So I did it: I watched the first episode of Ryan Seacrest Productions’ latest reality show, Shahs of Sunset. At this point, I must add I don’t watch reality shows or much TV at all, so this took a special effort. I made it because I’m Anglo-Iranian-American and I wanted to see what the buzz was about.
Shahs of Sunset, which aired last Sunday on Bravo, follows the “lives” of a certain segment of wealthy Persian-American singles whooping it up in Tehrangeles. (Tehrangeles refers to the affluent LA neighborhoods where these Iranians settled down after their parents fled the 1979 Islamic Revolution, apparently, with Louis Vuitton trunks stacked with gold bullion.)
Though the show’s opening blurb talks about the lawyers and the doctors who escaped the vise of the mullahs, it must be noted that this particular crowd of spoiled overgrown children primarily do real estate — manically, successfully and lots of it.
Now the shoe drops… mine, not a Louboutin.
I was desperately searching for a shred of kinship — and found none. This was not my crowd. Many Iranian-Americans, from the esteemed author Gina Nahai to the former Beverly Hills mayor Jimmy Delshad, have feared this show’s repercussions on the reputations of genuine, hardworking, intelligent Iranian-Americans. I nod my head wildly, as I’m one of them, or so I like to think.
But — let’s think about it.
In the New York Times, Mike Hale reviewed Shahs of Sunset and wrote, “You can imagine the average contemporary Iranian watching it and thinking: Ah, that’s why we needed the revolution. To get rid of these people.”
To this, I play devil’s advocate and write, “You can imagine the average modern American reality series addict, somewhere in the Heartland, watching it and thinking: Why do we want to nuke Iran? These people aren’t towel heads chanting Death to America or wannabe suicide bombers, but crazy folks in hot heels and hot cars living the American Dream. And they sure know how to partay!”
I’m sad to say, this is good PR, given how misunderstood Iranian culture still is in the States…
First and foremost, Shahs of Sunset is a reality TV show, with a great deal of vulgarity, gratuitous behavior, appalling dialogue, staged hissy fits and other inappropriate shenanigans, but as I sit here in my H&M skinny jeans (MJ’s mom might have approved, at least of the skinny jeans part, and GG might well have shot me for it), I see a sliver of hope here, dare I say, merit.
Let me explain.
For you protesting Iranians, I 100% understand your disgust and concern. Let’s face the sorry facts: the Shahs of Sunset is indeed the worst of Jersey Shore with chelo kabob thrown in, filled with trashy moments, like GG yelling “Shut it off!” (Even her accent sounds suspiciously NJ) and Mike preening gangsta-like in front of a mirror, while spraying deodorant on his alpha thing (I don’t want to know where Reza sprays his).
Thing is the game’s on (for the first season in any event). Shahs of Sunset opened well enough with 1.1 million viewers.
So for those of you unfamiliar with our world, let’s use this as a moment to observe some of the funnier stereotypical truths (or blatant lies) about Iranians — and their culture — that you may have missed while following the show’s shallow plot and gaudy characterization, which like unleavened bread are highly unlikely to rise above the lowest possible denominator.
For such tidbits, I’ll narrow my list down to 7, an ancient, mystical number in Iran and the number of steps leading up to Cyrus the Great’s grave, in which he is no doubt quaking:
1. Iranians are family people. They stay close to their home base when they can and maintain regular touch with their extended families.
2. Iranians socialize in herds, sort of like buffalo. They just like to do things en masse. Whether going to a restaurant or getting ready for a party. You never see one out on the town; it takes a village.
3. Iranians love to entertain and do it well. Even poor Iranians would cringe at potlucks or BYOB. As for the rich, take Sammy’s pool party: all corners covered from lounge chairs to hand-rolled towels, drinks to fabulous food, DJs to, uh, a tiger…
4. An Iranian mother is never satisfied with her daughter’s appearance…and isn’t shy about sharing her thoughts. A little more lipstick, a little less foundation, whatever. MJ and her mother, right on target.
5. Iranian men ARE mama’s boys. Make no mistake: you date one, you date the mother; you marry one, you marry the mother. Mike and his mater, totally true.
6. Food is a cultural masterpiece. In flitting shots, I saw my favorite sour cherry layered rice dish, complete with tahdig (the crispy rice bottom), as well as a wealth of other edible treats that took second stage to snarky comments.
7. Rhinoplasty is a rite of passage for many Iranian girls. If you know one with a perfect nose, ask to see a childhood picture. If her snapshots got lost in the revolution, well, you know what I mean.
Even cheesy reality shows can have aha moments. For me, the Shahs of Sunset‘s most meaningful moment was when Asa, the misfit who frightened me the most for choosing to hang out with this crowd, said: “It (Iran) is not my home anymore. I’m emotionally homeless, forever will be. It’s the refugee experience.”
Whether Shahs of Sunset is a short-lived dynasty, like the Pahlavi’s, or a long-lived one, like the Safavid’s (no pun intended), buried in this quagmire are glimpses of a culture I recognize. Please feel free to share a bit of the funnier, falser or more interesting stuff hidden beneath the slick reality series veneer.
With this, I bid you khodahafez.