Back by popular demand, material culture from the Middle Eastern Americana Collection housed in the UCLA Young Research Library Department of Special Collections is on display from November 6, 2006, through January 12, 2007, in the Powell Library Rotunda where it was exhibited a year earlier. While the 2005 show, titled Seducing America: Selling the Middle Eastern Mystique, presented elements from all parts of the collection, including examples of American Orientalist music, film, consumer products, print items and ephemera, the current exhibit, titled Tales of the Imagination: The Middle East in American Popular Fiction, focuses exclusively on books and magazines spanning more than a century up to the present day.

Poster design: Rahul Bhushan


The Middle East in American Popular Fiction

Exhibition: November 6, 2006 - January 12, 2007,
Powell Library Rotunda, UCLA

The growing volume of popular fiction emerging from America's ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - found in displays and book racks at airport shops and chain stores across the country, from Borders and Bookstar to Costco - attests to an enduring connection with the Middle East, real and imagined, that has captivated Americans for generations. It resonates well with readers raised on Nick Carter spy novels or Harlequin novellas, eager to immerse themselves in outlandish stories like those found in the pages of Argosy and Fantastic Adventures.

First sparked by the Tales of a Thousand and One Nights in the late nineteenth century, this output has enriched the annals of American popular fiction, as writers, illustrators, and publishers continue to exploit the Middle East as a favorite subject matter. The plethora of print items is testimony to the powerful imprint of the Middle East on Western imaginations, shaping perceptions - albeit often skewed and contrived - of the region and its people.

It is in the nature of popular culture to appropriate from many sources and continually reinvent itself. Drawing on the Middle East has proven to be profitable. Yet cultural appropriation can be aggressive and destructive. And while academia has debunked Orientalism, it is still a profoundly influential force, often operating in a vacuum of knowledge, affecting consumer culture and foreign policy alike. American Orientalism is undoubtedly our own creation, and as such it deserves critical study leading to self-reflection.

This exhibition is drawn from a large archive of Middle Eastern Americana collected by Jonathan Friedlander of the G.E. von Grunebaum Center for Near Eastern Studies. It is the second in a series of exhibitions dealing with American Orientalism, the first of which, titled Seducing America: Selling the Middle Eastern Mystique, opened in the Powell Library Rotunda last year.

Join us January 11, 2007, when Professor Reeva Simon will discuss Terrorists, Fanatics and Spies: The Middle East in American Crime Fiction.

Sponsors: Center for Near Eastern Studies, UCLA International Institute, College Library, and Young Research Library/Special Collections.

Credits: Erik Friedl, Cathy Brown, Madeleine Comora, Rahul Bhushan, Diane James, Carolisa Brenner, Genie Guerard, Cristina Favretto, Dawn Setzer, and David Hirsch.

Project Director: Jonathan Friedlander, UCLA Center for Near Eastern Studies