TLC has a new reality show running called All-American Muslim, following the lives of several Muslim households in Dearborn, Michigan. The critical response has mostly pointed out how bland and ordinary it is; gosh, Muslim families really are just like everyone else! In an era where reality shows are mostly about flashy displays of wealth and power, following average, ordinary families is kind of groundbreaking:
In fact, most of the show’s stars seem to have been cast for their exemplary civic and cultural pride. In their bios on TLC’s Web site, the characters’ families are called “prominent” in Dearborn, or “pillars” — old-fashioned words that seek to describe what’s at stake here. In the Jaafar family, husband and father Mike is a deputy sheriff; wife and mother Angela is a consultant; they juggle a busy life raising four young kids. Within five minutes of meeting them, you want to be them. (source)
TLC assumes that many viewers are probably ignorant about Islam and the lives of Muslim families, in a country where Islam has been cast as a demon and Muslims are figures of terror. As such, the show heavily stresses the prosaic and ordinary lives of the families involved. Few positive depictions of Muslims can be found in pop culture, let alone reality television, and so this one sticks out.
Apparently, it stuck out too much, because the Florida Family Association issued a demand for advertisers to pull their support from the show, arguing that:
All-American Muslim is propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law…The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to the liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.
This is yet another example of anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States, a country where even building a mosque has to be accompanied by high drama because of hate groups like this. The organisation’s press releases spew scaremongering and hate, acting like TLC is out to destroy ‘our values’ (once again placing Muslims in the position of the other because of course ‘they’ can’t share ‘American values,’ apparently) simply by showing people living in the United States who happen to be Muslim. And showing those people’s lives. This, my friends, is ‘propaganda.’
At least one advertiser, Lowe’s, apparently bought this hook line and sinker. It not only pulled ads but made a public statement about it. The AFA also claims that other advertisers pulled, although it’s harder to verify this claim due to the fact that some may have had limited orders, so the absence of their ads on future episodes doesn’t necessarily mean they actively made a choice to pull them. Lowe’s felt that All-American Muslim didn’t meet its ‘advertising guidelines,’ which apparently prohibit neutral-to-positive depictions of targets of hate living in the United States.
“It is certainly never Lowe’s intent to alienate anyone,” Cody [a spokesperson for Lowe’s] said. (source)
As Elon James pointed out in his response on Twitter, whatever Lowe’s may have intended, it certainly succeeded in alienating people. And not just Muslim viewers, but non-Muslims who aren’t interested in supporting bigoted businesses and who are extremely concerned about the tide of anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States. I don’t have a Lowe’s in my area, but I’ll certainly make a habit to avoid their stores when I’m shopping out of the area, and the same goes for other advertisers as we get more confirmed information about who actually pulled spots versus who only made limited buys. Because I don’t see a need to shop at companies that dehumanise my fellow human beings. They don’t need my money.
And this feeds into a much larger and frightening trend about what it means to be Muslim in the United States, to know that advertisers will be deluged in angry email campaigns led by conservative groups if they dare to buy ads on television shows with positive or neutral depictions of Muslim family life. To know that you are hated so much that US companies will cave to that pressure and pull their ads rather than risking public censure from conservative groups, which are growing increasingly powerful in the United States, dominating politics and society and forcing their values, and views, on the rest of us. These same groups are exerting increasing control over access to reproductive health services, over environmental policy, over the practice of medicine and science in the United States, with grave consequences for all of us.
The same organisations insist on being given a blank cheque for their activities because of ‘religious freedom,’ but apparently do not believe this right should be extended to others in the United States. Religious freedom includes all faiths (and lack thereof), not just the ones conservatives like, and it is time for the government to be more aggressive about that right while also reining back on the conservative Christian influence in politics, which has crossed considerable lines when it comes to the separation of church and state.
I know for a fact that many of these corporations do business in Muslim majority countries, and if they truly have caved so easily to a concerted hate campaign, that will not do their business any good.
She has an excellent point. It seems these companies are perfectly happy to take money from the Muslim community, both domestically at their stores in the US and overseas, but they’re also perfectly willing to cave to hate campaigns targeting that very same community. I am reminded of the long history in the US of economic exploitation of numerous groups from companies that still wouldn’t let them walk through their front doors.
Sheila’s post includes information on how you can take action if you’re interested in complaining to Lowe’s and other advertisers; if you have time to send an email and you’re a non-Muslim like me, make sure Lowe’s knows that its behaviour didn’t just alienate the Muslim community, but that it’s an offense to all of us.