After failing to keep films away from culture-loving Iranians, the Islamic Republic is trying some new, if clunky, techniques for editing the West out of Western entertainment.
An American film in its original form, left, and modified by Iranian censors, right. (CaffeCinema.com)
The Islamic Republic of Iran has been at war with the cinema since even before its founding. Ayatollah and future dictator Ruhollah Khomeini, in his years as a revolutionary, condemned movies in both of his books as forces of foreign corruption and imperialism. Many of the clerics who helped foment revolution in Iran in the 1970s declared movies forbidden and denounced them, sometimes forcefully. In late 1978, a small group of radical Islamists locked the doors of the Cinema Rex movie house in the city of Abadan and set it on fire, killing 400. After the revolution the following year, 180 more movie theaters (though now empty) were burned to the ground. In his first year in power, Khomeini banned 513 foreign films.
But people really like movies, and Iranians are no exception. The long Persian tradition of art and poetry has perhaps informed Iran's passion for film; in 1995, Werner Herzog declared, "What I say tonight will be a banality in
the future: The greatest films of the world today are being made in Iran." The regime seems to have realized that foreign films were going to trickle into the country whether they permitted it or not, so perhaps better to "bring [the movies] under their own jurisdiction," as a report by the advocacy group Article 19 put it.
That means censoring foreign movies instead of banning them outright, and even broadcasting them widely enough that people won't feel it's worth their time to track down an uncensored version. The censors, offensive though their mission may be, don't have an easy job. There are 37 rules, laid out in 1983, 1993, and 1996 laws, detailing the ideas and images banned from movies. Many pertain to women: no close-ups of their faces, no makeup, no exposed necklines; men and women can't sit closely, appear to be alone together, touch, or exchange "tender words or jokes." Veiled women, bearded men, policemen, and soldiers can't be portrayed negatively without "a good excuse." No booze, no profanity against religion (yes, Iran protects faiths other than Islam), or neck ties, which are seen as a symbol of foreign culture. Oh, and no sorcery -- sorry, Harry Potter.
Censoring foreign movies used to mean simply pulling out the scissors, cutting away inappropriate scenes and shots until the film was a good deal shorter and made a lot less sense. But, in 2010, Iranian authorities acquired new technology allowing them to manipulate images and dialogues into Islamic inappropriateness.
"Romantic dialogue is often changed. For example, it isn't proper for a woman to say to her partner, 'I love you,'" Iranian journalist Reza Valizadeh explained to Radio Free Europe's Golnaz Esfandiari in a 2010 interview. "It's clear how dialogue about sexual proposals is dealt with -- they are changed to marriage proposals. Also we see that beer becomes lemonade on state television and whiskey becomes orange juice. Also dialogue about politics is often changed."
Censors will sometimes edit immodest images -- whether it's a man and woman sitting too closely, someone drinking a cocktail, or even an open neckline -- by cutting the offending person or object or by simply placing some visual obstacle. The Iranian film fan site CaffeCinema.com put together a series of side-by-side comparisons showing the before-and-after of this new censorship technique. Yes, that's Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby in there. Some of the efforts here are almost impressively subtle, but others, well, let's just say there seem to be a lot of clunky vases in the censors' world.
We've only been able to identify the film in the top image; the aforementioned Will Ferrell NASCAR comedy (how that translates into any non-American culture, much less Iran's, is a mystery to me). If you're able to pick any of them out, please let us know in the comments.
The censored images are another indication of how seriously Iran takes the "infiltration" of foreign culture; the regime there has variously banned coffee shops, pop music, and certain hair styles in their quest to isolate Iranians from the outside world. But this isn't Afghanistan or Saddam's Iraq or North Korea, and there's really only so much the Islamic Republic can do to separate its long-worldly people from arts, culture, and entertainment. Little compromises like these silly seeming censorship techniques are a reminder of how difficult, and maybe how futile, that quest really is.
A professor of cognitive science argues that the world is nothing like the one we experience through our senses.
