Unfair Depiction of Dearborn in Designated Survivor
October 14, 2016
Like most of you, I like to unwind at the end of a long day by watching some TV. In the summer, it may be a Tiger game. During hockey season, it’s watching the Red Wings. As a person involved in and deeply interested in politics, it may be The West Wing on DVD or House of Cards on Netflix. The other night, it was ABC’s new political thriller, Designated Survivor.
For those who haven’t seen the show or any promotions, the premise is that an attack occurs on the US Capitol during the State of the Union address and the majority of the leadership of the federal government is killed. Security protocol requires that one member of the cabinet is kept in a safe place during the address just in case such an attack takes place to ensure continuity of government leadership. Hence, the title: Designated Survivor.
In a recent episode, the city of Dearborn was portrayed as a haven of Muslim extremism, law enforcement was depicted as an evil force that brutalizes its citizens, and the Governor presented as one who believes that the Constitution does not apply to him, so he orders a crackdown under the premise that all Muslims are guilty until proven innocent. Anyone who’s spent five minutes in Dearborn knows how far-fetched that entire storyline is and I am extremely disappointed by the unremittingly hostile and unbalanced portrayal of these citizens.
I realize this is just a TV show and dramatic license is taken to heighten drama, garner viewers and, therefore, not to be taken as factual. I don’t presume to state that the show is meant to be based in reality. However, it is exploiting controversial topics and widely held stereotypes to punctuate the drama depicted in the show. I do believe that this approach serves only to reinforce such beliefs and does nothing to dampen the tensions that exist in this country surrounding these issues. While the show’s producers may not be obligated to do so, perhaps they have a responsibility?
As Free Press columnist Julie Hinds appropriately pointed out, this is not the first time Dearborn has been characterized in a negative light simply because of its large Muslim community. A more fair and accurate depiction would show how the police and Muslim community in Dearborn actively engage in dialogue which makes Dearborn a tolerant, peaceful community that celebrates its diversity.
Hollywood’s vilification of Arab character has existed since the silent film era. Jack Shaheen tackled this portrayal of Arabs as barbaric savages, greedy sheikhs, exotic belly dancers and terrorists in his book Reel Bad Arabs that later was adapted into a documentary.
Today, the most common Islamic stereotype is the “radical Muslim insurgent” determined to wage war against the West. This stereotype usually presents violence as an inseparable part of being Muslim, and the religion as a justification for violent actions. The Muslim community of Dearborn, which has had a substantial presence in that city for decades, is the perfect tonic to disprove and dismiss these silly and small minded notions.
Then you have law enforcement that are often misrepresented as existing only to target people based on race, national origin or religion, rather than behavior. This ignores the community policing and engagement activities our local law enforcement undertakes, often unreported and always uncelebrated.
Shows like this are divisive. We as a region and state cannot afford this continued divide when so many people have worked so hard for so long to educate and inform people about the truth. As leaders in this state, we must protect the safety and well-being of all citizens and not support portrayals of ethnic groups that paint a negative picture.
While television shows and movies are designed to entertain, those who produce them should take it upon themselves to also enlighten by exploring the issues of extremism and the use of force. With the discussion of these issues front and center, that’s some reality TV we could all use.
is the Mayor of Westland