Iranians on Video Site Big Think

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I’ve made no secret of my fandom of Iranian novelist Porochista Khakpour, whom I liked before I even read her book. She’s one of very few people so far that has managed to be Iranian and write a really great book of fiction in the English language, and she also talks honestly about not really feeling the whole “Iranian woman” genre of recent times. That takes balls.

After seeing her in these Big Think videos (27 of them!! Confession: I did not watch them all), I think my fascination with her as an author is slowing being overcome by a fascination with her hair. See bangs, above, and then see previous jaunty blonde streak in an artful, Veronica Lake swoop. PK, how do you do that?!

Big Think, for the Internet-erati that haven’t heard yet, is a video interview site that only talks to important people (er, big thinkers?). They don’t allow embedding, which is dumb from a content-distribution standpoint [Correction: They totally allow embedding. There’s a tiny “Share” button that I missed. Whoops.] And it’s clear they’re going for a very TED-like vibe, calling their videos “ideas.”

Khakpour’s not the only Iranian on the Big Think site, though she is the only person discussing mostly literature. Here are Reza Aslan (still pontificating about rich LA Persians), Vali Nasr (surprisingly handsome! charming accent!), and Azar Nafisi (is allegedly neo-con fabulous the Iranian version of ghetto fabulous?), mostly talking politics and the Middle East.

The common thread, though, is that Big Think serves up Iranian-themed videos with an unintended side of irony: all of these videos have really funny blanks in their transcripts. Basically, nearly all the names of Iranian poets and writers that are discussed by the speakers have been omitted from the transcripts that appear alongside the videos (i.e., Ferdowsi? That’s _______ to you, mister!). That’s probably because their transcriber or transcription software just isn’t up on the Iranian literary canon, but it’s still amusing to see it on a site with this level of intellectual chops.

Which Iranians would you like to see on Big Think, and what “ideas” do you want to hear addressed by them?

Hey, Where’s MY Tehrangeles?

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Nazanin of Iranian Truth just wrote a post pointing to a PostGlobal article by Amar Bakshi about Iranian-Americans and how they feel about U.S.-Iran relations. The PostGlobal project counts Hossein Derakhshan and Ali Ettefagh as its two Iran-expert bloggers, and Bakshi’s series, “How the World Sees America,” looked at Iranians in Los Angeles recently. His post about the politics of so-called “Tehrangelinos” includes a short video clip of Reza Aslan, who says, “The Los Angeles Iranian community came here with their Swiss bank accounts and, you know, with their suitcases full of cash, and they created a pretty good life for themselves here in Los Angeles”:


I have nothing but respect for Aslan, our community’s most visible and prolific political wunderkind, but I want to challenge what I think are some gross misrepresentations of Tehrangeles in this statement (though it’s important to note that it’s a very short clip which may just be lacking some context, and I think Bakshi actually did a pretty good job getting a fairly representative slice of Tehrangeles life, even if many of its players are already so recognized that Iranians in L.A. might not get much new info). I won’t deny for a second that, yes, many Iranian-Americans in Los Angeles are indeed “established” – it’s just a way to say that lots of them live on the Westside as doctors/lawyers/engineers who drive expensive cars. Yes, many of them were very wealthy in Iran and got out immediately after the revolution, many were very pro-Shah, many have ridiculous or ill-informed political views.

But I am getting more than a little annoyed at the poor picture that the rest of the country – and the global Iranian community – has and keeps getting of us “Tehrangelinos” as clueless rich people living in a nostalgic bubble in Westwood, because that’s only part of the picture. Why is it okay to boil down all of Tehrangeles to this stereotype?

The truth is that Tehrangeles is home to a really diverse if disjointed Iranian community. And Iranians continue to immigrate to Los Angeles long after the revolution, but for some reason, the more recent transplants are nearly invisible in most mainstream reports about the community.So my question is: why don’t we recognize the Iranians in Los Angeles who work in supermarkets, who drive old cars? Who are poor, on welfare and food stamps, or homeless? What do they think about Iran and the U.S.? There’s a sizable community of Iranian Christians, who are largely ignored in most reportage, which always touches on Muslim and Jewish Iranians. Where are they in stories about us, or stories by us? There are Iranian “day care” centers in Los Angeles, full of senior citizens that have seen a lot of history and might have some interesting things to say about Iran; does anyone care about them?

Nazanin’s post tells Iranian-Americans to wake up. I’m inclined to agree, but I’d flip that around to ask anyone that writes about Tehrangeles to wake up, too. Perhaps drive over the hill and into the Valley, look beyond what’s deemed the “established” community, and give Iranians in Los Angeles a little respect and a little credit. I’m so tired of smug Iranian San Franciscans or Torontonians, among others, talking smack about my city. Tehrangeles is not as narrow as the vision of the people who disdain it.