Sunday, March 11, 2012

Neither Shahs Nor Mullahs

Today Bravo is going to broadcast "Shahs of Sunset" a reality show about six Iranian-American men and women or as one of the local radio stations in Atlanta calls them "six Persian-Americans".   These not so young individuals live in Los Angeles, home to the largest Iranian immigrant population in the United States. The show is another reality TV production, filled by drama, to use a polite word, and that attractive surreal reality. It is made to entertain. However there is little doubt that it will trade one stereotype, the angry bearded fundamentalist from Tehran, for another one; vulgar, materialistic show-off from "Tehr-Angeles". Neither can possibly be representing Iran or Iranian people.

As I hear the commercials about this TV series filled by "pool parties", "extravagant lifestyle" or "brand orientation" of these characters I could not help but thinking of real Iranians and real Iranian Americans. I cannot help think of my friends in other cities, where they devote their time to their families. These days they are getting ready to celebrate Nowruz. They could be anywhere from Oshkosh, WI to Columbus, SC. Last year a friend who actually lives in Oshkosh told me that she had to spent one whole week preparing decorations and table covers. So the dozen families who live in the vicinity could get together to celebrate the coming of spring. She will not be on this reality TV, since she is really real.

I also cannot help thinking of average Iranian living in Iran. These days I am working on a piece about Iranian NGO and I remember Zahra, a 30 years old mother of a two year old. We met in our Alma mater in Tehran. The NGO was a group of students dedicated to help impoverished children and to assist in their education. Their office was one small room in the student center on campus. While Zahra talked to me about their challenges her two year old son strolled around. The furniture consisted of a very old table, couple of chairs. In a corner two students were packing boxes of hygiene products  for the children. Zahra was tired, she had a full time job and It was 8:00 PM.  For those kids, who are always absent from news and articles about Iran and Iranians, the show will come as a gross misrepresentation of the truth. They do not care about the brand they are wearing, as long as they are wearing something! So no I am not happy about "Shahs of Sunset".

Roshanak Taghavi has written a great article for CSMonitor  describing the dilemma many Iranian and Iranian Americans face. I think "confusion" describes the reaction the best. On one side some think the show provides a fresh insight into Iranian culture, some argue that it is the last stage in Americanization of Iranian Americans. And many are unhappy that their choices are either Tehran or Tehr-Anglese. For one I wonder when the world and the media would see us for who we really are; like anybody else we try to succeed while almost everybody else refuses to see us for ourselves. We are neither Shahs or Mullahs. We are just humans like anybody else and kinda tired of stereotypes.

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