You are on page 1of 4

Casablanca between European and American Orientalisms On Michael Curtizs Casablanca 1942 Submitted by : Tarik BOUGUERBA Casablanca (1942)

is a film of an unproduced stage play called Everybody comes t o Ricks. The film at hand reflects the strategic rhetorics of American global heg emony and translates l lettre Americas dealing with the Orient and more specifical ly Morocco. Initially, I would explore the notion of Orientalism in both its Eur opean and American versions. My reading of Michael Curtizs film begins with Edward Saids seminal and critical c oncept, Orientalism, which he defines as a dynamic exchange between individual au thors and the large political concerns shaped by the three great empires British, French, American- in whose intellectual and imaginative territory the writing w as produced. Curtizs film betrays exactly the strategies the West uses to first define itself and ultimately control and produce the Orient. It also presents a myriad of drea ms, images and vocabularies available to anyone who has tried to talk about what lies east of the dividing line. Orientalism is thereby the generic term that Sai d has employed to describe the western approach to the Orient. The film is there fore closely affiliated to the discourse of European superiority over Oriental ba ckwardness. This relationship, as Said suggests, is a relationship of power, of do mination, of varying degrees of complex hegemony. I fully endorse Saids lopsided findings in so far as the film translates verbatim the unified character of Western discourse, to borrow Sara Millss phrase. I also deem it appropriate to take up a contrapuntal reading as designated by Edward Said - to look back at Casablanca and the rherorics of what I would call the non-terri torial empire that infuses it, to deconstruct the structure it forms to gear the mechanisms of narration and representation of this very cultural other. However, Said has been castigated for his lopsided version of Orientalism as an a uthoritative, coherent, monolithic, one-sided collective system of body of ideas. Such criticism was largely led by Ahmed Aijaz, Denis Porter and Robert Young. Others, whose criticism of the Saidian model has been unduly harsh, are Homi Bha bha, Spivak and Sara Mills. They maintain that Saids work offers no alternative r eading of western texts. His approach, inconsistent as it is, creates an Orienta l (Moroccan in our case) who is oftentimes inferior to the occidental. Porter argues that Saids methodological shortcoming resides in his neglect of cou nter plots that flow into the Orientalist texts; plots that play off and struggl e against major plots. In the absence of a counter-plot, Porter posits three a lternatives to the Saidian model of Orientalism. For him, Orientalist texts are heterogeneous in nature and not homogenous as Said claims. There often exists an alternative writing (filming in our case) within the western tradition. Casabla nca is such an alternative writing according to some American critics. The third asset Porter attributes to Western texts is that it would be very possible to c onsider a textual dialogue between the Occident and the Orient. American Orientalism appears to be a valuable analytical paradigm in my approac h to Casablanca, in so far as it claims some shift in the rite of narrating and representing the Other. In his book, Morocco Bound: Disorienting Americas Maghreb , From Casablanca to Marrakech Express, Brian Edwards claims that the discourse of American Orientalism as it drifts afield from the French- European frames tri es to pay nearly much attention to the French Empire as they do to those Berber a nd Arab cultures of the Maghreb and North African landscapes. Brian Edwardss view captures within its pictorial nature both his stand against Saids lopsided versi on of Orientalism as well as his new vision of American engagement with the East . In her Embracing the East: White Women and American Orientalism, Mari Yo ushihara explains this new conception of American Orientalism, putting it agains t European colonialism. She also contends that the US approach to the Orient did not entail direct colonial rule but built and consolidated an informal Empire t hrough the Open Door Policy. In brief, this claim of difference in narrating the Orient in a movie such as C

