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May 13, 2005

Oshin, the Role Model
Babak Seradjeh  [info|posts]

oshin.jpg This is the recounting of a history that is well known to most Iranians of all age groups, but I think not so well known to the outside world. It's telling of the experiences of the generations who lived their lives, like most of the authors at FToI, in the aftermath of the Islamic revolution in Iran.

One aspect of the post-revolution life in Iran that is perhaps less known to the outsiders is our experience of the magic box as kids and adolescents. The TV is controlled, like most other things, by the state and is headed by a direct appointee of the Supreme Leader. Though it might be difficult to picture for a Westerner it shouldn't be as difficult to understand what it broadcasts: a lot of religious programs, domestic series on pre-approved themes centered, depending on the times, around the ("sacred") Iraq-Iran war, admitted social problems (drugs), the state's notion of family and, of course, official (Islamic conservative) propaganda in various forms, including the news.

What I think would be most difficult either to picture or understand is how such an organization handled broadcasting foreign programs, a necessity as the domestic production could not possibly fill in the hours, though little as they were, totaling a flimsy 10 channel hours in the early years. Further additions of channels and broadcasting hours mostly meant reruns of evening programs during the day. This repetitive schedule has had the interesting side effect of binding the generations who grew up in the early post-revolution years (throughout the '80s) through the TV programs they watched over and over again. These days everyone who can afford the costs and the risks is tuned to the waves of the outside world, and watches a mix of Asian/European/American satellite TV.

So, what did they do with all the cartoons, movies and series that were left from the pre-revolution era or were bought in bulk quantities from Japan and Germany? Right, they censored them. But as I discovered later it was not that simple.

An older friend of mine was telling me once that the censorship in the early days after the revolution consisted of a simple darkening of the scenes or parts of the scenes deemed inappropriate. True or false, other forms of such crude methods were and (I'm guessing) still are in use. However, there was (and again guessing still is) another, much more sophisticated method that was gradually developed by the censorship: fake stories.

Among all the Japanese series we were fed, there was one that is probably remembered by any Iranian my age and older who lived in the country at the time. I think they still show reruns of it so there might even be younger people who have seen it. The series, named in Iran The Years Away from Home, was a morning soap known, internationally as well as among the people, by its original title, Oshin. (It has recently reached Iraq it seems.) The story was that of a girl, Oshin, born in a village to a family hit by poverty who had to work her way up in the rough times before and after the World wars. The series was quite long originally, some 300 fifteen-minute episodes.

In its Iranian life however, it was cut down to about a 100 weekly half-hour episodes (two-thirds of the original) spanning over two years. What had caused such a drastic trimming was the adventures of the heroin who had to, in the real series, go through the ups and downs of her life in, sometimes, compromising ways that was not broadcast-able in the Islamic Republic. What we saw on our TV screens, instead, was a hard-working, courageous girl (true) with an unwavering morality (false) determined to reach success (which she did). This extreme make-over was achieved through various acrobatic cuts and pastes that often amounted to a complete rewrite of the screenplay, characters, dialogues, and in short the whole series.

In spite of all the censor Oshin was hugely popular. It was a given that the usually crowded streets were almost empty at the weekly show times — a phenomenon that is probably only rivaled by two other regular events: the evening fast-breakers in Ramadan and the national soccer team play-offs. In a society deprived of almost all the little pleasures of life, deemed decadent and corrupt, and hit badly by a destructive 8-year war with Iraq people were at least happy to have some of their lost chances on TV screens, however grim, and trimmed, the core of the story was. This statement is perhaps still a truism of the life under the Islamic rule of the clergies in Iran. My all-boy grade-6 classmates made little rhymes and limericks on the characters of the series, fascinated by the teenage girl of the rich household where Oshin worked as a child servant. The people in the film having sips of sake helped revive to some extent the bootlegging business.

The drama reached a peak, however, not in the motion picture, but in real life. In 1988 (if I remember correctly) on the religious occasion of passing away of Prophet's daughter, Fatima Zahra, promoted as a role model for girls by the official propaganda, a reporter asked a woman on a live radio show who she thought was a good role model for "the girls of the Islamic society of Iran" — a clumsy, but commonplace, question meant only to receive the intended answer. The respondent surprisingly defied the common and replied ... "Oshin!" When asked by the astonished, and frightened, reporter "But what about Her Highness Fatima (p.b.u. her)?" she boldly replied that she thought such figures were a thing of the past and did not suit the demands of the modern age. (I jumped out of my seat, touching my face to make sure I wasn't dreaming it all up.) The program was cut and the host apologized on spot. It was then announced in the news that the woman and the reporter had both received the "Supreme Leader's Islamic pardon" (then Ayatollah Khomeini) and were released. The rumor had it they were initially sentenced to death.

The skillful maneuvering of the censorship had incredibly found an expression against them in an unforeseen way. The likes of that woman, I think, are still everywhere to find, and may, I'd like to hope, some day seriously challenge the roots of the ridiculous practices of the censorship we were, and sadly still are, subject to.

