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June 16, 2005

The Moin Girls vs. Rafsanjani’s Babes

If Lebanon’s "Cedar Revolution" set a new media standard for sexualizing the democratic process in the Arab world (Betty Boop Takes Lebanon – link;  In Love With Lebanon – link), the Iranian election has taken it to the next level. 

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For all the hysteria about nuclear ambitions and the spread of fundamentalism, many of the news photos of the Iranian election reflect a society that has come a long way since the Islamic Revolution.   If you can rely on the hajib as a symbol, the stylizing of this garment provides clear evidence of a growing liberalization.

Dress codes aside, however, what do these images say about the media’s election coverage?  If the photos from Beirut’s democracy demonstrations last March were sort of scruffy — like scenes from MTV’s Spring Break, the Iranian election shots are positively glamourous, even sensual — like they came out of Vanity Fair, or Vogue. 

The shots are not just sensual, though, they also have a lot of passion.  Whereas the Beirut images profiled young women expressing love for flag and country (and themselves), these Iranian photos express affection for a political figure.  That makes them a lot more intimate.  And, whether you’re buying it or not, the infatuation of a young girl for an older man is a pretty strong visual allusion.  (What better reinforcement than that for a "fatherland?" )

There are any number of ways to account for the sensuousness.

It could be that democracy (or, at least, the presumption of it) is the
passion of the moment. Or, maybe the "sexing up" of election coverage
is a new fact of life as an increasingly profit-hungry media "goes
tabloid" over spontaneous expressions of political will. (By the way,
if you don’t read sex in these images, your impression of the barely
pubescent female is a relic of the ’50’s. For my taste though, I
appreciate the woman taking that delightful drag on the smoke under the
nose of Rafsanjani and his twin.)

Or, perhaps the sumptuousness is just more particular to Iran,
reflecting specific cultural, political or aesthetic factors. Maybe
these pictures are elegant because Iran/Persia has (like
Iraq/Mesopotamia, with its
ancient tradition of learning) a deep and enduring sense of poetry –
visual and otherwise. Or, perhaps the PR-conscious mullahs are happy
(even desperate) to project refined pictures right now, both to their
own restive and Western-hungry youth, and to a skeptical world.
Or, it might be that Iran is just a less repressive (or repressed)
society than Bush and the neocons make it out to be (just like the
supposed gap at home between Blue and Red is also a lot less wide or
differentiated than advertised).

I just had a few other thoughts about content. (Of course, I’m hoping
the growing legion of BAG analysts will have much more to add.) For one
thing, I was wondering how much of the passion in these pictures
(especially for Rafsanjani) is based on genuine affection, youth fandom
and cool, naive idealism — or a form of feigned allegiance that a
disaffected populace has learned to artfully play act. (Looking at it
that way, it seems that these images might reflect a whole lot more
personality than partisanship.)

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I was also wondering how to understand the desire to dress (or
plaster) ones self in campaign material. Is it just the political
marketing move of the moment? Or, could it be one more subtle jab at
the regime?

Besides a parody on dress requirements, perhaps the "look" is subliminal confirmation that the election is a "put on."

(Complete photo credits to follow) (image 1: REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl/Reuters.  June 1, 2005 in YahooNews)

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