asablanca is oftentimes ascribed to the evolving relationship USA had and still has with the Orient. This new phase, which characterizes American Orientalism, i s interchangeably referred to as the American Century. It refers to the rapidly exp anding American Empire. The dogmatic act of narrating and representing Morocco may be imbued wit h an innermost desire to devalue and disparage all things Oriental and Moroccan. In Casablanca, this tendency to misjudge things Moroccan is evident in the film ic techniques and the stock images that the film-maker excessively uses. This in nermost feeling of objectifying, feminizing and orientalising is nowhere better illustrated than in Saids most eloquently phrased statement and better depicted i n Curtizs strategic method of silencing the Moroccans: Everyone who writes about the Orient must locate himself vis--vis the orient, tra nslated into his text, this location includes the kind of narrative voice he ado pts, the type of structure he builds, the kind of images, themes, motifs that ci rculate in this text- all of which adds up to deliberate ways of addressing the reader, contain the orient and finally representing it or speaking in its behalf . Casablanca has always been a favourite topic of historians. Casablanca, that is Morocco, stands out in the evolution of Great Power rivalries as indicated in th e historical literature of World War II. It was also a stage for this struggle t o occupy more territories, through which Hollywood would play so central a role in this process of representing French Morocco onwards. Michael Curtizs Casablanc a negotiates the colonial presence in Morocco and justifies American imperial in tervention. The American approach to the Orient therefore falls into the same tr aps as previous Orientalists did. The movie translates literally the spirit of W estern Orientalism, denying any possible cultural dialogue. Western rendition ha s it that the American character (Rick for example) takes priority over the Moro ccan. Although Casablanca tries to play down the voice of the Casablancaises, th e local voice seems to circulate throughout Casablanca. In its attempt to produc e Morocco l Americaine, it traces the same strides of the European tradition. The film maker reproduces the same stock images that were in wide circulation in Or ientalist texts, such as the chaotic and insecure Oriental space. Through Curtizs distorted lenses of the camera, Morocco is a space populated by thieves, gamble rs, partisans, spies and refugees. Casablanca is represented as a Hell everybody is trying to escape. The camera grammar contributes to the colonialist nature o f the movie. Moroccans are hardly ever foregrounded in view of the overwhelming shots featuring other nationalities (German, French, American, Italians.). The on ly single shot is dedicated to show on frame Abdul, the Moroccan but not quite t o borrow a phrase from Homi Bhabha, who was erroneously dressed l Turkish. This m is-representation indicates that American lectures on Morocco have always been mi sinformed, to use Rick Blaines conspicuous phrase. Casablanca is also paradigmatic of this overlap between the political an d the cultural in the process of producing Morocco. The movie is Orientalist par excellence in so far as it articulates the American voice and it polices the lo cal voice. Curtiz brings Ricks Caf Americain to the centre and discards any sympto m of the native culture. The other issue that the film raises is the tension bet ween France and the USA, as well as the tension between Germany, a distinguished western military power, and other western nations. Through the character of Maj or Stasser, the movie seems to write a new phase of world history in which World War II problematizes any stable opposition between West and non-West. The caf th erefore becomes a site of political negotiation, signing the beginning of a new American role in world politics. Brian Edwards writes that Casablanca barely acknowledges the presence of Morocca ns in its own depiction of Morocco. This double standard-schizophrenic discourse of Orientalism be it French, British or American is presented in the movie. The intentional elision would have challenged the French motto Libert, Egalit, Fratern it, one of the movies most striking images. Such elision that characterizes the Ame rican version of Morocco as it conforms to the European is indicative of the sch izophrenic discourse of Orientalism, in all its shapes and forms. Casablanca seems to incarnate both Eurocentric and American Orientalisms

