Visualing Iran Through Satrapi’s Persepolis
Visualizing Iran It is debatable that most people of western societies especially here in the U. S share a common perspective about the country of Iran having a reputation for terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. In the media today, Iran is accused of having nuclear weapons and various politicians have made references to its contribution to the constant violence in Iraq. The information that we absorb everyday from news reports adds to our biases and enhances our negative opinions of Iran as a country.
Through the help of the media, people of our culture stereotype the Iranians based on an ethnocentric viewpoint without developing a clear sense of understanding or the reasons behind their beliefs. In the graphic novel Persepolis, the author Marjane Satrapi, provides a viewpoint of the Iranian society far different from the widely perceived stereotypes. She depicts the Iranian people as much more than fundamentalists, fanatics, and terrorists by incorporating a humane atmosphere within her family and visualizing events that conveys to all people regardless of ethnicity and culture.
One impression that I held about the people of Iran prior to reading Persepolis was that they lived their lives in torment and oppression from their strict religious practices. Satrapi does an effective job of convincing her readers that such was not always the case. She presents her family in a progressive approach while retaining the morals and values of their culture. She assimilates several common stereotypes of her own about people of western culture within her narrations to illustrate similarities between both culture and at the same time, the differences.
For example, early in the novel, Marji speaks of her father’s ownership of a Cadillac. In both cultures, owning a Cadillac signified a high social class but the difference emphasized by Satrapi was that to Marji herself, it was more of an embarrassment to be seen riding in the car rather than a thing of pride. In other occasions, Satrapi uses several interactions between her family members to illustrate an environment similar ours. In a series of dialogues involving Marji’s uncle Anoosh, he tells her bedtime stories and speaks of his divorce.
Bedtime story telling from my perception is more of a westernized cultural norm and so is divorce. Satrapi chooses these scenarios involving Anoosh to present a fitting glance at her family’s acceptance to western culture. Among her family, she creates an atmosphere in relation to any that can easily be found in our society today. Not only does Satrapi create environments similar to that in which we might have found ourselves in, she aides us in visualizing these scenes through the imagery of the actual events. She uses this strategy to accurately project her desired viewpoint of the Iranian society to her audiences.
Marji recounts, “Thousands of kids, promised a better life, exploded on the minefields with their keys around their necks” (102). In the picture that follows, a clear picture is painted into the reader’s mind of the scenario as the children can be seen with their keys still around their necks as they are killed. Many of our society’s youth today are being sent overseas to do battle in war fronts in places such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Similar to the keys handed to the Iranian youths, our young soldiers are thought to defend our nations’ pride with their lives.
This image, like many others through out the novel provides parallel situations from which we in our society can derive relationships. Critics of Satrapi’s methods might point out that most of her visualizations of the events that occurred during the time were falsely represented in her graphic novel. In the “interview with Marjane Satrapi, Daniel Robert Epstein of Newsarama questions her on the validity of the contents on the novel. She responds, “The main parts of the book are things that have happened. But in any story […] you have to cheat a little bit, otherwise nit would make for a boring documentary type book. Clearly, not all of the events visualized by Satrapi actually occurred both within her family and during the revolution. Her critics have every cause to ridicule her perspective but just like she emphasizes, her story was not intended to be a documentary or a political book of facts. By depicting the events through a graphic novel, Satrapi uses her privileges as an author to represent events has she see fit. Satrapi’s dynamic utilization of imagery to depict events challenges a reader’s original ethnocentric stereotypes because it offers comparable situations between cultures.
She succeeds in changing my original views on different aspects of the Iranian society throughout the novel. Reading and visualizing the events through Marji’s perspective shades a benign atmosphere despite the reoccurring violence as a result of the revolution. The representation of her family in a progressive approach offers a counter view of the perception that all Iranians where strictly religious. In numerous occasions, she makes references to an appreciation for western culture to dispute the notion that western culture was widely despised.
People of our society develop opinions of other societies we consider inferior based on what we have been taught to believe and what we hear from news reports. Since our society deems the Iranians as terrorist, Islamic fundamentalists, and fanatics it has become the accepted belief. Satrapi’s effort to change our ethnocentric stereotypes speaks volume of our society’s egocentricity. Rather than attain knowledge for ourselves and create our own perceptions, we depend strictly on widely perceived views of biased individuals.