For many years, I thought one of the world's great mysteries was why so many people watched sitcoms on television. They were *so* lame, *so* obvious, and pretty much all the same. (It must be because everyone in the world was dumb and I was smart, right?) That is, I did until I read David Foster Wallace's essay "E unibus pluram : television and U.S. fiction" from A supposedly fun thing I'll never do again which, among other things, suggested that people watch sitcoms because they are reassuring. Bland and reassuring, filling but not nutritious, sitcoms are a form of comfort food.
And after many years, I now watch a sitcom: Little Mosque on the Prairie. Furthermore, I am really enjoying it. I find the humour very gentle. Sure, it isn't the funniest program on television but sometimes the funniest doesn't mean the best. And while the show is safe and reassuring (because it's a sitcom) its jokes and situations are less predictable than normal fare because its subject matter. For example, I was unaware that arguing when Ramadan exactly begins is a tradition (a tradition in the way that how my parents always argue about the size and shape of the Christmas tree is a tradition). And while not edgy, Little Mosque has moments of bittersweetness, like in the first episode when the minister admits that he's renting his church out as a Mosque because he needs the money since his congregation is dwindling. Episode two ends with the local imam asking two sides of a dispute if they are happy with his suggestion for compromise. When both sides say no, he says sarcastically, "neither side is happy. A perfect Muslim solution". Another reason why I think Little Mosque on the Prairie works as a sitcom is that all sitcoms deal with gross misunderstandings, place their characters in outrageous situations, and normal is only hair's breath away from descending into chaos - just like being a Muslim in today's world.
I watch Little Mosque because I enjoy it - not because I think its good for me. But I do think it could be good for me. Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink suggests that seeing only negative images of a particular group of people can add to one's implicit racism. He also suggests that exposure to positive images of the same group may be able counter-act this tendency.
(Ha! I was just about to make the connection between exporting Little Mosque on the Prairie to the rest of the world in light of yesterday's post at Spacing Wire but it appears that someone has beaten me to it in their comments section.)