As we go about our daily lives, we tend to assume that our perceptions—sights, sounds, textures, tastes—are an accurate portrayal of the real world. Sure, when we stop and think about it—or when we find ourselves fooled by a perceptual illusion—we realize with a jolt that what we perceive is never the world directly, but rather our brain’s best guess at what that world is like, a kind of internal simulation of an external reality. Still, we bank on the fact that our simulation is a reasonably decent one. If it wasn’t, wouldn’t evolution have weeded us out by now? The true reality might be forever beyond our reach, but surely our senses give us at least an inkling of what it’s really like.
In 12 of 16 past cases in which a rising power has confronted a ruling power, the result has been bloodshed.
When Barack Obama meets this week with Xi Jinping during the Chinese president’s first state visit to America, one item probably won’t be on their agenda: the possibility that the United States and China could find themselves at war in the next decade. In policy circles, this appears as unlikely as it would be unwise.
And yet 100 years on, World War I offers a sobering reminder of man’s capacity for folly. When we say that war is “inconceivable,” is this a statement about what is possible in the world—or only about what our limited minds can conceive? In 1914, few could imagine slaughter on a scale that demanded a new category: world war. When war ended four years later, Europe lay in ruins: the kaiser gone, the Austro-Hungarian Empire dissolved, the Russian tsar overthrown by the Bolsheviks, France bled for a generation, and England shorn of its youth and treasure. A millennium in which Europe had been the political center of the world came to a crashing halt.
Life in Ohio's proud but economically abandoned small towns
Just over a decade ago, Matt Eich started photographing rural Ohio. Largely inhabited by what is now known as the “Forgotten Class” of white, blue-collar workers, Eich found himself drawn to the proud but economically abandoned small towns of Appalachia. Thanks to grants from the Economic Hardship Reporting Project and Getty Images, Eich was able to capture the family life, drug abuse, poverty, and listlessness of these communities. “Long before Trump was a player on the political scene, long before he was a Republican, these people existed and these problems existed,” Eich said. His new book, Carry Me Ohio, published by Sturm and Drang, is a collection of these images and the first of four books he plans to publish as part of The Invisible Yoke, a photographic meditation on the American condition. Even with a deep knowledge of the region, Eich was unprepared for the fury and energy that surrounded the election this year. “The anger is overpowering,” he said. “I knew what was going on, and I’m still surprised. I should have listened to the pictures.”
Universities themselves may be contributing to burnout.
With half of all doctoral students leaving graduate school without finishing, something significant and overwhelming must be happening for at least some of them during the process of obtaining that degree. Mental illness is often offered as the standard rationale to explain why some graduate students burn out. Some research has suggested a link between intelligence and conditions such as bipolar disorder, leading some observers to believe many graduate students struggle with mental-health problems that predispose them to burning out.
But such research is debatable, and surely not every student who drops out has a history of mental illness. So, what compels students to abandon their path to a Ph.D.? Could there be other underlying factors, perhaps environmental, that can cause an otherwise-mentally-healthy graduate student to become anxious, depressed, suicidal, or, in rare cases, violent?
President-elect Donald Trump has committed a sharp breach of protocol—one that underscores just how weird some important protocols are.
Updated on December 2 at 7:49 p.m.
It’s hardly remembered now, having been overshadowed a few months later on September 11, but the George W. Bush administration’s first foreign-policy crisis came in the South China Sea. On April 1, 2001, a U.S. Navy surveillance plane collided with a Chinese jet near Hainan Island. The pilot of the Chinese jet was killed, and the American plane was forced to land and its crew was held hostage for 11 days, until a diplomatic agreement was worked out. Sino-American relations remained tense for some time.
Unlike Bush, Donald Trump didn’t need to wait to be inaugurated to set off a crisis in the relationship. He managed that on Friday, with a phone call to the president of Taiwan, Tsai Ing-wen. It’s a sharp breach with protocol, but it’s also just the sort that underscores how weird and incomprehensible some important protocols are.
Comedy-drama series like Fleabag and Transparent show how vulnerability is as important as unlikeability and strength when it comes to portraying fictional women.
In the first episode of the HBO series Enlightened, the show’s heroine, Amy Jellicoe, learns that she’s been fired. She does not take the news well. Within minutes, she goes from pitiable victim, sobbing abjectly in a bathroom stall, to mascara-streaked fury. “Go back to your sad, fucking, little desk,” she sneers at her assistant before tracking her ex-lover and presumed betrayer to the office lobby. “I will destroy you—I will bury you—I will kill you, motherfucker!” she screams at him through the elevator doors that she somehow, in a feat of desperation, manages to pry open.
