Is Mandvi the new Cosby?

As a Desi child of the 80s, television in our household growing up included news with Peter Jennings, PBS shows and The Cosby Show. Think about it – as an immigrant Bangladeshi family during the First Wave (post-1965), my parents (and their community) were drawn to shows like NOVA and Jacques Cousteau to teach them about the sciences. They counted on Peter Jennings to get the news. It was their connection to assimilating and learning about their place in the world.

And The Cosby Show, well the Cosby family showed us how to be the proper brown American. It was a halal show with none of that kissing-shmissing thing that you’d see on the other television shows, except of course what happened between Cliff and Claire, and in our house my parents would have the remote in hand to change the channel as soon as kissing came on the screen. Seriously. This was how I learned to be an American – affection-less and model minority-ed (kidding, kind of).

Maybe, as Katie Couric suggested, all the Muslim community needs is a sitcom showing the quintessential model minority Muslim family. Just like The Cosby Show. Maybe the The Qu’osby Show. Aasif Mandvi takes a stab at creating a pilot episode and it’s blowing up the air waves on The Daily Show.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Allah in the Family
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Is that all we need, Katie? A television show to make racist people think that Muslims are less scary? There are two ways to look at this. First, despite all the “post racial narrative” that The Cosby Show put out there, at the end of the day we now have Tyler Perry shows on the CW with minstrel level scripts and C-level comedy. And, oh yeah, racism against Black people still exists 30 years after The Cosby Show first started.

The second, we already have Muslims on television. Remember the sitcom Aliens in America? The show about a Muslim Pakistani exchange student dropped into the middle of the nation and knee slapping comedic antics ensued? That show was heralded by the Muslim community as the show that was going to build bridges and make the rest of America think that Muslims belonged. It lasted…one season. We now have Outsourced with a diverse cast of Desi characters (including a hijabi!) and I know we all have mixed feelings on that.

Muslims are every where. There is of course, Aasif Mandvi from the above clip. Big time comedian Aziz Ansari is on Parks and Recreations and was raised in a Muslim home. There’s Danny Pudi on the show Community who plays a Muslim eccentric character. The biggest musical TV show of all time Glee has the Karachi-born Muslim Principal Figgins. Dave Chappelle had a few seasons under his belt (he converted in 1998) and remember Oprah’s favorite doctor, Dr. Oz of The Dr. Oz Show? He’s a Turkish-American Muslim. Can you imagine what the audience of the pilot screening would think if they found out that Muslims were indeed everywhere?

The sad thing is, though we find the above clip hilarious in all its irony, there’s a good segment of the population that just won’t get it. Like the ones in the clip watching the pilot. But maybe that would be the beauty in a show like this if it actually made it into a season. With Aasif at the helm, it’s a show I’d totally be down for. Get that man some chai flavored pudding pops. Watch the whole pilot 5:25 below, it’s really astute. Wish it were a full 30 minute episode.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Exclusive – The Qu’osby Show – The Pilot
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire BlogThe Daily Show on Facebook

Now, my question is, where can one get a bottle of that Pork Juice? I need to keep it around as a prop, just in case.

This entry was posted in Arts and Entertainment, TV, Video by Taz. Bookmark the permalink.

About Taz

Taz is an activist, organizer and writer based in California. She is the founder of South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), curates MutinousMindState.tumblr.com and blogs at TazzyStar.blogspot.com. Follow her at twitter.com/tazzystar

17 thoughts on “Is Mandvi the new Cosby?

  1. I love Aasif Mandvi. He has a self-effacing humor, and he humanizes Islamic-Americans very effectively. He’s pretty funny, but not necessarily my favorite character on The Daily Show.

  2. I am a big fan of Aasif Mandvi too!

    Has anyone watched the Canadian show Little Mosque on the Prairie? I think that show does a great job of portraying Muslims as “normal” people and breaks a lot of stereotypes.

  3. I know that The Cosby Show played a huge role in making me feel “normal” in a desi-American context. I wish there was a Cosby show on air right now, because, anecdotally, this new post-Cosby generation seems more racist. However people may feel about it, media portrayals of “other” cultures do affect our perception of them. I mean, duh. How often have children of the second wave gotten the Apu accent at school?

