Raising the Bar for Our Media Role Models


Is it time for us to raise our standards of media consumption especially when our youth regard it as the norm to emulate artistes who have made explicit song lyrics and videos part of mainstream popular culture, asks Mariam Sobh.

2703 WP Role Models by Mariam (Dreamstime)
“If music be the food of love, play on…”

After I got married and moved to the big city, I lost touch for a while with the pop culture world. I was busy working, and when I wasn’t working, I was spending time with my husband.

We didn’t have a car at the time, so we walked everywhere or took public transportation, which means I didn’t listen to the radio. Television was there, but I rarely had time for it, unless I was at the gym.

Maybe it’s for that reason that I felt like I was starting to get out of sync with the “younger” crowd of Muslim girls.

The first time I went to an all-girl dance party after I got married, I was in for quite a surprise.

When the music came on, I was wondering whether I had become an old geezer, or if I had somehow been taken by a time machine into the future.

The song that came on shocked me. The music was catchy, but the lyrics were what totally caught me off guard. While everyone was dancing, young 12- and 13-year-old girls were lip-synching the words.

I looked the lyrics up and they were basically about a woman asking a man to take off her clothes because she was ready to “give him something”.

Now, I’m not a sheltered person who has never heard raunchy lyrics, but at the time it was ironic to see Muslim girls getting down to this kind of music.

Of course we can argue, what choice do we have? They are just having fun, not paying attention to the meaning of the words.

Well, there are plenty of danceable tracks with better lyrics, or even no words at all, just music.

But what I think really bothered me about that situation, was seeing all the mothers sitting around not saying a word. I’m not one to be a party pooper, and I would have been embarrassed if I was the girls’ age and my mum came over and turned off the music. And it was a catchy song that I probably would be working out to myself.

But I felt like there should have been some guidance.

Maybe the mothers should have talked about the lyrics and what they mean, or tried to explain to these young girls why women feel that they have to sex themselves up in every music video and song they put out.

The particular song I heard may seem tame compared to the things that are on the airwaves these days. I find myself cringing when I enjoy a song only to find out the words are horrendous and I wouldn’t dare sing them out loud.

That’s when I have to check myself and say, OK, time to turn that garbage off. And I admit that sometimes it’s hard, because the beat is so good!

But what saddens me most of all, is not that we secretly indulge in certain vices that we know are not good for us. It’s when I see Muslim girls mention in their profiles online that they look up to the people who produce this kind music.

When they began their careers they were a breath of fresh air, but it seems that when you become influenced by bad people around you as well as drugs and alcohol…

They idolise the female artistes that are actively engaged in destructive behaviour. These women are not who I would want my daughters to emulate, and believe me I try my best not to have the radio on when they are in the car. (This means we have to listen to an endless repetition of Disney songs or Maher Zain CDs).

I often wonder if people miss the fact that these female artists are known to make headlines for simulating sex acts on stage, having their private parts exposed, or engaging in various other forms of attention seeking antics.

These are very talented young women when it comes down to actual singing, there is no doubt about that. When they began their careers they were a breath of fresh air, but it seems that when you become influenced by bad people around you as well as drugs and alcohol, you really don’t think about your actions. And that I would say is the tragedy that these female performers are faced with now.

However, for those on the outside, they think these women are “daring” and “cool”. How rebellious, right? How cool is it to be able to do things and not care about what people think?

It’s sad because these women are suffering in the spotlight, and no one notices or cares. People continue to buy their music, attend their shows, and support their behaviour. Young women will say that what their pop idols do is art, and we let it slide. After all we would be so judgmental and out of touch if we said anything against it.

As I’m writing this, I wish that we as Muslims would have higher standards when it comes to media consumption (myself included, because I tend to indulge in the occasional reality show).

And I know that with the amount of images and messages we are bombarded with on a daily basis it can be pretty easy to give in and accept what we’re being provided.

We don’t have to be boring and give up on the entertainment industry, but I believe we should be selective. We can have fun and we can party it up just like everyone else.

Our youth need positive entertainment figures to look up to even if they come from different backgrounds

But there is a problem when we start to take things into the “role model” realm and when we talk about “admiration” for people who perform the lowest common denominator material.

It begs the question; do we really have any standards?

I don’t think the solution is that we need more Maher Zains and Yunas to counteract the entertainment options we are provided with. Our youth need positive entertainment figures to look up to even if they come from different backgrounds, so they don’t fall into the trap of thinking it’s harmless to have role models that engage in risky behaviour.

I think the solution is that we work with other like-minded people of various faith backgrounds who also want more quality entertainment and role models that are giving back to the community in a positive way.

As someone who is active in the entertainment industry, I know how easy it is to get caught up in things that could quickly slide into something you didn’t anticipate, particularly when you may be the only one who has a certain set of beliefs. And if you don’t have a support system that helps you stay grounded, you can easily get sucked in.

I have had to overcome these obstacles myself and haven’t always been successful. Believe me it’s hard. But because I think it’s important to get involved in mainstream entertainment, I do my best to push through. I feel it’s one way in which we can bring a new perspective into the industry; one that values real contributions toward making the world a better place.

Maybe then we can find role models who are doing things that help society rather than harm it.

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