Archives for April 2013

Apr 18

the invisible muslim.

I thought that leaving an email address up and inviting people to ask me questions would be an idea I would regret massively, but I’ve had some great email convos with people this week, so thanks for being in touch, guys. None of you are dicks! This is a question Ann sent me… and I thought I’d answer it publicly. I will try to answer questions publicly whenever I can, so if you have one… is where to get me.

“This may be a little personal, so obviously don’t answer if you don’t want to, but I think its so interesting your family is Egyptian. Is it harder for you in America with all the prejudice, especially since 9/11, or do you feel fairly unaffected by it? Just asking because I know you’re so political and involved in things.”

The short answer is no, it’s not harder for me. I mean, when it comes down to it, I’m white. No one ever looks at me and thinks I’m a terrorist, or thinks that there’s something wrong with my foundational belief system. I don’t want to speak for anyone else, and I certainly can’t speak to what it’s like to be judged and hated based on your race or religion. But yes, I’m deeply affected by it. It’s something that exists at the core of who I am and has influenced my personality and my ideology immeasurably.

There’s a much longer answer than that, though.

I went to Islamic school for a while as a kid, on Sundays. I hated waking up early, I didn’t have any friends in the classes, and I’ve never been a believer, so I wasn’t particularly psyched to go. I eventually stopped, because my mom doesn’t believe in pushing her religion on other people and that includes her kids. (She is excellent.)

I can’t even begin to tell you how grateful I am, now, that I went to those classes. Because I know, down to my bones, that Islam is not a religion that is about hate. Obviously, like most organized religion, it’s not the most inclusive institution. That’s a big part of why I’m not religious. But Islam as I know it, and as I was taught it, is not hateful or ugly.

I know that.

Most importantly, I knew that, twelve years ago. When I was fourteen years old and planes struck the Twin Towers, I knew that. My father was at the World Trade Center that day. He survived. (A lifelong boater, he commandeered a boat and got people off Manhattan Island. The story here.) The events of 9/11 affected him profoundly. My family changed, irrevocably, that day.

And I changed, too. Look, my town and my high school was hit hard by 9/11. I grew up in Greenwich, CT. We could see the smoke and dust from my back yard, for days. More than one kid in my high school lost a parent. We as a community were terrified. Our teachers were terrified. As an adult looking back on it, I can understand the anger that fear inspires, particularly when that fear is as perpetuated by the media as it was then. We all had bad information. We had scared people teaching us, and parenting us. I was lucky to have parents who, from day one, made it very clear what extremists and fundamentalists are. I knew, from day one, that the people who attacked us on 9/11 were not really Muslims. They in no way represented the religion of Islam.

But there were kids I went to high school with who didn’t have parents who taught them that. There were teachers who didn’t understand that. And they were scared. And they were angry. And sometimes they were mean.

When I think of my early teenage years I remember just… awkwardness. (I mean, I’m still kind of awkward, but I’m confident in my awkwardness now.) I was loud at all the wrong times, and quiet at all the wrong times. I was smart but I felt dumb, so I never stood up for anything. I certainly never stood up for myself. After 9/11, that changed. It kind of had to.

I think if I looked different, teachers would’ve been more thoughtful about what they said around me, but I’m blonde (um, sometimes) and blue-eyed. They didn’t know they had a Muslim kid in their classes when they were talking about the 9/11 issues. And at first, most of my friends didn’t know I was Muslim, though I quickly told them. Something stirred in me. I stood up in classes and told teachers they were wrong. I told kids who were much cooler than me that they were wrong. I was called a “sand-n*****” more than once. I had sand put in my gym locker the day after a particularly heated debate. (Seriously, some asshole BROUGHT SAND TO SCHOOL. Where did they get sand? WE WERE NOT OLD ENOUGH TO DRIVE YET.)

I remember, very vividly, sitting at a lunch table with the people I thought were my closest friends. One of them — a guy I’d been friends with since sixth grade — told me he thought I should have been on one of the planes. And everyone we were sitting with said nothing.

I dealt with a lot that year. I mean, I ended the school year with an entirely different circle of friends than I began it with, obviously. I had some bad anxiety stuff happening. At home, my dad was dealing with PTSD-related shit. By February my parents were splitting up. It was a terrible year.

But it was the year that I became the person I am. I can say, definitively, that the qualities I most appreciate in myself were developed that year. Because my mother is Muslim and because my dad was at Ground Zero, I was in a unique position. I learned the value of education, the value of tolerance, the value of empathy, and the value of speaking up for myself. I learned the value of speaking up for other people. 9/11 is why I am who I am.