  4. Also what about Aziz Ansari? Does he get Cosby status? Or is he too wacky/hip-hop in his roles and stand-up….

  5. Television has no real, lasting effect on attitudes. I grew up in the 80′s too, watched The Cosby Show, listened to boot-leg copies of Eddie Murphy’s “Delirious” until I had it memorized, and did not know that “Walk This Way” was first recorded by Aerosmith, not Run-DMC. But what mattered more in my case was learning from personal experience. So, having one good black friend in high school, a black roommate while subletting an apartment one summer, and a bougie black girlfriend during those wild and crazy 90s mattered more than what was written down at a writers’ table of The Cosby Show. I had a black woman as a dentist who did good work, and a black eye doctor who loved gadgets too much to notice that he scratched my cornea during an exam. Been mugged by a black guy in DC, been hit with rocks by black kids in Evanston, and was warned of the dangers of some rough neighborhoods by homeless black guys in Chicago (“Where’s your bodyguard, boy? You shouldn’t be out here this late.”). You learn that each person, while sharing superficial similarities, will have to be judged on their own, as exhausting as that can get.

    There is also the matter of a disconnect between what people see on TV, and what they interact with in real life. Yes, The Cosby Show did introduce a black, middle class family to people who did not know that such things existed. But, when they rode the subway to work, they would not see such characters sitting next to them. A Korean shopkeeper during the L.A. Riots is not going to be thinking about Bill Cosby when he sees a mob comprised mostly of black people heading towards his store. Black people experience the same thing. They may have loved Bill Clinton when he was president, but during the campaign of 2008, they did not care for the way he campaigned for Hillary. Television is filled with images of heroic cops, but black people’s experiences with the police don’t often match the images on TV.

    Sorry, but more positive portrayals of Muslim characters on television are unlikely to have an effect. As Mandvi discovered in his focus group, the images they saw on the fictional show do not jive with what they see on TV or believe in their hearts. Only until they interact with Muslims in their everyday lives will their attitudes change.

    Secondly, such people do not draw a distinction between Muslims in the U.S., and Muslims from overseas. So while there is a great deal of turmoil in the Arab Muslim Middle East right now, a Muslim from Bangladesh or India may not be the best source of information on what is going on there. Indeed, with Muslims from South Asia comprising the largest segment of immigrant Muslims – there is going to be an increasing disconnect between the Muslim experience in the U.S., and the coverage of events on the news. Picture a well-meaning guy entering a convenience store, and while buying some candy tries to make small talk such as, “I hope all this Muslim unrest is not affecting your family back home.”, and is answered with, “Well, my family is from Bangladesh.”

    Personally, I like the fact that the characters that Aziz Ansari and Danny Pudi play acknowledge their Muslim background, but it is not a big deal for either them or the other characters (except for Pierce on Community). And I have to give NBC credit on Outsourced – what started as a rather “meh” show has improved a lot. The dialogue is a lot more rapid fire, and they have moved away from simple culture clash comedy to character driven comedy. From singing a perfect rendition of The Bangles “Eternal Flame” to the ins and outs of boarding a train, the show is a respectable B.

  6. I see your point about personal experience being more important in shaping attitudes. This is such a complex and provocative issue…

    I’m still not convinced that shows like Cosby don’t matter. What if you live in an area where the black middle class is not very visible? We’re bombarded with so many negative stereotypes in the media that its difficult not to develop some kind of bias. Still, I do believe people like Neil DeGrasse Tyson are far more effective as role models than any fictional middle-class family can be.

    Another thing: Aasif Mandvi seems to be the only Muslim-American media personality that is engaging Muslim-American issues (correct me if I’m wrong). If we look at the period immediately after the civil rights movement for African-Americans as a rough analogue for the post-911 Muslim experience (not a perfect analogy by any means, sure) then I think the dialogue was far more robust and candid in those days. Check out this conversation between Sammy Davis Jr. and Muhammad Ali:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U_Yxs74pEdA

    Here’s a black host and a black guest discussing black issues in front of a mixed audience.

    I recognize that being neither Muslim nor black, I can’t really speak with authority on the Black experience or the Muslim one. I can only extrapolate based on where the Black or Muslim identities intersect with my own, so I’m sorry if I seem presumptuous. I do not wish to offend.

    BTdubs, I agree that Outsourced has gotten MUCH better, though the most recent episode was more cringe-inducing than usual.

  7. @Neil Bhatt,

    No way this generation is more racist. As Americans become more inter-racial and get mixed up like a Cold Stone Creamery dessert, the society becomes increasingly color blind.

    Perhaps things will never change in the deep south, so be it. I expect those places to get further left behind as the world economy becomes globalized. The schism between rich and poor will increase in linear fashion to the schism between educated and uneducated.

    Urban America, whether it be Cleveland or New York City, is increasingly looking and acting similar.

    USA, USA, USA.

