Literary Analysis of ‘Watching Oprah from behind the Veil’ and ‘Football vs. Asian Studies’

Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay- Jiddu Krishnamurti. The texts ‘Watching Oprah from behind the veil’ by Jeff Jacoby and ‘Football vs. Asian Studies’ by Dan Treadway thoroughly examine several topics which are controversial in our world today. These include the marginalization of genders, education and minorities. This is done through Jeff Jacoby’s exposition on the Middle Eastern women who idolize Oprah for things which they are condemned to indulge in. Dan Treadway’s Football vs. Asian studies focuses on the pros and cons of a university having to choose between keeping a Vietnamese language program and funding the football team. The texts reveal to us, the readers, the many ways we are influenced by society. Along with the topics listed above, we also see that we are enlightened about how traditions can demolish, improve or develop the world around us.

Tradition is the dominant theme in both articles. Jacoby manipulates his use of the concept by raising the veil off our perceptions on how Middle Eastern women are truly viewed in their society. We are able to have a detailed understanding of how negligible the woman’s presence and even opinions are amongst a vast multitude of individuals who surmise male chauvinism. It is traditional in their society for them to be “denied the right to make the simplest decisions” according to Jacoby in his article. This tradition has kindled within them a yearning for a lifestyle from watching The Oprah Winfrey Show which they never or will never experience within their culture. In some way, this longing for liberty has also become a tradition. Similarly, Treadway discusses how we may be sometimes forced to compromise between the conventional and the unorthodox. In his article, the University of Texas has to decide whether to supply funds to an already illustrious athletic department or further sponsor a nascent Asian Studies Program. The decision to keep the language program seems quite logical but is then evanesced by the thought that the football team is one of the university’s “traditions of excellence”. Treadway notes, “It has been a beloved part of the university since 1894”. He then notes that “The University of Texas Asian Studies program is one of the best in the nation…it’s been a part of the university since 1994”. This forces you to think about how we make decisions based on prior teachings. Both articles are also similar to ‘The Lottery’ by Shirley Jackson which examines the concept of how our actions are influenced by the constraint of tradition.

Sociologist Louis Wirth’s idea of minorities pervades the two articles. Wirth defined minority as “a group of people who, because of their physical or cultural characteristics, are singled out from the others in the society in which they live for differential and unequal treatment, and who therefore regard themselves as objects of collective discrimination.” In ‘Watching Oprah from behind the Veil’ the Saudi Arabian women are seen as the minority based on their culture and religion. Jacoby mentions that,” women are forbidden to drive, to vote, to freely marry or divorce, to appear in public without a husband or other male guardian, or to attend university without their father’s permission”. These laws may be quite appalling. However, it is ironic that minority women, the Saudi Arabians, would idolize a woman, Oprah, who is a minority herself. This provokes the thought that these women have perhaps found hope in someone who is seen just as themselves. In ‘Football vs. Asian Studies’ the minority is the Vietnamese population. Treadway notes, “Vietnamese is the third-most-spoken language in the state of Texas behind English and Spanish”. However, it is ironic that the program would be removed from the university’s course offerings. Asians are evidently a minority in The United State. This elimination proves that Wirth’s idea is correct. Both groups are indeed singled out for unequal treatment.

One of the more subtle similarities lies in the format of the texts. Both texts use sequential order to lists important facts about the two entities they are discussing. Jacoby starts his article by saying “She’s the most influential woman of all time. The are among the most disempowered women on earth.” This format helps the reader to have a coherent understanding of the comparison. Likewise,Treadway begins his article by noting “The University of Texas football team is among the best in the nation…The University of Texas Asian Studies program is one of the best in the nation.” These comparisons aid in the reader’s understanding of the texts. The authors provide an unbiased approach to the situation, leaving the readers to develop their own percipience based on the facts that they are given. This technique is used to further highlight the inequality of the society. In this way, the authors effectively get their point across.

The major difference of the two texts is that one focuses on culture/feminism while the other focuses on education. Watching Oprah from behind the Veil is the epitome of a culture enlightenment piece. It provides the reader with a vivid description of the lifestyle of the Saudi women. Jacoby goes in depth, even mentioning some of the more sensitive topics. This is evident when he notes, “They cannot even file a criminal complaint without a male guardian’s permission- not even in cases of domestic abuse when it’s their ‘guardian’ who has attacked them”. However, Treadway’s subject is education. He highlights various aspects that can hamper us from receiving an education. He mentions, “Come September, when students come back to campus, the third most spoken language in Texas will no longer be taught due to budgetary constraints and sadly, hardly anybody will ask questions or even notice.” This is the case of the Vietnamese language students who are both a minority group and have already had their decision made to discontinue their program by a board that values athletics over studies.

The audience Jacoby’s message is directed to is a feministic population. This is because his message would strengthen their argument that equality is needed in today’s society. He uses graphic descriptions to enable the reader to understand pertinence of his subject. He describes a scenario where a fast food owner hired two Saudi women to take telephone orders. He later notes that “Within 24 hours, the religious police had him arrested and shout down the restaurant for ‘promoting lewdness’. It is evident that he is pleading with feminists to further advocate their cause. Treadway’s audience on the other end of the continuum are the academic scholars who question whether all classroom time is effective. “With the elimination of the Vietnamese language program, dozens of students will be forced to take courses in a different foreign language so that they may fulfill their academic requirement and graduate with a degree.” The are the ones who argue that extracurricular activities are just as or more important than academic studies. This piece details how devastating their research and statistics can sometimes be to does who have to experience the wrath of their final decision.  

The purpose of the texts are fairly different. One wants to promote equality through the use of a real life scenario of extreme inequality while the other wants to promote equality through the use of compromise. Treadway’s scenario gives a situation that can be altered over a short period of time. The university could divide the money equally to fund both projects. “While the University of Texas at Austin’s football team receives generous funding, the Vietnamese language program is being cut—even though it’s the third-most-spoken language in the state.” However, Jacoby is dealing with a frankly more serious issue which may take generations to change. “A nation that degrades its women degraded itself..”It may take decades to get an entire nation to alter their perceptions on their culture. This may be particularly difficult since it has become a tradition.

It can be denoted from the pieces that everything around us is centred on the idea of tradition. We are forced to think about tradition regardless if we practice them from birth or try to avoid them all our lives. Dan Treadway achieves this idea by comparing two groups, one which is well respected for its popularity over the years, the football team, and another which is budding, the Vietnamese language program. Jeff Jacoby achieves it by simply describing the inequality that the Saudi Arabian women face from their birth. It is important that we make sound decisions based on deductive and inductive reasoning and not solely rely on what was crafted millennia ago. Ultimately, our actions will become their own traditions in the future.


Author: Keia Smith


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