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?