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Halloween Costumes From ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ Embrace Stereotypes Best Forgotten

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Katherine Bullock for The Conversation

As you think about your Halloween costume this year and dig into the Hollywood troves of TV and movies, have you thought about the 1965 TV Sitcom, I Dream of Jeannie?

It was a favorite to many, making the top 30 on Nielsen ratings twice . It was nominated for an Emmy in 1967 . Today, I Dream of Jeannie still attracts viewers, even though it’s an old show.

But the show was full of stereotypes and it slowly filled viewers with negative versions of Arabs/Muslims . Stereotypes in film and TV are one way we understand others and can contribute to our behavior towards each other.

Sidney Sheldon wrote I Dream of Jeannie from 1965-70. The show is about American astronaut Major Tony Nelson, who accidentally rescues a genie after finding her magical bottle on a deserted island. Although Nelson sets Jeannie free, she immediately falls in love with him and chooses to stay with her new “master.”

The comedy of the show usually revolves around Jeannie trying to get Nelson to marry her and Nelson resisting. Other plot lines include mix-ups Jeannie causes because of her misunderstanding of the modern world.

According to a survey I conducted on the show as part of my research on anti-Muslim racism, published in The Journal of Arab and Muslim Media Research, Muslims are most often offended by the show. Non-Muslims I spoke with didn’t notice any negative stereotyping of Arabs/Muslims.

Stereotypes in I Dream of Jeannie

‘The Sheik’ (1921) movie poster with Agnes Ayres and Rudolph Valentino. Paramount Pictures

Scholars have established that early Hollywood representations of Arabs/Muslims starting with The Sheik in 1921, and continuing to present day, have leaned towards the exotic and barbaric.

Arab-American media scholar Jack Shaheen’s book Reel Bad Arabs found that of 1,000 movies made from 1896 to 2000, only 12 contained positive representations. Hollywood has depicted Arabs and Muslims dressed in turbans, bloomers with waist sashes, bare-chested with bolero jackets, or in flowing robes.

They usually had long curved swords. Arabs/Muslim women were portrayed in “harem” outfits.

In real life, the harem of the house was simply the women’s quarters, where women would wear regular clothes.

Background settings include domed minarets, onion-shaped arches, camels and deserts, tents filled with rich-looking décor such as cushions, carpets, pools, mirrors and bowls overflowing with fruit. The dialogue was peppered with terms like “Allah,” “salaams,” “effendi” and “infidel.”

These standardized characterizations of Arab/Muslim men as barbaric, and women as submissive, highly sexualized harem girls, is on par with the worst offensive racial stereotypes. Unfortunately, while most producers no longer consider stereotypes of other ethnic groups as entertaining or acceptable, exotic and barbaric Arab/Muslims remain normalized.

Such representations are called “Orientalist,” a word that confuses people because many think of the word “Oriental” as applying to East Asia, which used to be called the “Far East.”

In early uses of the term, the “orient” was southeastern Europe and the Ottoman Empire, what is now called the “Middle East.” Edward Said, Palestinian-American literary critic, author of the 1979 seminal book Orientalism and best known for his work analyzing the problematic aspects of western culture’s representations of the Middle East, considered these representations to be an expression of western power over the region.

Every aspect of production in I Dream Of Jeannie, from the set and costumes to dialogue, characterization and plot line, calls on and reproduces this limited set of orientalist stereotypes.

Many don’t see the problem

Jeannie exemplifies orientalism: she is a genie (and wields magical powers) dressed as the Hollywood harem girl: a skimpy, rib-high top, see-through bloomers and a pink gauze veil floating down from a bun on the top of her head. (This is her primary costume in every episode, although she appears in public dressed in western clothing.)

Bill Daily in a still from ‘I Dream of Jeannie.’

In Season 3, Episode 20, “Please Don’t Feed the Astronauts,” Tony and fellow astronaut Roger are taken on a remote training exercise that involves survival skills, such as eating only the food they find. They follow the strict and gruelling regimen of their instructor, Commander Porter. Jeannie tries to assist by blinking up a “friendly native village,” from which, according to Porter’s manual, they can eat.

The village introduces the orientalist mise-en-scène: it is an Arabian village, with domed cloth tents. Orientalist tropes of barbarism are evident in the story of Porter. He stumbles into the village by accident, and, thinking he is in a mirage, laughs when Jeannie’s cousin Hamid ties him to a pole and attempts to behead him for walking into the tent full of harem women.

Standardized orientalist dialogue ensues as Hamid cries ‘”Infidel dog! You have desecrated the tents of the women, you must die!’”

The harem girls in the tents are dressed in orientalized belly dancing outfits. Hamid is dressed in a turban, sash and harem pants. He is is bare-chested and wields an exaggerated curved scimitar.

Jeannie pleads with him not to kill Porter, and Hamid finally relents because of the courage Porter has shown in the face of death. “He has earned the right to wear the clothes of Hajji Baba,” Hamid declares, blinking Porter into orientalized dress, an outfit resembling a Gulf sheikh.

