Can comedy defuse an increasingly Islamophobic atmosphere in the west? Or do short films, sketches, and new media actually solidify preexisting bigotry and reinforce stereotypes through caricatures of Muslim people?
In the wake of the Lowe’s controversy, some comedy sketches have poked fun at the ridiculousness nature of fearing Muslims and Islam. In one sketch (below), two men of presumably South Asian Muslim descent, visit a Lowe’s Superstore to shop for “materials.” The epic background, set by what is meant to be “Islamic-sounding” music, presents an ominous mood, preparing the viewer for the culminating, climactic event. I don’t want to spoil the ending, so watch the clip to see what happens.
Although the “Un-Aired LOWE’S Commercial” was created in response to blatant discriminatory corporate business practices, other films have capitalized on stereotypes in a more general manner.
Last week, Sacha Baron Cohen, the comedian behind Ali G, Borat, and Bruno, released a trailer for his new film, The Dictator. Loosely based on Saddam Hussein’s romance novel, Zabibah And The King, The Dictator follows General Aladeen (Cohen), an outlandish, maniacal leader of a fictional Middle Eastern country, Wadiya. In a Coming to America–esqe way, Aladeen is portrayed as a womanizing, ignorant buffoon who “risks his life to keep democracy from coming to the country he lovingly oppressed.” Scenes throughout the film characterize Aladeen’s beliefs and actions mirroring that of Moammar Gadhafi, Hussein, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Aladeen’s large beard is even stylized similarly to that of many Muslims who identify with puritanical interpretations of Islam. And let’s not forget his name–Aladeen–presumably chosen for its resemblance to Aladdin, an archetype of “Middle Easternness.”
For many, the absurdity of the images presented are humorous. For others, they’re offensive. Even more concerning, those with little exposure to Muslims and Islam in real life may view these caricatures as a relatively accurate representation of reality. If this is the case, is this type of broad comedy more harmful than helpful? Or is it all just good fun?
What do you think? Are these works offensive to you? Are they funny? Do you see this line of comedy as reflecting your own images of Muslims, Arabs, or Islam? Do you think it reinforces stereotypes or undermines them?