You talk in whispers of my madness, But look beyond my babbling science To the asylum of truth, I want to say. Look at me with my containing head Topping my dervish cloak, do I remind You of someone you think you know? — Jalauddin Rumi, Divan 1486
One day, a professor was giving a lecture about a topic. At some point, an attentive student raises his hand and asks, “Excuse me, what do you mean by what you just said?” The professor pauses and responds, “It all depends!” and goes on. A bit later, the same student asks, “Excuse me, I still don't understand. What do you mean by saying it all depends?” The professor pauses and responds, “It depends on where you stand!” and he goes on. For the third time, the persistent student asks, “Excuse me, I still don't understand. What do you mean by saying it all depends on where I stand?” The professor responds, “It all depends on where you stand and how you look at a given situation–it's all a matter of perspective! Perhaps one of the reasons you miss my point is that you interrupt more than listen!”
Indeed, in our increasingly complex and high-tech global village, there are no “single or simple” answers to a myriad of social, political, economic, and environmental problems. Individuals or groups look at any given problem, opportunity, or situation through their own lenses which are usually tainted (heavily or lightly) with their past experience, social and political affiliation, religion, sex, education, and economic status. And, of course, self-interest often (if not always) plays a key role in practically all human interactions and nations' domestic and foreign policies.
In general, two questions prevail, “What's in it for me?” and “What do I gain or lose?” todetermine the level of engagement or lack of engagement in any given affair for individuals, groups, or nations. Furthermore, the strongest motives in any human action or inaction are “self-interest” and “self-protection,” and the formula, used in practically all human affairs, is “who gets what, against whom, at what price.”
With this said, I would like to share some of my observations about the increasingly popular Iranian satellite TVs in the U.S. and abroad. As of this writing, 14 satellite channels are in operation of which Jaam-e-Jam 2 is based in Iran, Rang-A-Rang in Washington, DC, and Appadana International in San Francisco. There are also 9 stations based in Los Angeles, no doubt adding to the feeling of the place as little Iran (to wit: the name Irangeles or Tehrangeles). They are Melli TV, NITV (National Iranian Television), Pars TV, Tapesh TV, Iran TV, Channel One, Jaam-e-Jam International, Azadi TV, and Tamasha or International Persian Network (IPN). Two additional channels, Raga-a-Rang and Persian News Network (PNN) in New York will begin broadcasting soon, bringing the total number of Iranian satellite TV programming to 13 channels in the U.S., compared to only 6 domestic TV channels in Iran.
I have not had an opportunity to view their entire set ofprograms, therefore, my observations are based on a random viewing of their offerings, particularly in late evening and on weekend. Practically, all US-based satellite channels broadcast their programs “live” for 12 hours. The live broadcasts are recorded and then repeated for another 12 hours, therefore qualifying them as 24-hour broadcast channels. In view of the time differences between the U.S., Europe, and Iran, this way of broadcasting makes sense because it enables the audience, in different continents, to view the various programs and channels during a convenient time period.
It is not easy to categorize the existing 11 US-based satellite channels: six of these, namely, NITV, Azadi TV, Pars TV, Channel One, Melli TV, and Jaam-e-Jam International, are in favor of monarchy in Iran; three of them, namely, Tapesh, Iran TV, and Tamasha are mainly commercial; one, Raga-A-Rang in DC, tends to challenge the monarchists, and finally, Appadana, is a commercial-political operation. However, most oppose the clerical regime in Iran–some quite vehemently, such as Azadi and NITV.
All, except Azadi, air a significant number of commercials. Reportedly, in defiance of the government, Iranian households equipped with rooftop satellite dishes, illegal in Iran, can view seven of the US-based TV channels. Due to the increasing popularity of satellite TV viewing, the Iranian Government is taking steps toward disrupting the signal electronically–a formidable task that may cause all sorts of interference in the country's telecommunication networks.
Today, the Iranian air space is electronically invaded by numerous invisible radio, TV, and satellite signals that originate from the U.S. and other countries around the world. For instance, in December 2002, Radio Farda (Radio Tomorrow), financed by the American government, inaugurated its 24-hour music and news programming in Persian aimed at the Iranian youth. Reportedly, Radio Farda has been successful in capturing the attention of a sizable audience in Iran. These signals, along with the Internet, facsimiles, and wireless telephones, have electronically connected the people of Iran to the rest of the global village.
It is through the marvels of these communication technologies that the physical boundaries of nation-states have been rendered all the more permeable and amorphous as frequencies bridge the distance between the Iranians all over the world. Gooya.com, Iran-emrooz.de, Payvand.com and Iranian.com are such important sources of news and information in the wheel of global interconnectedness. These channels of communication present a unique opportunity to the Iranians throughout the world, and within Iran, to be in constant touch with one another and actively participate in discussions related to the personal and global concerns, and the social, political, economic, and cultural issues that touch their lives.
In other words, these channels, which include the satellite TV channels, have the potential to facilitate constructive dialogue, enhance viewers' knowledge and awareness, and shorten the cultural and political distances within and without Iran. To quote Reuel Howe (The Miracle of Dialogue), “It is through dialogue that [humans] accomplish the miracle of personhood and community.” And yet, alas, the political agenda espoused by the various satellite channels, often in competition with one another, diminish from the collective good that they can otherwise do.
In the following enumerated list, let me share some of my observations and comments:
1. Monologue vs. Dialogue: Most of the programs on the Iranian satellite channels qualify as “visual radio,” not television. They invariably consist of a host or “talking head,” whosits behind a desk and engages in a monologue (a lengthy talk given by one person) rather than a dialogue (a conversation in which two or more people freely exchange ideas). The desk is often adorned with flowers, the Iranian flag with the lion and sun insignia, papers (notes and faxes), a ubiquitous telephone, and a fax machine that spews written messages from viewers. In contrast, Azadi TV, perhaps the strongest opponent of the Islamic regime in Iran, does not have a telephone; it relies on a fax machine for audience feedback.
The telephone and the fax machine are the focal points of most of the Iranian satellite programs. Ostensibly, it is via the number of telephone calls or faxes that A channel gauges its levels of popularity and success–the number of viewer call-ins and faxes serve as a sort of de facto audience rating (barometer) for a given program. The host constantly monitor his/her telephone and fax machine and as soon as a button lights up or an in-coming beep is heard, he/she interrupts his/her sentence, picks up the fax or delves into an verbal exchange that is often devoted to ta'arofs (oriental courtesy, flattery or oral niceties), followed by meaningless babble similar to the following script: Host: Dorood bar shoma…befarmaid (Greetings….please go ahead)
Host: Baleh, befarmaaid azizam shomaa rooye khat hasteed (Yes dear, please go ahead, you are on the line).
Caller: Meekhaastam baa aaghaaye… sohbat konam (I would like to speak with Mr…).
Host: Befarmaid khodam hastam (Please go ahead, this is he).
The volume of the caller's TV set is high, resulting in an annoying echo or feedback loop.
Host: Lotfan sedaaye televizionro kam koneed yaa azoon faaseleh begireed (Please turn down the volume on your TV set and then talk).
Caller: Okay…khoob shod? (Okay…is this good?)
Host: Baleh, befarmaaid azizam… soaali daashteed? (Yes, go on my dear…do you have a question?)
Caller: Na man soaali nadaaram vali mikhaastam begam ke man shomaa raa mishenaasam… man va shomaa zamaani hamkelaasi boodeem (No, I don't have a question but wanted to tell you that I know you… you and I used to be classmates)!
Host: Raast meegi… esmet chieh? (Are you telling the truth? What's your name?)
Caller: Man Ali hastam. Barnaameh shomaa raa kheili doost daaram… dastat dard nakoneh (I am Ali. I like you and your program very much…you are doing a wonderful job).
