I'm slowly being dragged back into TV. It sucks. It really does. And yet it doesn't. I suppose I'll only completely freak out the first time I start flipping through the channels.
Watched a show called 30 Days. Long story short, the author of Supersize Me finds the epitome of some cultural group and sticks 'em with a group they tend to vilify/demonize/dislike for a month. Jon Stewart noted that reality TV, in it's current form, generally consists of pitting extremes against each other. In 30 Days, the targets are normal people, relative centrists, iconic archtypes.
The first show, the one I watched, involved placing a fundamentalists, flag-waving thirty three year-old Christian into a Muslim family for four weeks.
David was searched for the first time ever while wearing his new Muslim garb in the airport on his departure flight. David had never been stopped in the airport for anything during his regular trips.
Once he arrived, his prime obstacle seemed to be how to approach the stay with an eye toward learning and not pissing off Jesus at the same time. What was he being asked to recite in Arabic? Was he unknowingly condeming his God or his country? Reasonable concerns if you're religious.
David -- who is about 6'2" -- fights off a panic attack during his first visit to the mosque.
Some of the best parts revolved around the Chrisitan realizing that his host family took their faith a bit more seriously than he took his own.
At one point the imam (Mulsim priest, for lack of a more verbose explanation) gently asked if David would shift his seating position. The soles of David's shoes were facing the imam who noted that in the house of god, utmost respect should be given. When this was explained, David had a look on his face that I interpreted as "I can't believe I'm being instructed on reverence to god by a Muslim..."
During another scene he commented on the emotional state of the worshippers after prayer and mentions that the group was notably moved by their worship, presumably in contrast to the "let's get this over with" scene one normally finds in your average western church. Don't give me any shit about that comment. I've been to plenty of churches. If you're lucky, 50% of the audience looks like they want to be there.
Roughly three weeks into his stay, Dave was asked to collect signatures for a petition asking for an end to Middle Eastern racial profiling by the local police. In keeping with the Muslim rules, David had grown a beard. He's also wearing a skullcap and the traditional male attire. Most people reject him, keep walking or in the case of one woman, asks him to not upset people with his petition. The cultural equivalent of being woken up at 4AM by your toddler's newfound discovery of the pots and pans, I suppose.
The ending was anticlimatic and remarkable at the same time. It's both impossible to not see a dramatic shift out of David after living in Muslim shoes for a few weeks, remarkable because if a Red State fundamentalist Christian could stick with it and emerge a better human being by realizing that his hosts are more than caricatures, anyone can.
One of the last scenes is David explaining how the term "jihad" is distorted and severely misunderstood by the western mind, and that it really means a kind of personal striving. [paraphrased from memory:]
"So ...in a way, you're on a jihad now?"
"Oh yeah. Definitely on a jihad."
I wonder what Dave would have said a month ago if you told him these are the things he'd be saying today.
Next week they're making a U.S. Marine the roommate of a gay man in San Francisco's Castro district. Can't fucking wait.