By Stephen W. Hiesmtra
When Maryam and I were married in November 1984, I worked during the day at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and in the evenings on my dissertation. Having limited time and a limited budget, I did not have a television and did not want one, having been a television addict as a kid. Although I enjoyed watching the evening news, I preferred to maintain the ascetic lifestyle that I had had in school. Maryam could not understand my concern about television and her brother gave us a television as a wedding gift.
While many Americans see Iranians through the eyes of Islamic asceticism, the role of Islam in Iranian culture changed dramatically with the ouster of the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi , on January 16, 1979 during the Iranian Revolution. Earlier in the 1960s, the Shah promoted land reform and began a series of economic and social reforms. By the time of the Revolution, Iran had developed what some have described as a “Hollywood culture,” which reflected the strong influence on American entertainers on Iranian culture. For Iranians who grew up during in pre-revolutionary Iranian and later came to the United States to study, this “Hollywood culture” remains a strong influence and a symbol of resistance to the Islamic fundamentalism, both inside and outside the country, especially for young women.
Maryam loves to watch television and once said: “when I die, I want to be buried with the television remote in my hand.” When she would say this, I would remind her: “Don’t worry. The Hiemstra burial plot sits right next to Lewinsville Presbyterian Church so you can go to church every day!” The attitude about television, which I tried to keep out of the house when we were first married, grew to become the symbol of the cultural divide in our family.
Much later, television interfered with the kid’s bedtime routines. Maryam loved to stay up late watching television and insisted that the kids watch with her. As an early riser, I insisted that the kids needed to go to bed before the adults and that it helped to have the television turned off to keep a disciplined routine. Although I normally managed the bedtime routine when the kids remained young, this routine provided impossible to maintain when the kids reached middle school and mom did not maintain a united front with dad.
But early in our marriage television played a simpler role. When her mother lived with us, we watched Iranian cable television shows in Farsi. When Iranian entertainers came on, we knew them all by name. We would both snap our fingers Iranian style with two hands to keep up with the music. Later when her mother left, Maryam gravitated to shows like Entertainment Tonight, which focus on celebrity lifestyles, Married with Children, and, later, CSI-style shows. Sometimes I sit and watch with her on Sunday evenings, but in the early days of our marriage I remained too busy evenings to watch much television.
Also see: Looking Back
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