The New Face of American Entertainment
By Imraan Siddiqi* - October 30, 2002
When it comes to entertainment, television is still king. Even with the oncoming surge of the Internet, the entertainment world still revolves around that big picture tube that sits in virtually every living room. Here in the west, we like our entertainment to be as realistic as possible. In addition to the so-called "Reality TV" that has clogged our airwaves the past few years, the overall landscape of how TV shows are presented to us has greatly changed. Crime dramas are currently the rage, focusing on topics that are in the headlines. Unfortunately for Muslims, the headlines are currently focused upon them.
Last year, the fast-paced conspiracy-drama "24" transformed many people into couch potatoes on Tuesday nights. The setup of the show was unique as compared to the others of its genre, because the whole season encapsulated one twenty-four hour period. In a nutshell, the hero (played by Kiefer Sutherland) unfolds a conspiracy led by Bosnian-Serbs involving a presidential candidate. By the end of the season, they reach the conclusion that this is just a tip of another conspiracy: Enter the Muslim Terrorists.
This season will focus solely upon "Islamic Militants" plotting to attack the United States. Many Muslim groups such as CAIR are taking offense to this, since this is once again an example of religious stereotyping. The executive producer of the show (Robert Cochran) however is standing up to this criticism saying, "It's like doing a cop show and saying you're not going to deal with serious crimes." He goes on to point out that as a matter of fact, not all Muslims are terrorists, but there are some Muslims who are.
This is one of the primary problems facing Muslims in the west today. The same formula that is used to entertain hundreds of millions of homes each week, is also greatly offending one of the fastest growing segments of the population. Just as the Russians were the villains of choice during the cold war, the Islamic extremists have now firmly taken up the role of the enemy. This all started with the Gulf War in the early 90's, through the first World Trade Center Bombing, through the war in Somalia, and ultimately 9/11, and will continue indefinitely. Movies like "The Siege", and "Executive Decision" have catered the public's apocalyptic needs, while portraying Muslims in the most negative light. Both movies not only awakened the public's fear of Islamic extremists, but also depicted them as monsters; in the latter movie, one of the hijackers was firing a gun with one hand, and holding a Quran in the other. The recipe usually stays the same: The majority of the Muslims depicted are west-hating belligerents, while there is one apologetic Arab type that disassociates from these types of people. It is a very important tool for the producers to have an apologist, because when the inevitable controversy arises, they can claim, "Look, not all the Muslims on the show are bad." According to Cochran, there is at least one Muslim character on his show that is not involved with terror. Muslims all over will surely thank Mr. Cochran for his generosity.
Television has just recently joined this movement in full force. Prior to 24's enter into the foray; the crime-drama "Law and Order" gave us an episode dealing with a Muslim-gone-bad. Playing off the John Walker Lindh fiasco, the producers probably felt that they would be missing a ratings bonanza if they didn't depict what happens when a white-American finds Islam. They didn't want to just cut and paste the story, so instead of "John Lindh", they named him "Greg Landon. The premise of the show was to find out whether or not militant Islam drove this character to murder a teacher. Throughout the episode, the main characters toe the line of racism, making stereotypical references regarding "falafel", and Islam's view of women. Worst of all, is the fact that the actor playing the Muslim convert was no more than a cheap caricature---a glued on beard, in Islamic garb, blurting out mispronounced statements such as "Alla akBAR", obviously trying to say "Allahu Akbar"---or God is Great. Additionally, when interrogated by the prosecuting attorney, he asks, "Are you a Jew?" then continues on how "Jews are always against Muslims". At the end of the show, the producers try to save face by quickly remarking "I guess he was just an individual and isn't a representation of the whole". Out of 22 minutes of slanted airtime, approximately 4 seconds at the very end is supposed to reconcile the damage that has already been done. If this is the blueprint for how to portray Muslims, then how will America ever understand Islam?
When "24" airs, it will undoubtedly be a ratings success. Similar images to these are very likely to be presented to the world, for not just one episode---but an entire season. An entire community of people will once again take offense, while the rest of the world applauds, and makes it a point to tune in every week. Depicting Islam in this manner is justified by the producer, but what if the shoe was on the other foot? If a television series in a non-Christian nation wanted to focus upon the atrocities within the Catholic Church, and depict all of its followers as predators of young children---the world would be up in arms.
Television is still the most powerful medium of all, and can influence the minds of the uninformed masses. While television studios are playing off the public's fear in order to gain ratings, they are also influencing their thought process towards Muslims and Islam as a whole. This may explain why some university parents are trying to keep their children from learning about Islam, and why it is being labeled a "violent faith". It may be entertaining to some, but deep down this is causing a rift between a misunderstood people and a misinformed public.
* Imraan Siddiqi
lives in Irving, TX and attends the University of Texas at Arlington. He
writes in his spare time on a variety of issues concerning Islam and
Muslims. He can be reached via e-mail at: