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Simpsons, Barbie, a “social danger,” banned in Iran

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Reel Mama: Simpsons, Barbie, a “social danger,” banned in Iran

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Simpsons, Barbie, a “social danger,” banned in Iran

America's first family of TV, the Simpsons,
is banned in Iran
They are irreverent.  They are self-absorbed.  And now, they are banned in Iran.  The Iranian government recently announced that it’s banning the sale of all Simpson dolls from its shelves, like Barbie before them.  Clearly, the Iranian government is having a cow.
Mohammad Hossein Farjoo, secretary at the Institute for the Intellectual Development of Children and Young Adults in Tehran, hasn’t given many specifics on why the Simpsons were banned.
Farjoo made it clear however that imported dolls that “display full adult figures are banned because they promote Western culture.”  I guess it follows that Homer’s “full adult figure” is offensive because of his beer gut.  Yes, he’s downed one too many cold ones, and alcohol consumption is banned in Iran.  Meanwhile, Marge’s dress is strapless, but her figure resembles an ironing board, one with a slight indentation on each side to indicate a vague waistline.  She can hardly compete with Barbie, the plastic temptress with the mind-bending female anatomy.
In general, since Iran’s Islamic Revolution and the days of Khomeini and even before, Western society’s influence has been denounced in Iran by clerics and government officials alike.  This fear of the West “intoxicating” young minds is much more likely the real reason for the Simpson ban. 
The Simpsons have decidedly “Western” attitudes:  Bart talks back and challenges authority at every turn.  In Iran, if he reached the age of 15, a kid like Bart wouldn’t just get D-hall: he’d get a public flogging -- 40 lashes.  (Lucky for Bart, he doesn’t age.)  Homer, crude and careless, would get himself into all kinds of trouble and would probably be flogged along with Bart.  And let’s face it: Marge’s tall ‘fro won’t fit comfortably under a chador, the Iranian veil that covers all but the eyes.  If that blue hair peeks out from that black veil too much, she’d be arrested, thrown in jail for days, heavily fined, and who knows what else?  
Interesting to note, Spider Man and Superman are still available in Iran because they “fight for the oppressed.”  Yes, the clerics and powers-that-be are so very interested in fighting for the oppressed in Iran.  But where was Superman when women were stoned publicly in recent decades for a so-called “crime” that in other countries would be viewed as a marital indiscretion?  Where is dear old Spidey when a woman is never allowed to see her children again after a divorce, because custody rights are so heavily skewed in the man’s favor in Iran?  Where was a caped crusader when a young girl received 40 lashes for wearing a mini skirt behind closed doors at her Sweet Sixteen birthday party?  We are talking about a society where violence against women in the home is condoned, where Sharia law up until recently permitted the marriage of nine-year-old girls.  Gender inequality in Iran has been very well-documented.
Barbie is illegal in Iran
Which brings us to the Barbie ban.  Last month, Iranian officials raided and shut down stores that were selling Barbie, which was officially banned two years ago, but had remained widely available on the black market.

But what if Barbie wore a chador, hajeb, or burka?  The thought might make some American women cringe, but Barbie needs to be a doll that little girls can relate to, even in cultures so very different from our own.  Should Barbie have a make-over so that she can be relatable to Islamic society?  Barbie’s message to little girls is positive: you can be anything you can dream up.  This is a powerful message for young girls in a society such as Iran’s where women are oppressed.  
The wearing of veils can be a contentious issue in Western society, but my take on it is this: if a woman chooses to wear a veil for religious reasons, she has every right.  Religious freedom is a core American value.   My issue with veils is when women are forced to wear them, when they have no choice, when, if too much hair is peeking out, they can be arrested, and perhaps, behind the closed doors of the Iranian prison system, worse.  My issue is that in Iran, women are, in so many aspects of law and society, treated as worthless, or worth half of what a man is.  It is to Iranian women’s credits that some strides have been made, but the path for gender equality has been and continues to be long, arduous, and bloody.
Admittedly, it would be hard for me to condone the idea of Barbie in a burka with enthusiasm.  Believe it or not, it’s been done.  Five-hundred Barbie burkas were created by Italian fashion designer Eliana Lorena for a Southeby’s auction benefitting Save the Children in the UK.  

The occasion marked the year of Barbie’s fiftieth birthday.  I wonder how America’s blond sweetheart reacted when they sat her down and told her, “Barbie, you’re turning fifty, time to break out the burka!”  I would have said, “Barbie, look at you, girl.  You’re fifty--rock that mini skirt!”  Nevertheless, the idea behind burka Barbie is to create a version of the doll that even little girls in non-Western cultures can relate to, no matter where in the world they live.
The limited edition burkas were designed for collectors, and came in wild colors like fire engine red and florescent green.  The idea of a woman strolling through Kabul, Afghanistan, in a hot pink burka probably wouldn’t fly, but it’s a very cool idea.  In countries like Dubai and Saudi Arabia, women love fashion and often enjoy wearing haute couture beneath their required Islamic garb.  When they are together enjoying time with their girlfriends in private, they are free to remove the Islamic coverings and display their chic, high-fashion outfits underneath. Little girls could play with Barbie in this manner, free to dress the dolls in their fashions behind closed doors when not in the company of boys or men.  I cringe as I write this, but if the little girl needs to carry her doll in public, the doll, like the girl, can don the chador. 

It doesn’t matter whether you have a burka or a mini skirt hanging in your closet.  We are women, and fashion is a birthright.  I hate to hear about little girls in Iran being deprived of a toy that brings them joy and possibly an empowering lesson.  Barbie, Homer, Marge, and Bart are really goodwill ambassadors, because they put smiles on people’s faces the world over.  

My daughter Leilani with her well-loved Barbie


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