Orientalist Stylometry

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This article begins by countering the standard critique that Edward Said’s “Orientalism” suffers from the same essentialist binarism that he identified in Orientalist discourse. It is argued instead that Said’s work is more nuanced than is often implied, while remaining a fairly clear paradigm that allows for a multi-dimensional study of filmic texts, including: 1) locating patterns within representations of the East; 2) evaluating degrees of conformance to orientalist stereotypes; 3) charting the evolution of orientalist discourse in film, noting both enduring themes as well as new variations such as techno-orientalism. The article then focuses on Euro-American representations of the island-city-state of Singapore as a case study, including textual analyses of a sample of narrative fiction films produced between World War II and the present. The method employed is statistical analyses of film style, inspired by the work of Barry Salt and Jeremy Butler. By identifying stylistic and image content parameters such as shot length, shot size, point-of-view editing, the presence/absence of Asian versus Caucasian characters and languages spoken, and correlating this data to Said’s dogmas of orientalism, it becomes possible to uncover information that had previously gone unnoticed, and can lead to new insights regarding orientalist discourse in the cinema.