BBC Two's "Real Housewives of ISIS" skit is offensive and not at all funny. Here's why.
On Wednesday, BBC Two received a horde of backlash for uploading a cringe-worthy skit titled "Real Housewives of ISIS" to its social media channels.
The skit is a tongue-in-cheek spoof of Bravo's Real Housewives reality TV franchise and features four women who are wives of ISIS members, some with stereotypical Arabic or Muslim names, dressed in black abayas. In the two-minute segment, the women act out redundant and vapid Islamophobic tropes of militant extremism, suicide bombings and oppressive misogyny. The apparent intention behind the satire was to delegitimize ISIS, but what the sketch did instead is delegitimize victims of ISIS — the majority of whom are Muslim.
A few particular scenes stand out as incredibly offensive. In one, a "housewife" boasts about how her ISIS fighter husband gave her an 8-foot chain. The next scene depicts her as being chained to kitchen appliances. Another scene features a woman poking fun at the atrocious beheadings committed by ISIS over the years.
"It's only three days until the beheading, and I have no idea what I'm going to wear," the woman said.
Satirical sketches about ISIS are particularly hard to find funny. In September 2016, footage of ISIS's haunting prison cells and methods of torture used against women captured into sexual slavery made headlines. In some cases, ISIS fighters would reportedly beat the stomachs of their pregnant rape victims in efforts to abort the fetuses.
According to an October 2014 United Nations report, ISIS reportedly abducted up to 500 young girls and women from the Yazidi village of Sinjar, Iraq. The report said about 150 unmarried women and girls were then sent to ISIS militants as rewards or forced into sex slavery.
Several Twitter users pointed out how the skit reduced the heinous crimes of ISIS to a reality TV show parody and equated the extremist group with Muslims and Islam:
In an email to Mic, BBC declined to comment on the sketch.
There have been a few supporters of the skit, the more vocal ones being anti-Muslim extremists or white men sympathetic to conservatism who claim Islam has a lot to do with ISIS and it's necessary to use satire to destroy the extremist group.
Manal Omar, associate vice president at the Center for Middle East and Africa at the United States Institute of Peace, rejects the idea that "Real Housewives of ISIS" can challenge or weaken the group.
"Overall, I am a fan of satire and comedy that can shine a light on social ills," Omar told Mic in an email. "However, in this case, it is taking a very small percentile of Muslim women and making such broad generalizations. My concern is what we have here will actually lead to self-fulfilling prophecy of both an exoticized and trivialized storyline that casts Muslim women in a very negative role."
This certainly isn't the first time a comedy sketch received backlash for ISIS parody skits. In February 2016, Saturday Night Live caused an uproar with its Toyota commercial parody featuring 50 Shades of Grey's Dakota Johnson. In the sketch, Johnson portrays a daughter saying a final goodbye to her father before she joins the Army — which turns out to be ISIS. As a pickup truck filled with militant fighters arrives, Johnson shouts, "Dad! It's just ISIS."
"Take care of her," the father said to ISIS militants. "Death to America," one of them replied.
"Dear #SNL, jokes about Isis are not funny," @RugratChas tweeted in response to the skit. "See how much you laugh when you have to see your loved one(s) being slaughtered. No respect."
If used properly, satire and comedy can become powerful tools. It can influence public opinion and, in some cases, provide an example of what journalism should be, like Jon Stewart did during his tenure as host of The Daily Show. But satire that retreads harmful generalizations and makes light of real tragedy is often counterproductive. Omar said BBC Two's ISIS sketch resulted in nothing significant that would put the militant group at a disadvantage.
"If the intent is to fight ISIS, then this particular story has no traction," Omar said. "It will speak to those who already see the brutal extremist group for what it is, versus targeting youth who may be on the edge of joining the group. It may also further alienate practicing Muslims."