You know, when Jersey Shore aired, my first thought was "I wish they would make a spinoff of this show about Iranians, because really, we don't get enough bad press as it is." Lucky for me, MTV read my mind and is creating The Persian Version, which is, um a Persian version of Jersey Shore. From the casting call:
Two thousand years ago the Persian Empire ruled the ancient world…but they didn't have your soundtrack, your style, or your swagger! Today there's a new Persian empire growing right here in L.A. and it's ready to conquer the world all over again. It's a bad-ass new dynasty where exotic beauty and wild style dominates the sexiest nightlife, exclusive venues and hottest beaches the modern world has to offer.
You've got the means, the money, and the motivation to cut through the velvet rope and rule the VIP! For you life is all about Gucci, Gabbana, Cavalli and Cristal. From BMWs and Bugatis, to Mercedes and Movado and money is no object.
...Time to show the world that being Persian-American is about living the true American dream…a lifestyle most people only wish they could. So if you are at least 21 years old, appear younger than thirty and are outrageous, outspoken and a proud Persian-American, then Doron Ofir Casting and 495 Productions, the team who brought you Jersey Shore, are looking for you!
I know! I, too, am shocked that MTV would choose to promote conspicuous consumption as practiced by an outrageously rich group of narcissistic young people. This show, incredibly, has the potential to actually be worse than Jersey Shore, a feat previously considered impossible. American popular culture often upholds negative stereotypes of Italian-Americans, but there are also lots of positive images of Italians in popular culture: Martin Scorsese, Alyssa Milano, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo Antonioni, Giada De freakin' Laurentiis. Ask the average American to name a famous Iranian that's not That One Guy, How Do You Say His Name? or You Know, The Other Dude and you'll probably come up with squat. As for Iranians in mainstream American pop culture... well, there was this bit on 30 Rock, the guy who tries to shoot a child in Crash and of course Xerxes from 300. Because Iranians are such a tiny minority in America, most Americans don't have any positive images or personal knowledge of Iran/ians to counteract these weird crazy depictions. From the Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans blog:
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.
It's kind of like when a duckling hatches and imprints on the first moving thing it sees (usually the mama duck), and then follows that thing around and tries to bond with it. Now, if the duckling is the American public and the world outside the egg is Iranian-American culture, you're going to get a duckling that thinks Snooki is its mother. Jokes aside: the people this casting call specifies do exist, but I don't want everyone who watches MTV to associate Iranians with The Persian Version. Partly because once this show airs, every person I meet who finds out I'm Iranian will want to ask me what I think of it. I'm going to state here, for the record, even though the show doesn't exist yet: I think it sucks. Let's talk about Parisa from The Real World: Sydney instead. She was pretty okay.
But wait! There is hope for Iranians, television and the glorious lovechild that will inevitably spring from their coupling: ABC is shooting a sitcom based on Firoozeh Dumas's 2003 memoir Funny in Farsi! And it stars gen-yoo-ine Iranian-American comedian Maz Jobrani! (This is a huge relief, because really, as much as I love Sir Ben Kingsley, he is just always being cast as an Iranian even though he is not Iranian and does a really bad Iranian accent.)
MTV also sent out casting calls this month for two more Jersey Shore spinoffs. One involves Russian-Americans in Brighton Beach and the other is about Asian-Americans in Koreatown, LA (imagined board meeting: "The other spinoffs are pretty ethnically specific: shouldn't we make this one about just Koreans, or something?" "Nah, they all look the same, so it doesn't matter if we just lump all their cultures together."). The latter is also open to anyone who is "obsessed with Asian culture or people", which is really just license for fetishists to be featured on the show. Good move, MTV. If nothing else, that will be interesting television.