“Persepolis”: A Darkly Comic Look at Growing up During the Iranian Revolution

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis, directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud is a stylishly animated movie, based off the synonymous autobiographic graphic novels (what a mouthful!), by Marjane Satrapi. Beginning in the end of the Shahs reign in Iran this film chronicles the journey to adulthood of Marjane from her childhood. “Persepolis” is a beautifully animated, comically told, and emotionally poignant story of one person and one countries dramatic change over time. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in understanding Iran and its people, and moreover anyone who enjoys dark comedies.

I believe its possible and probable that most Americas know little about the Iranian Revolution. At the least they have no idea where Iran is, and if someone asked them “where is Iran?” they would probably tell them in the park. The slightly more informed know vaguely where Iran is, that they had a revolution, and took some American hostages. The majority I hope should understand that the Iranians over through the American-backed Shah, and then established an Islamic Republic. I fell into the last category, but after watching “Persepolis” I feel I can understand this country in a much greater way.

The story starts with Marjane in an airport in Paris trying to board a flight to Tehran, which she is barred from. She then proceeds to reflect on her childhood in Tehran amidst the riots which proceeded the Shahs overthrow. Marjane is just a child who loves Bruce Lee and wants to be the next Prophet. However, her family is the center of the secular opposition to the Shah with her uncle being a prominent socialist intellectual. Marjane is taken up in the revolutionary fever and idolizes her uncle who was tortured in prison. After the Shah is overthrown, the country enters a new wave of optimism things seem to be on the up and up. However, this all changes when the radical Shiite clerics win 99.9% of the vote, and things begin to change fast. Women are forced to wear the burka, work and play separate from the men, and adhere strict behavioral standards. War soon engulf the nation as Sunni Iraq invades, and for the next decade a brutal fight ensues in which around 750,000 Iranians died. Marjane however, is forced to leave after she insults the modesty laws. Her family sends her to Austria to study. Here she experiences adolescence and young adulthood, yet after a bad relationship leaves her homeless she awakes to the loneliness of being apart from her native land. She then returns to Iran, and finishes her studies, undergoing bouts of depression, and an unhappy marriage. However, after a divorce she is forced to flee Iran permanently, and the story ends after a conversation with her grandmother, who is a mentor to Marjane.

The story is at once informative, funny, and deeply meaningful. A family and a country is caught up in their new found freedom only to see it taken away by repressive religion. Marjane separated then from her country experiences difficultly finding her identity and is lost between the Western isolated freedom of Vienna and the family-filled yet repressive Iran. However, I feel that the 1st and 2nd acts of the film are stronger and more interesting, the 2nd in Vienna drags slightly, compared to the scenes in Iran. Marjane is stuck between her desire for the comfort of her family and her country, and her desire for respect and freedom. Through the story a dark sense of comedy prevails, one example being a dream in which God and Karl Marx tell her to snap out of her depression. The film succeeds in its dark humor, and gives the viewer a witty and intelligent laugh.

The Animation is spectacular as well. With all of Marjane’s reflections (a majority of the movie) done in a clever black in white style, the animation supports the themes of the film greatly and at times adds to the humor. One scene in which Marjane’s uncle describes Iran’s history particularly visually entertaining. The Music and Sound though not exceptional is a solid score, and leaves no room for complaint. Though viewer beware the film is French, and if one detests subtitles or can’t speak French, tant pis (too bad) your missing a great movie. Overall the production values of this film excel, and further aid to an exceptional movie.

Though not your typical coming of age tale, “Persepolis” gives a darkly comic account of Marjane Satrapi’s growth among the tumultuous times in a country, which to many is such an unknown. I’d highly recommend this film to anyone simply for its entertaining and informative take on the Iranian revolution. However, it goes beyond a dry autobiographic, and presents a funny, poignant story of a kid looking to find her place between two extremes.

