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"Jersey Shore" Targets Iranians: Reaction and Concern

By Nakkisa Akhavan and Mehrdad Bokhour, Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans (PAAIA)

A press release has recently surfaced stating that a "Jersey Shore" like reality show, produced by the same production company, Doron Ofir Casting, is in the works casting Iranian-Americans for "The Persian Version." While this may at first seem humorous and innocent, in reality this may produce some unintended consequences. This community has been working to alleviate stigmas against it since at least the 1980s, and to allow such a television show to make as big a splash as Jersey Shore did would be a huge step backward.

Most people who watched Jersey Shore may have judged the cast-members, but did not judge or form opinions against Italians in general because they have other experiences with Italians that can serve as a foundation for a better understanding of Italian culture. On the other hand, due to highly-strained relations between Iran and the United States, Iranians have felt great prejudice that has not often been counteracted by a visibility in American society. Because Iranian culture is not yet widespread and well understood by a non-Iranian audience, the most vivid, and perhaps first and only impression this audience would have of Iranian-Americans would be this show. 

Anyone who has seen or heard of Jersey Shore knows that the show was not created to highlight the culture or in anyway introduce and celebrate the Italian American community. Much of the direction of the show can be attributed to the youth-geared media's ongoing desire to "push the envelope" by glorifying practices that should be repudiated.

Direct language from the casting call states that the casting crew is looking for "Persian-Americans who rule the Hollywood nightlife and own Beverly Hills." Furthermore, another description reads, "At least 21 years old, appear younger than thirty and are outrageous, outspoken and a proud Persian-American," and,  "[If your life is] 'all about Gucci, Gabbana, Cavalli and Cristal' or if buying anything 'from BMWs and Bugatis, to Mercedes and Movado-money is no object.'" The use of the word "outrageous" and the emphasis on nightlife and Beverly Hills is alarming as are the values the call associates with Iranians. It is also important to point out that a majority of Iranian-Americans do not embrace those values. Unfortunately, there will not be a show that will highlight our rich values, culture, and beliefs that the Iranian heritage really embodies. The larger audience will see only the negatives, or at least the exceptions, rather than seeing the positive and significant contributions of the Iranian American community.

As a community that has been actively working to enhance its image for over thirty years, to allow such a show to undo all that work would be regrettable. According to a recent PAAIA/Zogby poll, a significant portion, one third, of all Americans are not familiar with Iranian Americans. Notably, impressions of Iranian Americans the poll indicated are in large part formed by the media. Endorsing such a forum as this television show would be a step back for the community at its nascent stages of development as a positive force in American society.

Only recently stories of courage coming from the movement against last summer's disputed Presidential Election results, the nationwide movement to be counted as Iranian in the 2010 Census, and the Nowruz Resolution recognizing and expressing appreciation for the community's contributions in American society have given the community a very new foundation. A television program that will misrepresent the community so gravely could undo this developing foundation. As such, the burden is on those of us in the first and second generations to take great strides and counter any attempts at negative portrayal of our community and further work toward positive portrayals such as those mentioned. The Iranian-American community should come together, organizations and individuals alike, to stand against this show airing. It should unify and express its concerns and demand to be accurately represented in all media.

... Payvand News - 04/17/10 ... --

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