The VHS Medium in 1980s Revolutionary Iran: A Window onto the World Outside

Friday, January 5, 2018: 2:30 PM
Columbia 10 (Washington Hilton)
Nahid Siamdoust, New York University
Video Home System technology (VHS) appeared in Iran in the late 1970s and early 1980s, not only still at the height of the cold war but also at Iran’s own most tumultuous historical and political moment in many decades. For a while, one could argue, the VHS was Iran’s only window onto the outside world. And yet, no research exists on the significance of this media technology within the Iranian sphere of this period. Whereas state television was highly controlled – whether under the Pahlavi monarchy that was deposed in 1979 or the Islamic Republic that followed it – the VHS provided a free channel wherein political and cultural content that was otherwise prohibited was distributed and consumed by a large segment of at least the urban population. The VHS streamed Western pop culture into Iran, with certain cultural “it” items that were the talk of the town, such as Pink Floyd’s music video “The Wall.” But equally if not more importantly, it offered a venue through which recent Iranian expatriates streamed their politically oppositional content to an Iranian populace that during the 1980s had little mediated access to the rest of the world. In which ways did the existence of the VHS technology and this mediated content affect cultural and political developments in the sternly revolutionary Iran of the 1980s? This paper will examine some of this content, question how the format of the VHS shaped the production and consumption of this content, and venture conclusions about its impact on the political discourse within Iran.
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