Narges Bajoghli. Iran Re-Framed: Anxieties of Power in the Islamic Republic.
(Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2019).
The title of this valuable book comes from the vocabulary of film and video making when images are “reframed”; to tell a different or additional story than when the images were first made. The book is devoted to interviews and discussions with film and video makers in Iran; who are supporters of the regime; having made films for the Revolutionary Guard and the Bagij (a volunteer paramilitary group first; created during the Iraq-Iran war.)
As Narges Bajoghli writes:
“Once I began my long-term research in Iran in 2009, I became immerssed in the richly complex and competitive environment of regime media production. I found a media world in which men tied to the Revolutionary Guard and the country’s paramilitary organizations held heated debates about the future of the Islamic Republic, fought with one another over resources and pursued their project through trial and error…They engaged in difficult conversations about which stories to tell, whose stories are included and how to frame the issues at hand. The revolutionary zeal of the founding decades is now gone, and the regime’s media producers face the dilemma of how to replace it with a commitment to the regime in the face of fierce international pressures.
To make matters even more complicated, regime media producers in Iran have to contend with the fact that audiences dismiss anything they produce as propaganda. So how do they get a message across when a large portion of the audience no longer wants to engage?”
She writes of one media discussion; in which she participated.
“As the regime’s cultural producers were strategizing new engagement and distribution strategic; they began to brainstorm about the ways they could tailor the content of their work to young audiences. Their old stories were couched in their interpretations of a Shi’a ethos of fighting against oppression that was embodied in the Karbala mythology of Imam Hussein. But these stories clearly no longer resonated with their desired audience; they needed a new unifying story. This new story presented itself in the form of populist nationalism in the general population.
Mr Ahmedi chimed in ‘We have to show young people that we’re here to protect Iran as a nation not just the Islamic Republic as an idea. Young people pull away from us because they see the regime as alien to the history of Iran. We have to show them that we also care about Iran.”
Narges Bajoghli deals with four critical periods of modern Iran, creating what she considers as four generations. Generations are defined; not so much by time as by central events that touch people of different ages; but whose attitudes and world vision are formed; at least in part by these central events.
The Islamic Revolution.
1) The first of the current generation was formed by the Islamic Revolution; with the return from exile in February 1979 of Ayatollah Khomeini; followed by the 1980-1988 Iraq-Iran war. The war allowed the Islamic Republic government; to silence dissent and eliminate many of the non-Islamic elements; which had been active in overthrowing the Shah. The war time media helped to rally the country; behind nationalist sentiments and to strengthen state institutions.
2) The second generation was formed by the post-war 1990s: the reconstruction after the war led to economic gain for those close to power.
“Once the war ended, a conscious decision was made to transform the war from a military confrontation with Iraq to a cultural and social confrontation in Iranian cities and towns.” This period saw the rise of efforts to control dress; increased participation in religious ceremonies and a stress on Islamic values.
3) The third generation is marked by the 2009; Green Movement with the largest demonstrations; since the 1979 period. The regime confronted a crisis of credibility. While the Green Movement did not reach its goals; the Movement impacted those who participated; and so became the defining event of the generation.
4) The fourth generation is the current; one that the regime media producers want to influence. Since 2015; the regime cultural producers have begun to pour more money and resources into producing music videos; that they hope young people will not only consume; but also make viral on Instagram and Telegram. There is an increasing effort to confront; what the Iranian officials call the “Soft War” – the ways in which the U.S.A., European powers, the iranian diaspora and Israel try to influence Iranian politics with the power of culture. This “Soft War” is still going on; and Narges Bajoghli has written a useful guide to understnading the issues.
Rene Wadlow, President, Association of World Citizens.