Shahs of Sunset — the Love & Hate Begins

Next week will mark the debut of Ryan Seacrest’s newest reality show, “Shahs of Sunset”.  I am a lover of reality television and I am excited about this one.  I live in LA, have some Persian friends, and this will be a fun romp. They seem cool, with just the right amount of fluff to make them both ridiculous and endearing.  That said, I’m not Persian so I don’t take this show personally.  Some are Jews, but here Persian trumps Jewish.

I often write about how frustrating it is to have no cool Jews on reality television.  The Jewish reality stars are always obnoxious, mean, stupid, or just plain weird.  As a Jew I am offended by who is chosen to represent my tribe on television, especially when I know so many cool Jews.  I imagine it was those same feelings about Persians that inspired the article by GINA NAHAI here at The Jewish Journal.  She is Persian, and she is pissed off.

The article by Nahai is harsh and has offended some of the stars of Shahs of Sunset.  I don’t mind the harsh tone of her piece as I too have been told my writing is harsh.  Harsh to some is passionate to others, so it’s all good, but her piece goes beyond being harsh, it’s personal.  What I don’t understand is why she writes the show is fake and scripted, yet she is worried these bad, fake actors are going to matter to America.

She calls the cast of Shahs of Sunset, unattractive, unsophisticated, and unproductive.  She is very annoyed that this group is representing her people and so my advice to Ms. Nahai would be to relax.  Don’t say in one sentence that this shows does not matter because it’s fake and silly reality television, then get your panties in a twist that these people are going to shape how the world sees the Iranian American population of Los Angeles.

If Jews were judged solely on how we are depicted on reality television, we might as well all change our last names to Smith, ban matzo ball soup in our homes, join a church, and call it a day.  It’s just television, and reality television at that.  America is not stupid, and we are watching this show for entertainment, not to learn about Iran, or what is means to be of Persian decent.  I can assure Ms. Nahai that nobody is taking this show as seriously as she is.

The main characters of Shahs of Sunset are party girl MJ, her openly gay best friend Reza, and artist Asa who dates outside her race and religion, There is sleazy but loveable Sammy, Mike the handsome guy, and GG, the Persian Princess.  They seem like nice people to me.  They are harmless and simply milking their opportunity at 15 minutes of reality television fame. They will be over the top because it is a requirement of their job.

In the world of reality television, being a caricature can lead to big money. Just ask Snooki.  These people are not stupid.  Unlike Nahai, they get it, are playing the game, and laughing all the way to the bank.  The concept of this show was sold long before it was cast. They wanted a show about this group of people, and these are who they chose, so let’s not punish the cast for living the American dream of fame and fortune.

In her attempt to fight stereotypes of her people, Nahai has stereotyped her people.  She is concerned with how they will portray Persians to America, yet her article paints her as uptight and bitter. Is that a better representation?  Let’s wait for the show to air before we pick a side to mock them or love them.  There will be lots to reason to love and hate them, but none of those reasons will be because they are Persian.

I reached out to Reza, the openly gay, painfully stereotyped, and simply fabulous cast member about the article Nahai wrote and he gave the following quote: “I hope that people will watch the show because of the friendships, family bonds & the love we have for our culture/heritage. PERIOD. Shahs of Sunset might actually humanize a minority group that is usually portrayed as evil, demonic and hated.”

The cast members were offended, hurt and surprised by Nahai’s article. They are all expecting to be attacked on some level because that is the nature of the game, but for such an attack to come from within their community, from a woman who knows their struggles, is hurtful.  As Nahai says, it’s just reality television, so lets cut them some slack.  I think they are in for a lot of attacks, but Nahai’s really hurt.

I will be watching Shahs of Sunset when it premiers next week, and my blog recaps might be harsh.  By might be of course I mean they will be harsh. That’s how reality television works.  You agree to put your life out there for us to see, and we get to say whatever we want.  I will think they are divine and insane because that is reality television.  The nice thing to do is keep my opinions to myself until the show airs.  That’s keeping it real.