When she is not nose deep in books in the dusty library of some medieval-era college, my ammeh works “on the field”, helping educate disadvantaged children from Cambodia to Uzbekistan. She is knowledgeable in so many aspects of the world (politics, arts, human rights) but as naïve as a baby in other respects, like pop culture, post-modernism of Seinfeld, the latest Mariah Carey mental breakdown… well, you get the picture.
So when she came over for a visit many years ago, the evil fourteen year-old I was could not resist making a gruesome experiment. I wanted to confront her reality with the “reality of a Tehran-Gelessi music video. I chose Fattaneh as my weapon to induct my Ammeh in the halls of modern hyphenated-Iranian popular culture, for reasons that will become apparent very soon.
— “Ammeh Joon, mikhaay baa man yek video irooni tamaashaa koni?”
I popped the video in, the credits began rolling, just like a movie. At first, all we could hear was the panting and/or heart beats of an anonymous off-screen character juxtaposed over the image of a California beach. Then, a woman in white lacy bicycle shorts under a flowy see-through dress running barefoot in the sand for no apparent reason. So far, pretty much like your standard dada movie of the early teens by way of Salvador Dali's Un Chien Andalou.
But soon things took on a suspiciously Bollywoodish turn as the woman plunged into the waves, followed by a hapless male admirer (who looked more like a serial killer). The man, however, did not reach her in time and was only able to retrieve a necklace. It was from this point that the video exploded in music and song.
As it is common in Tehran-Gelessi videos, there were about 141 plots going on at the same time, with 26 costume changes, 43 dance numbers, and an array of non-Iranian back-up singers and/or band.
Now that I had put the non-compatible chemical components of my experiment in direct contact, I sat back to watch the reaction: Would there be an explosion? A melt-down? Some sort of weird osmosis?
Well it was an explosion all right… an explosion of laughter. I watched in delight as my ammeh literally — I cannot emphasize enough how LITERALLY — rolled down from the couch where she was sitting onto the floor, where she was overtaken by uncontrollable convulsions of laughter and tears.
This proved to be quite an infectious reaction because I soon joined her, half-laughing at the video itself, and half at the results of my devious little experiment. All this commotion brought my cousin Mehdi running into the TV room.
— “Chieh baba?Chi shodeh? Che khabareh injaa?”
Then he caught glance of Fattaneh on the screen and instantly underwent the same reaction that I have seen countless of Iranian men succumb to when confronted by her willowy silhouette. He froze in place, mouth hanging open, eyes riveted on her.
I pressed Stop on the VCR control. Again, classic reaction. Mehdi wailed:
— “Aaaaaaahhhhh… Niki cheraa aziat mikoni? Roshanesh kon digeh!”
— “Cheraa mageh hassoudit misheh?”
I rolled my eyes. Puh-leezeme, jealous? Well… ummm, all right, all right maybe a little bit. I mean I have nothing against Fattaneh or her music videos. She seems like a genuinely nice person, she is pretty, she can dance and she can even sing. She doesn't even seem full of herself. That puts her already about 200 constellations above some of her colleagues (who shall remain nameless).
And this isn't nuclear physics, it's damboli-dambolism, it's SUPPOSED to be silly and over-the-top. So I wasn't really laughing at her, more likely with her. But what I don't understand is the reaction of Iranian men. They really go crazy, I mean divouneh!
Once at a Noruz concert where she was one of the featured singers among better-known and more “reputable” headliners, she was the one who got the whole crowd of men, from little boys to normally non-compliant teenagers, to grown up husbands and fathers, all rushing to the stage. One guy even started a fight with one of the stage-hugging fans because he had paid extra to get a table close to the stage so he could enjoy Fattaneh up close and now his sight was blocked!
Not to mention the countless times I have walked in on my cousin Mehdi or other male relatives and friends (and even once, horrors of horrors, my dad!) standing in front of the TV screen, VCR remote in hand, watching a Fattaneh video which they would then pause and rewind at the precise moment where she is lying with her back to the camera, and has turned her neck around to give a mischievous come-hither look to her audience.
My cousin Mehdi sighs:
— “Nemitooni befahmi. Be in migan zane vaaghe-eeye irooni.”