"Like Their Lives Depended On It": The Role of Comics in Subverting Anti-Arab and Islamophobic Discourse

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Virginia Tech

This dissertation examines the role the medium of comics plays in the construction and subversion of anti-Arab and Islamophobic discourse. It seeks to address the following questions in particular: how does the medium of comics interpellate subjects regarding the Western discursive formation that conflates Arab, Muslim, and terrorist? What does the medium of comics afford creators in subverting dominant discourses that dehumanize Arabs and Muslims?

I argue that as a hypermedium in which text and repeated images are in continual tension, comics challenge the sort of foundational notion of truth necessary for dominant discourse. I use a Foucauldian lens to examine several comics in relation to larger discursive formations.

In Chapter 1, I explain the problem, my methods, and my theory in more detail. In Chapter 2, I apply this theory as a lens to examine the rhetorical work the medium plays in subverting dominant discourse in Palestine, a nonfiction piece of comics journalism. I use Chapter 3 to problematize the assertions made in the first two chapters by looking at an instance where comics are used to reinscribe dominant discourse. Specifically, I analyze the graphic adaptation of The 9/11 Report. Chapter 4 acts as something of a retort to Chapter 3; it examines In the Shadow of No Towers to interrogate the ways in which Art Spiegelman explicitly addresses not only the issues he grappled with as a New Yorker during and after 9/11, but the complex relations of representation that arose from the event. Chapter 5 I examine how subversion works when a hypermedium is further remediated by analyzing Didier LeFevre's The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors without Borders. The Conclusion is devoted to discussing the implications of this study, both in terms of pedagogy and in terms of theorizing the relationship and differences between image and text. I argue that comics demonstrate the productive ideological tensions that exist between modes of signification (such as verbal and visual). An understanding of this ideological tension is key for scholars of visual rhetoric and hegemonic discourse.

Arab, Joe Sacco, Didier Lefevre, Art Spiegelman, Islam, Islamophobia, Foucault, Therborn, Comics, Graphic Novels, Rhetoric, 9/11, Racism, Visual Rhetoric