The Good, The Bad, And The Shah's Of Sunset
This is a guest post written by Siamak G, host of Radio Javan's "Popcorn" show.
I am sure by now you all have heard about Ryan Seacrest's new show premiering on Bravo in early March called "Shahs of Sunset". If you haven't, please visit this link, watch the first 2 minutes of the show and then come back to read this. Otherwise, this is not going to make sense. Well... to most of you my ranting won't make sense. If you find yourself agreeing with me half way through, stop reading it. If you find your blood pressure rising, continue reading... there is redemption at the end. Just keep in mind that I am writing this based on what I have witnessed and experienced.
Having been friends with one of the cast members since Junior High School and being involved in the things I do, I knew about this show and that it was making it's way to our lives. I also knew that regardless of what the show was going to be, Iranians were going to hate on it and try to knock it down (as we do all the time with fellow Iranians).
As soon as the news came out, my Facebook newsfeed was filled with links of the cast's pictures followed by negative and nasty comments about the show. Most of the comments were about people being embarrassed or ranting about the fact that this is not a correct portrayal of Iranian-Americans in LA. As I was laughing hysterically I couldn't help but feel some sadness as well. How disconnected from reality and truth are we? Well... we'll get back to that.
These days, Iran is in the news more than ever for the wrong reasons. Being an Iranian-American who escaped from Iran at the age of 12 to avoid religious persecution, I have always tried to keep my culture alive in my house and community and never forgot where I came from. I have gone through hell and back in life and I am proud to hold my head up in my community. (No I did not become a doctor or a lawyer. As we witness from the cast, there are other ways to be successful in this country.) Living in Los Angeles for most of my life I came to the conclusion that our community is far from being united or "one" as we claim to be. Yes, we do have many good qualities and traditions, and we are successful and educated, but these do not mean that we are a homogenous community.
Most of us migrated here after the revolution and for almost 30 years all we did was improve our homes in Beverly Hills with our BMWs and Mercedes Benzs parked in front. We only communicated with our own kind and passed judgments on other communities. We judged people based on their income, their religion, the kind of car they drove, and the area code they lived in. Our kids were at the top of their class but were the only students that got to school driving the latest model German car. If people did better than us, we made up stories about them or pointed out their shortcomings in front of everyone so we could feel better about ourselves. Anyone that ended up having something that we didn't have or couldn't get would suddenly become our worst enemy. Even when someone showed potential to get somewhere in this country, the community hardly supported them.
Only over the past 5-7 years have we created organizations such as PAAIA, Farhang Foundation, and Noor Film Festival to bridge the gap and reach out to other communities. What did we do the first 25 years that we were here? How did we try to protect our image and manage people's perception of us? What did the outside community see of us while we were only mingling among ourselves? The answer is a show like "Shah's of Sunset". Ryan Seacrest and the executives at Bravo are not making these characters up! These are real people and WE as a community raised them.
These 6 people are no different than 90% of the young Iranians living in Southern California or the East Coast. Have you not seen pictures of what we do during Las Vegas Persian Christmas convention parties? Do you not see pictures of house parties and 3-day weekend club parties on Facebook? These are the educated successful Iranians that make up for the future of this community holding a Grey Goose bottle in one hand and throwing gang signs in middle of the hottest clubs in LA. So when someone like Ryan Seacrest wants to do a reality show about us, he doesn't have to look far. We are everywhere.
Why are we getting upset at Ryan Seacrest and Bravo anyway? They do what they do best. They bring entertainment to television. And now that we are the entertainment, instead of knocking the people on the show down, we have an opportunity to take a look in the mirror. If you are unhappy with what you are watching, go out and do something in your life that is going to bring the community together first, and then collectively make a difference in our community. Go and be an example of our culture at work and school and nightclubs. Don't hate the people you are going to watch on TV. Recognize that this is just television and entertainment at it's best. If we were any different in people's eye than we are on TV, then we have nothing to worry about. But the sad truth is that most people will compare what they are going to see on TV and what they see at clubs or online media and it's going to be the same. You want them to think differently? What are you doing to break the stereotype that is about to be magnified on TV?
Instead of taking responsibility for our own behavior and changing it, we expect someone else to do it for us. We demand bunch of kids on TV to be different so they fit within our belief system, but are not willing to make that change ourselves. I have always been a believer that if you want to make a difference in your community, you have to start with your own family and house first. You can't preach something and not do it yourself. You can't want something from people or your community if you are not willing to be the change yourself.
I think it's great that there is a show on TV about us. Maybe this way some of the wealth from our community can go towards making the image of our community better because if we want to wait for the handful of people that are actually doing something, this is going to be a long and painful ride for all of us. We have a lot of opportunities to win the heart of the masses. There are so many powerful and inspiring stories out there that need to be made into films. You want to fight the stereotype? Make a movie and win the heart of people that don't know you that well. Host inter-cultural talks and discussions at schools and universities and share your values with other people. I am not saying that we are not doing anything at all or everyone is like this. I am saying that for who we are and what we can and have accomplished, we are way behind. So maybe we should take a moment and choose the battles we want to fight. You have to recognize that getting upset at movies like 300 or this show is only bringing more attention to what you don't want the general public to know or watch. What you resist will persist right?