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The 'Lost' Generation of Iran

by MOHAMMAD D. in Tehran

30 May 2010 16:457 Comments
a_lost_tehran_0203.jpgA devoted audience finds social, political resonance in a popular TV fantasy.

The show's European fans were excited that they were allowed to watch the grand finale at the same time as Americans on the West Coast on May 23. But one of the most loyal and fanatic groups of Lost fans had no access to "The End."

Officially, Lost is not distributed in Iran. Silver Screen, the country's leading home video distributor, which managed to strike an arrangement with the government in September 2009, is said to be working to release the first season of the dubbed, "Islamic" version of the show. However, I have yet to hear of any negotiations between the enterprise and the Walt Disney Company, which owns the series.

So, to expect Lost buzz in Tehran on May 23 was out of the question. But this does not mean the show is not celebrated among Iranians.

Hengameh, a 26-year-old bank clerk, who has a monthly income of roughly $270, bought the pirated DVD version of the show's first five seasons -- subtitled in Persian by unknown enthusiasts -- in January. The set cost her $30, over a tenth of her monthly earnings.

"What's there not to like? The Island is beautiful, there are hot men, and gorgeous women...and who doesn't like secrets?" she said, arguing that the money was well spent.

The Island is the isolated, unmapped locale where the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 ended up, for six seasons on ABC, after their plane broke apart in midair. The castaways, mired in ardent arguments about faith versus reason, soon found themselves questioning the meaning of the many mysterious events in their strange environment, while fighting for their lives against the Others, the Black Smoke Monster, and, at times, one another.

The show was an instant hit in the West from its launch in September 2004. But the international buzz did not reach Iranian borders until 2006, when "high-speed" Internet -- up to 128 KB/s -- was introduced by the Telecommunications Ministry.

Mehdi, 32, an MBA graduate who is trying to improve his English and move to Canada, describes himself as "lucky" and takes pride in having been a fan of the show before his classmates had a chance to even hear about it.

"My cousin, who lived in Canada, moved back to Iran in late December 2004. The computer whiz that he is, he had downloaded the first few episodes of Lost and brought them back with him," Mehdi said. "He made me watch the pilot with him, and then I refused to leave his house for two days and forced him to watch the episodes he had with me and translate them for me."

Five years later after Mehdi's experience, Iranians comprise some of the most passionate Lost addicts.

Khosrow, a father of two, said his family, after being introduced to the show by one of his coworkers, ran an insane video marathon -- skipped work, ditched school, irritated relatives and probably their neighbors -- to catch up with all the enigmas.

Today, when I encounter fans in one of the affluent parts of Tehran or in a small town of the poorer south -- where I recently visited and was rigorously tested on my Lost knowledge of -- and ask them about the show, they say that out of the many secrets and riddles, they are most interested in the survivors' adversaries: the Black Smoke and the Others.

Mariam, an undergraduate student of English literature, said she feels Lost as a whole has a special appeal. But it is the Black Smoke -- long thought by the survivors to be an Island security system, though it attacks certain people for no apparent reason -- she finds just too "alluring."

"I can't help but wonder if it is good or evil," she said. "All I want to know is what this Black Smoke is. Who is controlling it? And what would it do to me if I crossed its path?"

The Others -- a term adopted to refer those who did not understand the Green Movement in the aftermath of the disputed presidential election last year -- also have their own special charm. Ben, leader of the Others and the most prominent antagonist of the crash survivors, was both loved and hated around the globe. In Iran, he is regarded in a unique light.

"Every Iranian loves to be in charge. That's in our blood. But to be in charge of a shadowy cult with infinite amount of resources, which also has obedient and biddable members, well, that's just a dream come true for us," said Amir, a 27-year-old architect, who has followed the series with a devotion that might be called religious.

Amir also had a good point about Jack, the de facto, natural-born leader of the crash survivors who promised his new companions he would get them all off the Island. As a spinal surgeon in his pre-Island life, he had a flaw: the tendency to want to "fix" everyone but himself.

"I think every one of us thinks if we managed to survive a plane crash -- it is also interesting that we expect a plane that breaks up in midair and crashes onto an island to have survivors -- they would do a better Jack," Amir said.

"And let's not forget the collective effort to manage a crisis," he continued. "It is just in our blood.... It's almost as if the Revolution generation has been programmed all along to become the volunteer leader of a collective attempt at survival."

Amir argued that the Island also encourages martyrdom -- a concept with which the citizens of postrevolutionary Iran have been well indoctrinated.

