A new reality TV show about the lavish lifestyles of rich young American-Iranians in Los Angeles has sparked angry claims it is degrading, and exploits the Persian community’s image for ratings.
At least two Facebook pages have been set up to protest against “Shahs of Sunset,” which depicts a group of well-to-do friends partying and shopping on exclusive Rodeo Drive.
The show is set in Tehrangeles, the name given to the West Coast metropolis’s Persian community ̶ 20 percent of Beverly Hills’ residents are of Iranian stock ̶ said to be the biggest outside the Islamic Republic.
Critics are concerned that it further taints the reputation of a community which already has something of an image problem.
“It’s just putting a very bad spin on something that we already have ̶ the Persians don’t have a very good positive image in America,” said Jimmy Delshad, who came to the U.S. as a teenager and rose to be mayor of Beverly Hills, twice.
“It seems to be very degrading, even though they’re showing very high end, supposedly, people in the community, but it shows us as spoiled and nouveau riche, people without much family training,” he told AFP.
Bravo, the channel which airs the show, describes it as following “a group of friends who are trying to juggle their active social lives and up-and-coming careers while balancing the demands of their families and traditions.”
“From outings on Rodeo Drive to traditional Persian feasts at home, this series celebrates the unique lifestyle of a group of friends who have worked hard for what they have and are not afraid to flaunt it,” its blurb says.
The first episode last weekend introduced the cast of good-looking characters shopping for wedding dresses, throwing pool parties, and having rows about ̶ horror ̶ allegedly wearing clothes from mainstream retailer H and M.
“There are two things I don’t like: I don’t like ants, and I don’t like ugly people,” says GG, who is unashamedly obsessed with her appearance.
“Image is everything in our community,” adds MJ, a real estate agent. “For example, I might spend more money on my handbag than I do on my rent, because more people are going to see my purse than my crib.”
The Iranian community in LA, boosted significantly by the 1979 Revolution and ouster of the Shah, is traditionally centered on Westwood, also known as “Little Persia,” including its own Persian Square.
Critics in the community have lined up to slam the show.
“Perhaps the most egregious aspect of the show is that the actors do not pretend to represent only themselves; they pose as experts on the Iranian-American national character,” said novelist and academic Gina Nahai.
“I’m not unaware of the negative sentiments on the part of many Americans toward the Iranians among them,” Nahai, a professor of creative writing at University of Southern California, told AFP.
“It seems to me that in this case, the producers have made a list of every one of these negative impressions, then cast the show with prototypes for each.”
American-Iranian comedian Firoozeh Dumas said trailers for the show were enough for him.
“I did not watch the first episode, nor will I ever watch any episodes .. I would rather spend an hour at the dentist’s. If television’s motto is ‘how low can you go,’ then Bravo TV should be proud of having hit rock bottom,” he said.
And the show’s Facebook page has been plagued with links to another, protest page.
“After watching this hot mess, I think I can relate to how embarrassed the Armenian community has been by the Kardashians. I wince in particular at having to share a surname with one of these people,” one contributor commented.
The storm sparked by the show is reminiscent of the controversy which surrounded “Jersey Shore” in 2009, over its alleged slurs against the Italian American community.
A spokesman for Bravo defended the show. “We wanted to present an exciting group of friends who live interesting and dynamic lives as well as give an inside look at their culture and rituals.
“We are hoping to entertain and engage our viewers. This group of friends does not represent an entire nationality,” she told AFP.
The characters do indeed include a spectrum of types, including Muslims and Jews, and even a flamboyantly gay character, Reza Farahan ̶ who also defended the show against the charge that it deals in stereotypes.
“If people watch the show and think I represent every Persian, they’re going to think every Persian is super-fly and loves a lot of gold, but I don’t,” he told NPR radio.
He said he wants to show the world a Middle Eastern man who is homosexual and happy.
“Someone said something to the effect of, why didn’t they find a group of scholars or dentists or doctors? Because it would be boring,” he said.