For more than a decade now, geopolitical events have led to an upsurge in interest in the MENA region. College courses on Middle Eastern languages and culture were suddenly oversubscribed and books by real and so-called experts raced up the bestseller lists. Americans seemed to have a great desire to learn about the Middle East. Of course, in many ways they already knew about the region. From Looney Tunes and Popeye to Bing Crosby and the earliest Hollywood film stars the Middle East has been a common feature in American media. Similarly, the adventure magazines of the 1950s and 60s also offer and interesting perspective into representations of the MENA region (some content may be mildly NSFW).
The Arab Kitsch website reminds us that these representations go back even further. Both before and during the early days of mass media, a popular form of American entertainment involved gathering around a piano with friends and family to sing popular songs. These tunes were composed by the famous music publishers of Tin Pan Alley and purchased for home entertainment across the country. The images and lyrics of the songs profiled on the Arab Kitsch website offer a fascinating insight into a medium that helped shape American perceptions of the MENA region.