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An Iranian-American in Defense of Shahs of Sunset

The second season of Shahs of Sunset started airing on December 2. I know I’ll be the skunk at the Iranian-American garden party after admitting that I love the show. But I’m throwing down the gauntlet and challenging my fellow ex-pats (or anyone else for that matter) to refute any of the important points I’m about to make in defense of the flamboyant Reza Farahan and his Tehrangeles set.

To elaborate, I should explain that numerous Iranian-Americans, who seem to have even less objectivity after 30-plus years in exile, have whined about this show being an insult and/or a misrepresentation of Iranians-Americans: a Kardashianized disgrace, fabricated by the sacrilegious and intellectually challenged Hollywood producers.

In ’79, Iranians just flocked to Los Angeles and turned it into the hub Iranian enclave. They came because there had already been a thriving little Iranian community there since the ’40s; and also because the weather is nice. This is very likely what Iran would have looked like had the Khomeinist hordes not occupied the country. It’s basically Iran outside Iran, Tehran through the looking glass, a non-plus ultra.

In her article in Salon, sociologist Neda Maghbouleh writes:

It turns out that professors — even the ones with the authority to hire other professors — watch schlocky basic-cable programming. And from the Midwest to New England, curious members of hiring committees wanted to know: Does the show, which follows six Iranians in their 30s living in Los Angeles, accurately reveal what Iranian-Americans are really like?

Well, yes. This show offers so much more than just a snapshot of Iranian culture. It offers a glimpse of well-assimilated and prosperous Iranians.

In fact, I don’t see anything in the show that I don’t already know or cannot recognize as pretty darn Iran-American. In fact, some of these people could be my cousins and a perfect depiction of the Children of Cyrus, a man (the Achaemenids in general) who himself paraded his era’s bling-bling, not via reality TV but on bas-reliefs in the family "crib," Persepolis!

Iranians are hostage to their own set of dizzying dichotomies and paradoxes, and our long history adds a hefty helping of the maudlin and precious. We learn at a tender age to surf Persian social riptides and chart crosscurrents like an art form, deconstructed by a few like Omid Djalili.