-G. Allen

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The Demographics of Revolution, the Arab Spring, and Its Historical Context

Revolutions of 1848

Revolutions of 1848

Since a 28 year old Tunisian, Mohamed Bouazizi, doused himself in gasoline and burn himself to death in protest of the Tunisian regime the Arab world has been aflame in what has become known as the Arab Spring. In Egypt and Tunisia overthrew their regimes entirely, Syria and Yemen are currently aflame, Libya is in a civil war, among other protests in North Africa and the Middle East. Though civil disorder has many root causes and cannot simply be explained away by a single factor, in this post I will attempt to draw the connection between the demographic youth a people, and social change. In 1848 Europe and the 2011 Arab World youthful, increasingly literate populations, and economic hardship resulted in liberal popular protest.

The Europe of 1848 was rapidly undergoing the Second Industrial Revolution. Though classical historiography focused on changing industrial processes and inventions, recent developments have shifted importance to the changing demographics of populations. Thomas Malthus had held in his “Essay on the Principle of Populations” in 1798 that a populations increase was limited by the economic concept of supply and demand. A increasing population would become increasing poor, because of the increased supply and unchanged demand. This would result increasing squalor and poverty until economic pressures forced smaller families shrinking the population. This “Malthusian Trap” as it became known historically was sensible as the relatively steady population and the squalor of 18th century London attested to. However, during the 19th century after the ravages of the Napoleonic Wars (1803 to 1815) improved agricultural techniques, relative peace, and improved urban planning lead to a population explosion, which spurred the Second Industrial Revolution. A huge generation of children born were born from ~1815 to ~1825 from veterans of the Napoleonic Wars in a manner similar to the baby bomb of the 1950s. This generation was born amid a political culture of conservatism born in the Congress of Vienna in which the future of Europe was decided after the ravages of Napoleons revolutionary France. The Austrian Habsburg Count Metternich led Europe back to the previous balance of power and established the anti-revolutionary aim of the powers of Europe. In 1848 a economic depression and poor harvests left an increasingly literate and urbanized proletariat disgruntled, and first beginning en masse in France, and spreading to the Habsburg Empire (Austria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Lombardy), the German States, Denmark, and others. These revolts against the absolutist monarchs were initially successful, though later suppressed. These revolutions hold their roots causes in a large young and growing population, and in this aspect they bear great resemblance to the Arab spring.

Throughout history large youth populations recently recovered from previous upheavals result in times of social and political upheaval (1789, 1848, 1914, 1934, 1968). The root of this is the sociologically of revolution and the psychology of youth. Revoultions are mass political action outside of the established politics of the states, and these naturally require a group of relatively united volatile people. When political resistance occurs in small disparate circles it is easily disrupted, yet when it happens in large groups it can overcome government crackdown. Youth tend to be more violent and idealistic, a characteristic which leads itself naturally to revolution. When youth dominates the demographics of a population in times of economic difficult revolution tends to occur.


Tarhir Square, center of the Egyptian Revolution

The developing world, and in this instance the Arab world is undergoing a massive demographic transition, from exponential to logistic growth. Birth rates have outstripped death rates, and these countries now have a growth young population. However, these countries are also still burdened by huge economic inequality, large unemployment, restrictive states, and angst over western interference. While in the west a poor economy only results in minor discontent, in the middle east under domination of western puppets a poor economy results in mass revolt. The result as in Europe 1848 when a poor economy resulted in massive international revolts, across the middle east revolution has flamed. Both revolutions were catalyzed by new media, 1848 new printing techniques had popularized newspapers, and in 2011 the internet allows for social networking across twitter and facebook. In 1848 a daily paper could report the street fights of yesterday, just as a video of troops firing upon troops spread on twitter today. These youthful inventions further demonstrate the connections between youth and revolution.

These revolutions both occurred in what became the maturation of their society. The Europe of the 1848 was entering into the Victorian age, and in hindsight the Arab world of 2011 is entering in an age of independence from the west. Though the Springtime of Nations was suppressed, it laid the groundwork for later liberal developments: national determination, free press, and modern parliamentarian monarchies. It remains to be seen whether the as with the overthrow of Shah (a cruel US puppet) Fundamental Islam overtakes a secular revolution. However, I have hope in what I believe we will reflect on as a great moment in the history of the 21st century. I hope for a middle east free of US puppets, free of fundamental Islam, and free of oppression.


