Tuesday, October 4, 2011

re-reading Dalila

Deception or Samson and Delilah. George Grie, 2008

The story of Sampson and Delilah continues to invite interpretation. Above is a neo-surrealist, gothic, digital visual interpretation of the oft-told tale, that mashes together a digital age, Grecian, Salvadore Dali'an, wilderness landscape, and model-on-the-runway panorama.
Here's a 1949 depiction of the same story, different context, different media, same characters. This is the Samson and Dalila (Sampson and Delilah in English) movie poster for the 1949 film.

It's an interesting film / story to decode for Orientalism, particularly in light of the Palestine/Israel conflict where Palestinians (the victims of oppression and occupation) have been made into violent terrorists--sneaky by nature--through contemporary media representations and discourses.

Along with the way that the characters in the film can be used to support ideas of current Israeli people’s threat from treacherous Palestinians, who are “out to get them” no matter how much the Israelis offer them a chance at peace negotiations, the film has a Biblical mythology encoded, too. The film can be read through these two lenses by drawing on gender, racialization, and power relations.

In short, the film is based on an old testament story; the Old Testament is a Hebrew text that Christianity took up and made part of the Bible. In the biblical story Sampson is an Israelite and Dalila is a Philistine. Neither of these two groups of people exist today. However, many people confuse ancient Israelites with Israelis today and people confuse the Philistines with Palestinians. Both these ancient groups were tribes and while there are some connection to people today, there are many other tribes and ethnic groups that mingled together to evolve into contemporary Jewish people and Palestinians (who by the way also have intermingled). Whatever their complex ethnic origins, the truth is they are both Semites. Family.

Now, it is important to keep in mind that the word “philistine” is a derogatory term that means someone who is uncouth, ignorant and uncivilized. A barbarian. As this word relates to tribes who are one of the ancestors of Palestinians, the connotation of ignorant louts transfers to them.

How can you reason or negotiate with someone who is base?


a. Having or showing a contemptible, mean-spirited, or selfish lack of human decency.
b. Devoid of high values or ethics: a base, degrading way of life.
c. Inferior in value or quality.

On a gendered level, Delilah is viewed as the seductive woman — the femme fatale — who uses her beauty and feminine wiles to seduce the man, Sampson. She is the dangerous sexual woman who is the downfall of all men. She uses sex to get her man. This is her business. She is a prostitute, an unattached woman. She is an icon that has been repeated over and over again in literature and media. She loves her man, but she’s evil and can’t be trusted. He loves his woman, but she’s evil and can’t be trusted. Lots of movies today repeat this old story in various forms.

And let's not forget Tom Jones belting out "Why, why, why Dee-li-lah?" in 1968 and for many reincarnations afterwards.

In this biblical story that is repeated in a version in the film, because Sampson is powerful, others who want power seek to bring him down. Delilah is sent in--greedily pocketing money-- to find out the source of his power (which is his hair). She cuts it off. There are lots of paintings that show his emasculation at the hands of woman. So, a woman is seen as having the power to wilfully destroy masculine power–make him impotent, powerless. This is a gendered reading.

However, Dalilah (her name is pronounced more like Dalilah in Arabic) is also a “Philistine”– the enemy of the Israelites. Now, the context of viewing and reading shapes what meanings we make; the film was made in 1949, the year after the state of Israel was created by European Zionist Jews who had to make the Palestinians their enemy so they could expel them from the land, wipe out their villages, and ethnic cleanse the cities of Palestinians. It's the story of war: you have to dehumanize the Other "side" so that you can kill them with impunity and go to bed at night with clear conscience.

During these times (and earlier and still to this day) the Zionists were constructing a story about the danger of Palestinians who will seek to “drive them off the land” (I am aware that Zionism is not a monolith and that some Zionists saw themselves as good socialists making a utopia in a new land...except maybe they somehow forgot that the land was being lived on by almost a million people called Palestinians??). But back to the film: the film was based on a book by a Zionist who had written it much earlier (and who did the screenplay), who had been a member of the Irgun, a proto-Israeli terrorist group that went into Palestine to kill Palestinians. These Zionists knew that people had to be removed, by terror, by death.

Sampson pulling down the temple. Looks like his six-pack needs a bit of 21st c personal-trainer-to-the-stars buffing up

In the end, Dalilah not only represents the seductive, treacherous, dangerous woman, but the destructive, treacherous, dangerous Palestinian who by stealth will bring down the power of Israel and all Israeli Jews. After the seductive woman has done her work, the Philistines, in the movie and the biblical myth, cruelly torture Sampson, blinding him. Being a “Man”, however, he is not so easily wiped out (think of the film Rocky here) so he undertakes a feat to show off his power once and for all, show off his superhuman masculine potency, but causes an entire monumental building to fall on him, Delilah, and all the Philistine people, killing them all.

So he gets to be the martyr hero who loses his life but saves his people by killing “the enemy.”

In sum, through the ways the film re-narrates the biblical story at the time of Israel’s establishment (the film was based on a novel by a Zionist, Jabotinsky, who had worked to establish the state; indeed, many institutions and streets are named after him in Israel as he is seen as a “founding father”), Dalilah represents the threat of the Palestinians to bring down the house of Israel. Which is a narrative repeated over and over again in the news media of the West today. The Palestinians are dangerous. The enemy.

Orientalism: Hedy Lamar as Delilah in the 1949 film, Sampson and Delilah.

And in the end, the film and the biblical story can be interpreted to read that only when all the Palestinians are dead is there a chance for Israel to survive.

Maybe the leaders of Canada, the US and Israel, who want to stop the Palestinians' call at the UN to be recognized as a state, have been either

a) watching old Hollywood movies that create simple stories of the good, the bad, and the ugly (with 'the bad and the ugly' being assigned to Arabs), or

b) reading the Old Testament.


Merche Pallarés said...

Excellent analysis, dear Taina! That's how it is. Subliminal brainwashing. However,I think most of the "thinking" world citizens are seeing the trap behind all this crap. About time! Hugs, M.

marja-leena said...

Fascinating, I learned so much from this, Taina. How politics does twist history to it's own ends, even subliminally as Merche said. It seems like more pople are waking up to it, but I can't help feeling helpless that the greed and power of corporations and banks control so much of governments that we citizens won't be able to affect change. We can only hope and keep on trying....

Glad to have your voice out there!