A nationwide protest Saturday against Lowe’s Home Improvement stores is standing the notion of advertiser boycotts on its head.
Such boycotts generally punish advertisers for supporting negative programming, but the protests in Dearborn, Mich., and from Maryland to San Diego, seek to protest the decision by Lowe’s to pull its ads from a TV show, “All American Muslim,” whose message was essentially positive.
An inter-denominational group of Detroit-area faith leaders plans to picket Lowe’s Saturday in Dearborn, which has a large Arab-American population and is the location of the reality TV show. At a protest Friday in Paterson, New Jersey, protesters held signs that said "Don't Appease Hate Mongers" and "Discrimination is Low, Lowe's.”
"Most of the time, people are asking buyers to boycott stores that advertise on shows with negative portrayals of something,” said Robert Thompson, founder of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University in New York. “Here, they’re doing it for a positive portrayal.”
The reality show, which has appeared nationally on the TLC Network since its debut in mid-November, chronicles the daily lives of a group of Muslims in Dearborn.
But after pressure from the Florida Family Association (FFA), a Tampa, Florida-based organization that reportedly consists of its one founding member, David Caton, and is unaffiliated with any national organization, Lowe’s pulled its ads from the show. The FFA’s complaint? That the show exists primarily to normalize Americans’ views of Muslims, who in the FFA’s view, are dangerous.
“The Learning Channel's new show, All-American Muslim is propaganda clearly designed to counter legitimate and present-day concerns about many Muslims who are advancing Islamic fundamentalism and Sharia law,” says a statement at the FFA website. “The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.”
Several analysts say that although the FFA is appealing to base instincts of fear and hatred, the entire controversy has a brighter side.
“It is clear to anyone with a rational mind that a show like ‘All-American Muslim’ is helpful to our society, because it shows that Muslims living in America are as American as any other religious or ethnic group,” says Fordham University communications professor Paul Levinson, author of “New New Media,” in an email.
“Lowe's decision to kowtow to The Florida Family Association is disgraceful,” he says. “But the silver lining is that this cowardly act will only bring more attention to the ‘All-American Muslim’ show that the Florida Family Association wants to banish – and this increase in attention is good for all Americans."
“These are really, basic, ordinary people living ordinary lives like Jews, Baptists, Presbyterians and all the rest,” he says. “It seems misguided to me that this is a reason for concern.”
Even as protesters heap criticism on Lowes for abandoning the show, the program is not universally embraced by the Muslim community itself, though it defends it on principle.
Dawud Walid, Michigan director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says many Muslims fault the portrayals on the show because its focus is limited to five families, all Lebanese Shia Muslims.
“Muslims complain to me that these five families are not diverse enough, and also that they have scenes of nightclubs which sell liquor, which is counter to normal Islamic teachings,” says Walid.
The outpouring of support for the show, he continues, “is not to be construed as an endorsement of these families on the show, but rather the bigger principle that to capitulate to the extremist arguments of the FFA is just wrong-headed.”
Participants in the Dearborn protest Saturday include the NAACP, the National Action Network, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and People for the American Way Foundation. The Rev. Charles Williams II, pastor of King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit, will speak for The African American Ministers Leadership Council.
“We cannot support people that support corporations that produce and buy into this kind of hate and bigotry,” says Williams. He compares the need to stand up and say “no” today to the early civil rights protesters who went into prohibited restaurants, sat at lunch counters, and ordered food.
“I, as a Christian Baptist minister, believe it is more important to stand in unity and solidarity with brothers and sisters of the Muslim faith rather than in silence and consent with this.”