The Arab Spring

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Information, the Social Contract, and Wikileaks

J. A.

Julian Assagne, Founder of Wikileaks

Julian Assange is a divisive person, without doubt. At the height of the leaks politicians were calling for his death, and some went as far to label him a foreign terrorist. However, in this day and age what Wikileaks does is essential to democracy, and is a blessing not a curse.

Information. Information is the key commodity in democracy. The heart of democracy is a government, which is elected and supposedly representative of the citizen body. In elections the winner is not necessarily always the better person for the country, but instead the one who garnered the most popular votes (a least in most systems). What then is the deciding factor in an election? While at first glance it may appear to be the more intelligent, more charismatic, etc., in reality its the man or woman who most effectively disseminated information to the electorate. When in the voting booth what matters is how the voters view the candidate, and the man who is able to control information most effectively wins. The man who was able to promote the proper image wins. All democracy is an information game. When, the government is responsible not to itself, but to its citizens knowledge of it and its ruler’s actions become essentially the main commodity democracy.

During the Enlightenment, men like Jean Jacques Rousseau, Thomas Hobbes, and John Locke first articulated the idea of a contract between a government and its people. This idea called Social Contract Theory states in some form the ruling polity has a duty to its citizens, and in turn the citizens to the polity. Though this theory varies among political philosophers, the ideas of Rousseau and Locke became the founding basis of the ideological, and Juridical part of the American and later the French Revolution. Though these men, the concept of government which formed the basis of the United States is one in which, the government rules only by the consent of the ruled. The preamble states, “we the people” not “we the government”. We have a government created by a unified people, not a people unified under a government. This contract is the basis of Republican Government.

In Law when a contract is signed it is expected that both parities, have a complete understanding of the terms as stated, and neither party is being withheld any information. To withhold information in a contract can amount to fraud. Then, in the contract between the people and their government the terms of that contract amount to the government acting as a proxy for the individuals who choose to act in coalition by ceding individual rights to their government in return for the governments protection of these rights. In a business dealing if one company was contracted by another to provide a service for pay. Then the terms of what, how, and when the contracted company can act would be essential parts of this contract. The contracted company has a legal obligation to use the money which it was given in a manner specified by the company which the money originates from. To hide some use of this money from the other company in areas other than what was specified is a breach of contract, unless otherwise specified. The key part of a contract is that the company providing the funds has full knowledge of the funds’ use. Though not a business this idea applies equally to the citizens and their polity, when acting under the Social Contract concept. The government in the Social Contract must act with the consent of the people, for to do otherwise is a clear and terrible breach of contract. Therefore, a democratic government can only act in a manner, which its people consent to. For the government to rule by consent it is absolutely necessary the citizens understand the manner in which the government is acting. For a government to act in secret, in a manner outside of the people’s consent, is utterly undemocratic.

My Lai Massacre

My Lai Masacre, ~504 innocent women and children murdered in cold blood, this happened with the consent of the people

The key consent is information. In 1965, the United States government claimed two of its ships had been attacked in the Gulf of Tonkin by the North Vietnamese. President Johnson then proceeded to stand before a joint session of congress to call for permission to conduct military operations in Vietnam. The representatives of the people voted overwhelmingly to allow this. This is an example of the people consenting to an action of the government, a majority decided with the information given as the people’s proxy, the Vietnam War was necessary. This was a lie. No ships were ever attacked, LBJ and his cabinet fabricated this incident. The Gulf of Tonkin incident never happened, yet it was the catalyst to American involvement in the Vietnam War. 58,220 American Soldiers Dead. ~300,000 servicemen wounded severely. Around ~1,000,000 innocent Vietnamese civilians dead. In total, around 3 million died from an utter LIE, and the people consented to this. No American of voting age at that time is innocent. Each one has this blood on their hands, for it happened with their consent by their proxy. Though they lacked the fullest information to consent, they government presented its lie as the truth and 3 million died.

