Monday, March 13, 2006

For New Years, Islamic Iran goes Hollywood

Farshid Motahari, Monsters & Critics:
Iran and the 'Great Satan' have not only irreconcilable political differences but also the Iranian clergy has constantly accused the United States of 'Western cultural invasion' or cultural plot to diverge Iranian youth from its religious beliefs towards 'immoral Western culture.'

But all the accusations have not hindered the administration of ultraconservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to show a series of Hollywood movies for the Iranian New Year which starts March 21.

Doug Liman's 'Mr. & Mrs. Smith', Andy and Larry Wachowski's 'The Matrix Revolutions,' Robert Schwentke's 'Flightplan' and Anthony Minghella's 'Cold Mountain' are just some of the Hollywood movies set to be aired for the New Year days by state television network IRIB.

'The administration must compete with the satellite channels, especially during the News Year days, but that cannot be possible with the usual standard programmes,' an IRIB employee said.

Numerous foreign channels, which Iranians can receive through satellite dishes, as well as Persian TV programmes by mainly Iranian monarchists in the United States, have attracted numerous viewers inside Iran and made them ignore the local television network.

Also during the recent weeks, IRIB aired Hollywood productions such of the 'Lord of the Rings' trilogy, 'War of the Worlds' (Steven Spielberg) and the latest Batman movie 'Batman Begins' to stop the trend towards satellite channels. READ MORE

'Such a variety of Hollywood films was not even shown during the time of (former reformist President Mohammad) Khatami,' a source close to the IRIB said.

Although the 'sensitive scenes', such as the passionate love making between Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt in 'Mr. & Mrs. Smith' are censored out, Iranians are still looking forward to the Hollywood movies with Farsi dubbing.

'The policy of confrontation with satellite programmes and forceful removal of (satellite) dishes eventually turned out to be rather counterproductive, therefore the system chose the wiser option of competing through improving its own programmes,' the source added.

The IRIB is under supervision of representatives of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, most of them clerics, and is therefore classified as very conservative.

Ahmadinejad had reportedly asked for a ban of Western music on Iranian television, including music by Eric Clapton, Pink Floyd and The Eagles, but IRIB sources said the reports were not correct.

'The music by these artists has never ever been played on IRIB, exceptions were either instrumental pieces or instrumental versions of their music which are still played on the network,' an IRIB official said.

A member of the cultural council of the Iranian parliament, Javad Ariamanesh, said that Ahmadinejad's remarks were in connection with 'immoral kind of music,' referring to some techno music occasionally heard on the state network, and further aimed at expanding Iranian rather than Western music.

Western music, and also the latest films, are easily available as pirated copies for dumping prices - one euro for audio CD and two euro for DVD - in the black market.

Some of the new films also have Persian subtitles to attract a wider audience. Even the vulgar parts of the film dialogues are directly translated into Farsi, something which would have been impossible even before the 1979 Islamic revolution.

There have been fears within society that Ahmadinejad and his hardline government would fight both the growing use of satellite equipment and the illegal distribution of Western music and films. This has, however, not been the case yet.

'We have no problems yet but this might be because the government has far bigger problems than CDs and DVDs,' said dealer Behzad, referring to the Iranian nuclear case now at the UN Security Council and probability of sanctions against the Islamic state.

Music and film dealers in Iran, especially in the capital Tehran, have their own little studio where the original CDs and DVDs smuggled into the country from East Asia are copied and secretly distributed to shops and private users.

These dealers are usually below the age of 35, like Behzad, and some of them even make up to 3,000 euros (3,600 dollars) per month, while the minimum monthly wage in Iran is below 120 euros.

The high rate of unemployment, especially among the youth, is one of the major problems of the country. Some 800,000 new jobs a year are needed just to stop the current unemployment rate from rising further but no feasible plans have yet been made by the government.

'Thanks to Hollywood, we are not affected by the unemployment and have a decent income,' Behzad said.