It was announced this week that the BBC will be allowed to resume broadcasting from Iran after an 18 month ban. However, in Iran itself, people have stopped revolting and are now glued to a new, illegal satellite television channelby Christopher de Bellaigue / October 20, 2010 / Leave a comment
Trash TV: the Colombian soap opera Body of Desire is a hit among middle-class Iranians
Isabela rested her head on Salvador’s naked chest, looking up into his eyes. He reached across to the bedside table for a sip from a glass of wine. Isabela sighed. “There is so much I still need to tell you.”
“Fraud!” The Iranian woman sitting next to me in front of the big flat-screen television shook her head. Her husband explained that Isabela is not to be trusted; she is a poisoner and an adulteress. We were in the couple’s sitting room in central Tehran—a long way from Colombia, where Body of Desire is made. Every weekday night, anecdotal evidence suggests, a huge number of middle-class Iranians lose themselves in this preposterous programme, in which a murdered businessman’s spirit has entered the body of Salvador, a farmer. The fact that it is broadcast on an independent satellite channel means that these Iranians are breaking the law. More importantly, they are opening a new front in Iran’s cultural war with the world.
Body of Desire and a host of other soap operas are broadcast from Dubai by Farsi 1, a satellite channel co-owned by Rupert Murdoch and Saad Mohseni, an Afghan entrepreneur. The channel, which features shows from South Korea and the US, targets Iranians who have tired of the fare served up by the state broadcasting company. Even people close to the Iranian government concede that homegrown shows can be dull. Raunchy subjects are off limits, a hug between a mother and her son is deemed improper to show, and prayers and Koranic exegesis occupy primetime spots.
Programmes shown on Farsi 1 explore, if that is the right word, themes such as infidelity and lust, while making a show of respecting Iranian values. Salvador’s majestic torso is all the nudity you see on Body of Desire, kissing is out, and serials with racy plotlines do not get an airing on mourning holidays in the Shia calendar.
Iran prides itself on its cultural exceptionalism, which is based on the Persian language and Shia Islam. Farsi 1 is a rare phenomenon: a cultural import that is hugely popular and sharply at variance with local traditions. Unlike other satellite channels, shows on Farsi 1 are competently dubbed into Persian, which has helped its popularity. One Tehran resident told me, “I haven’t seen an Iranian TV series for months.…