NOTE: UPDATE BELOW, ON DEC. 16
Lowe’s this week backed out as an advertiser on the TLC network’s superior reality TV show, “All-American Muslim,” which follows the lives of five Muslim American families in Dearborn, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit that’s home to the largest Mulsim population in the U.S.
I visited Dearborn when I attended the 2011 convention in Detroit of the Asian American Journalists Association and was impressed with the palpable sense of community among the Muslims. We spent time at the Arab American National Museum, and felt the same sense of cultural pride alongside patriotism for accomplishments as Americans that I feel whenever I visit the Japanese American National Museum in LA.
Muslims are misunderstood by a lot of Americans who confuse anyone who’s Muslim with being a terrorist or the enemy we’ve been fighting in parts of the Middle East. That specter of hate also reminds me of Japanese Americans, and the blanket condemnation JAs faced after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, even though many of them were loyal to the United States.
I understand that Lowe’s was concerned because the show became what they called a “lightning rod” for “strong political and societal views” — the words they used on their Facebook page to defend their decision — in the emotional debate over Muslims in America.
Here’s the company’s Facebook post about pulling the ads:
It appears that we managed to step into a hotly contested debate with strong views from virtually every angle and perspective â€“ social, political and otherwise â€“ and weâ€™ve managed to make some people very unhappy. We are sincerely sorry. We have a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion, across our workforce and our customers, and weâ€™re proud of that longstanding commitment.
Loweâ€™s has received a significant amount of communication on this program, from every perspective possible. Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lighting rod for many of those views. As a result we did pull our advertising on this program. We believe it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance.
We strongly support and respect the right of our customers, the community at large, and our employees to have different views. If we have made anyone question that commitment, we apologize.
Thank you for allowing us to further explain our position.
I applaud Lowe’s for signing up as an advertiser on the show in the first place. Someone at the company must have given the decision some thought, and mulled over the possible ramifications of backing a series that might — gasp — educate viewers on how being Muslim and being American are not mutually exclusive.
But I’m very disappointed that the company ultimately caved in to the anti-Muslim Christian right wing, and dropped the advertising when it could have taken a stand and used the controversy as a teaching moment for ignorant viewers who thought (and still think) the program promotes hatred against Christianity and the American way of life.
Instead, it’s often the critics of the show, and the many Facebook users who’ve used thinly veiled (if at all) hate language to show their approval for Lowe’s move, who are showing how bigoted and intolerant they are.
Ironically, ad spots are sold-out for the upcoming episode of “All-American Muslim.” Hip-hop producer and label owner Russell Simmons reportedly announced he’d personally buy advertising on the show, but he may not be able to squeeze in. That’s a bit of bright news in this otherwise gloomy situation.
Meanwhile, the Florida Family Association, which helped to spark the protests that led to Lowe’s pullout, is continuing to urge people to complain to other advertisers. The association says at the top of its page about the program, that “TLCâ€™s ‘All-American Muslim’ is propaganda that riskily hides the Islamic agendaâ€™s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.”
Its too bad that one network’s efforts to counter such right-wing propaganda and try to show that not all Muslims have an agenda that is a “clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values” (except of course those values are the Florida Family Association’s code for Christian values) has to become a target for economic boycott.
Since the mood of the U.S. is so polarized these days, Lowe’s — which probably honestly tries hard to be diverse and accepting — there’s a lose-lose endgame here: The right will boycott other advertisers and TLC’s programming, while those who support the show will boycott Lowe’s.
What a terrible way to mark the holiday season, one of giving and thoughts of peace for all mankind.
UPDATE Dec. 16: Travel search engine Kayak.com, another of the 65 advertisers targeted by the Florida Family Association, announced it won’t renew its advertising on “All American Muslim” when its contract runs out in January. That announcement was made on the company’s blog by its chief marketing officer, who said he felt TLC was dishonest and purposely made a show that would create conflict and controversy, and ended his explanation saying he had watched two episodes and “Mostly, I just thought the show sucked.”
This was a move by an older guy trying to sound hip. or he’s really young and incredibly immature. Kayak.com’s co-founder and CEO, Steve Hafner, updated the blog post a day later without commenting on his CMO’s language. Here’s the blog post, “We Handled This Poorly (Updated Dec 15),” with Hafner’s update at top, and the original post below it.
Also, here’s a very good post about Lowe’s decision in the context of its stated commitment to diversity by Diversity Inc. magazine, “Loweâ€™s Muslim Publicity Gaffe Serves as Case Study of What Not to Do.” DI points out that although Lowe’s leans on its commitment to diversity in its Facebook post about cancelling its ads on “All American Muslim,” there is not one mention of diversity on Lowe’s website.
The fallout’s still falling.