On series television, there are very few representations of Muslim characters that don't have sinister intentions or aren't caught up in terrorist plots. On shows including “24,” “NCIS” and “Sleeper Cell,” Muslim characters are more likely to commit an act of violence, while Islam is often depicted as a challenge to Western values and a threat to the West's economic and political interests. “All American Muslim,” a new reality show on TLC, offers its own challenge by trying to give television viewers a new perspective.

One of the most powerful effects of media, and television in particular, is its contribution to socialization processes. We become accustomed to characters when we see them over and over on TV and they enter our consciousness in specific ways.


Since the fall of the Soviet Union, the attacks of Sept. 11 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, TV's Muslims have more often than not entered our consciousness as enemies of the West.


On series television, there are very few representations of Muslim characters that don't have sinister intentions or aren't caught up in terrorist plots. On shows including “24,” “NCIS” and “Sleeper Cell,” Muslim characters are more likely to commit an act of violence, while Islam is often depicted as a challenge to Western values and a threat to the West's economic and political interests. “All American Muslim,” a new reality show on TLC, offers its own challenge by trying to give television viewers a new perspective.


Featuring five families living in Dearborn, Mich., the city with the most concentrated community of Arabs outside the Middle East, “All American Muslim” wants to shift the distorted television representations of Muslim men and women. The participants include a football coach, a deputy sheriff, an event planner and a respiratory therapist. Footage of their lives is cut with a group discussion where several of the show's participants give opinions on the episode's themes. They form a sort of panel on issues ranging from adoption to drinking. These talks are meant to inform viewers on the finer points of Islam but also to invoke a sense of community diversity since the participants don't always agree.


However, the show's primary message, implicit in its title, is to demonstrate how the Muslim families of Dearborn, Mich., are the same as any other family living in America. Where the show is weakest is when it relies on symbols to relay its message. The football coach, the ambitious businesswoman and the woman who loves country music are depicted as examples of what it means to be “all-American” simply by their occupations and interests.


For the series to meet its goal of changing perceptions, it needs to allow these participants to move past symbolic patriotism and “I'm just like you because I love my family” testimonials. Sophisticated viewers interested in learning more about Islam and Muslim life will be disappointed with such simplistic representations. Where the show is strongest is when it recognizes that the idea of being “all-American” is an elusive one and what unites us is the small, shared struggles. In the first few episodes, it introduces one woman's battle with infertility, generational differences between a daughter and her mother, the fight to be treated equally in business and the effort to fit into a family with traditions unlike your own. If it continues to elaborate on these issues, “All American Muslim” has a good opportunity to effect change.


Melissa Crawley credits her love of all things small screen to her parents, who never used the line, "Or no TV!" as a punishment. Her book, “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing,’” was published in 2006. She has a PhD in media studies and is a member of the Television Critics Association. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at staytuned2011@hotmail.com or follow her on Twitter at @MelissaCrawley.