Perhaps, it's only me, but to my screwy mind there seems to be something supremely ironic that so many people have been enraged by the cartoon 300. I, for one, don’t get it.
Blood pressures have been rising and boycotts have been organized in every major Iranian-American community from coast-to-coast decrying this most gross and callous injustice inflicted upon our ancient forefathers-in-animated-form. All the while, the rest of the country has been shaking its head in total bewilderment trying to comprehend our over reaction to a cartoon and at the same time trying not to burst out in laughter....as in my humble opinion they would be completely justified in doing under the circumstances. This whole 300 business is just the latest manufactured 'crisis' to hit our community. Just like many of the other created “crises” before it, everything about this latest crisis is nothing more that a bunch of blown-out-of-proportion-baloney.
I don’t understand all these people who would rather be angry, upset and indignant about a cartoon when this is the time of the year that they should be celebrating? Norooz has just ended after all! Instead of being thankful for all we've got in this country: freedom, success, money, what do many amongst us do? They rail against this frigging cartoon as if matters in the big scheme of things and try to whip the rest of us up emotionally by imploring us to join them in their rancorous rant. Is it any wonder that late night TV comedians have been having a field day watching us? Our community's reaction has, after all, looked quite comical in a Monty Pythonish sort of way as we’ve set out to make our 'Quest for the Unholy Rail.' Our petition-loving brothers and sisters haven’t done any of us any favors by raising so much hell about something so trivial. They certainly haven’t made us look dignified, well educated, or at the very least, normal. They have made every single, last one of us look like ridiculous, whining fools.
Ponder for a moment the fact that every other racial group, ethnic group, and regional group in America has been spoofed, stereotyped or made the object of tasteless satire throughout the history of cinematography. The list of groups that have been lampooned in the movies is endless. Some of the most politically incorrect movies of all-time include flicks like: Blazing Saddles. Airplane, There's Something about Mary, Caddyshack, Love and Death, Kentucy Fried Movie, American Pie I and II, Porky's, Team America: Worst Police, Song of the South, Bad Santa, and Borat. An incomplete list of those lampooned in these movies include: Japanese people, Chinese people, Koreans, Arabs, Mexicans, Armenians, Poles, the French, Jews, Christians, the mentally retarded, drug addicts, alcoholics, homosexuals, easy girls, and men with tiny weiners.
We in the Iranian American community have been spared, for the most part, up to now only because we’re a relatively new ethnic addition to the mish-mashed melting pot called American society. When the time comes that we are lampooned in the movies as savagely and hilariously as other groups in society, it will only be because our fellow citizens have fully accepted us. Knowing how we are though, we'll probably be insulted at having our Persian dignity laughed at and we'll have to churn out even more petitions. If there is any one thing that we do well, it has got to be petitions!
While we're more than happy to have a good laugh when other ethnic, racial or regional groups are being lampooned or stereotyped in some way, we get our panties in a wad when Hollywood has the audacity to portray, not real, flesh-and-blood Iranians, but animated caricatures of ancient Persians as giant, ass-kicking warriors. In my humble opinion, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. If we want to be accepted by others in American society, we've got to willing to accept that this means taking the good with the bad, just like every other segment and every other ethnicity in America does.
What our petition-pushing brethren really want is for us to be put on a pedestal above others. They are not interested in equal treatment for Iranians; they want special treatment. I could be mistaken, but for some reason I have a nagging suspicion that all the other groups in society aren't really going to enthusiastically jump on the 'Iranians are more special than everybody else' bandwagon. In an effort to convince us that we’ve been victimized, the anti-300 league has pulled out those two old, but tried and tested, drums called racism and discrimination to sound the alarm. They've been unmercifully pounding the hell out of those drums for weeks now trying to convince us that we've been mistreated. What a crock!
Our community doesn't have any right to accuse others of being racists until we clean up our own act first. I know that this may come as a startling shock to some, but as an ethnic group, we are amongst the most racist and ethnocentric people in American society today. Of course, we have many good souls that don't have a racist bone in their bodies, but we also have more than a few who think we're better than everyone else. Just a few evenings ago, I saw a video on Tapesh that lampooned Marylyn Monroe, Elvis, Native Americans as well as American culture in general. I wonder how many Iranians phoned in indignant protests about the culturally demeaning undercurrent of that video. Something, tells me that Tapesh's phones probably weren't ringing off the hook. When we are entertained at 'their' expense, we call it harmless and humorous entertainment. When 'they' are entertained at our expense, we cry and snivel like little wimps who've had their milk money stolen by the school yard bully.
