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'Aliens in America' Gets It Kinda Wrong
Posted Oct 1,2007

A family in Wisconsin has a nerdy, friendless teenage son. Sad! Brainstorm: Let’s host an exchange student who’ll be our son’s new buddy. Problem: The exchange organization says the kid is coming from London but he’s really from Pakistan. Wow, a Muslim lad! In school, a teacher tells Raja how angry the U.S. is with his country for 9/11. (Even though they didn’t do it.) Welcome to America, dude!

That’s the premise of Aliens in America, a sitcom that debuts tonight on the CW network. Now we like the idea: a chance to explore different cultures, open eyes, and all that kind of good stuff. Too bad the show gets so many things wrong. That’s what Pop Omnivore learned when we talked to Tamara Jazbec, a program specialist with AFS-USA Intercultural Programs for YES, the Youth Exchange and Study Program, and Kimberly King, project manager for Civilizations Exchange and Cooperation Foundation, which promotes better understanding between east and west and works with exchange students.

1.    The $500 monthly payment to the family. Hosting an exchange student is typically a volunteer act  done from the goodness of your heart.
2.    The misunderstanding about where he’s from. Exchange organizations absolutely tell hosts the  student's country of origin.
3.    Raja’s skullcap. Pakistani teenagers who attend a mosque school would wear the headgear, called a kufi, on a daily basis as a sign of respect for God. Other Pakistani boys, not so much.
4.    An uncomfortable scene when Raja drops his towel in the locker room. “I can’t even imagine,” says Kimberly King. More likely, a student from the exceedingly modest Muslim world might ask permission to leave gym class early to shower and change clothes before the other kids come to the locker room. And if a host family dad emerges from the bathroom clad in a towel, ay yi yi!

Now here are some of the real issues that may confront students who are Muslim.

1.    Daily prayer. A devout Muslim prays five times a day, including one prayer shortly after noon. The prayer is short, about five minutes. Still, where do you pray during the school day? Some schools provide a space. King’s group explains to students that, if necessary, it’s okay to postpone the noontime prayer and combine it with the late afternoon prayer.
2.    The Ramadan fast. We’re in the middle of the Muslim holiday right now, which calls for a dawn-to-dusk fast. So school lunch – what a trial! Some schools will allow Muslim exchange student to sit in the library or a classroom during lunch period.
3.    Dogs. Pakistani students aren’t used to house pets. Plus, the Muslim religion has long said if dog saliva gets on clothing, the garb becomes impure and must be washed. Ditto for hands or other body parts. This fear of slobber dates to a fear of rabies 1,400 years ago. Exchange students are told in advance that American dogs are well-groomed and clean, but it’s sometimes hard for them to overcome their canine phobia. Or their astonishment at doggy salons!

Pop Ominovore would love to hear from families who have hosted exchange students (and from the students themselves). Tell us what it was like: misunderstandings, funny anecdotes, moments of cultural bonding. Who knows, maybe it’ll spark some better plot lines for Aliens in America.

-Marc Silver

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (13)
Filed Under: Television

Comments

angel
Oct 1, 2007 9AM #

I like this show, but I have to agree with those who say the facts are completely innacurate. Not all middle eastern countries have the same cultural traits, rules, beliefs and such. This is so tipical of the American people. The same way that they always assume that everyone who speaks Spanish has the same culture, beliefs, accent, food...look into it first, people. For example, I'm tired of ignorant people assuming that all spanish speaking people are Mexicans...there's 21 Spanish speaking countries, each with a different culture, different music, different food, different beliefs, and even different words. Film makers should do their research.

Wildfred Waltzman
Oct 1, 2007 9AM #

I think this show is excellent even though it may be offensive to the muslim religion it all in for good fun. The paki is quite funny....

Mohammad
Oct 1, 2007 9AM #

Hi,

I think the producers, directors did not even bother doing some research about the character and Pakistani culture. They took an Indian guy and portrayed him as a Pakistani guy. Even then they were so wrong in every aspect. I am Pakistani and I have never seen a person whose name is Raja (this is an Indian name not Pakistani). Then he prays wrong as he does 5 sagda's and not 3. Then he wears Salwar Kameez all the time. I don't know anyone in Pakistan who wear Salwar Kameez all the time. Then Raja talks in an accent which is Indian. He also talks about how he used to smoke in Pakistan and it is common to smoke in front of your family. What the hell???? If you caught smoking in Pakistan by your parents they are going to whip your A$$. I lived in Pakistan for 22 years and never had the courage to smoke near my parents.

I think the show is total disaster and the producers, directors did not study the case and they think India, Pakistan, Oman, UAE, Afghanistan are all same (well most Americans think this way).

You want to see the real Pakistan then go to youtube and watch "George ka PAkistan".

Anna
Oct 1, 2007 9AM #

This show is very funny, yet i cant help but be offended about some of the scenes. I am offended by the 9/11 scene. There is good and bad of every race. Just because one guy (Bin Laden) was bad doesnt mean that the rest of us muslims are bad. Another scene that offended me was the salaat scene. They make it seem as if we really are weird. If people actually studied our holy book, then they will realize just how peaceful Islam really is. Also just to clear up a misunderstanding: Osama Bin Laden is arab, not paki or afghan. He immigrated there. Back to the show: All in all, despite some parts, I think the show is helping clear some misconceptions and misunderstandings about muslims.