In the first season of Lost, we learn that Charlie, one of the crash survivors, is a struggling rock star who must now confront his inner demons as he battles a heroin addiction. He grows attached to another survivor, Claire, and becomes a father figure to her newborn, Aaron. At the end of third season, Charlie heroically allows surrenders his life to ensure that one of his Island mates will not die. As he sacrifices himself, he manages to transmit information that may be crucial to the safety of the entire community of survivors.

"A junkie becomes a superhero and saves the day by giving up his own life," Amir said. "That sounds familiar to me. I think, on many occasions and different levels, that happened during the war" -- the deadly eight-year conflict with Iraq that began in 1980.

With the show's unexpected success and still growing popularity in Iran, I could not help but wonder how many Iranians would cope with the conclusion of a show that had given them many pleasant headaches over the years.

Zhinous, whom I had the pleasure of interviewing over the phone from her hometown of Isfahan, said she had been following Lost with all its complexities because of the way it corresponds with her "daily life." And life, she said, never stops.

"As a Muslim, I believe everything happens for a reason. And that has been masterfully written in the show and its puzzles," she said. "What I like most is how you get to try to solve them, just like how we think about the mysteries of our country -- sometimes you are right, sometimes you aren't -- but they never end."

To get a clearer image, in a party in central Tehran last weekend, I had a lively discussion with a number of "true" Lost fans. They shared their thoughts with me on how the show would end, or how they wanted it to end.

Most had been able to watch only the first 14 of the season's 17 or 18 episodes (depending on how one counts the double-length finale), as the latest ones had yet to be released on the black market. Awaiting the concluding chapters of the tale, they appeared to have spent a lot of time on their Lost theories.

Leila, 20, speculated that the world would end as the Man in Black, the human manifestation of the Black Smoke, was too strong for anyone to resist. She even drew parallels between the Lost world and her own, focusing on one of the show's central characters, crash survivor and man of faith John Locke. After his death, his body is hijacked by the Black Smoke. Leila compared the new, sinister Locke with the president she said "no one really voted for."

Hadi, a student at Tehran University's Faculty of Fine Arts, made the most interesting comparison. Using the Persian term for "Sir" that is used to refer to the Supreme Leader, he said, "We all thought Ben was Agha, the puppeteer pulling all the strings. But then we realized Agha is not Ben, Agha is John Locke. He is never going to die."

Atta KenareAFP/Getty Photo.

Copyright © 2010 Tehran Bureau

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7 Comments

How fortunate for the people of Iran they are spared shows like "Lost" and "Sex in the City".

And no annoying commercials on Iranian TV!

The music and visuals displayed in-between presentations is nice, too.

Pirouz / May 31, 2010 4:00 AM

@Pirouz...how fortunate are people in Iran not to have to put up with your comments!

Ali / May 31, 2010 6:37 AM

So "Lost" has particular resonance in Iran because it serves as an allegory for the Revolution, the Iran-Iraq War, the [fill in this blank]?


Are you serious?


Fifteen years ago, when satellite TV came to Iran, "Baywatch" was the rage of idle-minded and voyeuristic Iranians, including the several million-strong 'Javad' brigades.


No doubt the sight of Erika Eleniak bouncing down the beach to save a distressed swimmer from angry jellyfish reminded many of their own heroic exploits rescuing wounded comrades under enemy fire in Shalamcheh!

Ali from Tehran / May 31, 2010 7:49 AM

Ali and Ali from Tehran - both hilarious comments - put a smile on my face thanks.

Agha Irani / June 1, 2010 10:44 AM

No commercials mean it's being paid for in other ways. But in this case I would imagine there were commercials of some kind, since it was not aired on the tax payer funded,state approved Iranian tv stations.
Nonetheless,"lost" should have been a mini-seres. After 6 episodes or so it seems redundant. But that's what a free market is for.....Of course Iran, doesn't seem likely to see anything similar to a free market any time soon.

muhammad billy bob / June 2, 2010 10:13 PM

Good call to both Ali.
There are less commercial in Iranian TV, instead there are shit-load of "death to Israel" , "death to America" that get you to a point of laugh and cry at the same time. Iranian TV is a lab to condition foot soldiers to hate Israel and USA.

I'd rather be waterboarded than watching Iranian TV.

Dylan / June 5, 2010 3:41 AM

زنده باد سريال گمشدگان.
واقعا بسيار زيبا بود.
دوستان كه نديدن در خدمت هستم.

www.fairan.ir / June 6, 2010 10:35 PM