Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Tonight's "Ottoman Ball"

So Bush arrives in Canada, and what does MacDuff do on the other side of the Atlantic? Goes out and buys his first tuxedo of course. Coincidence? well, who knows the mysterious ways that the world turns, but these two events will likely be forever linked in my head. The main motivator for today's purchase: the Oxford European Affairs Society's "Ottoman Ball" tonight. Procrastinating as usual, I head to drop off my suit to be drycleaned at the 4 hour place at 11:30AM - 6 hours before they close - but so sorry, exceptional circumstances today. My friend had previously scored a good deal at a place with second-hand selection, and I figure it is Black Tie... So it is down to "the Ballroom" this afternoon, where I stumble across a gem of an outfit - 15 pound jacket, 35 pound pants that fit like they were made for me, and then a 30 pound Pierre Cardin shirt that, like I girl, I fall in love with and cannot leave behind. Combine that with the "MacDuff Dress" Bowtie I picked up last weekend in Edinburgh outside the castle, and you have got yourself a winning outfit. I will send pictures via email tomorrow (another reason to revamp our blogging efforts onto a site of our own) Oh - though I should note that the Ball itself has aroused some controversy. Below is a petition that circulated last week. Check out the link to the poster and decide for yourself. Some of the concerns raised are legitimate, but at the same time any offence was surely unintentional. As I said, a full report tomorrow.

Petition to Protest the advertising of OUEAS's "Ottoman Ball": Questioning the Ethics of Representation The Oxford University European Affairs Society's "Ottoman Ball" is only a few days away, and has been widely advertised through posters and email announcements across the university. The event has been billed as a showcaseof "the once glorious Ottoman Empire," and aims to "reflect the best of this culture, and the role of modern Turkey as a bridge between European thought and Islamic art, music and philosophy" (http://www.oueas.org/ball.html).

However, instead of promoting respectfully and representing fully the breadthof the Ottoman Empire or of the cultures and societies associated with it,theOUEAS's posters depict a debaucherous harem scene, with numerous nude womenlounging around, dancing, and playing music - an image that recapitulates the best of European stereotypes of its created 'Orient.' In fact, the image is not far from the cover painting on Edward Said's renowned book,"Orientalism,"which critiques this very construction of the Near East in the European imagination.

Not only are the image and the advertising of the ball in general offensivetomany of Turkish, Arab, and Persian backgrounds, and to other historically -aware and culturally-sensitive students, but they are arguably just plainly inaccurate. It is very difficult to see how such stereotypical depictions reflect "the best of" the region's multiple and complex histories, philosophies and cultures, and it is reductionistic of the OUEAS to suggest that they do.

An additional and entirely separate concern is the representation of women in the publicity campaign. It is indisputable that the institution of the harem epitomizes the objectification of women and their use as objects of sexual pleasure. The historical accuracy of the harem as it is portrayed here is very much a contested issue, and to use a harem scene to publicize a ball purporting to "reflect the best of" a culture, is problematic at best; it serves to glorify this representation of blatant sexual exploitation. Alternatively, if the organization claims to be against such derogatory depiction of women, the use of these images in their publicity campaign is hypocritical.

We seek to voice our disagreement with the OUEAS's posters and blurbs and ask for an apology for its insensitive and inaccurate advertising. Now inparticular, at a time when many are seeking to forge genuine bridges between societies and cultures that have been long linked, such unquestioned reinforcement of stereotypes does little to further coexistence and cooperation; there needs to be a deeper and more accurate ethic of representation.


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