Prominent Iranian-American author, commentator, and religious scholar Reza Aslan kicked off the Television Critics Association press tour on Tuesday by promoting his new talk show, Rough Draft, and heaping praise on legendary television writer-producer Norman Lear, who will be Aslan’s first guest when his show premieres in February.
During the panel, Aslan discussed the power of television and what he feels is still missing from its landscape.
“Television is where I learned what America was,” Aslan said, according to the Los Angeles Times. “I learned English from CHiPS, from Sesame Street. I watched so much CHiPS that I thought cars flipped over on ramps on the freeway every day.”
Aslan, who sat together with Lear at the Pasadena press event, praised the Lear-created television shows All in the Family and The Jeffersons for the insight they provided on “family and cultural dynamics.”
“I’m waiting for a Muslim All in the Family,” he said. “Muslims are never going to feel like a part of the American family until people start to make fun of them on TV. That’s how minds have always been changed in this country.”
Aslan added that popular television shows, and pop culture more broadly, does a better job of changing the cultural landscape and shaping opinion than news networks ever could.
“I put my trust in pop culture,” Aslan said, according to Deadline. “You can watch 24 hours of CNN — you’d probably shoot yourself after, but, if you survived that, I can’t imagine you would have changed your mind on any topic.”
While a true Muslim “version” of All in the Family has yet to be produced, one Muslim comedian and actor has already launched an online series skewering Muslim-American culture.
Last year, Aasif Mandvi (The Internship, The Daily Show) launched the web series Halal in the Family on the comedy website Funny or Die. In debuting the series in April, Mandvi told the Daily Beast that Lear had donated money toward the show’s production.
“To [Lear], this was exactly the right way to raise hot button issues because that is what he did with his shows in the 1970s and ’80s,” Mandvi said.
Mandvi also echoed Aslan’s sentiment that funny and engaging pop culture properties could shape thought and change public opinion better than news programs or lectures.
“It’s not that these episodes will end anti-Muslim bigotry or resolve these issues, but comedy can reach many more people than, say, a serious lecture on the topic,” he said when the series debuted last year.
For his part, Aslan has appeared on multiple news networks to criticize GOP presidential candidates for “xenophobia” and “anti-Muslim bashing.” Shortly after the coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris late last year, a clip of an Aslan CNN interview from 2014 in which the author defends Islam from its role in the attacks, went viral on the Internet.
Aslan told CNN:
Islam doesn’t promote violence or peace. Islam is just a religion and like every religion in the world it depends on what you bring to it. If you’re a violent person, your Islam, your Judaism, your Christianity, your Hinduism is gonna be violent. There are marauding Buddhist monks in Myanmar slaughtering women and children. Does Buddhism promote violence? Of course not. People are violent or peaceful and that depends on their politics, their social world, the ways that they see their communities.
Aslan and Lear appeared together at the press event in Pasadena, where Lear blasted television networks for failing the American people by being too politically correct.
Rough Draft with Reza Aslan premieres February 28 on Ovation. The author’s first week of guests include Lear, Transparent creator Jill Soloway, Lost‘s Damon Lindelof, Heroes creator Tim Kring, Homeland‘s Gideon Raff and Enlightened co-creator Mike White.