On the other hand, there are callers with a particular point of view and agenda. These callers usually avoid pleasantries and often go to another extreme by making unpleasant and offensive comments about the Iranian government, politicians, monarchists, celebrities, or radio/TV personalities. They tend to be loud, emotional, illogical, and accusatory. Their utterances delivered with great excitement and devoid of grammar and documentation.
2. Public vs. Private: The above telephone interactions, a standard entrée for viewer participation, are a routine activity that can provide significant insight into the Iranian culture, especially style of communication. The callers do not often recognize, nor respect, the boundaries between public and private spheres. They seem to forget the popular Persian idiom, “Har sokhan jaeeyo, har nokteh makani daarad” (Every remark has its place and every point its proper occasion).
Clearly, conversations, similar to the ones noted above, do not belong on television or radio. Furthermore, the amount of time spent on either excessive “ta'arof,” or accusations, is mind-boggling. It seems, at times, that viewers are eager to impress their favorite TV personalities by statements such as “…you are wonderful…your show is the best….your channel is great…you are so beautiful…I love you…my aunt loves you…the neighborhood loves you,” and on and on…
In return, the host, enjoying the flattery, responds in a similar fashion. “Ekhtiyaar daarid (you are in charge)… man koocheeke shomaa hastam (I am miniscule in relation to you) … nokare shomaa hastam (I am your servant)… kheili lotf daarid (you are very kind)… mamnoon hastam az inhame ebraaze ehsaassaat (thank you for your warm feelings toward me)…shomaa gol hasteed (you are like a flower)…,” and on and on!
I am quite perplexed with the lack of connection between verbal pronouncements, especially empty “ta'arofs” and self-congratulations, and such routine practices among Iranians in general. In other words, the Iranians seem to be highly effective in rhetoric but highly ineffective in transforming words into action–I often wonder how this self-defeating, counter-productive, and useless communication practice can be tempered or even eliminated from daily conversations. Note the following exchanges:
Host: Dorood bar shomaa, befarmaaid roye khat hasteed (Greetings, go ahead you are on the line)
Caller: Aghaa shomaa vel koneed in Reza Pahlavi ro…Shahanshahi kheil vaghteh ke mordeh (Sir, forget Reza Pahlavi…monarchy died a long time ago)
Host: Soaali daarid? (Do you have a question?)
Caller: Baleh, mikhaastam bedaanam ke kharje shomaa raa ki mideh… Reza, CIA, yaa har do? (Yes, I want to know who pays for your expenses…Reza, CIA, or both of them?)
Host: Baavar koneed hich kodoom (Believe me, none of them).
Caller: Dorough nagoo…ey vatan foroush (Don't lie…you are a traitor)!
Caller: Bebinam kharje shomaa raa jomhooriye eslaami mideh? (Does the Islamic Republic of Iran support you?)
Host: Shomaa madraki daarid ke in harfhaaye beeja raa mizaneed? (Can you document your nonsense?)
Caller: Madrak ehteyaaj neest, az aagahi haaye shomaa ma'loomeh (There is no need for documentation. Your commercials show your connection)
Normally, the above exchanges tend to be short and if the callers engage in ranting (which is often the case), they are cut off. There are, of course, some intelligent and thoughtful comments by both viewers and hosts but, in general, both seem to have a fixed agenda and opinion. Such comments and ta'arofs, of course, limit the scope and depth of meaningful and frank conversation.
