Tuesday, September 27, 2005

American Television - Can you see me now?

Ok. I admit it. I watch too much television. I am not like those who claim to be above the box. No, not me. I’m quite the connoisseur of popular media. And when pressed, I’ll say it is not for fun, it is research. But just between you and me, well ….

Tonight I caught the series premier of the new ABC show, "Commander in Chief". The story centres around Gina Davis’ character who through the sudden death of the President finds herself being the first woman to sit in the Oval Office.

Now I’m a big fan of anything that showcases strong women. And this woman is clearly out to flex her muscles. So how does the fantasized first woman leader of the "free world" [cough] prove her mettle?

By swooping down and saving a poor Muslim woman.

It’s obvious, don’t you see? Who else could serve as the perfect foil for a powerful white American woman, except a poor oppressed Muslim woman from Africa?

As the first act of her Presidency, Mackenzie Allen, mobilizes the combined armed forces of the United States to rescue a Nigerian woman who has been sentenced to death by stoning.

The fact that women in the real world are subject to horrific injustice is not in question. And clearly this fictionalized Muslim woman is known to us in the names of many women, like Bariya Magizu, who have faced such horrific punishments.

But what I find problematic is the polarity that is being constructed between the powerful white American woman who can have it all and the disempowered Muslim African woman who can have nothing.

And like all of these iconic representations of the perpetually persecuted Muslim woman, they accompany the twin construction of the unrelentingly oppressive Muslim man. [At one point in the show, the soon to be President is told that they can not have a woman president because Muslim nations would never take her leadership.]

And of course, the Muslim woman, is not meant to have any agency or identity in this plot. For if she did, then perhaps she would not be shown as being completely alone, with her only hope being a benevolent American president. Instead, she might have been shown with her family and with local women’s activists who were organizing a campaign for her freedom and with local lawyers working night and day to secure her freedom.

No, no, none of that. We can’t have the complex messy reality interfere with our fantasies of the new White [wo]Man’s Burden – saving Muslim women from Muslim men.

As they say, check your local listings.

5 comment(s):

  • right on sister, tear down the stupid ideologies that underly the premise of such ridiculous stereotypes of Muslims in the Western media!!!!! Bariya Magazu. I like that name ;)

    By Blogger luckyfatima, at 9/27/2005 11:59:00 PM  

  • Such perceptions are not limited to soaps alone. Art does imitate reality.

    Read about Karen P. Hughes, the under secretary of state for public diplomacy encounter with Saudi women in todays NYTimes.com

    By Blogger Jafar, at 9/28/2005 08:33:00 AM  

  • >>> "At one point in the show, the soon to be President is told that they can not have a woman president because Muslim nations would never take her leadership"

    Obviously, this script writer hasn't heard of Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Begum Khalida Zia of Banladesh, or Megawati Sukarnoputri of Indonesia. And if history of the world wasn't limited to last 200 years of the American continent, he may have known about Razia Sultan, Ruler of Delhi Sultanate from 1236-1240.

    But why let facts come in the way of a cool 'sutherland' comment!

    By Blogger Jafar, at 9/28/2005 08:51:00 AM  

  • If TV shows started to look at complexities, the ideological framework on which the "War on Terror" is based upon, would just totally fall apart. Myth creation of a faceless evil is a necessity so that there can be something to be "fought against."

    The Native/First Nations had to be potrayed either as savages or romanticised as Noble Savages.

    If those cultures were to be considered complex human beings - well, it would be then very difficult to rationalize the slogan "Tradition is the enemy of Progress" ... that was used to kill off the Native peoples, and traditions as being "savage" while the White Man's way being "Progress."

    History and ideologies just repeating itself in different contexts.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/28/2005 10:11:00 AM  

  • here is more on the Hughes Goes to "Mid-Esast"

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9/29/2005 11:27:00 AM  

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