When lovers’ gaze meet …
This post was about to be published here on Didaar blog in October when the schools were going to open in Iran but due to many writing tasks that I was responsible to do, apart from this blog, I could not finish it. So, the photos from mainstream media which are uploaded here might look outdated yet I think that the argument is not.
On this blog from its very beginning in June 2009 we were engaged with the question of media. In the aftermath of the 2009 coup in Iran, neo-colonial and neo-liberal Farsi-speaking media aimed to represent themselves as the voice of opposition while they neutralized the radical political front which has formed since. On this blog we wrote a lot about these media since it became clear that today if we are talking about Iran’s politics we are inevitably entangled with the question of media and the very crucial question that arises is: what is an alternative media?
This question was the driving force behind many media analysis of the programs of BBC Persian on this blog. for example, We attempted to demonstrate why their claim of being alternative was fake. We attempted to demonstrate why they were as ideological as IRIB (the Iranian state TV channels). So we discussed their themes, forms, representational strategies, political economy, undemocratic internal structure, public reception and so on.
However, if you have noticed it has been a while that we did not write about neoliberal media. Why? since the political condition after the 2013 presidential election has completely changed and it has deeply affected the neo-colonial and neo-liberal media, the scene of alternative politics and Leftists activists such as us.
For instance, BBC Persian TV, website and radio cannot be considered as a media which opposes the state of Islamic Republic any more. In 2010 we claimed that IRIB and neoliberal media (VOA, BBC Persian, Duetche Welle, Zamaneh Radio, etc) attempted to reduce the political scene into an arbitrary and ideological binary between the bad and the good. At the time we considered progressive politics as what could deconstruct that binary.
With the 2013 presidential election, this binary has disappeared from their political policy. Today, BBC Persian is the external and international wing of IRIB as it works to justify, negotiate and reach solutions in favour of the state of Islamic republic. The broader aim of this policy is to address the shift towards extreme modern Right which the government of Dr Ruhani promised.
This change of direction could be detected even before the election when BBC Persian did everything to ensure the Iranians outside Iran that the election is valid and reliable. It even went on to produce an overnight program to broadcast the counting of votes live. The effect of such program was to ensure that the election was not fraudulent and the state of Islamic Republic should be trusted. BBC Persian effectively legitimized the election. This partly explains why we think that 2013 presidential election was a pure media show constructed for the gaze of cameras.
In this way neo-liberal media lost their legitimacy as the voice of opposition. Last summer when I was in Tehran, I understood that a significant shit has happened as people did not quote and refer to neo-liberal media as alternative source of news. It has completely lost its legitimacy. And if you visit the website and see the TV channel you can observe that its central aim is to facilitate the negotiation of Dr Rouhani government with international bourgeoisie and Imperialism. Thus, we can conclude that a new political policy defines their horizon: preparing the route along with the extreme right government to integrate into global capitalism.
In Tehran, this aim is well understood by radicals. There is a strong belief that the central project of Dr Rouhani’ government is to prepare Iran for the membership in WTO. Accordingly, both domestic and foreign Farsi-speaking media collaborate in this direction.
I wanted to write about this issue for a long time, that the BBC Persian so-called experts and political analysts are now reduced to the state of IR apologists, that the media inside and outside Iran overwhelmingly attempts to convince people that Dr Rouhani is the only possible option, to demonize radicalism and passify voices of dissent. Yet, I realized that people were so conscious of this fact. Through my contacts with the working classes in the projects that I conduct, I spoke to many people and I found out that class consciousness is gaining its momentum. One could felt the growing confidence in the power of people by people. Therefore, I only intended to briefly mention this shift to complete this unfinished writing and also inform the Leftists comrades who trust this blog about current political affairs in Iran. I was also motivated by the fact that the TV channel celebrated its 5 years of work and I think that it is possible to argue that BBC Persian best exemplifies what could be called ‘crisis driven media’. Since in a short course of time its political horizon has completely shifted from supposedly opposition to collaboration. This type of media change, update and adapt quite frequently and have no commitment to any political framework. They will shift their direction according to the economic crisis.
From now on, this blog does not discuss the politics of media in terms of the previous binary between IRIB versus foreign funded neo-colonial and neoliberal media. From this point, we discuss them as being on the one and same frontier explicitly supporting global capitalism versus radical alternative. Accordingly, in this post I start this direction of analysis through discussing the ideological representation of mainstream media inside Iran which is co-opted by their foreign-funded collaborators (they reproduce the photos constantly).