3. Callers and Causes: Practically, all of the satellite channels, except one (Azadi TV), accept telephone calls from their viewers. By my count, a caller can be one or more of the following types:
(1) He calls to hear his own voice on TV;
(2) She enunciates all sorts of ta'arofs and adulations without making a comment or asking a question;
(3) He calls to let out his pent up emotions through insults while, at the same time proclaiming himself as the “lover of democracy”;
(4) She agitates–she surfs the channels, listens to gossip, and reports it to the competing channels;
(5) He calls to discredit everyone while falling into a self-congratulatory, all-knowing, mode;
(6) She is confused and is waiting for someone to show her the right path;
(7) He is alone and needs someone to talk to;
(8) He pretends to be self-appointed representatives of a particular political, ethnic, or cultural group, if not the whole Iranian community;
(9) She has a particular request–normally a music video;
(10) He calls in order to support the return of monarchy and the late Shah's son, Reza Pahlavi, to his inherited throne, as if that by itself is the panacea;
(11) He opposes monarchy and favors democracy, as if the two need to be mutually exclusive;
(12) She calls to oppose the current Islamic regime;
(13) He calls in support of the current Islamic regime but dislikes some aspects of it;
(14) She thinks that without British and U.S. interference, nothing can be changed in Iran;
(15) He thinks that the U.S. should attack Iran to topple the current regime;
(16) She calls to glorify past history;
(17) He calls to register his resentment for history;
(18) She was imprisoned by the current regime and past regime;
(19) He has no hope for himself or future of Iran;
(20) She thinks that the British have always liked the Mullahs and are supporting them;
(21) He believes that the current regime will collapse soon;
(22) She calls to find out if the host of the program or a guest is related to someone she knew in high school;
(23) He calls for help in not being deported from the U.S.;
(24) She calls for help in entering the U.S.; and finally
(25) He calls to let the world know that he knows exactly what everyone else should do–he holds the key to a better future for Iran–and he should be on the program as often as long as possible.
In most cases the TV personalities and viewers alike manage to defeat logic and critical analysis; often succumbing to charged emotions. In other words, in competition between logic and emotion, emotion seems to overshadow logic. This is perhaps a major drawback in the Iranian style of communication that should be labeled, more accurately, as un-communication. It seems that everyone contradicts, discredits, or bypasses everyone else! There are, of course, exceptions. Clearly it is not only illogical, but highly emotional, when a concerned mother talks about her drug addicted daughter or son or a prisoner exposes his tortured past.
4. Individualism vs. Collectivism: In most cases, the callers who have something to say tend to make lengthy (sometimes offensive and irrelevant) comments rather than posing constructive questions. Perhaps this pattern of communication is attributed to the general notion that Iranians are “all-knowing” and see no need for asking questions or thinking “outside of the box!” Practically everyone seems to have a firm and unwavering opinion about the social, economic, and political aspects of Iran. Of course, individuals are entitled to hold certain views, but the problem is that fragmented thoughts, fractured relationships, foggy goals, fuzzy logic, and forced opinions–combined with narcissism or self-centeredness–deter a group or nation from reaching consensus on any course of action.
It seems that every Iranian has an opinion and a blueprint (although undefined) for what is best for the future of Iran while, at the same time, everyone is waiting for “someone” to arrive from “somewhere” to do “something” about the current condition and future direction of the country! The reliance on a “person” to act as a savior of the nation has historically been proven to be disastrous and counter to the growth and development of a democratic system of government in Iran. This narrow perspective and unrealistic expectation is not only self-defeating but is a sociological dilemma that needs to be examined, analyzed, and explained by qualified social scientists.
Iran is diverse. To me, diversity is analogous to a colorful quilt made of many pieces sown together. The true beauty of a quilt lies in its diversity of design, pattern, color, and shape, and all the while contain within a sturdy border. The binding of a quilt lies, however, in the invisible thread that keeps the pieces together. Without a strong common thread, we could not even speak of a beautiful quilt (I hope the quilt makers will not object)!
My point is that the disparate attitudes and opinions on display on the Iranian satellite TV channels point to a cultural landscape strewn withmultitudes of incoherent and disconnected patches. Alternatively, one may argue that historical records indicate that a thick thread has kept the country together and these conversational multitudes should be seen more as the product of the mass medium than the Iranian personality and culture. Furthermore, individual behaviors are important in construction of culture but should not be equated with it alone. If Iran is kept together by multitudes of incoherent and disconnected patches, then it should be as unstable as Iraq or other countries in the Middle East.
