20 September 2008


It's not that surprising to know that Persepolis has been such a success in the Western hemisphere. Western people adore this coming-of-age tale of an Iranian woman who escapes the ruthless regime of her country to the free world of France. The whole film can be used as a propaganda and an excuse for the West to invade the Middle East, as it shows how living in Iran means you're always under the State's surveillance.

Of course, I don't deny that it can be such a gruesome experience where freedom is limited and moral collectivism is at an all-time high. The sense of morality, though, is portrayed as insincere and at best an excuse for bribery or tea money for those who have power, especially the police. Compared to Iran, Europe is much better as a place where one can enjoy freedom and choice. Marjane roams around Vienna wearing pretty revealing clothes and chain-smoking, understandably a reactionary result of the oppressive time in her motherland.

Yet, one shouldn't treat the whole story as representative of women's experience in Iran, even though one is tempted to do so. Part of the reason is that Marjane's is an individual case which probably differs from the majority. If I'm not mistaken, I believe Marjane's family is pretty posh, revelling in their bourgeois condition. They seem to be well-absorbed in Western ideology, especially when we look at the character of her grandma who wears pearls and is more like a philosopher than an old lady. It makes me wonder how many old ladies in Iran are like Marjane's grandma. Are we touching on a highly rare case here?

The film itself says that the majority of Iranian people were illiterate, thereby voting for a Muslim nationalist party to take control after the Shah's reign. Marjane's family resented this, wishing that the communist party should really have taken control. However, I wonder if that really had happened, what'd happen to Iran now? Would it be even more oppressive? In this case, we find that Marjane's family was pretty intellectual and should by no means be taken as representative of Iranian culture. Her family is traced back to the Shah of Persia at one point and she was sent to study in Europe at high school. I wonder how many Iranian women would receive this privilege.

Perhaps at best we should treat this work as an autobiography which reflects Marjane's own singular experience. This experience, however, should not be exploited and universalised as Iranian women's, even though this tendency is tempting as the film and the book have been marketed as an ethnic-related story that tells the story of the whole tribe. I think this type of marketing is dangerous and misleading. In this case, I'd like to hear more from those working-class women. Perhaps they'd like to remain a devout Muslim and perhaps even view a woman like Marjane with contempt.

My opinion of this work is that I wish it could be less one-sided. It'd be better to consider this story from another point of view with a different set of rationales all together. In this story, we only see the Iranian State as the axis of evil while Europe is the axis of light. These rather facile stereotypes are in line with the two-dimensional graphic, which admittedly is well-crafted and charismatic in its own way. Perhaps it'd be a good idea to look for a second witness.

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