Incidents like this show, why despite the government acting as the people’s proxy cannot by trusted to provide the people with the necessary information to consent. This is why services like Wikileaks are necessary. Without independent knowledge of our governments actions, we cannot be free. Though there are risks associated with leaking government secrets, these are worth taking if we truly believe in government for the people, by the people, and of the people. Otherwise we can only hope the government is acting in accordance with what we as citizens have allowed it. I only ask before you decry Assange as a terrorist, and scream for his blood, what can happen when a government acts in with the people’s consent, whilst withholding the information for them necessary to consent in the first place.

-G. Allen

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The Strict Constructionist Fallacy

Signing the Constiituion

These men had no clear consensous as to the constitutions interpration and purpose

One of my pet-peeves is when Republicans refer to the unconstitutionality of laws, healthcare, etc. and proceed to complain how far we’ve come from the Founding Father’s intentions. This concept that the Founding Fathers had one clear set of intentions and interpretations is fallacious and a terrible misunderstanding of history. When the Constitution was created there was no consensus as to how it should be read. Though I won’t go into detail about the varying viewpoints of the men in the Philadelphia State Hall, suffice it to say by no means was there a great variety of opinions on what the Constitution should contain. Therefore, when I hear a lawmaker rail against the distance the Nation has departed from the Founders Intentions I can only shake my head in annoyance. All to often the Republicans forget, that the Founding Fathers were merely politicians like them with differing opinions, constituencies, and motives. Though undoubtedly these men rose well to the times very, well Teabaggers forget that these were undoubtedly just men as well. They also tend to misinterpret the Fathers themselves though that’s another matter. Moreover a strict construction of the Constitution is untenable in the modern day and ignores the concept of Judaical Review.

The Constitution is a living document. Though this may sound rather cliche, it is essential to remember that since Marbury v. Madison, the United States has had a clear and established concept of Judicial Review. No better example of this stands than Article 1, Section 2.3, in which Blacks are defined as 3/5 a person. Judicial Review, and the flexibility of the Constitution is essential to the well being of the Nation and its people. To those who dislike activist judges should remember the essential cases of Brown v. Board, Arizona v. Miranda, among others. To read the constitution in the most literal sense is impossible, and impractical. To pretend the Founding Fathers actually had unified intentions is equally as foolish. Therefore, it seems to me a strict reading of the Constitution is impossible. Though the core of the document must be respected, the flexibility of this document must also be acknowledged.

-G. Allen

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Life, Politics, Philosophy, Religion, and Science: A Look at Conception

Space Fetus

Starchild from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Yesterday I saw an episode of “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit”, which forced me to look at the idea of conception. More specifically, the time at which something can be counted as human. In this episode several cryogenically frozen embryos were stolen from a fertility clinic by a religious activist (played by the same man who plays Herman “Duck” Phillips on Mad Men). They decried the clinic as something akin to a concentration camp, and gave in their theft Elliot and Benson a mystery to solve. This episode catalyzed me to thought on the subject, and I intend to offer mine and other views on the subject.

Life and its conception is one of the most controversial topics in politics today. Few issues are as divisive to Americans, as that of issues of life. Before I begin, I will point out that this discussion will attempt to avoid the issue of abortion as that topic requires and deserves its own separate analysis. Today the debate rages as to when life begins, I would like to look at this issue from 3 angles Religion, Philosophy, and Science.

Religion (for this discussion we will assume Evangelical Christianity) tends to dominate the life debate, and rightly so. Few issues are more important to religion as the issue of birth and the creation of new life. Rife with symbolism, power, and gravitas the connection between life and religion is a deep and established one. To Christians the creation of life is a sacred act, and it seems almost god-like. To bring entirely new life is not something to be taken lightly in the view of most, in particular to those of Faith. When a Christian creates new life, the believe they merely have not joined two haploid cells to form a zygote, but created something in the image of God with possessing the intangible beauty of a soul. Naturally, this leads to the belief that life starts at conception, instead of at birth. To a Christian a fetus is not merely a future human, but a present human and a mirror to God.