. In his book, The Rhetoric of Empire, David Spurr points to a few rhetoric feat ures, among which idealization is useful in a reading of the movie. Idealization , which is inherent in colonial history, is recurrent in Casablanca which seems to idealize whatever is Western( French, German, American) and condemns things M oroccan. Casablancas flamboyant representation is evident in the process of ideal izing the deeds of the West in the way it champions the plot featuring Rick. It is the voice of the West/ Rick/ America that exclusively dominates the entire na rrative. Another colonial feature Spurr evokes in his pioneering study is natura lization. Natives are in a state of nature as opposed to the state of culture t hat the civilized West entertains. The movie thereby seems to reiterate this dic hotomy of the civilized West VS the uncivilized East so far as all natives are a ssigned secondary roles to serve the West . Casablanca reaffirms its Orientalis t structure and ratifies this positional superiority that the Occident assumes o ver the Orient. As it is paradigmatic of American Orientalism that claims some differenc e in the act of narrating the Orient, Casablanca- in its usual Orientalist nosta lgia- precipitates into demarcating the American people from other people. The m ovie successfully sets America in direct opposition to Germany, thereby eulogizi ng American participation in the combat against Nazism. I would say that Curtizs artistic work translates l letter the ideals of this new American discourse which I have partly labeled named as le Role Americain. Such symptoms of this new American discourse on the Orient are through w hich America features as a force of liberation and as a form of domination. I woul d argue that the movie effectively traces the evolution of America as a global p ower participating in liberating Morocco from European domination. Casablanca, w orldly as it is, has founded two different approaches to Morocco: the French and the American. Casablanca reiterates these colonial methodic strategies that Said summarizes in his Magnus opus, Orientalism. The movie incarnating American Orientalism seems to reproduce the same denigrating and policing discourse on Morocco in the way i t silences the local voice and rather articulates the American. Through the excl usionist camera grammar, we are taught to embrace the American point of view and discard any elements that could speak for Moroccan culture. Curtizs rendition of Casablanca would have been neural, unbiased and non-Orientalist had it taken an account of native culture. His version of Morocco seems thereof to replicate an d merely reproduce the same belittling strategies as to translate the essence of M oroccaness l Orientalism. The movie, I would say, also helps the American define themselves as Brian Edwards puts it: presentations of the world or the foreign pl ayed a special role in rethinking the meaning of American national identity. Moro cco thereby has become a stage for the interaction of Western characters. In Casa blanca, Edwards writes the writing, the casting and the camera itself teach the au dience not to pay attention to the Moroccan population. Casablanca therefore highlights the fact that this very power to represe nt Morocco could very much translate into a power to dominate, subjugate, silenc e and police Morocco and ultimately speak on behalf of its people. In conclusion , I would argue that Casablanca sets a typical model upon which a whole filmic t radition about Morocco, a tradition aimed at would eventually speaking, writing, narrating, representing and filming the Moroccan Other in the same disparaging and vilifying European style. This European discourse on Morocco operates in com plicity with its American counterpart, ultimately serving one goal, that of subj ugation.

Bibliography: 1. Curtiz, Michael. Casablanca, a 1942 movie 2. Ahmed, Aijaz. Orientalism and After: Ambivalence and Metropolitan Locatio n in the Work of Edward Said in In Theory: Classes, Nations, Literatures. London:

Verso, 1992. 3. Bill, Ashcroft and Alluwalia, Pat Eds. Key Ideas. London and New York; R outledge,1999. 4. Dunn, Ross E. Resistance in the Desert: Moroccan Responses to French Imp erialism 1881-1912. USA: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1977. 5. Edwards, Brian T. Morocco Bound: Disorienting Americas Maghreb, from Casa blanca to the Marrakech Express. Durban and London: Duke University Press, 2005. 6. Mills, Sara. Discourses of Difference: An Analysis of Womens Travel Writi ng and Colonialism. London: Routledge, 1997. 7. Porter, Dennis. Orientalism and Its Problems. In The Politics of Theory. E ds. Francis Barker. Colchester: university of Essex, 1983. 8. Said, Edward W. Orientalism. London: Routledge, 1978. 9. Shaheen, Jack G., Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People. The A NNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, Book Review. Sage publications, July 2003. 10. Smith, Neil. Book Review: The American Century: Consensus and Coercion i n the Projection of American Power, Eds by Slater, D. and Taylor, 1999. Sage pub lications, 2002. 11. Spurr, David. The Rhetoric of Empire: Colonial Discourse in Journalism, Travel Writing and Imperial Administration. Durham: Duke University Press, 1993. 12. Young, Robert. Colonial Desire: Hybridity in Theory, Culture and Race. London: Routledge, 1995. 13. _____________ White Mythologies: Writing History and the West (London: R outledge, 1990. 14. Youshihara, Mari. Embracing the East: White Women and American Orientali sm. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.