In September, when I was watching the state TV, IRIB, I suddenly remembered my childhood in the 1980s, when there was no diplomatic relation with the US and Iran was in a war with Iraq which was fully supported by the US . That day, the TV announced that school going students could then buy their school books from bookshops and the eye of the camera rolled on the new, intact and clean packages of books. And I thought to myself ’how much do they cost?’ I don’t know how many of the readers remember but I can vividly recall that in the peak of war with Iraq, when Tehran was bombarded day and night and people fled from the city, when for basic foods people would spend hours in the queues, the school books were free and were distributed by the school to students. Yes, my memory is so fresh and bright. No TV channel or newspaper can deny it to me. I can see our teacher who says that we should look after our books and keep them clean because at the end of the school year we should return them to school and the ministry of education was going to re-use them for other students.
It is so painful when I compare such an attitude with the current system of distributing educational facilities in which everything should be purchased. In the recent years, when I was a high school teacher, on many occasions I witnessed that students eagerly wait for the end of the term so that on the day of exam, they would come out of the exam session and tear up their books collectively expressing their joy with deafening screams. During the 1980s our books were dear to us and had an entirely different fate …
I watched TV as it announced happily the start of the new school year and showed students preparing which basically meant shopping. Temporary markets and stalls sprang up everywhere and all kinds of stationeries, notebooks, pencils, rubbers and so on were on sale. The state media was prevailed by the picture of abundance, the surplus of school goodies and the busy families enjoying the luxury of having choices.
What the state media fails to show us is the 7m children who remain outside of the circle of education and do not have access to educational facilities. The informal stats of 7m children do not tell us where they are and what they do while they are absent from school. Those children surely don’t play games with children of neighbours, watch TV or do not travel with their families. We know where they are and what they do because we see some of them in underground metro stations, in buses, in urban centres and in parks working as pedlars selling commodities. The majority of them cannot be detected easily as they are kept indoors and they work in workshops with their families or with other adults. These children belong to a social class whereby the families are completely unable to reproduce themselves unless their children work too. The widespread unemployment, the problem of addiction to substances, prostitution, etc are familiar conditions for these children. They have to grow up very fast. They are illiterate but they have to learn numbers and counting from a very early age. They perfectly know what deposit meant, what debt mean, what borrowing mean. Working for more than 10 hours in dangerous and insecure places which makes them a target for sexual harassment is not enough to pay for their school. The withdrawal of state services from the realm of education and health has increased the cost of these formerly free facilities and the 40% inflation has made it inaccessible for the working class. The constant increase of the number of working children in the last decade has made it clear that the crisis of the accumulation of capital has weakened the ability of the working class to reproduce itself. Also, the demand for evermore cheap labour and the deterioration of the working condition has brought children to the labour market forcing them to sell their labour to kapital.
In Das Kapital Marx assigned nearly 80 pages to discuss why women and children were dragged into the labour market and how the kapital benefited from resonating to week and young power of children and women. However, as Silvia Federici points out(1), the tradition of Marxist thought especially in the last 50 years has forgotten to pay attention to child labour and the fate of working children. This symptomatic forgetting needs to be addressed in our discussions, writings, conferences and collective actions.
Here, you can see photos that is taken from a place run by activists who offer educational facilities and other services to the working children. These people have gathered to form a place against the logic of charity and NGOs since this logic implicitly confirms the social and economic structures whereby the working children are placed at the bottom. In fact, today, there are plenty of charities supported by the state and bourgeoisie which solely focus on handing out money, food, etc. What they neglect is the idea of how to empower a child who is mentally, emotionally, sexually, socially and economically smashed under the burden of the kapitalist relations. The child often lacks confidence, sees his/her miserable life as natural and cuddles himself/herself in the arms of impossible dreams of wealth. Hence, the activists here do not reproduce the normative structures of satisfaction and happiness guaranteed by the exchange of money.
As a result they have created a space which does not reproduce the common hierarchies of class. In this place both children and teachers and other activists come by choice, the strict authority of classrooms are relaxed. Moreover, it is perhaps the only place that educational spaces are mixed in terms of gender and girls and boys freely mix which often causes many fights and arguments but they become able to resolve it without resorting to authority figures. The children are not obliged to wear uniforms no one stop them from coming or going as long as they do not disturb the class. For me as someone who worked in formal schools as a teacher, the place seemed like a model for creating alternative educational spaces. It is a place to break through the hierarchy of information where democratic redistribute knowledge is possible. Many of the children in this place belong to immigrant Afghan families who are barred from Iranian schools. This prohibition effectively stops the Afghan second generation to enhance their socio-economic condition and keeps them as simple and cheap labourers.
This place is surely not an ideal in terms of educational facilities but can be observed as a model for future schools for its progressive social relation. It somehow reminded me of Plato’s ideal city where parents do not own the children. The children are the responsibility of that community despite their ethnic origin, gender and class.
The place sets a model for us as an example of how schools would be like in a society whereby private ownership does not rule over the people. At the end of this note I would like to add that the ideological representation of wealth and prosperity rules the domestic and international media at this time, it seems that bourgeoisie inside and outside Iran consolidate its power to tighten the grip on people yet alternative communities and radical commons are on the rise too. It is the task of media workers like us to develop new representational tools which suits this unbalanced fight.
