There’s some interesting backstory to the Tehran protests in, of all places, this month’s UK edition of GQ – which, as chance would have it, sent Ed Caesar off to do a piece on Tehran’s party scene not long before this month’s elections. His observations are fascinating in the light of subsequent events.
The article’s not on the web, but here are a few excerpts:
Two thirds of Iranians are under 30 years old, a product of the huge loss of life in the Iran-Iraq war of the Eighties and the subsequent baby boom. And, while many of this generation have left (every year 150,000 relocate to America, Britain, Australia and Canada), a significant number have stayed.
Now, a minority of the most daring young people – steeped in Western influences through travel, satellite TV and the internet – have created a home-grown scene that is wild, addictive and constricted to the inside of each other’s homes. In public, they play ball with the Islamic regime. In private, they just play.
The Tehran party scene may be the by-product of a repressive state, but it’s anything but a revolutionary breeding ground. When politics is discussed at these gatherings, it is only to confirm who will be voting in the elections, or whether it’s all a waste of time. No plots are hatched. But the Iranian intelligence agencies, clearly, think differently.
Jafar, a wisecracking 25-year-old pianist whose father was a member of Frozen Hot Tall, Iran’s first rock band in the Sixties, tries to explain what the parties are really about. “Tehran is out-of-control crazy,” he says. “But it’s not healthy. Everyone is doing everything to extremes. I was at a party the other day. There were 80 people there – from 15-year-old kids to old people of 75 – and everyone was so drunk it was unreal. Our use of drugs, our relationships, our parties, everything is so extreme. And, when the police come, we have to pay them a lot to bribe them to go away.” …
One story doing the rounds in north Tehran concerns a rich, gay art collecter who recently threw the mother of all parties at his house in the suburbs. When the police burst through the front door, they not only found people dressed inappropriately, but a smorgasbord of drugs, including cocaine and ecstasy. The icing on the cake was the owner’s collection of irreverent artworks, including his paintings of mullahs in compromising positions. The story goes that he had to pay $200,000 for the problem to go away – an unofficial record.
Markan … tells me that he travelled to Germany with his band, Dash, to play some gigs but, despite the freedoms he enjoyed there, couldn’t wait to get home. “I was so homesick for my family, I cried when I spoke to my father,” he says, without shame.
Here seems to be the key to understanding the party people of Tehran. They are a generation trapped between the past and the present – a group who still believe in the importance of family, but who want the freedom to express themselves as individuals. When you understand this, you start to see the parties not as displays of Western hedonism, but as something much richer, and more Persian. They are places where everyone knows everyone. They are family.
“Thank God for these peple,” says Golsa, of her friends. “If we didn’t find each other, we’d go mad.”