I recently read an article at BBC about their new show Citizen Khan (probably an unexplored connection to the classic Welles’ film) about a “modern Asian family”. See Wikipedia for a plot synopsis. Here’s a clip from the show. Watch the clip.
This clip is the first scene of the first episode. A careful viewer will notice a Pakistani flag, a hookah in the background. Needless to say this show may be using stereotypes of Muslims (or at least Pakistani Muslims). For instance, the first (bad) joke of the show is that Mr. Khan is cheap (a Muslim stereotype?). If you watch more of the first episode, there is a joke that has a punchline due to the fact that the new guy at the mosque is Somalian (lol Somalians). There has been an extensive outpouring of complaints from various Muslim communities across the UK (see this BBC article).
As the BBC article suggests, the easiest defense of this show is that it is just another lazy family sitcom. This is a common sort of argument in the comic world, “it may be offensive, it may be racist, it may be sexist, but that’s ok because it wasn’t funny”. It’s as if the largest sin is that it’s not funny. I have been thinking about these issues a lot recently being deeply interested in the Daniel Tosh’s rape-joke controversy and recently being rebuked for my use of the word “nigger” in a satirical Facebook post (see this post for the spark that started the Tosh Rape-Joke discussion in comedy). I’m all about using comedy to point out the absurdities of power structures: “Satire is traditionally the weapon of the powerless against the powerful” (see this article for the source of the quote and a discussion of feminism vs. comedy), so when shows like this scoot along because they’re benignly unfunny, I am bothered.
But then, some Muslim’s like this show (after all, the target audience is British Muslims) just like some African American’s like The House of Payne (this might not be fair since I’ve never seen a single episode of the show). Is it ok then? What does it mean then, that shows like this are for Muslims? Do British Muslims not find Monty Python funny? I think the absurdity I’m trying to point out is portrayed better than I could ever put it in Albert Brook’s Looking for Comedy in the Muslim World (see Wikipedia for plot synopsis). In the film, Brooks is approached about doing a sitcom “That Darn Jew” (the way the scene is cut here makes it seem not funny, but in the context of the whole film it’s hilarious) because there is nothing funnier for Muslims than Jew jokes.
I guess then the question is: what does it mean that the synopsis of Khan is that the family is “asian” (Pakistani)? What does it mean that we have shows in the US like All-American Muslim? Is it ok? Are Muslims cheap? Do they hate Jews? I hope you enjoyed laughing (ironic laughter?) at Citizen Khan.