A Notion Based on False Pretenses

A Notion Based on False Pretenses

While flipping through channels the other night, I see a plug for Bravo’s latest reality show, Shah’s of Sunset season two! I was not a big fan of the show when it first aired and like many other Persians, I believed that it was a travesty against who we were as a community. I felt that we had worked hard to create a certain image for ourselves as Persian Americans and did not wish to see that image shattered. Yet, little did I know however, that in many ways, the show was in fact our story.

After the revolution occurred in 1979 a number of Persian families left Iran and moved to either Los Angeles or New York to start a new life.

With the promise of a new home beyond the horizon, and a slim chance of turning back, Shah’s of Sunset offers an inside look at the Persian community and how it has evolved within the past 30 years. Eager to share their sense of identity, a handful of Persians began to buy large quantities of real estate once they arrived in the states and set up numerous shops brandishing their lavish culture and lifestyle. From exotic rug galleries, to the finest Persian restaurants, one can’t drive up Beverly Hills today without bumping into one.

Like many other relaity shows, Shah’s of Sunset depicts five young professionals actively trying to balance their social lives while tending to traditional Iranian expectations. Described as materialistic and ego-centric these individuals are the cream of the crop when it comes to LA’s Real Estate scene and pride themselves on becoming affluent entrepreneurs. Take for example MJ’s character who is a real estate agent selling multi-million dollar homes in Beverly Hills. As a young professional, she devotes herself to her career and seldom has time to date. Well over the age of 30 and already considered a spinster within the community, she struggles to support herself, find a husband, and meet traditional Persian expectations. With no desire to settle down anytime soon and adamant about her career goals MJ is stuck between two worlds. On the one hand she relishes her American values and on the other she feels bound by her family’s cultural expectations.

The anxiety and stress of getting married is one thing, getting into a top university is another and when it comes to the latter, the competition is fierce. Persians pride themselves on getting into top Universities and believe that obtaining a degree is a one way ticket towards wealth.  Success is the main driving point for most Persians and how they reach that goal will determine how they are deemed within the community.

Yet what is most interesting about the show itself is not so much the characters themselves, but the people they encounter on a day-to-day basis. As the season progress, we see flashbacks between each individual’s life both before and after the revolution, and how it has affected their lives. For some this meant a chance to reinvent themselves, while for others it was a means to pick up where they left off. From prominent doctors and lawyers, to high earning engineers at NASA, Persians within LA and across the U.S. have reached a level of success they could only dream to attain in Iran.

Thus, although the Persian community has adopted a new sense of American optimism, they remain steadfast on holding on to their cultural values and perhaps proving that my perception of the show may have been based on a notion of false presences.

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One thought on “A Notion Based on False Pretenses

  1. Great insight! This post completely sums up my views on this show, both past and present. My father is Iranian and I am very proud of my Persian heritage. In turn, I was appalled by the ads for Shahs of Sunset — if we’re not perceived as terrorists, this is our alternative? However, while visiting my parents a few weeks ago, my father asks my mother, “The new season of that Sunset show starts tonight. What channel is it on?” To my surprise, my parents watched a large portion of the first season and were looking forward to the new episodes. When I asked why, assuming my father would be offended by this negative framing of his culture, he explained how their pasts were similar to his own (he lived in L.A. for years while he attended college when he first emigrated to the U.S.). After I began watching the show for myself, I actually respected the display of the push and pull between being true to your traditional heritage and embracing progressive American culture.

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