The Good vs the Bad of “The Shahs of Sunset”

The reality TV showed based on Iranians in LA airs tonight. Lacking in originality as it is a cross between Jersey Shore and the Kardashian show, Iranians all over are talking about it, some nervously.  There is some good to be derived from the show. For starters, millions of Americans associate Iran, Iranians, or “Persians” with terrorism and irrationality. This show will, for better or worse, show a very different side to what many confuse as one Iranian/Iran monolith. A similar but in no way identical parallel to my point is the screening of Oscar-winning Iranian film, “A Separation” in Israel.  Some Israelis, who for years have been exposed to a vicious warmongering propaganda campaign against Iran and Iranians, came to see Iranians as human beings, with a few surprised that Iranians even had refrigerators and washing machines inside Iran!

There is, of course, a bad side to this show as well. I think a personal anecdote is instructive here. I have a friend in the PhD program who studied in the east coast and lived with an Iranian girl from Newport Beach in southern California during her first year in the college dorms. According to my friend, her roommate was a spoiled “princess.”  This same friend thought she had me a figured out because I, like  her roommate, am Iranian and had lived the latter half of my childhood in Newport. In other words, because of her experience with one Iranian, she thought she had all of us with a similar background figured out. She made this false assumption even though she’s extremely more educated than the average American. It is safe to assume that many more people will come to see Iranians in southern California in particular, and Iranians in America in general, through the lens provided by the show, which based on the previews I’ve seen presents us as extremely shallow, superficial, materialistic, disconnected, and to put it simply, silly and probably a bit outrageous.

I’m not excited about the show whatsoever (they lost me from the very start with the name of the show!) but based on what I wrote above, I admit that it’s not clear that it’s going to be entirely disastrous. Either way, I’m going to watch it and I encourage all Iranians to do so as well so they can be privy to the way people will come to see them, however wrongly, based on this silly show.

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