If you know me, you know that I loathe most reality television. What started out as a deep fascination several years ago (given my enjoyment of sociological studies) has turned into deep disdain, as numerous platforms take advantage of those seeking to be adored by the public in an effort to fill some sort of personal void. There's something very predatory about the form, which tempts individuals who seemingly repeat the Meredith Grey/Grey's Anatomy Season 2 mantra: "Pick me. Choose me. Love me." (Full disclosure: those who know me also know that I may repeat that mantra myself. May. Just not in front of the cameras.)
Therefore, it should come as a surprise that I am grateful for reality star Farrah Abraham of MTV's Teen Mom. Now, let's note that this should not serve as an endorsement of her lifestyle or values system. I have no comment on the choices that she has made or the circumstances in which she has found herself. It is not my place to judge, to assess if she's turned lemons into lemonade or vice versa. But, rather than being grateful for her specifically, I am grateful for what she represents to the mainstream American public.
There is a deep fascination with Ms. Abraham in this tabloid culture of ours. I cannot speak to the reasons why, exactly. But, her name has consistently been in the headlines, with her New York Times bestselling book My Teenage Dream Ended and the release of her porn film Backdoor Teen Mom with Lindsay Lohan's Canyons costar James Deen (not to mention the daily breakdowns of her plastic surgeries in the gossip blogosphere). She is a major cultural figure, whether one likes it or not. And, while she has not, to my knowledge, embraced her paternal Arab heritage, her Arab name is undoubtedly penetrating the collective American conscience. That is why I embrace her.
By her very nature, Ms. Abraham presents a 180 degree difference from the stereotypical extremist that comes to mind when the word Arab is uttered in the United States. Through her presence on the national (and international) stage, she is telling people that Arab blood does not necessitate a specific behavioral pattern. That is doubtfully her intent, but it is the product of the formula that combines her name, her actions, and her exposure.
If people begin to understand through a certain amount of media osmosis that a person of Arab lineage can be one of two personality types on either end of the spectrum, then the hope is that they will also be able to fill in the rest. The hope is that there will be a stronger understanding of the diversity that can be found within the Arab community. To draw a comparison with another once (and arguably still so) racially marginalized group: members of the Real Housewives of Atlanta present a stark contrast to those of the Black Panther Party, which was in existence from 1966 to 1982. And, we can naturally place the fictional (but very real in presentation) Huxtable Family of The Cosby Show somewhere in between. It's time for more to comprehend that the same is true for Arabs. For every radical Arab supremacist, there is another enjoying some hanky panky for the enjoyment of the world and her bank account. With both archetypes present now, there is a void left in which Arabs should place their own version of the moderate Huxtables, the types one is likely to meet on a daily basis.
So, I step back with thanks to the masterminds behind reality television, to MTV, and to Ms. Abraham -- if only for a moment -- with acknowledgment of how catalysts for social change can be found in the seemingly most unlikely of places.
Follow Faisal Al-Juburi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/faisalNYC