As much as it kills me to link to anything from Fox News, here is Jon Stewart’s appearance on Bill O’Reilly’s The O’Reilly Factor last night, “defending” the Obama Administrations choice to invite the rapper Common to the White House for a poetry reading last week.
As Stewart deftly pointed out — when he was able to get a word in – the “cop killers” Common celebrates, according to Fox, are not the defining points of the rappers career. Stewart went on to say that, “there is a selective outrage machine over here at Fox that pettifogs only when it suits the narrative that suits them.”
While Stewart’s words weren’t exactly shocking, it’s still nice to watch someone say it to their faces. You can almost see O’Reilly being boxed into an uncomfortable corner as Stewart compared Common’s raps to other works by artists Bono and Bob Dylan, who have in the past written lyrics about convicted murderers they felt were done a diservice by the American justice system. But O’Reilly basically just shuts that down by cutting the feed to move onto another segment of the interview.
My Mom always said “never talk politics or religion in mixed company.” Clearly TV show creators have never heard this saying.
In Season 5 of Bones, the forensic laboratory that provides the background for Fox’s procedural drama, goes about solving crimes with the aid of rotating interns, one of whom is a devout Muslim. In previous episodes the audience sees Arastoo Vaziri taking time from solving murders to pray; as a regular viewer of this show, I often felt that this depiction could be interpreted as the character putting his faith before catching the bad guy. At a time when Americans are already wary of Islam, the portrayal of a Muslim stopping a criminal investigation so he can worship might not be the best way to encourage familiarity with the religion. In a fit of anger Vaziri accidently drops his accent and it is revealed that he is not actually Middle Eastern but American-born. The blog Muslim Media Review explains it best saying, “he reveals that affecting a foreign accent allows him to avoid questions from his mostly nonreligious colleagues about his religion. In other words, scientists would accept that a “fresh off the boat” Third Worlder would cling to archaic religious beliefs but they would be less tolerant of a religious scientist who grew up in the United States. The episode ends with a rather honest conversation about Arastoo’s religious beliefs and practices.”
What could have formally been percieved as a negative portrayal of Muslims became more of a question about the characteristics of the absolutist scientist/atheist.
If you have Netflix, you can view the episode here.
Bones was able to turn around their poor representation of Muslims but this is often not the case when TV shows are dealing with religion. When it comes to religion, chances are, you will always be offending someone (perhaps sometimes on purpose). In HBO’s southern vampiric drama True Blood, set in an alternate version of America where vampire’s have “come out of the coffin,” the Fellowship of the Sun mega-church leads the national conversation in anti-vampire politics.
If you are from the south, chances are, you have probably seen an ad somewhat like the picture to the left; mega-churches are a steadily growing enterprise throughout the US. And we all heard Pat Robertson blame Hurricane Katrina on all the sin in New Orleans — it was God’s wrath and what not. True Blood‘s creator’s certainly knew who they using as their frame of reference when they wrote the Fellowship of the Sun into the plot, but are the portrayals accurate? As a liberal who has met my fair share of born-again Christians, I would say yes… to a point. But this is perhaps when stereotypes go astray — by being too accurate.
Personally, I am a huge fan of True Blood and think the Fellowship of the Sun story arc was a fantastic addition to the second season. Besides, its HBO, they push buttons. Why else would you pay for it?
High schoolers singing show tunes and renditions of Fleetwood Mac, a white guy rapping “Bust a Move,” teenage dramas about love lost and lead solos… Who would watch this premise? Pretty much everyone it seems. Glee’s post Super Bowl episode drew 26.8 million viewers and its weekly average hovers around 9 to 10 million viewers.
So what’s so special about this group of high schoolers living in Lima, Ohio? To use Sue Sylvestor’s — world-reknown cheerleading coach of Cheerios squad — roll call, “Santana. Wheels. Gay kid. Asian. Other Asian. Aretha. Shaft.”
Has Ohio always had this many minorities in one school? In the small group of 12 or so students participating in show choir two are Jewish, two are Asian, two are black (in the first season), two are gay (in the second season, only one openly so), one Latina and one is paralyzed from the waist down.
The brilliance of the of Glee is in its use of stereotypes, where it layers not only adult perceptions — both Asian’s are on the academic decathlon team — with traditional high school labels like nerd, jock, goth, and diva. Can you have a goth Asian girl? A Jewish jock who sings Neil Diamond songs? The gay kid wins the football game for the team?
The expected stereotypes are all still there, of course. While Mercedes (curvy black diva) is hanging out with Kurt (gay) and Blaine (somewhat less obviously gay) she hallucinates literal femininity coming from the two men:
Created by Ryan Murphy, the same guy who also brought us Nip/Tuck, Glee undoubtedly pushes boundaries; now in its second season, we’ve seen two boys making out, teen pregnancy, and witnessed the repercussions of underage drinking all while bopping along to Madonna’s “Like a Virgin” and Justin Bieber’s “Baby.”
One would guess Glee’s audience would be primarily tweens who’ve never heard many of the original songs remixed on Fox’s dramedy, but as New York Magazine’s culture blog Vulture pointed out in March, the average age of a Glee viewer comes in around 38.
The result we find in this mesh of hormones, adult problems and endearing performances (see: John Lennon’s “Imagine” duet with students from nearby school for the deaf ) is audiences welcoming these characters into their homes, and like any good television show, Glee challenges our “widely held” perceptions without us even realizing it and reiterates to the younger audiences that high school labels only exist in high school. Murphy skillfully balances the serious to ridiculousness, parody to reality, in such a way that the impact of both become magnified, and we realize it’s ok to be a loser.