Posted Monday, Dec. 12, 2011, at 12:42 PM
Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images
Most reality TV is a wasteland that, because of its emphasis on exploiting domestic life, spends most of its time veering between portraying women as bitchy bumbleheads and shaming women who don't conform to '50s-era standards regarding sex, marriage, and motherhood. Which is why it's interesting that TLC, which should be TUC for "the Uterus Channel," decided to put together a program built on a foundation of basic human decency. The program is titled All-American Muslim, and as you can see from the trailer, the people on it are so all-American that the show threatens to be kind of boring. (Yes, I realize that avoiding "boring" is why reality TV veers toward exploitation. It's the unsolvable dilemma of the genre.) The show portrays a number of Muslim families in Dearborn, Mich., as they go about their lives of doing ordinary jobs, engaging in ordinary family conflicts, and having ordinary hobbies.
For nonbigoted America, it's not much of a revelation that Muslim-Americans are ordinary people who just happen to have an arbitrary set of religious customs that are mildly different than those of Christians. Christian-right organizers, however, see the show as a serious threat. The Florida Family Association sent out an alert to its members that spelled out its concern in about as straightforward a manner as is possible for a hysterical Christian-right missive: "Clearly this program is attempting to manipulate Americans into ignoring the threat of jihad and to influence them to believe that being concerned about the jihad threat would somehow victimize these nice people in this show." Which is a fundamentalist mouth-breathing way of saying they're afraid that their claims that Muslim-Americans are out to destroy us will be harder to swallow if you actually bother to get to know some Muslim-Americans, even if through a third party like TLC.
This would all have been easy enough to brush off as nonsense spewing from a fringe hate group, except that the alarm-raising worked. FFA is claiming that 65 out of 67 show advertisers pulled their ads from the show, and while some are denying this, Lowe's has confirmed that it did bow to pressure and pulled its advertising. The company offered a mealy-mouthed apology to those who are outraged by this, but as of now, it's standing beside the decision.
There is some good news in all this. Lowe's is feeling the heat in an exploding thread on Facebook, and I suspect other advertisers are watching this and realizing that they probably should avoid giving in to the demands of the FFA. Additionally, the furor is basically giving All-American Muslim tons of free publicity, which will probably result in much better ratings. Maybe the end result of this will be that TLC decides to add more socially responsible reality programming aimed at undermining stereotypes instead of profiting off them.