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Bigoted Conservative Fringe Group Pressures Advertisers of Program Featuring Law-Abiding Muslims

Why did advertisers listen to an inarticulate, bigoted campaign by a fringe Christian group? And can online activism turn the tables?

Image copyright: TLC/Discovery Communications
Photo Credit: Courtesy TLC/Discovery Communications


[This story is updated below]

Conservative groups like Focus on the Family and culturally conservative groups like the Parents Television Council, specialists in hand-wringing over so-called cultural decay, have often wielded letter-writing campaigns and public shaming to punish television networks and shows for "immoral" content.

And now a new group is behind the push to punish a show about Muslims for not being bigoted enough.

Why do these groups have so much power?

For years, right-wingers have exerted an undue influence on the television landscape, particularly as that landscape relates to female sexuality. A prime example of this? Until plotlines on Grey's Anatomy and Friday Night Lights this past year, every story line on television that would logically lead to an abortion has miraculously ended in miscarriage or a change of heart at the clinic. While this trope is so common it's a pop-culture joke, there's a serious threat
 — the threat of an engineered uprising from "concerned" groups like the above
 — that keeps realistic abortion scenes from being depicted. 

Still, with those two aforementioned brave abortion episodes airing to less controversy than expected, it has felt recently like maybe, just maybe, the tide was turning. Racy shows like Gossip Girl even  embraced the criticism and used it for advertising campaigns.

But never underestimate the ability of even somewhat progressive culture to goose the fearmongers: when it comes to perpetuating their worldview on television, extreme right-wing groups still have muscle to flex. How else to explain the fact that dozens of major companies promptly pulled their ads from TLC's innocuous new reality show All-American Muslim, thanks to an extremist Christian group's concern about its depiction of the titular citizens living normal lives in front of the lens?

Apparently episodes about Muslims in Dearborn, Mich., doing frothy things like planning weddings, sending their kids off to school, and occasionally facing discrimination was so offensive to the Florida Family Association (whose mission is to "educate people on what they can do to defend, protect, and promote traditional, biblical values") that this fringe group launched an energetic email campaign targeting advertisers. And according to a statement they gave the Washington Post, the campaign worked:

The FFA contends that 65 of 67 companies it has targeted have pulled their ads, including Bank of America, Campbell Soup Co., Dell, Estee Lauder, General Motors, Goodyear, Green Mountain Coffee, McDonalds, Sears, and Walmart.

This claim is disturbing, and certainly true of at least some of the listed companies, which apparently pulled out without a whiff of protest (it should be noted, however, that at least one of the companies the FFA claimed to have swayed away from advertising on the show denied it to the Post).

The reason the FFA objected to the show? It didn't show any terrorists. Really: "The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish." In perhaps one of the most poorly worded press releases I've ever encountered, the group continues, "Many situations were profiled in the show from a Muslim-tolerant perspective while avoiding the perspective that would have created Muslim conflict, thereby contradicting The Learning Channel’s agenda to inaccurately portray Muslims in America." Umm, what? With fail-proof logic like this, it's obvious why dozens of advertisers agreed to pull their advertising — not.

In fact, the inarticulate, illogical, and at-base bigoted campaign makes it all the more shameful that any of the listed companies even considered bowing to such pathetic pressure. But Jennifer L. Pozner, author of Reality Bites Back, the definitive book on the politics of reality TV, says this move on the part of advertisers is totally unsurprising because of the unhealthy relationship between corporations and the content of much of the reality TV genre and TV in general.

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