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Chicken Is the New Food Porn in Iran

Posted: Jul 25, 2012

The world continues to keep a wary eye on Iran’s nuclear program, in nearby Syria the pro-Iranian government of Bashir al-Assad is on the brink of collapse and Tel Aviv accuses Tehran of being behind the fatal suicide bombing of a bus in Bulgaria which carried Israeli tourists. Yet chicken, or lack thereof, makes daily front-page headlines and is the obsessive subject of scores of cartoons that appear in both state-owned and independent media in Iran.

Today's Iranian media are a far cry from the initial post-revolutionary years when TV came to be known as pashm-o-shisheh (wool and glass) as the airwaves were dominated by talking heads of bearded clerics in absence of any music or other form of entertainment. Now dozens of state-controlled radio and TV channels pump out music—usually of horrid taste—around the clock and there is even an equivalent of the Home Shopping Network knows as Bazaar.

Yet amid this permissive trend it may soon become imperative to ban images that are currently of particular lasciviousness to the Iranian eye—those of chicken eating.

According to a blog on the website of the French daily Le Monde, the chief of the Iranian national police Esma'il Ahmadi Moghadam, has made a plea to the media apparatus to censor images of people who are relishing any dish that contains chicken.

As the holy month of Ramadan approaches and devout Muslims begin to fast, Iran’s favorite but increasingly unobtainable poultry will not likely be an iftar dish when the sun goes down.

Religious considerations aside, the suggested proscription by the police chief may seem odd to most non-Iranians who are unaware of the pivotal importance of food in Iran. In a country where shame and honor anchor the national psyche, food is the chief instrument of creating and fulfilling social obligations. It is the primary gift, a form of material and psychological bribe, as well as the signal from parents to children that they are out of the doghouse.

Eating and not sharing, particularly when children are present, is a dark taboo. Wealthy Iranians can easily afford any meat whose prices, even at inflated rates, are comparable to those at American supermarkets; it is the poor who suffer. In absence of a chicken in every pot, the police chief’s suggested censorship is not as Orwellian as it may seem. It is more out of consideration for children who would have to bare witness to images of chicken being devoured on the tv screen. 

The Obama administration continues to regard sanctions as the cornerstone of its foreign policy toward Iran, but it fails to understand that the approach hurts only the most vulnerable of Iranians, particularly children and women of little means and even lesser voices. The hope that deteriorating living standards will lead to political uprising is dubious. With the  government’s equally capacity for violence against dissent, the status quo can be maintained indefinitely.

All said, there may be a way for the state media to avoid running “afowl” with the police. It needs to delete all scenes of chicken eating on television-- save for those which are intrinsic to the plot.

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