The current ruckus over All American Muslim loosing advertising after a right wing radical group called Florida Family Association went on a “ain’t-your-normal-Moslem-without-the-terrorist” scree go me thinking about Muslims and television. The TLC drama thus far has caused Lowe’s and Kayak to pull their advertising and probably become marketing 101 case studies on what not to do with social media, brought together a hotly divided Muslim community who were only moments prior to the announcement arguing over the merits of the show, and ignited a firestorm of grassroots efforts that cross the ethnic and religious make up of America.
When I was a kid high school life was defined by shows like “Saved by the Bell” and “Fresh Prince of Bel Air”. Today, however, you have Fox’s Glee, Friday Night Lights over at NBC, and the ever teen sensational episode-after-episode churning CW shows. I have an issue with the portrayal of minority groups in mainstream television, most recently with Disney Channels portrayal of South Asian character Ravi in the show “Jessie”. But, besides the anti-Muslim attitude and the horribly stereoptyical portrayals of “Muslims/Arabs/South Asians and other minorities” don’t you wonder what a Muslim character might be like on television?
What is clear though in all of the hoopla is that having any Muslim character that goes against the grain of thought that Arabs/Muslims are fanatical terrorist is not acceptable. If you don’t think that the case go here and read this piece on ‘Aliens in America” another one of those Jihadi escapades to fool good-ole’plain speaking Americans.
The two shows that come to mind both were aired on the CW Network- 7th Heaven introduced us to a young Muslim girl being bullied at the school Ruthie, one of the many Camden children, attended. Yasmine wore the really funky school-girl hijab and had glasses bigger than her face, was shy and a bit introverted, but who wouldn’t be after being subjected to constant bullying. The show never had Yasmine as a permanent character, but used her to explore the many life lessons the creators tried to exude to 7th Heaven audience, I mean the show was like a modern day Little House on the Prairie feel-good-type-aura to it. Its like making it on the Simpsons, in “Mypods and Boomsticks” episode where Bart defends his Muslim friend from the Islamphobes and the show tackles anti-Muslim hysteria quite openly but than moving on to bigger and better things that just didn’t involve a permanent Muslim character. But CW did produce a show where a character was a Muslim and played a pretty significant role, in fact the show was premised around him.
In CW’s 2008 try at a funny sitcom called “Aliens in America” where a 16-year-old Raja Musharaf arrives in suburban Wisconsin as a foreign exchange student they bring to center stage a high school Muslim. The show got axed, but when its competing against other freshman shows that it debut with- Gossip Girl in particular- who would keep a silly show like Aliens around? Even Aliens stuck to the stereotypical portrayal of Pakistanis. I honestly believe if you got my 16-year-old cousin to be a foreign exchange student he’s probably going to kick to the top of high school royalty. He for one never would go around wearing a topi- skull cap- and shalwar kameez like Raja’s character. What the show got wrong was that most high school age kids in Pakistan, who can afford to do an expensive foreign exchange program, are not at all like Raja, in fact, they are westernized and significantly more in tune with global culture than the average American teen. But I guess that would not work for a comedy that try’s to explore suburban American hell along with cultural mix ups through the exotic character. But the thing about this show was that it relied on stereotypes and characterizations, never giving the possibility that you could potentially have a “Muslim” character who is “normal”- and I think that just might be the brilliance of TLC’s All-American Muslim, but lets not go there.
The question that begs to be asked is if there were a truly authentic “Muslim character” on a show like Glee, where the character is not treated like an exotic oddity, but given the importance of being that any other character would be, what would the character be like, and most importantly what would be some of the tie ins to develop that character and the plot? Since we can only blog our dreams about such an imaginary character, here is your opportunity to share your thoughts:
- Name your show,
- describe the character and than
- list three challenges that that Muslim character on the show would be faced with in the plot line.
- for brownie points, why’s expanding the answers are very much welcomed!
So I will take the first stab at this-
2. My Muslim character would be born in the US, dealing with a somewhat Muslim family that is more cultural and have issues dealing with reconciling the “Muslim” with the “American”- the character is a guy, whose into sports.
3. Because its a Muslim guy character the challenges that Glee would explore with the character would deal with- 1. girls and dating; 2. music/arts vs Islam/family expectations to be a D.E.A (doctor/engineer/accountant or the newly prescribed hot profession-attorney) and finally 3. dealing with social issues like terrorism or having friends that are gay
Now its your turn!