By Ayse Hunt
Here at Roosevelt, we have so many amazing platforms for expression. This blog, the Roosevelt News, and Creative Arts Quarterly are just a few of the ways that students can express their thoughts and opinions. Rider TV is another avenue for expression we have here at Roosevelt—and it is one of my personal favorites. One of my favorite episodes was from Season 1, when James Leroux is jumping on tables while playing the saxophone solo from “Careless Whisper” and making everyone around him giggly and uncomfortable (If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend checking it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TNNy-mmsL6E )
I was, however, disappointed in Rider TV’s latest episode that went live on the 14th. My main issue with the episode was the opening sketch.*
The viewer is greeted with the words “ISLAMICA: Similarities between the Islamic and the United States”. I think it is worth noting that “the Islamic” does not imply the Islamic State or ISIS, but rather people who consider themselves Muslim. From the note at the bottom, saying “from deep inside the ISIS compound”, we can see that the comparison was intended to be between ISIS and the U.S. There is a massive difference between ISIS and the Muslim population as a whole, as I’m sure the producers of Rider TV are aware, and I would have liked to see that difference made explicit in the sketch.
The next image on the screen is that of three shirtless actors—because people in the Middle East apparently don’t wear shirts—pretending to be members of ISIS. They begin listing events on a timeline; some of the events are key points in the creation of ISIS, while others are various moments from the lives of a select group of Roosevelt students. While all of the comparisons completely undermine the gravity of the situation with ISIS, the one that stood out to me from the others:
[ISIS Member #1] “2002, Claire Prestbo shits her pants while in kindergarten class.”
[ISIS Member #2] “In the same year, 166 are killed by Pakistani rebels in Mumbai”
I did research on this attack, and the only terrorist attack I found record of in Mumbai during 2002 was a bus bombing that killed 2 people and wounded around 50 others, which is catastrophic in its own right. It’s possible that Rider TV was referencing the tragic 2008 bombings that killed around 170 (I saw death toll estimates anywhere from 162 to 174, depending on the source). The fact that it is unclear which terrorist attack was intended to be the butt of the joke illustrates my biggest problem with the whole sketch—for many, the situation with ISIS is a matter of life and death and not something to be taken lightly. These terrorist attacks that have made into the punchline of this sketch have killed countless civilians over the years. Making jokes about the deaths of innocent people in light of recent conflict is something that is intentionally offensive, I would be shocked if Rider TV made jokes about the school shooting that took place last month in Marysville, and I fail to see how making jokes about the death of people in the Middle East is any different.
The second part of the sketch has two of the “ISIS members” comparing extremism in the Middle East with so-called extremism in the U.S. You can see a screen shot of the images that were shown to demonstrate each kind of extremism below. Pictures of Lady Gaga compared with a depiction of civilians held at gunpoint, an image of an obese man eating an extremely large cheeseburger compared with a photo of armed members of a terrorist group. When this scene was shown during my third period class, there was no laughter. There was awkward shifting in chairs and the widening of eyes as we all seemed to be asking ourselves, “What are we watching?”
I get that Rider TV was trying to juxtapose some trivial aspects of our lives with the gravity of the situation in the Middle East for a witty affect, but I found the jokes offensive, and not in a funny way. There is a fine line between finding light in the midst of tragedy through satire and making fun of a humanitarian crisis in an inappropriate way.
It’s troubling to me that this episode reached the audience it did seemingly without self-reflection. I would hope that the producers behind Rider TV would watch something like the “ISLAMICA” clip and ask themselves whether the jokes are in poor taste or just simply inapt for a TV show that is backed by ASR and Roosevelt.
I can only speak for myself, but moving forward I hope to see Rider TV apologize for this misstep, or at the very least ensure that sketches of this nature don’t get a green light in the future.
*In the interest of full disclosure, I feel that I should share that my mom’s family is Muslim and that I was raised according to Islamic values. I have experienced ignorance before, including being asked if my grandparents are part of Al-Qaida and things of that nature. This issue is particular offensive to me for this reason.