5. Public Support vs. Private Support: Broadcasting is an enormously expensive, competitive, and time-consuming business. It is not quite clear as to how the 11 Iranian satellite channels manage to stay on the air. The owners and operators of the channels accuse one another of having ties to and support from the CIA, Reza Pahlavi, or the Islamic Republic of Iran; none of them has openly presented its sources of income and support to the viewers. I even visited each station's web site on the Internet but found no information about its mission, philosophy, sources of income, or affiliation.
On the air, a few channels claim to be totally supported through private and public funds (donations or monthly contributions). Some owners have even claimed that they had to sell their homes and belongings in order to establish the broadcast services–usually based on their love for Iran and hatred for the Iranian clerical regime. Some even cry and threaten to shut down the station if viewers do not provide financial support.
Nonetheless, it is common knowledge that, for example, the satellite channel, Jaam-e-Jam 2, from Iran is owned and operated by the Iranian government, that the commercial broadcast system in the U.S. is totally supported by advertisers, and that the Public Broadcasting System in the U.S. is financially supported by viewers support, private donations, government contributions, and corporate underwritings. For instance, on theweb site of Radio Farda, it is clearly stated “Radio Farda is a service of U.S. International Broadcasting, which is funded by the U.S. Congress and operated by the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG), an agency of the U.S. Government.”
It is not clear how the existing 11 Iranian satellite channels can survive in today's highly competitive and expensive broadcast business (i.e., daily expenses, equipment, studio facilities, wages, insurance, rents, programmers, performers, utilities, satellite transponder fees, uplink facilities, etc.). Perhaps a monthly operational estimate of $100,000, for each station, would be a conservative figure. It seems quite unlikely that a station could broadcast programs, around the clock, through merely selling flags, Persian rugs, concert tickets, commercials, and/or viewers' contributions.
Naturally, in any enterprise, the financiers influence the overall agenda of a given entity, including radio, television, newspaper, or magazine. Hence, the questions to ponder are these: (1) To what extent private interests can coincide with public interests? (2) To what extent private and/or government funded broadcast operations can serve viewers' interests through unbiased, balanced, multicultural, and multifaceted programs? (3) To what extent the Iranian satellite channels can facilitate and fertilize the growth and development of a budding democratic movement–especially among the youth–in Iran? (4) To what extent the established satellite channels can capture the trust of people, particularly within Iran? (5) To what extent they can practice and tolerate what they preach–democracy and freedom–by respecting the rights of their competitors and viewers' opinions?
6. Quantity vs. Quality: Together, the Iranian television channels have the potential to inform, entertain, educate, persuade, and serve Iranians throughout the world. Even in their present form, the broadcasts can be considered as “mirrors” that reflect the challenges, blemishes, diversity, and grandness of a culture and people which is still–despite having over three thousands years of history–searching for means of achieving cohesiveness, cultural integrity, political continuity, economic stability, civil society, democracy, and a positive global image.
Imbedded in their music videos, call-in programs, causal chitchats, panel discussions, and sketches, are an array of valuable cultural and political lessons for viewers that go beyond the façade of images, celebrities, and personalities in search of meanings in the cluttered Iranian satellite televisions' wasteland. Hidden in the electronic wasteland are numerous cultural and political lessons to be learned.
For instance, the routine on-screen telephone chitchats indicate that often Iranian television owners and operators lack a clear vision, including programming skills, that are essential in today's highly competitive broadcast business. Even with low budgets, limited production facilities and expertise, the Iranian channels could do much better.
One possibility would be to merge similar channels and their resources together and focus on the contents, scope, and quality of programs. Collapsing the 11 existing channels into perhaps four or five would be an effective way of dealing with the proclaimed financial restraints and, at the same time, enhancing the overall quality and contents of programs. Alternatively, a given satellite channel could provide blocks of time (4 or 6 hours) to several groups. Hence, sharing the same resources and facilities and reducing the proclaimed financial problems.
