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Visible and invisible: An audience study of Muslim and non-Muslim reactions to orientalist representations in I Dream of Jeannie

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Most Muslims lay the blame for the perpetuation of societal prejudice against Islam and Muslims at the feet of the media. Media scholars regularly confirm that negative stereotypes prevail in contemporary western media. Yet there are differences between media representation and the effects on actual people’s attitudes. Empirical research is needed to find out if negative media stereotypes of Muslims, Arabs and Islam are actually linked to widespread societal Islamophobia. This article traces audience reactions to a 1960s U.S. sitcom, I Dream of Jeannie, a show replete with ‘orientalist’ representations of Arabs and genies linked to the collection of traditional stories called The Arabian Nights: Tales from a Thousand and One Nights. The main research finding is that while a variety of responses were uncovered, a consistent difference between non-Muslim and Muslim reactions became apparent: only Muslims noticed orientalist stereotyping the show. I conclude that if North American society is to move beyond Islamophobia and forward to building bridges and integrating Muslims without discrimination into wider society, this cannot be done where non-Muslims do not see negative media stereotypes about Muslims.
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Keywords: I Dream of Jeannie; Islam; Islamophobia; Muslim women; audience study; orientalism

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Toronto at Mississauga

Publication date: June 1, 2015

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  • The emergence of satellite TV, the internet and digital technology have dramatically changed the way audiences receive information and interact with the media. The sudden success of Al-Jazeera and other Arab broadcasters have altered the way the Arab world narrates itself and reports news from the region to the rest of the world. The journal aims to lead the debate about these emerging rapid changes in media and society in Arab and Muslim parts of the world.
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