By Pallas Hupé

“The Late Show with David Letterman”, “Friends” and “Desperate Housewives” team up to fight against extremist Muslim jihadists? No, it’s not an edgy new concept from those Hollywood masterminds. It’s an idea I read about in a CBS News report. Actually, CBS got the wild idea from “The Guardian“, a British newspaper covering the WikiLeaks revelations.

Apparently, some of the top secret documents revealed American tv shows actually help convince Saudi youth that the United States isn’t such a bad place after all. In fact, the entertainment America exports does more to sway the opinion of these Middle Eastern kids than the U.S. government’s propaganda.

Call me gobsmacked. Not about the idea that U.S propaganda falls short of its intended target (that happens often). No, I mean that these shows actually don’t offend people in such a sheltered, religious culture.

I lived in Saudi when I was in my teens. It was the mid 1980s. They censored music album covers and even took my fashion magazines away from me at customs because they were too revealing. But even back then Saudis found a way to dodge watch the hottest American tv shows. “Dallas” was the biggie, and I believed that some of the distrust and/or disgust I felt as an American woman living in that country was probably based on the impression that I might be as petty, loose and shallow as some of the tv characters on that late night soap opera.

So, that’s why I’m surprised. Now, if you didn’t think “Friends” could foment jihadist fervor, I beg to differ. I remember being surprised that the show introduced the concept of condoms in what was billed as family entertainment. Maybe I am more conservative than I realize. But you can’t argue “Desperate Housewives” crosses the line from time to time.

I learned about this surprising WikiLeaks revelation just after I watched a movie that frankly shocked me. I hate to admit it, but I did see “Sex in the City 2”. I never watched the tv show, but admit I was intrigued by the film because it was shot in Abu Dhabi (and frankly I wanted to see all their clothes). However, I almost fell on the floor when the most extreme character in the show (Samantha) flaunted her cleavage, tried to hook up on a local beach and shouted at a group of men in the souk (market) that “yes she has sex” while pumping her hips and waving condoms in the air. I was offended. And embarrassed for what it made American women look like. And I even said to my husband (who did NOT watch the movie with me – have to protect his rep!) that all the jihadists had to do was air this film and they’d recruit more extremists to their cause to fight the “Evil Empire”.

To be fair, the WikiLeaks documents cited that in particular Saudis were impressed by supportive family relationships, honesty winning over corruption and respect for the law in American programming. Even with that said, I’m still not entirely convinced of this idea that American pop culture dampens extremist religious fervor. I honestly thought it would appear as hedonistic and be as offensive to Middle Easterners as it was to me.

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