Shahs of Tehrangeles

I kind of wish what happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas


Shahs of Tehrangeles
by Charlotte Safavi

This week I watched two very different Iranian worlds depicted in the powerful medium of film: one reality meticulously masked as fiction, one semi-fiction frivolously packaged as reality.

Bear with me.

1. The first is the 2012 Academy Award winner for Best Foreign Language Film -- A Separation -- written and directed by Asghar Farhadi, starring Leila Hatami and Peyman Moaadi. A Separation artfully narrates a painful slice of life set in Tehran about a thirty-something married couple separating under duress. The wife wants the family to move overseas with their eleven-year-old daughter; the husband wants the family to stay put so he can care for his aged father suffering from late stage Alzheimer's. The film's greatest triumph, however, is that it takes the viewer in the most ingenious way through what it means to be an average Iranian in Iran today.

2. The second is episode 2 of the reality TV show Shahs of Sunset: It's My Birthday Bitches produced by Ryan Seacrest Productions for Bravo. It's my Birthday Bitches sees a merry band of 30-something single Persian-American friends (the bitches?) off to Las Vegas to celebrate lead actor Reza Farahan's birthday. As the somewhat endearing character of Sammy says, "There's gonna be heyvoon bazi (playing like animals) all the time." This episode owes its staggering -- and who wouldn't be after all the booze sucked up by the cast? -- success to transporting the viewer in the most debauched manner through what it's like to be a privileged Persian-American in LA today.

Well, a certain type of Iranian-American, at any rate.

To be fair, comparing these two divergent experiences is the equivalent of pitting opera diva Kiri Ke Tanawa against wannabe pop singer Asa (see episode one)... I like to think of myself as a balanced person with perspective.

So here goes the second episode of Shahs of Sunset -- The pals roll into a truck limo, with a stripper pole, of course; roll into a private jet complete with Persian carpet runner (nice touch); and roll into a swanky series of hotel suites on the Strip. The rolling basically continues all the way though the closing credits, via ritzy restaurants, poolside sets and pulsing nightclubs.

The episode has its own merits, operating on a turbo-charged reality TV level -- malicious gossip (that GG likes to stir with her pointed finger, when she's not getting handcuffed by Tattoo Man); assorted wiggling bottoms (dispersed uniformly throughout, like teardrops on Persian rugs); much champagne swilling out of flutes and liquor swigging out of bottles; and even some first-rate puking by a wasted MJ, who later gets hosed down by Reza. He claims to take care of his out-of-control friends by slapping them in the face or throwing them in a cold shower. In this instance, MJ gets dunked in the bubble bath, too, truly the drunk BFF royal treatment.

For those who like this stuff, it works like a charm. Really, it does. I continue to watch, looking for the silver -- or in this case, gold -- lining.

Sadly, for me, this episode lacked some of the interesting Iranian cultural layering of episode one (subtle at times, but there), primarily because it was mostly shot outside Tehrangeles. My favorite character, MJ's mom, was also missing; though in hindsight, this is probably a good thing. And as much as Reza claims, "Persians love Las Vegas... it's all about glitz and glam and cash," I pretty much loathe it. Let's just say some Iranian-Americans love it and some Iranian-Americans don't. In this case, I'm a hater.

On the other hand, when Asa (my favorite recurring character) empathizes with "the struggles he's [Reza] gone through as a gay in Persian society..." I got it. In Iranian culture, especially that of our parents' generation, being the man of the family is a big deal, as is being the first-born son, being the alpha Mike male. Coming out whenever Reza did at home must have had its challenges. He still appears to be somewhat estranged from his father, who now lives in Long Island, and though Reza jokes again about his mother offering him $500,000 to get married (he did so on episode one as well), I feel some pain.

His pain, however, is less felt in West Hollywood, where a large LGBT population resides as well as many Iranian-Americans. The City Council has just passed a resolution condemning the show. WeHo Council Member John Heilman released a statement saying, "The show depicts negative stereotypes of the Iranian-American community. Negative stereotypes disseminated about any group should raise concern as this can lead to discrimination and, in extreme cases, even violence."

As for me, I kind of wish what happened in Vegas stayed in Vegas.

First published in

Charlotte Safavi is a published magazine and newspaper writer. She has written for many publications, including The Washington Post, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, House Beautiful, Victorian Homes, and Better Homes and Gardens. Though born in London and educated at Oxford University, her heritage is Iranian and she now resides in the Washington D.C. area with her husband and son.


more from Charlotte Safavi
Charlotte Safavi

I agree that what came out

by Charlotte Safavi on

I agree that what came out of Iran ie A Separation is heads and shoulders above the Shahs of Sunset. It's not about freedom though, but about integrity and making quality film and television. The Shahs of Sunset has neither.

Charlotte Safavi

Don't know about the drugs.

by Charlotte Safavi on

Don't know about the drugs. I think if the show was more interesting and sympathetic toward Iranian immigrants, more Iranian-Americans would be watching.

Charlotte Safavi

She is a world renouned

by Charlotte Safavi on

She is a world renouned opera singer ie not Asa. I am watching too, partly in base humor, partly in horror, as this crew is nothing like the sort of Iranian-American or person I am. Thanks for sharing.


Charlotte Safavi

I agree, except the show

by Charlotte Safavi on

I agree, except the show claims to represent all Persians.

Charlotte Safavi

Are you talking about a

by Charlotte Safavi on

Are you talking about a character from the show?



One Noble reason for Iranian Pride

by faryarm on


I think GG is hot

by NicholasRowe on

I wonder if the insecurity she has is in most Iranian women DNA. Every Iranian woman I have met in Los Angeles acts like this. Every Iranian women that I have dated acts like this. Narcissist personality and inferior complex.



by choghok on

I think in a demoracy there is room for people that like "a sepertion" like me and for people who like "shahs ...". I think it is like eating a well made dinner and eat junk food. If we force pople to do the right thing then it would be no democracy.


Kiri Te Kanawa

by bahmani on

Classic Huffington Post quality drivel.

Not getting who Kiri Te Kanawa in the first place and not getting the reference enough in order to learn how to spell Kiri Te Kanawa makes the rest of the analysis equivalent to the Persian meaning of Kiri Te Kanawa's first name.

Shah's of Sunset is the Cultural Car Crash of the Iranian community, and the latest basis of our total, sheer, utter, shame and embarrassment. It is a crisis.

For, if we are this base, this debauched, this daft, this simple-minded and this tasteless, we most certainly must therefore deserve this "fool's fate" that the gods have surely divined for us.

Of course, I am watching every single minute of it. As should we all. That way this bad taste will hopefully stay in our mouths forever.

To read more bahmani posts visit: //

iraj khan

Interesting take on Shahs of Sunset

by iraj khan on

I believe GG is behaving the way she does because she is going through some kind of durg addiction or withdrawl.

I have no doubt it!

Afsaneh: Your observation is correct, a work of Art is created by the artist's power of imagination rarely found among Reality Shows producers. But I also confess, I try to watch the show out of curiosity to see how they're being portrayed on national TV. 

Hafez for Beginners

"Freedom" ? / Very nice article

by Hafez for Beginners on


Very nice article. 

"Freedom": It often concerns me  that  this is the "Freedom" we're asking people in the Middle East to shed blood and treasure for. To be "Free" to produce such drivel? America needs to inspire better than this.

The biggest irony being that a production coming out of a "dictatorship" is the Oscar winner, the more meaningful one compared to what "freedom" is producing. Very disturbing stuff.  I learned a long while ago, that "Freedom" without "culture" is invariably a toxic failure.