Stereotypes in the media are about as new as the invention of the wheel. The news media’s framing of social events and issues has also become par for the course. Like news media, entertainment media often reflects or incorporates current events into its production. As I have noted before, the cultural production of entertainment media is often a subjectively creative replication or manifestation of hegemonic norms. For instance, in the 1990s, many box office films and television shows incorporated story lines displaying the crack epidemic of the time. In doing so, many African Americans, and African American males particularly, were frequently portrayed as ruthless drug dealers or users. In the same manner, Hispanic or Latino males are often cast as homicidal gang bangers with little to no empathy for human life. Of course, the perpetuation of media stereotypes has not excluded women of color, as women of color are often portrayed in a negative light as well (e.g., prostitute, crack abusing mother, etc.).
Therefore, it should have been no surprise that the entertainment media’s approach to the events following September 11, 2001 would be any different. Without a doubt, September 11th, or 9/11 as it is colloquially referenced, was a tragic moment in American history. However, the stereotypical depiction of Muslims and/or Arabs by entertainment media is equally tragic. Since the events of September 11th , an exponential explosion of movie and television plots focusing on international terrorism originating in the Middle East has emerged. A multitude of motion pictures have utilized and sensationalized the events of September 11th to draw countless persons intrigued (and traumatized) by international terrorism to the theaters (or their respective Netflix accounts). As a consequence, the notion that all Muslims or Arabs are in some way linked to a terrorist cell is reiterated and etched in the consciousness of those watching, resulting in the undeserved marginalization of many Muslims or Arabs.
Moreover, television series such as Homeland, NCIS, and NCIS: Los Angeles have virtually launched and sustained their brands exploiting the convergence of America’s post-9/11 fear of and fascination with international terrorism, as a large proportion of their episodes focus on international terrorism and/or the Middle East. (After all, the story lines pretty much end the same each time – America nabs another bad guy in the war against terrorism!) A 2014 Washington Post report, for instance, revealed that approximately 57 million viewers in 66 different countries regularly watched NCIS in 2013. The report indicated that NCIS is one of the biggest revenue generating series under the CBS umbrella. Because of its popularity, the show has earned millions of dollars in advertising, DVD sales, and syndication. Following in its footsteps, NCIS: Los Angeles, a popular spinoff, has also gone into syndication ensuring that CBS executives and the series’ actors receive additional funds for previously aired episodes. Hence, Hollywood moguls have profited, and over 10 years later, continue to profit from the tragic events of September 11th. Simultaneously, another minority group is systemically oppressed.
Unfortunately, while Hollywood profits from post-9/11 fears and fascination, innocent people continue to pay the price. Persons such as Ahmed Mohammed are made to feel like an outsider in a country that asserts “all are created equal…”