Sacha Baron Cohen, /a.k.a./ Borat was hailed as iranian.com's, October 30, 2006, Iranian of the Day.
http://www.iranian.com/PhotoDay/2006/October/borat.html. Niki Tehranchi went so far as to compare Cohen favorably to two of the greatest geniuses of satirical comedy, Peter Sellers and Andy Kaufman, in a November 16, 2006 movie review entitled “Love child of Peter Sellers and Andy Kaufman.” Everyone who has seen that movie knows that the central character of the film, Borat, was an
equal opportunity offender. He offended everyone.
Everyone, that is, except Iranians! It's interesting to note that the P.P.P.C. (Persian Police for Political Correctness) didn't wage a petition signing campaign when Borat offended blacks, women, homosexuals, Eastern Europeans, white Christian rednecks, Jews, and mentally retarded people in that recent Hollywood blockbuster.
Would it have been unreasonable for those in the groups Borat offended to jump to the conclusion that Cohen's uniquely offensive brand of humor is acceptable to the Iranian-Americans simply because Cohen is of Iranian descent through his mother's family? I think they would have been completely justified in jumping to that conclusion. The important thing, however, is that they did not jump to that conclusion. They took it all in stride.
How would we have responded if we had been accused of being racists because others were offended by Borat? We would probably have said that we just thought the movie was simply fun an harmless entertainment. How, then, is the cartoon 300 any different? If we're going to enjoy being entertained by the outrageous lampooning of others, then why shouldn't they have every right to be entertained by cartoon caricatures of our ancient forbearers waging war and kicking ass, even if the cartoon is historically inaccurate? People who go to see the cartoon 300 don’t want a history lesson; they want to be entertained for a couple of hours.
The issue at hand is not whether we've been made the victims of racism vis-a-vis this cartoon. The issue at hand is whether we as a community are going to purge from our collective psyche the last vestiges of the siege mentality that has gripped our community for far too long in North America. Certainly, many among us don't think that everything that happens in America is a conspiracy against Iranians, but, then again, many do.
People who happen to be afflicted with a siege mentality suffer from an overly ethnocentric imagination which makes them hyper-sensitive to anything and everything that has to do with Iran. They think that everyone else in America hates us and wants to harm us either individually, or collectively.
These are the kind of people who've lived in America for thirty years, or more and still don't know that the basic structure of an English sentence is subject-verb-object. Is it any wonder that they're afraid and distrustful of everyone else in society? They can't even communicate in any meaningful way with the 99.9% of the American population that can't speak Persian...and this is after three decades in some cases.
These are people who haven't tried to fit into the larger society. They've resented having to live in America and they've resented having to live amongst Americans. Every moment of every day, they're absorbed in thoughts about the life they once had in Iran. For many of these sad souls, it's as if their life stopped when they had to leave the life they once led. Instead of enjoying many of the wonderful aspects of life in America, these people are bitter that their life in America isn't identical to life they left behind. They are hurt and angry. For them, the only problem with America is that it is so damn full of Americans. Their ideal American utopia would be one that was packed coast-to-coast with Iranians and one where Farsi was the American lingua franca.
Fortunately, most of our people don’t suffer from this affliction. Most are thankful to be here and over the years have increasingly become more active contributors to the larger culture beyond our own. Such people have gratefully accepted those aspects of American culture they thought good and useful. Similarly, they’ve shared aspects of our beautiful culture with other Americans. They’ve tried their best to be goodwill ambassadors for our culture by teaching their friends and neighbors that Iran has a rich and marvelous heritage that is open to all. They’ve done these things without sacrificing, in any way, those traditional Iranian values which they hold dear, and without forgetting about the importance and majesty of our own cherished traditions. Most of our people have successfully found a way to balance both sides of the hyphen in their Iranian-American identity.
