... find the fire. The burn that keeps the world awake.
Severe wanderlust has necessitated the invention of a new genre; ‘Journalism Fiction’.
CONVERSATIONS IN TEHRAN
I have been in Iran for just four hours when friends’ and relatives’ deep concerns with me being here are validated.
I am at a mosque in north Tehran, Iran’s teeming, sprawling metropolis. All around me I hear chants of “Marg Bar Amrika”, which is Persian for “Down with America”.
Shortly thereafter “Marg Bar Israel” can be heard amidst the chorus along with, more worryingly for me, “Marg Bar Angeleez”.
"This is nothing". My guide and good friend Arash, a British Iranian, sensing my unease, reassures me.
The spectacle I have just witnessed is the weekly anti-American ritual begun by Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979, and performed every Friday evening after prayer.
The rows of bearded, robed worshippers chanting these hateful slogans to the tune of a cheerleading mullah is done, Arash happily explains, more out of a habitual and perfunctory duty rather than with any malice.
This is, after all, Tehran, a modern city quite distinct from its cousins elsewhere in the Middle East. A city of Shia, rather than Sunni Islam, and where, if you strain your eyes, or sit in one of its many charming and relaxed cafés, you could just as easily be in Paris or Madrid.
Here women walk spiritedly and unhurried. True, the veil is worn as in other Islamic nations, but here it is condescended to, matched with chic clothing and worn high above the hairline so that elegantly styled hair is visible underneath.
We take a taxi to Azadi Square to meet two of Arash’s other British Iranian friends, Mostafa and Mina, who have chosen to move back to Iran, their families having left the country for London after the 1979 revolution.
We walk from Azadi Street to Enghelab Square. The roads are choked with frantic, honking motorists. The bars and cafés alive with animation, young and old alike sucking on waterpipes or chatting noisily into mobile phones.
As the sun begins to set the city’s lights start to flicker, bringing with them a warm, twilit calm.
We eat chelow kabab with torshi and sip cups of apple tea with a gathering of students they also call close friends.
I learn that Iran is slowly trying to lift itself from its past and transform its image. That there is a burgeoning intelligentsia and middle class in this famously enigmatic country desperate to open up to the world.
I chat openly with them about everything from Ahmadinejad and Tony Blair to Manchester United and the Iranian national football team, all the while never-ending plates of food and steaming pots of tea stream from the kitchen.
Through my travels in this vast, ancient country I will see and experience unforgettable moments: the distant blue ridge of the Alborz; the self-flagellants on the Day of Ashura; a bright, auspicious sun hanging high over holy Isfahan, but none of these magical events leaves such a lasting impression as sitting there in that inconspicuous Tehran restaurant, surrounded by young, urbane Tehranis, freely discussing life, politics, and everything in between.
The Internet contains, if you’ll permit me, everything that is wrong with society today. It is a vast, invisible gargoyle. It has innumerable faces; hideous ones, but also smiling, cutesy, twee faces. It is at once magnificent and ugly. Take BuzzFeed, for example. BuzzFeed is a formidable proponent of the current trend of infantilisation, and its cutesy face belies what’s beneath. We see infantilisation in many aspects of our culture, and big businesses and corporations promote this trend, which essentially treats mentally competent adults as children. Onesies, for example – infant clothing aimed at mature adults, and the constant infantilisation we see in television advertising.
BuzzFeed is an advocate of the twee, the sentimental, and the childlike. If the Internet is a gargoyle of innumerable faces, then BuzzFeed is an enormous one, a leering regurgitator of popular culture and social media content. It is an Internet playroom of nonsense and pointlessness aimed entirely at the infantilised and the sort of people who buy ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ coffee mugs, Cath Kidston placemats and those who watched Game of Thrones before it was cool.
This trend of infantilisation leads one to believe it is some manifestation of collective fear. In this uncertain, post-9/11, ‘brave new world’ of environmental precarity and economic meltdown, infantilisation is just short of some mass assuming of the foetal position. Does the blame lie entirely with capitalism and mega corporations (i.e. the ‘powers that be’)? Perhaps, because capitalism as mind control, as well as providing a barrier to dissent and helping to maintain the status quo, stretches beyond the realm of left-wing rhetoric, and leads one to believe it has achieved the Orwellian nightmare of totalitarian dominance in relation to individual thought.
