After dropping his bid to become Minneapolis mayor, Aswar Rahman didn’t take any time to lick his wounds.
The day after he suspended his 2017 campaign, the filmmaker and interface designer hopped on a plane to Kansas to be a cast member of “Welcome to Waverly,” a new reality show in which seven strangers from metropolitan areas get a taste of small-town life.
The four-night series, airing this week, leans on a lot of tired stereotypes — jokes are punctuated by footage of a mooing cow, and locals seem perplexed by an innovation called the computer — but there’s also an earnest attempt to enlighten viewers who think all rural Americans go to work in overalls.
That agenda is what attracted the native of Bangladesh to the project, and it’s why he rented out St. Anthony Main Theater in Minneapolis for free public screenings of each episode as they air in prime time on Bravo.
Now the digital director for Democrat Dean Phillips’ congressional campaign, Rahman spoke last week about his experience.
Q: How much did you know about reality TV before agreeing to do the show?
A: None. The first time I watched reality TV was on the flight over to Kansas, “The Real Housewives of Atlanta.”
Q: So why sign up?
A: I’m always thinking of ways of making this country better. What would it be like to experience people’s lives that are different than mine? It’s not about what fun it is to pick up a pitchfork and throw out hay. It’s a real attempt to understand rural America.
Q: Spending so much of your childhood in Minnesota, you must have had some experience with that kind of town.
A: Not even a little. One time in high school, the student council went to Grand Rapids, where we stayed in a wooden house and shot crossbows. That’s about it. Living in a town of 600 people was unfathomable to me.
Q: How did you get along with the people in Waverly?
A: As a Midwestern Minnesotan, I felt I had more in common with them than I do with people from New York, especially in the way they handle conflict. Some folks are so assertive, they just want to present their opinions as superior to others. I’m an eager beaver — Bangladeshis are as hotblooded as anyone — but I’ve learned how to respect someone even if I disagree with them and just hang back sometimes.
Q: As a Democrat, what did you learn about the state of politics while spending six weeks in such a conservative pocket of America?
A: Right after Trump was elected, a lot of DFL members kept saying we lost because of the rednecks. I said we have to stop that. As soon as we get into that mind-set, it’s over. People in Waverly aren’t any less blind to who Donald Trump is, but I think a lot of them would rather have a snake-oil salesman who says that he’s selling snake oil. They love someone who is consistent and true to themselves.
They also love free enterprise. I met a girl who started her own egg delivery service and she’s only in the fifth grade. There’s a spirit of innovation there and a desire for people who shoot straight. The first thing I learned from the Waverly mayor is how much they love their public schools. Is there anything more American than that?