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TV families as a mirror

The following entry is a jump-off from a CNN Belief Blog about TLC's reality show about Muslim families in America. You can read it here: My Take: Defending TLC’s ‘All-American Muslim’ against Muslim complaints

We're big fans of the Duggars, as I said yesterday. And Sister Wives for that matter. Not so much the midgets, the toddlers in pageants. Quints By Surprise is ok. The point being that TLC has sort of made a niche for itself with showing off quirky families.

Not that we're that quirky. Actually, Kelly and I often joke that we're really a quite traditional family setup even if we look completely non-traditional from the outside. But aren't most families like this nowadays? Gone are the days of a white suburban couple with 2 kids and a, wait. I mean, gone are the days of June Cleaver at least. No ideal of cleaning the house in pearls or soapbox derby.

Reality, in all its cable glory, is that the postmodern American family is unified in only its fragmented nature. To paraphrase the old, "each family is unhappy in its own way," the mirror that is being held up is that the idea of "family" in American culture had both expanded and fractured. The gay rights movement is a great example in trying to explain to society that families sometimes have two moms, two dads, surrogate moms, sperm donors, the like. The definition of how a family behaves and what it looks like is ever-growing.

I like to think of it as the Cosby Effect. The Cosby Show wasn't about a black family. It was about a family who happened to be black. Race wasn't the point. Family was the point.

And not to make a political point, but most of us are far less concerned with what our own family looks like and more concerned with teaching our kids a sense of right and wrong, putting food on the table, and dividing our time better between competing influences in our lives.

The backlash longing for a bygone era of 1950's white bread--Christian--stability is a direct response to this. It's the old form versus function debate.

Back to the idea of Muslim families in America...I fear our expectations of Muslim families pretty much mirrors are expectations for Muslims in general--and families in general. Do they conform to standard out-of-the-box stereotypes of fundamentalism (the Duggars are a fundamentalist of a different sort) or do we greet the variety of Muslim (or Hindu or polygamous) families with a sense of awe that humanity can keep intact the bonds of kin and household without getting stuck on what framework we use to classify the unified human need to form a network of relations. Tribe is an outdated word that perhaps we need to bring back. It can be negative as in tribal bias and warfare. But it is also the most basic organizing principle we have as civilization.

Before cities, states, kings, or democratic principles we had big, weird, extended families. Perhaps TLC is just helping us rediscover our own history?