A recent episode of the satirical news program The Daily Show placed a humorous spin on the idea of having a “Muslim” Cosby Show. As we mentioned in January, Katie Couric and others see the Cosby show as an important step towards mainstream white-American acceptance and respect for African-Americans and believe a comedy show about a Muslim-American family could bring about a similar shift in opinion.
In Canada, the popular CBC sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie highlights a diverse Muslim community in small-town Saskatchewan. The show explores issues of gender, faith, and family, and has been popular with both non-Muslim and Muslim audiences. An American version has yet to be produced, but some American networks are apparently talking about it.
The Daily Show often places people with racist, sexist, homophobic, or otherwise narrow-minded worldviews in situations to make them look ridiculous. In a recent show, correspondent Aasif Mandvi–an Indian-born, British raised Muslim-American–stars as the father character in a short trailer for a mock television show he names The Qu’osby Show. In front of a small audience purposefully chosen by The Daily Show to be made up of Islamophobes, Mandvi plays Mr. Qu’osby and his “normal looking” Muslim-American family dance to country music in their middle-class Oklahoma living room.
When the Islamophobic test audience is asked whether the The Qu’osby Show clip changes their attitudes towards Muslims, no one seems convinced that the show represents “real” Muslims. One New York area woman says, “It’s not anything I would ever watch or believe or think for two seconds that this is like a regular, you know, Muslim family.” To make the show more realistic, one man suggests that The Qu’osby Show “could have like an uncle, you know, uncle Rahib or somethin’, who came over, and he’s, you know, a Bedouin and he lives in the basement . . . with a goat.” I’m not making this up.
While the Islamophobic test audience is certainly not a perfectly accurate representation of American attitudes towards Muslim-Americans, The Daily Show clip does bring up interesting issues to consider. If a major American television network were to make a “Muslim Cosby Show,” what should the characters look like? Depending upon the cultural background of the family, the show is likely to take on a very different character. Should the show feature a South Asian-American family from Houston, Texas, as the largest “cultural grouping” of Muslims in the U.S. is of Pakistani, Indian, or Bangladeshi origin? Or maybe a traditional, conservative Yemeni family from Dearborn, Michigan, would be perceived as being more representative of Muslim-Americans?
If the family isn’t perceived as being “Muslim” enough by an American audience, viewers may not be convinced that this is a realistic depiction of Muslims living in the U.S. On the other hand, if a large, “traditional” family where all of the women are wearing head scarves is presented on television, does that not reinforce stereotypes? Pilot shows are currently being explored by HBO, and other major networks, and it’s my hope that they avoid both of these traps.
Is the U.S. ready for a show on a Muslim-American family? What “type” of family should the show be about? What issues should the show explore?