The Scarlet & Black

The Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

On the Bombing of Agrabah

Matt Kartanata – Leina’ala Voss

Column by Matt Kartanata,

Matt Kartanata - Leina'ala Voss

In December, Public Policy Polling (PPP) released survey data from 534 Republicans and 525 Democrats on a number of questions surrounding America’s political climate and preferences for the Presidential Election. It was pretty standard as far as polls about elections can get—what’s important to you in a nominee, who would you choose between x, y and z candidate, etc. However, the data was overwhelmingly used to run headlines on question 38: “Would you support or oppose the bombing of Agrabah?” which is the fictional country in Disney’s 1992 animated film “Aladdin.” Thirty percent of Republicans and 19 percent of Democrats answered “Yes,” they would in fact bomb Agrabah. Newswires loved this statistic. They ran it incessantly for an entire week. And given the nature of the headlines—“A Lot of Americans Support Bombing the Fictional Country from Aladdin” or “Political ignorance and bombing Agrabah”—the survey respondents weren’t just the subjects of observation; they were the punchline. It’s not uncommon to ask “a-ha!” questions like these—studies have asked opinions on fake policies as awfully named as the “Metallic Metals Act,” and “Jimmy Kimmel’s Lie Witness News” segment regularly walks the streets of Hollywood looking for unsuspecting pedestrians to feign confidence on anything from sex to politics. But the crux of “a-ha, got you!” questions that situate respondents as the punchline is that it places bad faith in survey takers—in other words, it assumes, in the Agrabah bombing case, that people want to bomb Agrabah out of mere xenophobic ignorance. And sure, that’s probably the case for many respondents. But what if respondents actually did know what Agrabah was? These respondents don’t just know about Agrabah, they despise its very existence, vilify its structure. These respondents are warhawks, revolutionaries or anarchists. They know fully well that it’s the fictional city from Aladdin, and that’s precisely why they want to bomb it. It’s not as if Jafar actually dies in the first movie; there exist multiple interpretations that paint Jafar as an antihero rather than a villain. There were even two awful direct-to-VHS sequels to “Aladdin” and a painful three-season television series, and we have no clue if any of the movies or television episodes count as canon within the “Aladdin” universe, and which temporal snapshot of Agrabah respondents were willing to bomb. Without even considering the additional content outside of the original “Aladdin” movie, it’s pretty clear there is palpable tension between the rich bourgeois Sultan and proletarian peasantry—there’s this weird thing between Aladdin and Genie and enslavement—but the point is that while bombing may not be a perfect solution, Agrabah is also not a perfect place. Also, it takes Jasmine and Aladdin until the third movie to get married. What’s up with that?

There’s certainly something to say about political ignorance—that it surely exists, that it ought to be acknowledged as an issue with clear and sometimes unavoidable causes, and that we should aim to eliminate it for the purposes of improving our democracy. Of this I am sure. But I am less concerned about the “a-ha, got you!” aspect in a question about the bombing of a fictional Disney country and more concerned that 28 percent of Republicans in this poll still supported the internment of Japanese people. Or that 54 percent supported a ban on Muslims from entering America and 46 percent of respondents felt a database on Muslims was necessary. It’s funny to poke fun at people who might have mistaken Agrabah as a real place or have some anarchist, revolutionary motives against a fictional country, but in the same breath, it’s deeply disturbing that the other responses—ones that embody and manifest xenophobia—continue to materialize in forms as seemingly pedestrian as a political climate survey. For these beliefs, there is no “a-ha, got you!” moment. Maybe that’s the real punchline.

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *