MAS215 Theorising Media
Student No: 44092393
Originally offered by Frantz Fanon in the 60s, the post-colonialism theory has been well developed and frequently re-visited by scholars in recent years to rationalise the current situation where multiculturalism or cultural assimilation fails to reconcile relations among its adopters from different cultures. In our time, the issue of cultural diversity is and will be one of the most relevant topics that could have a profound influence not only on individuals but the society as a whole. In this essay, it will adapt post-colonial theories to analyse and critique two contemporary examples that articulate the issue: lyrics in the song ‘January 26’ by A.B. Original (2016) and Channel 7’s Today Tonight’s report ‘Muslim Immigration’* (2017). It will first examine the representations adopted in both cases with the theory of Orientalism provided by Edward Said, then analyse the process and cause of resistance from both communities; further, the essay will explore the stage of “ambivalence” both ethnic groups undertook during their resistance; lastly, it will attempt to offer a critique of Bhabha’s solution of “cultural hybridity”.
As Edward Said puts it in his most quoted writing on post-colonialism “Orientalism Reconsidered”, he based his framework upon an “orient”/”occident” binary social relation and defines it from the relationship between “power” and “knowledge” (2000, p. 198), which further developed to the discourse on that post-colonialism (or “Orientalism” as he names it) is mostly regarding the “representation” of the east framed by the west after years of colonisation and domination. Further, he offers his perception of an “imaginative geography” which refers to the invisible borderline defined not by nature but by human beings that separates the world into “orient” and “occident” (2000, p. 199). In our examples, this line preserves between the aboriginal people and non-aboriginal people as well as between Muslims and non-Muslims, even when all subjects of both examples all live on the land of Australia. The clear binary has been articulated in lyrics with pronouns such as “they” and “us”, “you” and “I” and “white” and “black”, even swearing words and offensive irony such as offering March 8th, International Women’s day for an alternative date for Australian Day, instead of the official January 26th, when British fleet first arrived in Australia and commenced their colonisation of the land against aboriginal people. In the report on Muslim Immigration, the separation is pronounced by different religious beliefs and all interviewees had expressed their apprehension on the planned expansion of Australian International Islamic College in Brisbane, of whom the leader of One Nation Party, Pauline Hanson, rejected the idea with unwelcomeness by calling such action “segregation”.
Said argues that there are valid historical reasons that explain this separation, the most tangible one being the difficulty for the west to understand its Arabic counterpart’s world and history due to the political turmoil it has been involved (2000, p. 201). He states that it is exactly because of the instability being presented as the most distinguished feature of the orient, the Arab world in particular, that other perspectives such as economy and culture are often overlooked. One other reason that attributes to the separation is that the “unknown other” is often muted as a “silent other” of the western world instead of its interlocutor because of the “knowledge/power” mechanism Said formulates (2000, p. 202). In both cases, aboriginal people and Muslims in Australia are both victims of the dominated Anglo-Celtic culture. Aboriginal people in particular, for the reason that they were powerless throughout the colonised history, is neither heard or represented by themselves, but depicted or mediated by white Anglo-Celtic male scholars, who performs the role of a subaltern agency. In the case of the ill-representation of Muslims, they appeared to be powerless because of the stale stereotype and their immigration backgrounds, which leads to the third reason of the clear-cut binary: the west always cling to the inherited prejudice of the east, excluding them from the mainstream cultures as they do not conform to the “cultural universalism”, which is one notable feature in Said’s work on Orientalism that reduces all other cultures to a mere representation by the means of depiction and delegation.
Numerous scholars have criticised the concept of “cultural universalism” or later developed “cultural diversity” for its relativism, especially with the development of post-modernism, which deconstructed the cultural hierarchy which upheld the European culture among other cultures. In her writings on post-colonialism, Bhabha (cited in Gunew, 1994, p. 35) emphasises the “cultural difference” over “cultural diversity” as the former often consist of only the exotic extract that is favoured by the western audience. Harlow (cited in Gunew, 1994, p. 37) expresses the same concern by arguing that the theory of cultural universalism or cultural diversity commodifies the culture of the third world “other” and sees it as a raw material which needs to be manufactured and sold to the educated elite in the first world. Bhabha states that it is the “incommensurability” and differences in the culture that identify any given culture (cited in Gunew, 1994, p. 40). Such standpoint is validated in our examples by subject’s outright resistance to assimilating to mainstream culture. The name of the band A. B. Original itself, which stands for “always black original”, is a bare innuendo of their mission to speak for aboriginal people and their resistance is explicitly articulated by their rejection of “Australian Day”. To compare that with the Muslim group in the second source, their refusal to be assimilated into Australian society are expressed by establishing a community within, on the land of Australia albeit they have left their homeland and immigrated to Australia.
