The Romanticism and “Otherization” of US Politics

By Emma Weisberg

Something I just could not get over when reading “Unveiling Imperialism: Media, Gender, and the War on Afghanistan,” was the United States’ constant depiction of itself as a war hero and the resulting romanticism that diminishes the realities of violence and destruction during wartime.  For instance, when discussing the US depiction of violence against women in Afghanistan, Stabile and Kumar mention the logic of the protection scenario, ‘established through three categories that stand in unstable conjunction with one another: the protected or victim (the person violated by the villain); the threat or villain (the person who attacks the victim); and the protector or hero (the person who protects or rescues the victim or promises such aid’ (770). To justify going to war with Afghanistan, the United States claimed that the Taliban was a villainous power structure oppressing women, the targeted victims of violence and denial of human rights.  However, this claim is vastly simplifying the truth of the situation: Afghani women’s rights had been violated long before the Taliban went into power.  However, while the United States had influence on the mujahideen leaders—who were in power before the Taliban—our nation decided to turn its head from the daily sufferings occurring in Afghanistan.  To put it bluntly, the United States only decided to help these women when we could profit from it.  I found these facts to be incredibly sickening, and it has made me look at our government and military in a completely different light.

Not only does the United States romanticize war, but we also “otherize” our opponents through the Orientalist approach.  This theory allows the western world to isolate ourselves from issues going on in places such as Afghanistan, while in reality we are dealing with many of the same issues in our own country.  For instance, there is an “absence of coverage of issues involving women and violence in the US media in general” (777).  However, when violence against women is covered on television or in the newspaper, rarely are the lethal consequences such as death revealed.  In “Death by Culture,” Narayan believes this issue of invisibility of gender based violence caused death is a result of “lacking a term that ‘specifically picks them out’ from the general category of ‘domestic violence’” (95-96).  This claim does make a lot of sense; if we do not have a term for an issue, how could we stand up against it?  The more conversations we have with one another, the more we can understand and define our experiences and begin to raise awareness about issues such as gender-based violence.

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5 thoughts on “The Romanticism and “Otherization” of US Politics

  1. Zoe Halpert

    One of Narayan’s main points was that we see atrocities in other countries as a result of culture. However, when it happens in the US, it’s one crazy person, a few bad guys, something wrong with certain individuals and not our society as a whole. Yes, culture and tradition aren’t always good things, but this is a reality in the US as well as abroad. While “culture” doesn’t excuse the perpetrators of violence, violence against women in the US is often linked to American culture. This is a culture that sexualizes and glamorizes violence, and suggests that women are akin to objects that are purely there for male purposes.

  2. Gina Pol

    I think the United States has the tendency to interfere into several conflicts that in return will allow us to be portrayed as “saviors” or “heroes.” In this case, the United States intervene in Afghanistan with their justification being to save oppressed women from the Taliban. I find it so unnerving that we place such a major emphasis on saving other countries when we are not even capable of saving the women in our own country. Even Narayan mentions the lack of coverage in the media and even data that determined how many female deaths there were as a result of violence. The United States is quick to consider other countries as inferior, but hides the negative aspects of our own society.

  3. Sophie Furman

    While reading “Unveiling Imperialism: Media, Gender, and the War on Afghanistan,” I wasn’t really surprised that the US kept explaining itself as the hero because what other idea would the people representing our country want to express to us? What I find interesting is that we’re so easily able to see the flaws so why do they continue trying to convince us that the US is the hero when we, US citizens don’t buy it. Although I don’t doubt that certain people would believe that the US is the hero in any case, what does the media do about the people that don’t? I agree though that we shouldn’t be so focused on other countries issues that don’t involve us if we can’t even cure some of our own problems.

  4. Olivia Rabbitt

    Narayan makes an interesting parallel between gun control and dowry-burning. While most Americans, myself included, would balk at this comparison, I have to admit that it really hits home. We are so inclined to view instances of domestic violence in other non-western nations as a cultural epidemic which can physically murder instead of as a cultural outlet for a slew of individual violent crimes. The quote which spoke about the forensic benefits of murder by fire for the perpetrator reminded me of gun violence here. If a gun is unregistered and no one finds it, it becomes nearly impossible to prove a crime. But in America we see gun violence as individual crimes with very different motives that reflect on the individual not our culture. Until we start comparing violence against women in a standard dialogue, we will not be able to even begin to overcome cultural and gender bias.

  5. Sophie Sharps

    Your first sentence summarizes the attitudes of the US that were portrayed in all three readings. It is nothing new that Americans portray themselves as the “war hero” or the innocent victim or the third party just trying to help. History proves time and again that we are the imperialists who meddle in situations only to make them worse, because we benefit in some way. Stabile and Kumar explain the actual role the US played in Afghanistan and how much we hid and still hide from the American public. Narayan introduces her chapter with the question the woman asked her at a party to establish how quick Americans are to point to problems outside of the US. Lastly, Brumberg and Jackson also contextualize how much “othering” exists to the extent that Americans fail to question their own practices because it is simply easier to denounce the practices of others. This imperialistic, heroic attitude is embedded in US history and speaks to the American exceptionalism upon which our country prides itself. (Also, as I’m writing this, I’m realizing that exceptionalism is not recognized as a word…what does that say about us?).

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