Unfortunately, many Iranians continue to confuse “quality” with “quantity” and “competition” with “demolition” by engaging–practically in every endeavor–in highly counterproductive behavior, including mudslinging, gossiping, conspiracy, and suspicion that have proven to be damaging to the individuals and the nation in general. Again, as indicated earlier, lack of collectivity and consensus building continues to undermine the political strength of the Iranian community in the U.S., Iran, and elsewhere.
Not surprisingly, in Iranian satellite TV land, the hosts and callers speak of “democracy,” “freedom,” “tolerance,” and “togetherness,” but very few of them practice it. They seem to forget that, in the final analysis, action speaks louder than words! Iranians within and without Iran, need to come down from their self-erected and illusive pedestals and take a long and critical look at themselves in the mirror of history. Tremendous resources, economic power, and human potential for building a prosperous Iran are being wasted–inside and outside Iran–on peripheral, self serving, and non-substantive issues.
Iran is a rich nation. It has potentially everything (brain power, labor force, natural resources, economic means, and infrastructures) needed for achieving domestic prosperity, democracy, international respect and positive global image. But, in general, what is missing is Iranians' lack of willingness to change, or to “think of out of the box,” and take charge of Iran's destiny in an increasingly volatile and highly competitive global environment!
7. Past vs. Present: The Iranian satellite TV channels should serve as conduits for informing and educating their viewers about democratic principles. In fact, “lessons in democracy and tolerance” should become a regular program on every channel. Democracy will not be realized merely through rhetoric. People need first to learn the alphabet (principles) of democracy and then act upon it. This requires a cultural shift on the part of Iranians who seem to be trapped by a history riddled by autocratic regimes that have instilled in the Iranian people a sense of distrust, lack of self confidence, and belief that only “foreign powers” can determine the present or future direction of Iran.
On the other hand, our fixation on the glories and riches of Persia, its numerous contributions to world civilization, and the deeds of our forefathers and national heroes prevent us from acting upon present problems and planning for future. There are several Persian proverbs in this regard, including “Giram pedare to bood faazel, az fazle pedar tora che haasel?” (Suppose your father was a learned man, how do you benefit from your father's knowledge?”) Indeed, history offers us valuable lessons that can be used toward building a better today and tomorrow.
Marching backward and trying to reinvent the past is not only fatalistic but deprives us of using our resources and imaginations–in concert with the realities of the world–to devise a promising future for a prosperous and globally respected Iran. Most Iranians tend to look at the future of the country through the “rear view mirror” or past history.
Consequently, the present and future possibilities become invisible to the backward looking eyes. Accordingly, the majority of Iranian satellite channels tend to harp on the past (especially the Pahlavi era) by attempting to mount Reza Pahlavi on a white horse that would gallop back toward Iran, topple the current regime, and bring about independence, freedom, democracy, economic prosperity, and tolerance.
Rather than searching for solutions within ourselves, we persist in relying on a magical person or savior, with a wand, from beyond. After all, what benefit is there for our children, and for us, if we keep dreaming the same old and archaic dreams? How can we move forward toward realization of a civil society, if we are mentally frozen in the past or marching backward into the future?
8. Extremism vs. Moderation: Music is perhaps the most globalized medium of communication, even if the people who share it do not make it or understand it. To attract the attention of audiences, particularly youth, throughout the world, a standard fare of the Iranian satellite channels is an array of Western-style, popular, and traditional Iranian music videos. American and European (mainly British) rock and pop music such as the Spice Girls, Backstreet Boys, Madonna, Michael Jackson, and so on, seem to be quite popular among young people in Iran and elsewhere.
In some cases, the Iranian youth know more about Western music (rock, rap, heavy metal, etc.) than aboutPersian music. This attraction has resulted in the production and popularity of Westernized Persian music in Los Angeles. Although there are some refreshing adaptations, what is bothersome is the inclusion of sexual messages, visuals, and innuendoes in the videos.