Kee retracts the rudimentary reason for such resistance to the very basic unit of this discourse: ethnicity (cited in Gunew, 1994, p. 49). In contradiction to race, which is defined biologically, Kee argues that ethnicity is self-identified by individual’s sense of both the inclusiveness from his relevant group and exclusiveness from the national definition of a country; Fischer agrees with this statement by arguing that the search for voices that represent an individual that belongs to an ethnic group will never cease, therefore, the resistance to recognising one’s own ethnicity will reinvent itself each for each generation (cited in Gunew, 1994, p. 49), which justifies the cause for our examples. For A. B. Original, the group employs the song to reclaim their identity of being Australian and condemn the use of date of “Australian Day”, they are voicing for their ethnicity to be represented by their own voices; Muslims communities in Brisbane have also made a similar request to stay dis-assimilated from Australian culture and the Aussie way of being a good neighbour.
The resistance is not unrooted. In Betts and Healy’s report on Lebanese Muslims in Australia (2006, p. 25), they trace the earliest immigration of Lebanese Muslim back to 1947 to 1975, yet in November 2005, among 19 suspected terrorists arrested in Australia, all but one was born in Australian, meaning that they are most likely the second or third generation of immigrants. Betts and Healy contend that this is due to the “culture of victimhood” that prevails among many Muslims by positing all Muslim across the world as the victim of their neighbour’s aggression (2006, p. 27); oppressed and alienated, as a result, all Muslims should unite, defend and take revenge. The mindset of always being the “other” in a nation is shared by both aboriginal peoples and Muslims, which creates the vicious circle that embarks from the history of colonisation, continued by the ill-representation of certain ethnicity provided by the mediator who comes from a western background, leading to the resistance from the regarding ethnic group. In our examples, the resistance of both A. B. Original and Muslim community does enlighten people to the fact that they are not well-represented, but also, to some extent, distances themselves from the mainstream culture.
At this stage, our subject of research, or “native intellectual” referred by the earliest post-colonialism theorist Fanon (1990, p. 178-179), have reached the third and final “fighting” phase of justifying their identity and their culture, whereas their main audience remains disturbed and ambivalent. As Fanon claims (1990, p. 178-179), native intellectuals will undertake three phases to realise their identity, the first one being educated and inspired by the culture of the occupying power, followed by the phase of self-contradictory as one fails to reconcile the “borrowed aesthetics” within his own perception of the world, which will finally lead to the fighting phase for the purpose of self-representation. This analysis also echoes with Bhabha’s view of the ambivalence of colonial discourse (cited in Ashcroft, 2001, p. 10), in which he suggests that the relationship between the coloniser and colonised is “ambivalent” as the discourse encourages the colonised to “mimic” the coloniser’s cultural habits; however, the re-production of such discourse will only make the colonised object “almost the same, but not quite” as their counterpart. In our examples, although being Australian born aboriginal peoples, the A. B. Original took the form of rap music, a highly westernised music genre, to contend their resentfulness of their ill-representation; their Muslim counterpart on the other hand, took a different approach to ignore the call for assimilation and multiculturalism and conforms only to their cultural habits.
Conversely, Ewart, Cherney and Murphy’s research on Australian Muslim’s reception of news media coverage reveals the ambivalent mentality among other Muslims within Australia. Statistics indicate that the Muslim participants are highly critical not only on the deed of extreme terrorists (2017, p. 154), but also on the stereotypical, problematic news coverage that conflates “Muslim” with “terrorists”. They further point out the situation could jeopardise a well-founded representation within the Muslim community and push the youth generations to the extremes (2017, p. 160). The reports of our study, on the Muslim community best exemplifies the situation as they were highly criticised for their wish to construct a community and finally got rejected by the government. The band A. B. Original also receives critic’s blame for the bluntness in their lyrics.
Within the framework of post-colonialism, it has been understood that establishing and maintaining the representation of the former-dominated by themselves have not been easy. Bhabha has suggested the approach of “cultural hybridity” for the issue. In his argument (cited in Ashcroft, 2001, p. 108), he states that culture is constructed in a “in-between” space where the dominant and sub-dominant cultures could proceed a simple cross-cultural exchange. The idea of “hybridity” is to emphasise on the essential cultural difference of any ethnic cultural, instead of the cultural diversity which is widely promoted by all government in the world. In this defence, The band A. B. Original seems to have gone beyond the line of protecting their culture and attacking the western culture; also, the lyrics in January 26th do not serve as a good representation of aboriginal culture as it has been intentionally neglected. In the example of Australian International Islamic College, they also failed to achieve the interchange of culture by distancing themselves in a planned Islamic hub.