Though the scene aired five years ago, it’s still a pretty radical few minutes of television, and not just because of the ferocity of Laura Dern’s performance. What feels most striking is the series’ willingness to dramatize an extended scene of female distressfor something other than a moralizing end. In this sense, Enlightened anticipates the Amazon series, Fleabag, which evinces a similar empathy toward a female character in the grip of powerfully negative emotions: anger, sadness, grief, self-doubt, shame. It’s probably no accident the two shows have almost identical promotional stills—close-ups of their protagonist’s makeup-smudged faces, staring directly to camera. Like a number of other female-centric, female-created tragicomedies to have emerged on TV in recent years—Transparent, Girls, Catastrophe, Insecure—the series also share a commitment to more compassionate portrayals of dysfunctional heroines, by suspending judgment even (or especially) when they’re at their worst.
Switching pastas and breads is a small decision that could save lives.
Multigrain is a genius approach to selling both white bread and righteousness. The term crept under the umbrella of health quietly. It wasn’t clear why, exactly. (The grain part? Or the multi?) At least it wasn’t white bread, right?
As many eaters of bread came to understand that white bread is a nutritional equivalent of Pixy Stix—the nutritious, fibrous shell of the wheat having been removed, leaving us with only the inner starch, which our bodies almost instantly turn into sugar—it needed some rebranding.
Multigrain is now often used to imply wholesomeness, a virtue to which it often has no claim. Containing the flour of multiple grains does not mean containing whole grains. When millers leave the grain intact before milling, this is whole grain flour. It contains fiber, appeasing the pancreas and microbes that demand it for optimal performance. So, the term to look for is 100 percent whole wheat. (Or wholegrain, though the grain is usually wheat.)
It’s not because they’re inherently harsher leaders than men, but because they often respond to sexism by trying to distance themselves from other women.
There are two dominant cultural ideas about the role women play in helping other women advance at work, and they are seemingly at odds: the Righteous Woman and the Queen Bee.
The Righteous Woman is an ideal, a belief that women have a distinct moral obligation to have one another’s backs. This kind of sentiment is best typified by Madeleine Albright’s now famous quote, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other!” The basic idea is that since all women experience sexism, they should be more attuned to the gendered barriers that other women face. In turn, this heightened awareness should lead women to foster alliances and actively support one another. If women don’t help each other, this is an even worse form of betrayal than those committed by men. And hence, the special place in hell reserved for those women.
How much do you really need to say to put a sentence together?
Just as fish presumably don’t know they’re wet, many English speakers don’t know that the way their language works is just one of endless ways it could have come out. It’s easy to think that what one’s native language puts words to, and how, reflects the fundamentals of reality.
But languages are strikingly different in the level of detail they require a speaker to provide in order to put a sentence together. In English, for example, here’s a simple sentence that comes to my mind for rather specific reasons related to having small children: “The father said ‘Come here!’” This statement specifies that there is a father, that he conducted the action of speaking in the past, and that he indicated the child should approach him at the location “here.” What else would a language need to do?
A century ago, millions of Americans banded together in defense of white, Christian America and traditional morality—and most of their compatriots turned a blind eye to the Ku Klux Klan.
On August 8, 1925, more than 50,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan paraded through Washington, D.C. Some walked in lines as wide as 20 abreast, while others created formations of the letter K or a Christian cross. A few rode on horseback. Many held American flags. Men and women alike, the marchers carried banners emblazoned with the names of their home states or local chapters, and their procession lasted for more than three hours down a Pennsylvania Avenue lined with spectators. National leaders of the organization were resplendent in colorful satin robes and the rank and file wore white, their regalia adorned with a circular red patch containing a cross with a drop of blood at its center.
Nearly all of the marchers wore pointed hoods, but their faces were clearly visible. In part, that was because officials would sanction the parade only if participants agreed to walk unmasked. But a mask was not really necessary, as most members of the Klan saw little reason to hide their faces. After all, there were millions of them in the United States.