The negative impact of music videos, popularized by MTV, have been studied, debated, and documented in the United States and elsewhere. Although adaptation by itself is not a problem, displacement and hindrance of traditional Iranian music from Western style music is cause for concern. As it is normally the case, the Iranians seem to sway from one extreme to another.
By simply changing from the Los Angeles channels to the Iranian based satellite channel (Jaam-e-Jam 2), we notice that programs originating from Tehran, including the music videos, are highly sanitized and have a sober decorum and style. The Iranian channel also illustrates that sophisticated equipment, trained individuals, visual effects, colorful sets, and financial resources do not necessarily result in content-rich and diverse programs (culturally and ideologically).
For instance, the news programs, on Jaam-e-Jam 2, tend to focus mainly on economic and industrial developments rather than on social and political events. Another observation is the absence and exclusion of women from singing in Iran, and on Jaam-e-Jam 2, which consequently attracts the Iranian youth to Western and Persian music produced in Los Angeles and elsewhere.
While there are no women singers on the Iranian satellite channel, including the domestic Iranian radio and TV, the American based Iranian satellite channels broadcast a slew of Westernized Persian music videos in which scantly dressed singers and dancers show their talents and bodies in a variety of gyrating, sexual modes. I believe that neitherof the two extremes is acceptable–there has to be a happy medium. The Persian proverb, “Na be-in shooriye shoor, na be-in beenamaki” (Not so highly salted as that, nor so insipid as this) makes my point. In short, moderation is a virtue, while extremism in any direction–left or right–is disastrous.
9. Sensationalism vs. Information: Some of the Iranian satellite TV channels, in addition to replicating the technical, visual, and programming styles of the American broadcasts, tend to sacrifice news and information for sensational reporting and gossip. Specifically, two of the popular Iranian singers–Googoosh and Ebi–were targeted by several channels, particularly Channel One, for not engaging themselves in the political matters. Googoosh (a female singer) who was not allowed to sing in Iran for 20 years, has been on highly successful concert tour in the U.S., Canada, Europe, and elsewhere since her departure from Iran a few years ago. Some accuse her of being in cahoots with the government of Iran because she does not publicly criticize the regime.
Ebi (a male singer) who has been outside of Iran for over 20 years and, like other singers, participates in concerts in various parts of the world, reportedly avoided singing one of his popular songs named “Khalij” (“Gulf”) which is a patriotic song about Iran and in which he mentions the Tonbs and Abu Musa which the UAE also claims. It should be noted that some Arabs and some non-Arabs insist on calling the Persian Gulf as the Gulf or Arabian Gulf while Iranians and the rest of the world call it by its historically recognized geographical name of the Persian Gulf.
Hence, Ebi's refusal to sing the Khalij song in a Dubai concert (January 2003) was construed as his lack of commitment to the Iranian national interests by various Iranian television commentators. In fact, several channels devoted a great deal of time to issues surrounding Googoosh and Ebi. Of course, the viewers chimed; some heaped insults, accusations, and called for boycotts; some praised the two popular singers.
It seems that, in the public arena, icons (e.g., celebrities and leaders) are created for the sake of being destroyed. Most (if not all) Iranians have been, at times, a member of the transparent and popularly acknowledged Hezb-e Baad (Party of Wind) which happens to be the oldest and most dominant Hezb in Iran. Hezb-e Baad does not have any proclaimed mission, ideology, rule, or goal; nor does it hold elections.
Anyone can be considered a member–it is a truly democratic party. Its members often play it by the ear–whenever a wind of change is felt, they change direction or switch affiliation accordingly. Hence, it is not unusual for the members to praise an idol or leader one day and curse the same idol or leader the next day. One of the advantages of this transparent party is that no one can really pinpoint its wrong doings.