The thing that sucks the most is that things haven’t really gotten better since 9/11. People haven’t learned much. I fly all the time, and I watch people get racially profiled ALL the time. The way that people say “Barack Obama is Muslim!” as if they’re saying “Barack Obama murders puppies!” is just mind-boggling. (And he’s not, by the way. Not Muslim, but if he were that wouldn’t disqualify him from the position. Also not a puppy-murderer.) When people were angry about the Islamic community center being built in the Financial District, it absolutely destroyed me.

I mean, it’s probably going to make me sound like an asshole, but since we’re being honest… on Monday, when the bombs went off in Boston, it didn’t take me very long to think to myself, I hope it was a white person. Isn’t that a terrible thing to think? But I thought it.

When people find out my family is Muslim sometimes their opinion of me changes. The real bitch is that people say a lot of terrible things about Muslims in front of me because they don’t know. Never in a million years do they think they’re talking about my mother, but… they are. They’re talking about my mother and my grandfather and those are the two absolute best people that I know. That cuts pretty deeply, sometimes.

And look, those kids who were awful 12 years ago? They were young, scared, and misinformed. The full-grown adult idiots I deal with now? They are not young, and their fear and misinformation is their own stupid fault. And it pisses me off. I spend a lot of time angry about it. Writing this, I’m angry. I just have to hope that I can figure out how to channel that anger into something worthwhile. That’s why I’m into politics, honestly.

When it comes down to it, I just don’t want to be a person who sits at a lunch table and says nothing.

Apr 17

bad advice, part one.

I get a lot of questions every day from Twitter followers who wonder how I ended up in my job and/or who want advice about how to get into doing what I do, so I thought I’d write down some thoughts. It should be said that I am not remotely qualified to be giving advice about anything at all. But people keep asking. So.

First of all, what it is that I do is pretty blurry. When I first started I was at the LA Times writing recaps (not reviews, but recaps) and doing the occasional interview. Then when I moved on to Zap2it, the philosophy at Zap was that it was a TV site written by fans of TV, for fans of TV. Obviously, there’s a lot of journalism that goes into what I do, but I wasn’t hired because I had journalism experience (I had zero journalism experience). I was hired because I was a fan of TV and because I had a lot of enthusiasm.

That’s why I always think it’s funny when online commenters get mad at me for being “such a fangirl.” I giggle in interviews a lot because I just… am a person who giggles a lot, and I try to conduct interviews like conversations, when possible. Very often when people are trying to hate on me, they say “oh, she’s not a journalist, she’s a professional fangirl.” And they’re 100% totally right, and that doesn’t offend me. [Read more…]

Apr 16

look for the helpers


What a truly sad day. My thoughts are with Boston and everyone impacted by the events at the marathon this afternoon.

I make my living in the entertainment industry. Sure, sometimes I get to write about issues that I think are important, but for the most part, I write to entertain people. My articles are meant to be read when you’re procrastinating, or standing in line, or during a commercial break. They’re meant to be fodder for tweets or Tumblr posts. They’re supposed to be fun. They’re about television.

I never know how to reconcile that when something hideous happens. Every so often, the darkest part of the human condition becomes topically relevant. It’s all-consuming; I can’t tear myself away from CNN, and all I want to do is connect with people via social media so that I can find someone who understands my understanding of the event.

But then, after some arbitrary period of time has passed, I have to go back to work. We all do. For me, that means I have to get back to posting “Vampire Diaries” spoilers or an update on Kim Kardashian’s baby bump. Today, I was jarred by a graphic photo someone posted on Facebook of the terror in Boston as my phone was ringing for an interview with the executive producer of “Supernatural.” I was unsettled and uncomfortable during the interview, but obviously, it’s my job, so… onward.

I felt so weird posting that article. Sometimes, things happen and you feel like time should stop for them. I saw people on Twitter today actually getting angry at other people for tweeting about things that weren’t the events in Boston. I admit that when an argument broke out in the comments of my “Supernatural” article, I kept thinking, How can you care about this shit? People process grief and empathy in different ways, but there’s a measure of discretion expected in today’s social media driven world.

It’s too easy to forget that in other countries, today’s events in Boston would have been just another Monday. When it happens here, you just kind of want to curl up in a ball and cry and call your mom.

I don’t know. There’s not really a point to this blog post, except to work through my guilt for writing and tweeting about silly TV shows while something so unthinkable was still unfolding in Boston. We say all this crap about how entertainment is important, and people need a respite from real life sometimes, art matters, yadda yadda yadda. But sometimes, I think, you’re just supposed to sit there and feel the awfulness of reality, without an easy distraction. Today felt like one of those times.