Carol
Oct 1, 2007 9AM #

I have also watched this show 3 times, by no means is it accurate, but the reason fiction is fiction is because it isn't true. TV is 99% fiction. BUT, it still has the power to make one think, not only about the possible errors in representation of the Muslim exchange student but the mis-representations of the Americans in the show. Will people talk about it? YES. Will these discussions possibly create opportunity for education? YES. Will some family be inspired to host an exchange student? Hopefully yes!
The ALL In The Family program was stereotypical, inaccurate, yet it had the power to change viewpoints, create discussion and stimulate other television programs with a racial mix.
My parents hosted an exchange student when I was a teen, 37 years ago. My husband and I and our daughters have hosted 6 AFS students over the past 12 years. This year I am a coordinator for a group of AFS students, one is a Muslim who wears traditional headscarf and modest clothing. Each of these experiences has taught us not only about their countries and cultures but has taught us a lot about our own country, and the wide range of reactions people have to our choosing these experiences. We see all of this as tremendous opportunities to learn and grow.
Try it yourself. It is great, share what you learn and watch the "Aliens in American" show and take the opportunity to discuss and correct the mistakes in the show with your friends, family and acquaintances...what a great way to create discussion, have fun and educate too.

Francesca
Oct 1, 2007 9AM #

there's definately some parts in the show that are VERY inaccurate. the only parts i hated were when the teacher and the rest of the class were angry at Raja for "blowing up the buildings in New York". that was just retarded and i wanted to end the show that second. but then i watched it that night and it wasn't bad, it was funny (except that one part). and then when Raja dropped his towel in the locker room was so inaccurate. i know a muslim in egypt that thinks pretty girls shouldn't be allowed to smile because it's too sexual. if the show was accurate, Raja would have never done what he did in the locker room.

Michelle
Oct 1, 2007 9AM #

I'm more offended by the fact that it takes place in Wisconsin--is that the go-to state for ignorant, close-minded, racist Americans with "Fargo"-esque accents?

Cory
Oct 1, 2007 9AM #

I haven't watched the sitcom, and I don't plan to. If nothing else, I hope it inspires people to have a real life experience by actually hosting an exchange student rather than watching it on TV. That will promote understanding infinitely more than a far-fetched (or not-so-far-fetched) comedy.

Can I change the subject to a more positive note?

I went abroad on a summer program in high school and then my family hosted two years in a row - all with AFS. I have a Czech sister and a German brother in addition to my two biological siblings.
These events have had an incredible impact on my life.

The one thing that always comes to mind - something I'll never forget: The morning my brother came downstairs looking unrested and bewildered. I asked him something like, "What's the matter with you?" He said, "Oh, it's so WEIRD, Cory! (shaking his head) ...I was dreaming in ENGLISH!!"

My sister also had a smiliar experience. I found it very amusing! It took me a minute to get it, of course, since dreaming in English sounded perfectly normal to me... There certainly are some very funny moments when you mix people together!

AFS was founded on the idea that building personal relationships with people from different cultures through immersion into that culture would promote peace and understanding. It works - even when you're hosting. And it's just as relevant a concept now with today's war as it has been since 1914.

You can be a part of solution to the issues being discussed here by volunteering with AFS or a similar organization, opening your home to an exchange student, or by encouraging your kids or other kids in your community to study abroad. The return on your input is immeasurable.

I would like to hear about other positive experiences here! I know there are many stories to be told....

Tony Capuzzi
Oct 1, 2007 9AM #

Looks interesting... I think I will watch it.

ssundberg
Oct 1, 2007 9AM #

Hmmm. Is it racist to compare cultural differences ... even in a humorous light? The fact is, many Americans are culturally unaware of the world around them but that doesn't necessarily make them racist. Just uninformed or provincially ignorant. (I've lost count of the number of people who've asked, once they learn I lived in Japan for several years, if I speak Chinese. Or how life is in Singapore, where I've also worked, now that it's been given back to China.)

On the other hand, I don't find the premise of "Aliens in America" to be racist or degrading. It does provide an opportunity for Americans to realize that not all Muslims are terrorists (only the Wahabists, btw). The young actor who portrays the exchange student is not Pakistani or Muslim (he's South African), and he has spent a considerable amount of time talking with Muslims and clerics so that his portrayal is reasonably accurate.

I'm sure we all could nickpick any television or movie portrayal to find fault. Are there really families like the Bundys around? Who here has ever met an Edith Bunker in real life?

Mark Jeffries
Oct 1, 2007 9AM #

Jocelyn:

If you don't like the show, you TURN THE TV OFF AND DON'T WATCH IT!

What's your problem with the First Amendment?

Kali.Amanda
Oct 1, 2007 9AM #

They had an edgy idea that would have been hard to pull off even before 9/11. The biggest problem is that it's not only about racial identity, but also religous identity, and trying to squeeze humor out of that is more often cringe inducing. I couldn't get past the first installment.

Jocelyn
Oct 1, 2007 9AM #

I realy don't like this show it is really dumb and racist in its own way. its also very offensive, and i dont find it funny in any way, I do believe that it should be canceled immediately. THis only gives a certain image of what america is and its a horrible example. Please help me email the producers!

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