Therefore, when things go wrong, the practice of scapegoating becomes a useful strategy to divert or attract attention as opportunities and circumstances dictate. Generally, members tend to cast their shortcomings onto one another rather than accepting responsibility for their actions and/or decisions. As the saying goes, “it is always easier to blame others!”
10. Education vs. Entertainment: In general, the bulk of programs on the Iranian satellite channels (excluding the government run Jam-e Jam 2 channel from Tehran) are moreentertaining than informative. Programs consist of (1) talking heads and call-in programs, (2) music videos, (3) panel discussions–normally involving two individuals, (4) commercials, (5) movies, (6) selling Persian rugs, (7) short sketches, (8) news and information, (9) expert advice–involving physicians, realtors, and attorneys, (10) documentaries, (11) music and poetry, and (12) game shows. Although all channels seem to address the youth in Iran and abroad, there is a dearth of educational programs for children or adolescents.
In addition to the news programs, there are a number of useful and informative programs, including “Kankash” on Jaam-e Jam 2 from Iran, “Naseem-e Shomal” on Appadana, “The $500 Show” on Channel One, “Iran dar pooyeh tarikh” on Rang-A-Rang, “Homa Sarshar Show” on Jaam-e-Jam International, and “Simaye Ashena” on Tapesh. It seems that nearly half of the satellite channels have devoted their broadcast times to auctioning/selling Persian rugs. This business activity of course contributes, economically, to the TV channels, the rug merchants, the rug makers within Iran, and the country in general. Hence, it should be viewed positively.
All in all, the American based Iranian satellite channels are mediocre in terms of meaningful content, rich in terms of rhetoric and entertainment, emotional in terms of politics, and ineffective in terms of promoting cooperation among the Iranians in Diaspora. If they cannot withstand one another and are constantly involved in mudslinging (the Iranian style) againstone another, how can we expect them to be the purveyors of hope, understanding, togetherness, success, and prosperity for Iran and the Iranians? It seems that Iranians, in general, have not yet learned to compete with one another in a healthy manner.
For instance, once a radio or television station is established, rather than supporting it to succeed, other Iranian entrepreneurs start new stations in an attempt to drive the existing stations out of business or trying to illustrate to the founder(s) of the first radio or TV that “you see, we can do it too!” If one cultural group is formed, more will follow. If a restaurant becomes successful, more will emerge. In the process, Iranians confuse rivalry with competition, jealousy with appreciation, chauvinism with cooperation, emotion with logic.
Despite these cultural obstacles, I remain optimistic and believe that there is always hope. One of the positive outcomes or contributions of the Iranian satellite channels is that they force their viewers to take a more realistic look at themselves. The broadcast channels reflect the Iranian culture (although mostly the Los Angeles version) and provide their viewers an opportunity to see their own cultural flaws and beauties. I believe that even negative comments and programs can often produce positive results by forcing viewers to go through the healthy process of self-reflection and contemplation.
Fortunately, the Iranian-American community for the most part is economically prosperous and educationally successful. Unfortunately, as a sizable ethnic minority (about one million or so) in the U.S., members of the community are psychologically detached and politically inert. To change this equation favorably, the “I” must be replaced with “us” and “apathy” with “engagement.”
We owe it to ourselves and to the future generations to pave a better (prosperous and respected) future for ALL people, including ethnic groups, religious minorities, and women. As history has taught us, divisiveness is clearly harmful and only benefits those whose motto has been “divide and conquer!” Hence, we must become active participants in political, cultural, economic, and educational processes in an organized and collective manner.
In As You Like it, Shakespeare wrote, “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” On today's global stage, are Iranian men and women playing their roles thoughtfully, respectfully, and skillfully? Do we hear any applause from any corner of the global village? Shouldn't we?
Yahya R. Kamalipour, Ph.D. is professor of mass/international communication and heads the Department of Communication and Creative Arts at Purdue University Calumet, Hammond, Indiana. He is editor-in-chief of Global Media Journal, and his most recent book is Global Communication (Wadsworth, 2002).