hijacking of political hip hop is almost mild in comparison. In some cases, a century’s worth of toxic imagery, designed to poison a viewing public against a target population, is so effective that few people are even aware they’ve been poisoned.

That’s the thesis that Jack Shaheen presents. For decades, author, academic and media critic Jack Shaheen has been compiling and analysing Hollywood’s war on Arabs and Muslims.

The former CBS news consultant on Middle East Affairs has given over a thousand lectures around the world, including at the American University in Beirut, Oxford, and Harvard. A recipient of numerous commendations including two Fulbright teaching awards, Shaheen has also been a consultant for the United Nations, and has worked as a consultant for DreamWorks, Warner Brothers, Hanna-Barbera, and Showtime, and on the movies Three Kings and Syriana.

He’s written for Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, and is the author of five books:

• Nuclear War Films
• Arab and Muslim Stereotyping in American Popular Culture
• The TV Arab
• Guilty: Hollywood's Verdict on Arabs after 9/11
• and the award-winning book and Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, which has been made into a documentary film.

Tonight, from a speech delivered on April 22, 2008 at the American University of Beirut, Jack Shaheen discusses his central argument: that Hollywood’s depiction of Arabs and Muslims promotes hatred against them, thereby deforming American culture and its foreign and military policy, which ultimately leads the United States into war.


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