Friday, November 11, 2011

A reality show about American Muslims

by Salman Hameed

Here is a wonderfully written article by an Iranian-American about a new TLC reality series, All-Ameircan Muslim (see an earlier post here) [tip from Laura Sizer]. First of all, the show looks quite interesting and I'm glad that it is getting good coverage in the papers. But I really like the article that is funny, insightful, and provides a nice critique of reality television. Here is a taste of it:
IF anything made me an American, it was television. I learned English from soap operas — after kindergarten, curled up Mommy-side — and then beyond, the many hours she abandoned the sofa for the kitchen when I alternated between after-school cartoons and adult crime dramas. English came to me, and with it so many questions about what was happening on TV. But one that never hit home was why the people on the screen did not resemble my family. I suppose when your daily life involves acute consciousness of being a foreigner, you lack that sense of entitlement; self-identification with a popular representation of America was a luxury this newly transplanted Iranian immigrant didn’t even know to lust for. 
At school in suburban Los Angeles we took TV show residue and dumped it on the playground, recreating sitcoms and cartoon plots during recess. I was always typecast by the director, myself. I played only villains, Catra of “She-Ra,” the Misfits of “Jem,” Nellie of “Little House on the Prairie.” When the fifth grade put on a production of “The Wizard of Oz,” I tried out for the Wicked Witch, knowing I’d settle on Flying Monkey (the other brown girl, the class’s sole South Asian, was immediately cast as Toto) and was crushed when I became a Kansan extra. I knew by then that heroines and ingénues were “fair,” as fairy tale convention dictated. Darkness — dark hair, dark eyes, dark skin — always equaled trouble, as if it actually implied a dark side. This expanded as I evolved into a teenage thespian of school drama festival circuits, where, if not Medea or Antigone, I could be the comic relief: the zany psycho at worst and the wisecracking best friend at best. 
In other words, part of assimilation was a crash course in sober self-awareness. I gravitated toward the freak, the outsider, the antagonist, the one who did not belong in the protagonist’s vision, not because I had low self-esteem but because conditions couldn’t have allowed for normal self-esteem. A bottle of water bobbing in an ocean doesn’t contemplate its wetness, after all. I knew my place. I was a freak, and I consoled myself with one thought: Of all places, America was a pretty O.K. place for freakdom.
And that’s one message sent by our culture of reality TV.
And here is the bit about All-American Muslim.
Compare that reality take on a Middle Eastern people with a news release about “All-American Muslim,” the latest from TLC (the channel behind “Sarah Palin’s Alaska”), starting Sunday night: “Through these families and their diverse experiences, we will explore how they blend their values and traditions with everyday life in America.” The author Reza Aslan, whose media entertainment company, BoomGen Studios, has been helping TLC with publicity, calls it “a groundbreaking, intimate look inside the lives of a group of Muslim families in Dearborn, Mich., who are struggling with the everyday issues that all families deal with.” He adds, “Except they are doing it at a time of unprecedented anti-Muslim hysteria in America.” 
Everyday. There is a reason that word keeps coming up. There is absolutely nothing extraordinary about “All-American Muslim,” and that’s the point.
Enter the Midwest’s Little Mideast: Dearborn, “America’s Muslim Capital,” is over 30 percent Arab. It’s also home to the Islamic Center of America, the largest mosque in the country. 
The show focuses on five families in this enclave. You have the newlyweds Nawal and Nader, on the verge of having a baby; Mike, the deputy police chief; Foaud, the head coach of the high school football team; Nina, the platinum-blond businesswoman; and the heavily tattooed and pierced Shadia, who marries an Irish-Catholic.
There is lot more in the article, including about a not so good reality show featuring Iranian-Americans. Check out the full article here

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