We can also relate this to racism and class division. Seemingly, the more ethnically diverse this country becomes, the more subtle its cases of discrimination. Largely, progressiveness has ended blatant, outright discrimination, yet cases of subverted discrimination remain, institutionalised and whispered behind closed doors (or, in the case of Jeremy Clarkson, mumbled behind closed cameras).
If we borrow Francis Fukuyama’s theory that history ended in 1989, then it’s the post-historical youth – those born from the mid to late 1980s onwards at the dawn of neoliberal capitalism, it’s they who are more disposed to liberal and cosmopolitan attitudes. This, the generation that has matured through the peak of one of capitalism’s greatest exports – globalisation.
The effects of globalisation means a youth more inclined to said attitudes. The entrenched and common prejudice of previous generations is being eroded and deconstructed, but with deconstruction comes restructuring.
Both globalisation and the digital revolution have initiated the meteoric rise of the Internet. Internet usage is widespread and global, and the promulgation of information on a massive scale is unlike anything ever before conceived. Naturally, people have a greater awareness of the world around them, and so discrimination only continues to exist because it has been restructured, repackaged and redistributed.
Take these Twitter hashtags #OperationCupOfTea and #RiotCleanUp in response to the August 2011 riots in London, for example. They scream Britishness in its ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ sense. The media’s reaction to the riots was to declare them the result of a violent mob of thugs, with newspapers like the Daily Mail emblazoned with pictures of men in tracksuits, or carrying cans of Special Brew, as if those participating in the unrest were all opportunists of some underclass. As is common in this country, there was large-scale demonisation of the poor, and, considering they were a reaction to the fatal shooting of a young black man by the police, the demonisation of black people, in particular young, poor, inner city black people.
Those that tweeted #OperationCupOfTea dissociated themselves from the ‘mob’ and were taken in by the media-propagated myth that those rioting were all looters and scavengers with scant regard for property or the law, rather than furious protesters against both the police and the ruling elite. #RiotCleanUp was a Big Society-esqueattempt to sweep issues of inequality, quite literally, off the streets and under the carpet in an act of quasi-gentrification, with that overwhelmingly white Clapham crowd that resolutely raised their brooms into the air the very image of modern Britain’s bourgeoisie.
#OperationCupOfTea and #RiotCleanUp fit in with the notion of the stiff upper lip. The stiff upper lip is a troubling facet of British culture and identity, yet one that is viewed as a badge of honour. It is the refusal to engage, a very British repression – cold, unfeeling and dispassionate rather than noble and stoic. Presumably, those too decent (read: middle class) to participate in dissent, would rather sit at home drinking ‘a nice cup of tea’ because rioting ‘just isn’t very nice’. To not engage in the fight against oppression is cowardly and typical of a nation that has not experienced any sort of revolution since 1688.
If we return to BuzzFeed, in particular the article shown below, we can come to a conclusion that the Internet gargoyle provides a face for a certain type of discrimination. If we are to take the impression that discrimination has, tragically, developed into nuanced shades and subtleties, then we can conclude that, worryingly, this face appeals to a cross-section of our society.
29 Things Britain Does Better Than The Rest Of The World: It’s almost a wonder we lost the empire – is it concentration camps? (No, arguably the Nazis outdid us there, but we were first!). Is it imperialism? Enslavement? Torture? Who knows. But it’s very twee and empire-nostalgic in the same manner that steampunk and Victoriana – think moustachioed men, penny-farthings, unicycles and monocles – is presently fashionable in places like Shoreditch. Those to whom this appeals would likely also be complicit in the gentrification of the very same places and exponents of the pop-up shop, cupcake stalls, pretentious food stands et al. In short, hipsters.
Don’t allow yourself to become attached to the modern, capitalist birthed trends of infantilisation or the subtle and twee fascism of today’s Internet. Don’t be a hipster. Hate BuzzFeed with a passion.
Live right and see through it.