WHICH RACY reality TV show is the most dangerous to traditional American family values? A) “Teen Moms,’’ which follows teenagers as they raise babies out of wedlock or give them up for adoption; B) The “Bad Girl’s Club,’’ which chronicles self-described “bad girls’’ in a Las Vegas mansion; C) “Temptation Island,’’ which features couples struggling to remain faithful as attractive strangers proposition them in exotic locales; or D) “All-American Muslim,’’ which follows Muslim families in Dearborn, Mich., through the travails of everyday life.
The answer is D, according to the little-known evangelical group called the Florida Family Association which aimed an e-mail invective against the Muslim reality show to force advertisers to pull their ads. The reason? Quite simply, because the show portrays Muslims too positively.
The group’s founder is David Caton, a 55-year-old former accountant who has organized protests of Playboy magazine sales and teen television shows that tell kids it’s OK to be gay. Caton complains that the Muslim show, which premiered last month on TLC, “is propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law.’’ He complains that the show fails to mention jihad or honor killings and only profiles “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.’’
So Caton’s big problem with the show is that it doesn’t conform to his own negative stereotypes of Muslims. That’s like picketing “The Cosby Show’’ because none of the characters are portrayed as crack addicts or prostitutes. Actually, it’s worse. “All-American Muslim’’ is reality. Are the show’s producers really to blame if its characters - who include a football coach and a cop - don’t murder their sisters or daughters in honor killings? Caton also complains that the show doesn’t deal with tough issues of women’s rights, such as a woman’s refusal to wear a headscarf. Except that the show does deal with that exact issue. It seems clear that Caton has hardly watched the program he is so vehemently protesting.
The views of the Florida Family Association - which operates out of a Tampa PO box and has a budget of about $172,000 per year - would hardly matter if it were not for the fact that Lowe’s, one of the largest home improvement retailers in America, pulled its ads because of the group’s email campaign. Lowe’s deserves credit for admitting the truth. It also deserves the backlash it is getting now because of its bow to bigotry.
Caton boasts that dozens of other companies, including Home Depot and alcohol supplier Pernod Ricard, quietly dropped their ads because of his campaign. But it is far from clear whether his claims are true. Home Depot insists it never purchased ads - it says one ran by mistake - while Pernod Ricard says it made its ad-buying decisions months ago, and that it never planned to run additional ads.
Meanwhile, Caton is getting what he must have wanted all along: 15 minutes of fame. Thankfully, much of the coverage of his cause has been negative. In an odd twist, Caton briefly shut down his Web site and announced that hackers attacked it. “Because we urge others to be vigilant, we become the targets.’’ It is hard to muster sympathy.