“See you in 2,000 years at the family picnic, dress will be casual,” smiles Hamid to Jeannie as he blinks out. A dazed Porter is revived by Tony and Roger and driven home to full appreciation from the Air Force base because they’ve survived the wilderness exercise.

When a small group of Muslim Arab women, who had not heard of the show before, watched this episode, they instantly recognized negative stereotypes, pointing to Jeannie’s costume as an example. One of them said: “They show them as Arabs … in tents of course. They just … forgot to add the camels.”

The non-Muslims I interviewed, men and women, did not notice any orientalist stereotypes. One woman said: “I’d forgotten she wore that cute little outfit.”

Most said that they had not thought of Jeannie as coming from any particular region, religion or place in the world. Some were adamant that Jeannie’s world was a magical, fantasy, fairy-tale place, and not an actual region in the world, even though she is continually visiting Baghdad. They said I was wrong about my assumption that Jeannie and her family come from the Middle East.

So, according to my research, most watchers of the show who are not Muslim or Arab are not likely to notice anything wrong. Thus, if nothing is wrong, they can easily and unconsciously absorb offensive representations of Arabs/Muslims.

This will make tackling real-world discrimination difficult. But small steps: if you were thinking “cute Harem Jeannie” this Halloween, it would probably be best to stay away.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

Katherine Bullock is a lecturer in Islamic Politics, at the University of Toronto. She is affiliated with The Tessellate Institute for whom the original research this article is based upon was done.

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Development

Coalition Appeals LA City’s Decision on La Brea Project

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La Brea Willoughby Coalition Appeals City’s Decision on 843 North La Brea … Want to Protect Citizen Rights

by Lucille Saunders, La Brea Willoughby Coalition President

La Brea Willoughby Coalition continues its fight to protect the quality of life, as well as the character and scale of the La Brea-Willoughby neighborhood in Hollywood by focusing on clarifying and enforcing all zoning laws. The coalition’s latest fight concerns the project located at 843 North La Brea Blvd. (See architectural rendering above.) The LA City’s December 17, 2019 approval of the project prompted the coalition to file its appeal on January 2, 2020.

The coalition is fully supportive of the project’s efforts to provide supportive housing for low-income or homeless Angelenos. Yet, the City is rushing to approve this project in an attempt to combat the housing crisis in Los Angeles. In the City’s haste to approve the project, valuable input from the surrounding community has been […]

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LGBTQ

The Bible Welcomes Every Color in the Gender Spectrum

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Robyn J. Whitaker for The Conversation

“God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve,” is a line I’ve heard more than once in Christian circles. The Bible is often evoked to support so-called traditional views about gender. That is, there are only two binary genders and that is the way God intended it. But is this really the case?

Claims about gender in the Bible usually begin with the creation narratives. But the Adam and Eve story is also not as straightforward as it might appear when it comes to gender, namely because in English, we miss the Hebrew wordplay.

Adam is not a proper name in Hebrew, but rather the transliteration into English of a Hebrew word a-d-m. Using the imagery of God as potter, “the adam” is a humanoid being created out of the adamah (the earth).

Biblical scholar Meg Warner writes we might best translate this person as “earth creature”. The first human appears genderless.

In fact, gender roles are only introduced into the story when a counterpart is made for the earthling, when this human being is separated into two. At that point, they both become gendered: “Eve” is called woman (ishah) taken from the man’s (ish) rib.

Some Christians have read a gender hierarchy into this text as Eve is called a helper – or “helpmate” in the old English versions – for Adam. This term, “helper”, does not indicate a subordinate status. It is a word frequently applied to God in the Bible, and so without any sense of inferiority.

On the sixth day, God created a gender spectrum

There’s no doubt traditional male-female gender roles are common in the Bible. After all, this is an ancient text that reflects the values of the societies from which it emerged.

In these societies, masculinity was the ideal and polygamy not uncommon. This makes it all the more astonishing there are moments of gender subversion and gender diversity found within the Bible’s pages.

Another creation story is found in the very first chapter of Genesis 1. It states:

God created the human in God’s image, in the image of God s/he created him; male and female God created them.

At first glance, this might seem obvious: God made two different, discrete sexes. But if we look at this line in its context, we see this creation account follows a poetic structure made up of a series of binaries that indicate the breadth of God’s creation: light and dark, seas and dry land, land creatures and sea creatures.

In the structure of the Genesis poem, these binaries are not discrete categories, but indications of a spectrum.

The sea and dry land merge on tidal plains. Some animals inhabit both land and sea. Darkness and light meet in the in-between spaces of dusk and dawn. God didn’t create night or day, but night and day, inclusive of everything in between.

If we apply this same poetic logic to humanity, a case can be made for sex and gender diversity built into the very fabric of creation. A creative diversity categorically called “good” by God.

Intersex and asexual affirmations

Queer and feminist scholars have highlighted other moments of gender subversion in the biblical text.