(1) Federici, S. (2012) Revolution at Point Zero: Housework, Reproduction and Feminist Struggle. PM Press: Oakland
Following the other posts that I wrote about 19th century photography, Here I have gathered some pictures which centres around men. We could see them in various social settings which is very different from photographs of women. In Iran many important studies have been carried out and published on the history of photography but I generally find them descriptive and not critically analytic. A lot could be said and done in this area.
One of the familiar categories in this area is that type of photos whereby men appear in relation to power figures. They might appear in groups or alone according to their social status. The above photo was taken in one of royal courts and next to the statue of a Gajar Shah. The people were related to Shah and their bond was somehow emphasized. That is probably the reason that specific characteristics of the individuals (faces, bodies, etc) wasn’t focused.
Another photo of a Gajar Shah with his usual companies. They are probably in the country for hunting. This tent is considered posh and their cloths are quite distinct from the ordinary people. Here, photography meant to demonstrate and preserve their privileges. If the aristocrat Gajar women were displayed as the property of Shah, or in relation to their husband’s power and wealth, here men are framed with their properties such as building, court, servants, luxury objects, etc.
Beyond the royal court yet in relation to that, there were powerful social groups such as religious institutes, progressive educational centres, high profile members of Bazaar and so on. They formed another important category of photos.
Soon after its invention, camera entered Iran and became a favourite object of feudal and powerful members of the society. Here you see a photo of a recently discovered photo album called Vali Khan Album. He was a powerful feudal in the central Iran at the time and this album includes pictures of himself, members of his family and important people in his circle plus pictures of lands, properties and his belongings.
However, beyond the pretentious display of properties, another category of photos developed which framed ordinary people. Just like the European kind, there was this fascination to make spectacle of criminals, ethnic minorities and rare situations and people. Here, you can see that prisoners were lined up before the camera to create such a spectacle. Although, there is a difference with it the European ones. The pictures of criminals, mentally ill and ethnic people were registered scientifically there. In the 19th century Europe, there was a fascination with camera as a tool which was completely objective and could capture the perverse core of the so-called abnormal people. I don’t think that such obsession with the scientific quality of the photography could be seen in these photo. Rather what is overwhelming is the demonstration of power of the one (Shah and his state) who could enchain people in this brutal way. The camera testifies to the power of its owner.
One of the important category of photos belonged to the pedlar photographers. When camera entered Iran, Nasere-din Shah and other aristocrats were interested in the new tool and practised photography themselves. Yet, they realized that the new tool had an extraordinary power to reveal the country to them. Thus, when a school of modern science was opened in Tehran (as part of the project of modernization) along with engineering, medicine and foreign language, photography was thought too. The graduates disseminated throughout the country and as many of them could not afford a fix studio they practised it in the streets. A lot of the photos which depicts people in their everyday life were taken by this group of unknown photographers.
One of the interesting point about the Iranian 19th century photography was that it was populated by various kind of people old, young and children. Clearly, they were not asked to look at the camera. Each of them gaze at a different point.
In this type of photos people were not separated according to their class positions, social hierarchy, etc. The geometrical design which we could see in the royal photos (shah as the centre and feudal and powerful members of society around him) is absent here.
I like that kids are everywhere. Their social space was safe and protected them. Nowadays, it is impossible to let the kids out of home on their own.
This photo was taken from the streets of 1979 Tehran. Who knows what happened to them? Are they still alive? What would they say about this photo and their feelings and hope in 1979?
I think that we are far away from such a moment when collective emancipation is not just an idea but is objective and real and one could sense it in the eyes, speech and body language of other people. Yet, this does not mean that we could not desire it, express and feel it.
So I think that perhaps it’s time for some changes in this blog and I start with the appearance. Four years ago, we experienced such a defeat in the aftermath of 2009 coup. It was necessary to protect the memory of that collective desire. Now I’d like to think it’s time to move on from protecting our memory, from mere resistance, to construct other spheres of actions, thoughts, desires, …
In the recent month the topic of opening diplomatic relations with the US after nearly three decades became one of the most disputed in the Iranian and international media. On the one hand, In critical or supportive media based in Iran the news are reflected hopefully since the talk signals the removal of old and new sanctions for Iranians. On the other hand, the way that the news are covered by the international media is biased and already indicates how the developed world looks at this condition problematically. The guardian newspaper would like to see it as Iran willing to ‘exit old isolation’ as if the US represents all the countries on earth, and it intentionally ignores Islamic Republic’s strong diplomatic ties with Latin America, Africa, China and Russia. Even more strangely, guardian reports that it is hard to find an Iranian who opposes ‘reconciliation’ with the US. According to this newspaper the majority of Iranians (if they are not Basiji) count the days to embrace the American emmbaseder in Tehran. What is ignored is that apart from ideological discourse of the Islamic Republic, it is the Left which opposes unconditional relation with the US but as usual this view is not reflected in the international media. Newspapers like guardian do not mention that the US and other Kapitalist countries have started negotiations for investment in the industries in Iran. For instance, we read in the news that the major car manufacturers are eager to invest in the industry in Iran but American sanctions have stopped them so far. Now, a month ahead of an international exhibition in Iran, it is expected that the US cancels the sanctions on car manufacturing industry in advance to demonstrate its positive attitude. The General Motors, Ford, Mercedes Benz, etc are expected to be in Tehran with a high profile group of delegates to immediately start negotiation with the IR. Please note that Guardian fails to report on this kind of news and the benefits of so-called ‘reconciliation’ for the global kapitalism.
