Shah’s of Sunset a dangerous stereotype

Chanel Saidi

As the first season of Bravo’s new show “Shah’s of Sunset” comes to a close it has accomplished nothing but the promotion of negative stereotypes of the Iranian-American community.

The show follows six wealthy, appearance-obsessed Iranian Americans who came to the U.S. after the Iranian revolution in 1979. Rather than focusing on the rich culture and heritage of their people, these six individuals thrive on the motto, “image is everything.”

Southern California hosts one of the largest populations of Iranian-Americans outside of Tehran, the capital of Iran. Some Iranian-Americans even joke about Los Angeles being called ‘Tehrangeles.’ However, there is a longstanding bad rap looming over the heads of Los Angeles residents of how materialistic, flashy and superficial Iranian-Americans are.

“Shahs of Sunset” has done nothing but contribute to the negative stereotypes associated with the Southern California community rather than try to amend them.

“If someone does not know an Iranian person personally and this is how they first portray an Iranian group, I could see how they would see them in a negative light,” alumna Elhom Mirmazaheri said.

However, in a time of great tension between the United States and Iran, television channels do have a responsibility to their viewers. The Public Affairs Alliance of Iranian Americans reports most Americans receive their information of Iran through television or newspapers. This is reason enough as to why television networks should pay attention to what they broadcast.

“If the media is going to take credit for the shows they produce in the form of ratings, advertising dollars etc. then they have to step up to the responsibilities that accompany those benefits they seek,” philosophy professor Russell DiSilvestro said. “People who produce works of art and entertainment have a responsibility to be clear to their audience about what they are doing.“

Viewers who have never encountered an Iranian American may make assumptions based on this narrow misrepresentation.

“Sometimes people who consume media also have a responsibility to be alert to what it is they are looking at,” DiSilvestro said. “If someone watches this show and then forms the impression that all people are like this, it is kind of their fault rather than the fault of the people who produce the show.”

People need to question the stereotypes they see on TV and ask, “Is this really how they are, or is this spiced up for entertainment purposes?” Unfortunately, television networks only look to sell their shows, therefore they need to spice things up through editing.

It seems the casting director made a point of typecasting people who closely resemble those from Jersey Shore; MJ the sloppy drunk like Snooki, GG the catty fighter like Jwoww. Mike the workout buff mirrors “The Situation’s” mentality. The only difference between the shows is the “Shahs of Sunset” cast likes to flaunt their money and never let their wealth slip anyone’s mind.

“It is reality TV and that does not necessarily mean reality. In a sense it is just an entertainment show,” Mirmazaheri said. “People need to take it with a grain of salt and can’t watch it and say, ‘all Iranians are like that.’ If you do, that is where this whole stereotype idea comes into play.”

Outside of the Iranian-American community the show has created quite a stir. West Hollywood city councilman John Heilman is condemning the show for supporting a negative stereotype of the Iranian-American community.

“‘Shahs of Sunset’ enforces many negative stereotypes about a whole group of people,” said Fran Solomon, deputy to Heilman. “This city has a long history of really not supporting those kinds of ridicule, condemnation and showing people in their worst light. The show provides an incorrect sweeping example of how everyone in the Iranian-American demographic is.”

Society does not benefit from the constant stream of stereotyping running through the media each day. Stereotypes close doors to the opportunity of meeting new people and trying new things. 

“Stereotypes, whether they are malicious or not, become dangerous for two reasons,” DiSilvestro said. “They are always based on far too small a sample size and no matter how big your sample size, the next person you meet may be different and you may miss out on a potential friendship.”

In the end, no one should take reality TV any more seriously than “The Young and the Restless.” After all, ”Shahs of Sunset” is about a select group of young and restless Iranian-Americans of 90210.

Chanel Saidi can be reached at [email protected]