I would be the first to admit that life in America hasn’t always easy for Iranian-Americans, but it hasn’t been easy for Mexican-Americans,Italian-Americans, African-Americans,Chinese-Americans, Polish-Americans,Native-Americans, Vietnamese-Americans,Redneck-Americans, Rotund-Americans,Just-Plain-Ugly-Americans or any other group, with or without a hyphen, in American society today. Surely, racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, age-discrimination, weight-discrimination and every other kind of prejudice can be found in contemporary American life, but that doesn't mean that everyone is out to get us. It simply means that when you throw so many different kinds of people from so many different backgrounds together and ask them to live side by side in peace and harmony that there are bound be a few bumps in the road on the way to being able to peacefully coexist in mutual respect and friendship.
Is there anyone among us who really believes that a better multicultural mosaic exists elsewhere in the world today? Perhaps, a few unhappy souls might feel that way, but not many. I would submit that we are living in one of the grandest experiments the world has ever witnessed. It isn't a perfect experiment by any means, but it's the best one around. Throughout the annuls of history, where have so many diverse people come together under one nationality and tried to find ways to rise above the dark and hateful parts of our shared human character in the hope that all of us can learn to live peacefully with and respect each other as friends, neighbors and countrymen.
God knows that we in the Iranian American community ought to be the last people
on earth crying racism while wagging accusatory fingers at others. Certainly, we are blessed to have many good hearted individuals in our community, but that doesn't alter the fact that our community also suffers from the same ugly social afflictions which plague other ethnic groups. The foulest and most injurious of these afflictions is that of racism. Sadly, it seems that we give as good as we get in this respect. We may claim that Iranians aren’t racist, but who are we kidding? We all know the truth. There are some among us who are as racist as any white-sheet wearing Klansman.
While references to how stupid, ignorant and uncultured both white and black Americans are, can't be found on Iranian-American websites everyday, they aren't all that infrequent either. It would be grossly unfair of me to paint all Iranians with the same brush by over-generalizing and saying that we're all racists when we aren’t, but it goes without saying that there is a significant portion of our community that is as racist as racist can be.
Notwithstanding the fact that there are many good and decent souls in our community, when we complain about racism, it's like the pot calling the kettle black. We have some in our community who are among the biggest racists around and all of us know it. Even those of us who aren't racist, rarely rubuke a fellow Iranian for spewing racist hate. Even though we may disagree with them, we'd rather keep silent than to openly challenge their beliefs.
Forgetting racism for a moment, nearly all of us have taken a far too large measure of pride in thinking that our ethnic group is better than everyone else in society. We may not say we're smarter, more successful and better than others aloud, but we allow ourselves to think it. This is simply stinking-thinking and nothing more. The reality is that we're no better than anyone else. Whether we want to admit it or not, we have all the same human frailties, flaws and fears as any other group of people. Even our local Iranian TV stations get in on the act by constantly bombarding us with messages of how much better, smarter, more refined, more cultured and more successful we are than other people. Unfortunately, some of us start believing our crap and such people are easy to spot. Their heads and their egos swell to a humongous size making it almost impossible for them to squeeze into any room that has non-Iranians in it. Often, we stereotype others, be they black, white, Asian, or Mexican, just so we can feel good about ourselves. When others stereotype us, make disparaging or insulting remarks about our homeland and culture, call us vile and filthy names, or... make cartoons about our ancient ancestors we call it racism. When we it do it to them, however, we call it the truth.
There are plenty of things that I don't know in life, but there are two things I feel sure of. The first thing is that we are not the victims of a racist, anti-Iranian conspiracy just because other people enjoy the cartoon 300, even with its historical inaccuracies. The second thing is that even if we were the victims of a racist conspiracy, we’d have no right to complain about it until we started treating others the way we would want them to treat us.
Until the time comes that we are able to think of others just as highly as we think of ourselves, we have no right to ask them to think anything, but ill of us. Until we acknowledge that we are a racist people just like many other individuals and groups of people both inside and outside of America, but a people committed, nonetheless, to erasing this stain of dishonor on our collective character, we have no right to expect others to treat us with the dignity, respect and compassion we want for ourselves. Only when we are willing to face the hypocrisy within our hearts and within in our community, can we rightfully expect others to do the same.