In his Defense of Poetry, Shelley famously declared poets the "unacknowledged legislators of the world". Today, those most able to lay claim to the mantle of behind-the-scenes leadership of the world would be filmmakers rather than poets.
Hence the importance of popular culture. Whether or not one approves of this state of affairs, you can be sure that "The Cosby Show" had more impact on racial attitudes than every enlightened book, article or sermon of its time combined. Some would argue that its legacy there is mixed (e.g., Sut Jhally & Justin Lewis’ fascinating media study Enlightened Racism: The Cosby Show, Audiences, and the Myth of the American Dream), but that’s another discussion. Its influence on popular attitudes as arguably the first major unambiguously positive portrayal of an African-American family in TV history in simply beyond question.
It gets progressively harder to hate or stereotype as you watch heartwarming stories of another group that remind you of their humanity, however much they may differ from you. I’m sure that many a raging gay-basher has been slowly been dragged in spite of his best efforts to a more balanced and compassionate view of gays by daily exposure to sitcoms like "Will & Grace".
So the groundbreaking new Canadian sitcom "Little Mosque on the Prairie" is cause for celebration for Muslims and all people who value tolerance and peace in North America. Its creator is Zarqa Nawaz, who made a gem of a documentary a few years back called "Me and the Mosque" .
I’ve watched it and was very impressed. It’s such a breath of fresh air on multiple levels.
And you can be sure that the Muslim-bashing crowd is watching this series’ reception with baited breath. Were a show like this to be a big hit, it would be a disaster for their agenda and the lazy sound-bytes it depends on to sound reasonable. As anyone who tried to shout down "Fahrenheit 9/11" or "The Da Vinci Code " knows, the conventional means of manufacturing consent (a crucial component of which is discrediting your political opponents through negative portrayals in other arenas, such as pop culture) are quite useless against pop culture juggernauts.
Hurry and catch it before it gets yanked off YouTube.
Exciting things happening up north. As usual, when it comes to open debate and multiculturalism, Canada is leading the way in North America.
Will continue on this topic later.
Update (2007-01-13) – A few stylistic tweaks.