For instance, Jacob is “smooth” and “stays in the tent” – traditional female attributes in the ancient world. Yet he is chosen over his hairy, hunter brother to lead God’s people. Rabbi Jay Michaelson describes Jacob as “gender non-conforming”.

Megan DeFranza is a theologian who works on the place of intersex people in Christianity. While acknowledging that intersex is a modern term, she argues we find traces of intersex persons in the Bible in the language of eunuchs.

Jesus’ comment in Matthew 19:12 that “some are born eunuchs” is acknowledgement he was aware of intersex people and passes no judgement on those who don’t fit traditional male-female sex categories. In this passage, Jesus both affirms heterosexual marriage as well as intersex and asexual persons.

This is not an isolated case of affirmation. Isaiah 56 speaks of God being pleased with eunuchs who come to the temple and in Acts 8, a eunuch is fully included in the new Christian community through baptism. In neither case is change required of them before they can join the community in worship.

Being an ancient text, the Bible obviously doesn’t use the same language nor reflect contemporary understandings of gender, including transgender or intersex persons.

So we cannot simply pull a sentence or two from the Bible as if it offers the final word on sex and gender. Not only does the Bible reflect a pre-scientific worldview but also because the multiplicity of voices will never be captured in this kind of proof-texting.

What we can say is that the Bible affirms in various ways the potential goodness of all humanity and the inclusion of those who diverge from male-female gender norms.

While many churches remain unsafe places for transgender and gender-diverse people, it is imperative to highlight these subversive moments in an otherwise patriarchal text that challenge narrow perspectives, both then and now.

__________

This article is part of a series exploring gender and Christianity

Robyn J. Whitaker is a Senior Lecturer in New Testament, Pilgrim Theological College, University of Divinity.

The Conversation publishes knowledge-based journalism that is responsible, ethical and supported by evidence from academics and researchers in order to inform public debate with facts, clarity and insight into society’s biggest problems.

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California

California’s Local Governments and Schools Are in Economic Distress

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by Dan Walters for CalMatters

CALIFORNIA — California’s economy has been booming for most of this decade and has generated a cornucopia of tax revenues for state and local governments.

The state has benefited most, because it collects income taxes. Californians’ taxable incomes have been soaring, especially for those atop the economic ladder, whose tax rates also have been increased.

The state has shared much of its multibillion-dollar windfall with schools, as required by the California constitution, increasing per-pupil spending about 50% in recent years.

Nevertheless, many school districts are in financial distress due to declining enrollment, unsustainable, irresponsible salary increases and, finally, state-mandated increases in payments to the California State Teachers Retirement System to offset its unfunded pension liabilities.

Last week, state Auditor Elaine Howle reported that audits of three big school districts revealed that state aid meant to enrich the educations of poor and English-learner students has often been diverted to cover budget holes.

Many school districts have asked voters for tax increases to close their budget gaps, most commonly through “parcel taxes,” which are levied on real estate. And the California School Boards Association is sponsoring a 2020 ballot measure that would hike personal and corporate income taxes to raise about $15 billion a year for schools.

Schools, however, are not the only local governmental agencies in fiscal distress. Cities, which receive almost no state aid and depend largely on local property and sales taxes, are also feeling the pinch for many of the same reasons.

Prior to issuing her report on schools, Howle released another revealing study on the fiscal health of California’s nearly 500 cities, highlighting those in the worst straits.

Generally, most in trouble are small cities, either in rural areas or in urban cores, whose residents have low incomes. No. 1 on the list is Compton, whose travails have been well documented over the years.

However, there are also a few larger cities that Howle highlighted, such as Oakland, No. 13 on the statewide list, and San Diego, deemed to be one of the top three “fiscally challenged” cities in its region.

The ratings are based on several factors, including liquidity, debt burden, financial reserves, revenue trends and retirement obligations. It’s clear that the last one looms very large.

The California Public Employees Retirement System saw its trust fund plummet in value during the Great Recession as its pension obligations mushroomed, leaving it with only slightly more than 70% of the assets needed to fully pay promised pensions and — so far, at least — unable to recover fully from its investment losses.

Therefore, CalPERS has been ramping up mandatory payments from local governments to reduce what it calls its “unfunded actuarial liability.” Cities get hit the hardest because they employ large numbers of police officers and firefighters who have the highest pensions and therefore the highest pension costs.

It’s not unusual for contributions for employees in so-called “safety systems” to reach 50% of payroll, and CalPERS has told city officials they will continue to climb.

Throughout the state, cities have asked their voters for tax increases, usually sales taxes but sometimes parcel taxes, to close their budget gaps with mixed results. But tax increases are particularly difficult to pass in communities with large numbers of low-income residents.

Howle’s report not only shines some much-needed light on municipal finances but includes an Internet portal for Californians to check on their own cities. And sunshine is the best disinfectant for bad management.

Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. Walters has written about California and its politics for a number of other publications, including The Wall Street Journal and the Christian Science Monitor. He also has been a frequent guest on national television news shows, commenting on California politics.

This article is produced as part of WeHo Daily’s partnership with CalMatters, a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters.

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