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Indiana Jones, COVID-19, and Orientalism

By Megan Byrom - HSPS Student @ Queens' College, Cambridge


What can Indiana Jones tell us about the Covid-19 pandemic? Film franchises like this are catered to Western audiences in terms of its villains and blonde bombshells, but also in their depictions of Asia and Asian people. Such a relationship is found throughout Western media; for example, as Jones becomes a white saviour of the ‘savage’ native. His American intellect, masculinity, and skill set are no match for his opponents, and Asia becomes a space where Jones escapes Western civilization into a lawless land of ‘other’.

The franchise fulfils ideas of ‘Orientalism’ as described in Edward Said's 1978 book of the same name. Orientalism is a Western tradition, perpetuating the ‘east’ as an opposition to the West through prejudiced interpretations that essentialise them as undeveloped, primitive and fundamentally less than. Such a dynamic continues to justify colonial and neo-colonial projects, shaping the global south as reliant on the civilization of the West and preserving Western power through this.

But these ideas are not resigned to the Indiana Jones franchise or similar media that portray the otherness of the east. These ideas are products of historical actions and current policy decisions.

The full impact of Covid-19 is yet to be fully comprehended, but looking back to early 2020 and the media portrayal of the virus, Edward Said's ideas are useful to not only understand the slow response of the west but to unveil the lie of western superiority also.

From January 2020, as the situation became apparent in Wuhan, Western nations were slow to respond. Mu