However, this issue needs to be looked at from more than just a Religious angle. As too often happens Religion can allow man to absolve himself of responsibility, and become insensible. This I believe merits a philosophical look as well. Though its impossible to define what a Philosophical look is, because of the myriad of philosophies themselves, it still stands to merit to raise some points which could aid in the discussion. Foremost, to me is whether a fetus can posses the ability to act as a moral agent. Though initially absurd this question upon deeper refection holds some merit. Though even a baby may not at first appear to be a moral agent, I believe otherwise. They are moral agents with simple utilitarian moralities. They make simple choices and judgements with a system of utilitarian morals, in which the question becomes “does this benefit me?”. I believe if a fetus had the ability to make choices, then they would bear all the more humanity. However, I doubt fetus’ make many decisions, which to me is an essential part of existing as a full human being.

In the science of biology a living organism to be considered living it is generally accepted must have the following traits: homeostasis (ability to maintain a stable environment), evolution, metabolism, 6 basic chemicals (K, O, C, P, S, N), growth, reproduction, response to stimuli, and organization. Though not designed as a litmus test for examining individual organism within a species, these properties offer some light onto what life is. The key point I believe is the first, the ability to maintain homeostasis. A fetus removed from the womb too early cannot survive independently, therefore I would argue until a fetus can be removed and not require extensive medical assistance to survive it is scientifically illogical to assert embryos are fully human. This is not to imply embryos are merely objects, they aren’t. They are an intermediary between independent human life, and a something of an organ. To put it bluntly, a embryo is no more a baby than an adult liver, for neither removed from their host can sustain their own existence.

Therefore I believe, it stands to reason to require simply that life be able to take some actions its is on defense. If life does not posses the ability to act in a manner beneficial to its own existence, then I feel it cannot be rightly counted as life. Though this by no means settles this nuanced and complex argument I feel it can provide something of a base line to define when life truly exists.

-G. Allen

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The Tragedy of the Nature Preserve


Recently I was driving home, when I suddenly noticed the artificiality of the world around me. Though this may be esoteric, I became rather disgusted of the hyperreality of it all. Around me car dealerships, billboards, and cheap tin buildings only were minor relics of our consumerist society compared to the great tragedy of the national parks. In modern America nature has become merely another commodity for sale and exploitation. We take what is wild and natural then create what we call natural parks. Though undoubtedly spectacular it pains me that greatest natural places in America must be “wrapped” up for distribution like a common plastic toy. We take the reality of nature and impose in these parks a level of hyperreality. Nature then exists as a simulation of what existed before it became a commodity. Though a beautiful hologram there is nothing wild about the parks, they are carefully controlled, carefully moderated, and filled with tourists. Millions of dollars are spent to preserve these wild spaces, yet in the act of preservation these spaces become mere relics of the reality lost. I fear that the only wild places are those truly inhospitable to man and his cars. Though these ramblings may not be sensical to all, I hope a few will feel the same distaste for what reality has become in this world.

-G. Allen

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The Road by Cormac McCarthy, My Thoughts So Far

The Road

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

The Road by McCarthy, without doubt, is not a happy book. The world in which a boy and his father inhabit is dark, hopeless, and miserable. However, against my expectations within an hour or two I’d cleared around 120 pages. This book is quite the story. Though the plot merely consists of the pair moving south (down I-75 to Florida I suspect) its powerful, moving, and makes for surprisingly quick reading. Having recently read the Myth of Sisyphus by Camus I felt a strong philosophical connection with this family’s journey. They can only walk without tangible hope down the road. Though one close to the pair choose the alternate discussed in the Myth of Sisyphus (Camus’ only real philosophical problem), the other two continue to “push their rock up their hill”. I’ve grown, in the hundred or so pages I’ve read to like this book, and beauty of the Sisyphean nature of the journey the pair is on. They exist in an absurd universe, with all artificial purpose striped away by an unstated disaster leaving only existential despair. Yet, the two continue onward, and though I’m not finished the comparisons to Sisyphus and this family are striking. I only hope in the end “the struggle is enough”.

-G. Allen

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