  8. @ KXB I agree with that last point of yours. We can’t really have a show about a typical Muslim family and expect it to have any positive impact unless it helps clarify the complexity surrounding the term Muslim in some way. I mean, if we have a show about a ‘brown’ Muslim family (assuming that for the sake of simplicity that we must very broadly and inaccurately group together brown Muslims from both the east and west of south asia) , then we should have a another one about a black Muslim family, and another of a white Muslim family, and yet another about an east asian Muslim family. Then the issue becomes, which type of Muslim are we trying to push forward as the ‘face’ of Muslim Americans? The fact of the matter is that we’d only be propagating more stereotypes about Muslims by having a show like ‘Allah in the Family’. I’m not saying that the show would not be entertaining, in fact I think that this is the sort of thing that can gradually pave the way for more understanding and deliver a few good laughs along the way.

  9. Funny enough, I kind of thought this parody of a Cosby show was pretty much the point of Mandvi’s recent feature film “Daily Special”. There is really a sliver of a plot there, but the film exposes the audience to an ordinary South Asian Muslim family. I found myself wishing that it had wider distribution, and then thought of the Cosby show’s role in 1980′s culture. Aside from race, the Cosby show acted as a window to an upper middle class black family, which many Americans had no exposure to. Most Americans linked race with poverty, and this show had a serious role in breaking those issues apart. I feel that if Mandvi could write a show with some edginess and humor (not satire) it might really be helpful. His test audience sort of hinted at that, though their suggestions are based on their own stereotypes. FYI there is another show in Canada that has a very similar aim. Little Mosque on the Prairie. Not great TV but a very interesting try.

  10. Haha, you know it would be fairly neat to see the equivalent of a Cosby show- but with actual reference to cultural differences/behaviour differences and the troubles and fun of assimilating/ adapting them to American lifestyles/customs/society.

    At least..then the younger ones could have some sort of positive role models, especially for first-generations, that defeat the typical stereotypes of being either Muslim or just South Asian in the States.

    But I do agree, that if the audience is like that pilot audience, it probably would miss. Again.

  11. Growing up as a desi kid in an all white community in the 80s and 90s to the strictest parents ever- the Cosby show was one of the only shows I was actually allowed to watch.

    Yet the Cosby’s blend into american society pretty well, and many could argue the show is pretty “whitewashed.” (Which seems to be Mandvi’s point in his parody). There weren’t many episodes where their problems were around their race. You hardly saw anyone interact with them outside their house. Which raises the ever important question- Do you have to act white to fit into American society?

    My problems as a brown kid were things like- explaining to people why my dad wears a turban, how to pronounce my name, and why does my house always smell kinda funny?

    Don’t get me wrong, I loved the Cosby’s but it definitely didn’t make me feel normal, or help me assimilate as a brown kid in a white world.

  12. ” Do you have to act white to fit into American society?”

    radical, You have to act by the subscribed norms of any society to fit in. For the country club set act like carlton banks and master your hybrid clubs. If you want to get in the horse crowd get in good at Santa Anita.

    How do you define American society?

    Is it broad and multicultural, old school WASP?

    That will define what you have to do to fit in.

  13. I came across your site by accident and I’m glad I stumbled in.

    One poster mentioned the post-Cosby show era as perhaps being a bit more racist than one would think. An ironic statement, but full of truth I believe, considering the United States has it’s first African American president.

    I think part of what we’re witnessing is the fact that white americans are soon to become a minority in the United States. While many see this as just a natural progression of shifting demographics, many do not and see the loss of white privilege and status as racial majority as something they can not and will not stomach.

    While it took just a few generations for the Irish, Italians, Jews, Greeks and other ethnic groups to assimilate into America and be considered White, it was easier to stomach, get used to, and move on, because of skin color.

    Once you toss in brown skin, a different religion (and even if you’re Christian, you’re still considered different) and different ethnicities (try explaining or asking the average American what the difference between an Iranian and Iraqi citizen) and it’s just too much for them to deal with.

    People change because they truly want to. I don’t believe a TV show honestly changes what’s in a persons heart. Besides which, not every person of color wants to wear sweaters or follow the template laid out by the Cosby Show. I haven’t watched Outsourced; the few promos I did catch only made me shake my head and wonder who on earth came up with such a show and why.

    It’s a tough issue that no one has put in the arena for public discussion so far. But I think blogs and forums such as yours at least have presence and help to get the ball rolling.

  14. “Perhaps things will never change in the deep south, so be it. I expect those places to get further left behind as the world economy becomes globalized. The schism between rich and poor will increase in linear fashion to the schism between educated and uneducated.”

    Racism is alive and well in the North just as it is in the South, it just manifests differently. To put the blame of racism squarely on the shoulders of Southern whites absolves the daily and toxic racism that occurs in the North by Nothern whites. Do we really need to talk about the numerous unarmed black men shot in the back by NYPD?

    Come on down to the deep South sometime…things have changed a lot.