Nonetheless, it is true that in Tehran one could sense the positive reception of news by Iranians. In one exaggerated case, a friend of mine witnessed a man in the taxi he was travelling with, congratulating others after Dr Rohani had a telephone conversation with Obama. It should not be ignored that today in Tehran, quite often we witness the outburst of displaced emotions. Approximately, once in a month the city is shaken by a wave of social hysteria. I argue that this widespread group hysteria is related to the sedimentation of modern division of labour and the consequent prevalence of a sense of alienation. The process produces loss/excess which is consumed in favour of a displaced and ideological cause.
I began to notice this repatative group symptom of alienation-hysteria-ideology through a research that I am conducting on a factory in Tehran. For a project that for now is called Factory B, I interviewed a wide range of people including workers, engineers, managers and shareholders. Although, the aim of the project is not related to the current symptom of group hysteria, yet its basic structure was revealed when interviewees started to talk about themselves. It was unexpected for me to find out that everyone that I talked to was suffering from an irreducible sense of alienation. The managers, microbiologists in the lab, mechanical engineers, accountants, secretaries, old and new male and female workers all share the feeling that they work for the factory far more than what they earn and they are not treated as they deserve. The impression that ‘I do not receive what I’m deserved/entitled to’ is said by everyone. Perhaps, the only exempt is the shareholders who are in violent struggle against each other since all are caught up in the phantasy that other shareholders through a secret alliance with this or that manager steal from the profit made in the factory. Nonetheless, everyone feels that he/she is loosing something and everyone feels that he/she is subjected to an injustice procedure. Yet, people do not consider the system in its totality as responsible for their loss. Rather, there is a widespread tendency to criticise the very individual who occupies the higher position in the hierarchy. Thus, it is the glamour of the hierarchy which covers up the basic exploitative structure of the factory. And people, instead of revolting against the whole system of factory management, are engaged with exhausting mini struggles with individuals around. The displacement of the struggle partly consumes the loss/excess produced by the alienation.
It is clear that Marxist theory of surplus value and alienation can explain what happens to the people working for the factory B. They are quite right to think that through work they loose something. The extraction of surplus value by the shareholders deprive them from the money that they are entitled to. The profit belongs to the people who work there, yet they receive very little of this profit (as much as they can hardly reproduce themselves) and they are right to think that they loose time, their youth and energy while the outcome of their labour is enjoyed by others (in fact the shareholders). What is problematic is that the system is not recognized as the cause of their loss even though it structurally produces the loss. Instead, it is directed to individuals and particularly people in the middle of the hierarchy who are directly in contact with the employees.
I think that the case of factory B could illuminate the libidinal economy of social symptoms such as group hysteria that today we witness especially in the developed cities in Iran. The people suffer from an irreducible sense of alienation and loss/excess which is the result of the deep sedimentation of the modern division of labour and the implementation of neoliberal policies which increasingly intensifies the sense of loosing.
Going back to the topic of diplomatic relation with the US, I think that the exaggerated reactions and the hyper-optimism that is expressed in the domestic media particularly reformist ones reflect how people think about the system and the scale and possibility of change. Like the people in factory B, people suffer from the sense of loss which fuels displaced ideological hyper-reactions. Indeed, the removal of sanctions would be a change in this difficult economical condition yet it is taken as a defence not to think of greater changes which would target the roots of our problems. Instead of thinking about changing the system of exploitation which structurally produces poverty and inequality, people resonate to mini struggles for little changes.
Otherwise, how could we think that diplomatic relation with the US would benefit the majority of people? Do we not remember the exploitative system of comprador bourgeoisie before 1979 supported by the US and its imperialist allies?
I think that to resist and fight back this sort of ideological illusions, our memory and particularly our collective memory could help us to construct the counter argument, one that is based on collective interests and achievements. In order to demonstrate the consequences of diplomatic relations with the US, the full picture, its past, present and future should be constructed.