External Link:

• Ayako Nezu has a note on the "Oshin Phenomenon".

anonymous at May 13, 2005 11:04 PM [permalink]:

Great Post :))))
At least for me, funny too.. I always thought the role-model story was a joke! :)
Yaad-e saal-haaye Oshin be kheyr :))

Rancher at May 14, 2005 05:15 PM [permalink]:

Wow. This is something we in America missed. A very powerful series even when censored. I'll bet the uncensored series would be a huge hit. Someone in satellite TV should take note. I'll have to see if I can get video copies.

Arash Jalali at May 14, 2005 06:16 PM [permalink]:

Just a note on today's censorship methods of the IRIB. One can categorize them into these categories:

1- Enlargement: if in one scene there's for instance a woman wearing a rather revealing dress (think IRIB standards now, not Baywatch!), then they would digitally stretch the whole picture so that only her head would be visible.

2- Digital obfuscation: if there's nothing wrong with actor's themselves but in a scene there's a painting of say a naked (wo)man, that particular part of the screen will be checkered.


3- The most popular one, total annihilation of the script by making up a complete nonsense out of a dialog between two characters of the movie. This, in fact, is not a technique, and is nothing like Babak mentioned in the case of Oshin's series. This is a side effect of having people as translators in IRIB, who do not know the first thing about English or any other language the original film might be in. Their philosophy, it seems to me, is that

a) In translating a sentence, use the frist thing that comes to your mind or you see in the descriptions under a word in a dictionary.

b) If you can't understand a sentence or a slang, just replace with something totally random. Do not even try to make something up that even remotely fits the whole story. (FYI, they can't remove it because the dubbed voice should say something when the actors are moving their lips!

Let me provide some examples:

- X-Files the movie: An old man, invites Fox Moulder, the FBI agent, into his Limo to give him a vaccine that might save his partner's life. He says: "It's a weak vaccine...". How is it translated? Well, if I translate their translation back to English it would be "It's a vaccine that lasts for a week"

- The movie U-571: The American navy men are on a boat approaching a German submarine, disguising themselves as German commrades bringing them food and equipment to fix the sub. People start speaking in German; there's an English subtitle. A dubbed voice translates the English subtitles into Farsi.

- A German crewman says something. The English subtitle reads: "Have we got work for you guys!"

- The Farsi translation: "Sorry we put you into trouble!"

S at May 16, 2005 04:04 AM [permalink]:

akhey ... memories of oshin ... i remember the entire family sitting down to watch it, with my mum holding the radio in her hand in case there were air strikes ... time really flies by!

Mobaleghe at May 16, 2005 03:48 PM [permalink]:

Oshin, censorship, Fatemeh Zahra, women's role model... that is called sewing ASEMOON and RISMOON.

SG at May 16, 2005 04:41 PM [permalink]:

About censorship, I don't know about you, but I personally hate it to be treated by the government as SAGHIR, someone who is not mature enough to decide what is good for him and what is not and a Big Brother finds Himself eligible to make decisions for him. I just hated it so much to watch a censored, altered, or otherwise changed show. Anyway, the story is unfortunately true and shows the "we know what is good for you and you yourself are too stupid to know" attitude of the Iranian government.

Babak S at May 16, 2005 06:13 PM [permalink]:


Oshin, censorship, Fatemeh Zahra, women's role model... that is called sewing ASEMOON and RISMOON.

That's probably because "ASEMOON and RISMOON" are sewn that way in Iran, today.

An Iranian Student (AIS) at May 17, 2005 06:36 PM [permalink]:

Funny how time goes by. I actually miss all that! Amazing how strong we were as children to actually enjoy those days!

Another example of such censor/dubbings that I fully recall were in Hercule Poirot series. Since the stories were extremely clever murder mysteries, such stupid tamperings were REALLY frustrating. The one example I especially remember was an episode where the murder took place on a ship...the murderer was a woman Poirot and others, including the viewers, had met during the dancing party on the ship. The scenes of that party were censored in their ENTIRETY. So we never even saw the murderer, or had bo idea any such character even existed in the plot for that matter, until the very end of the episode when Poirot had reveiled the truth!

But what you said about the common bond we all had by watching the exact cartoons and series, over and over again is so true. The East European ones were my favourite. There was also the Japanese stuff. When a relative of ours immigrated to Australia and settled down in Adelaide way back in the eighties, I used to be so envious of them. It was a bit like living inside a cartoon after having watched , God knows for how many times, Mohajeran (Settlers) in the children program (it was a Japanese cartoon about a family who were among the first European settlers in Adelaide). My mental image of where our relative was living was something out of that cartoon for years!

Recently I saw "Nokhodi" again in the IRIB satellite channels. It was amazing how one sided , machin like and fascistic this puppet show of the early years of after the revolution was. I wonder how I ever could watch such a thing...But I did as a child and with pleasure!

The most nostalgic memory I have though, is of waiting from around 4 PM for the children program to start at 5 ever day, except Friday. I still clearly remember how the TV programs used to start with the pictures of missing people and the music of Bach at the background. (Back then the only music that was permitted was classical music.)
Actually I think this could have been one of the reasons I grew up loving Bach and his masterpeices... now that I think of it! :)

Wow, special times they were! Special indeed.

heydarbaba at May 23, 2005 11:41 PM [permalink]:
Babak, I don't mean to ruin the nostalgic mood here but since you brought up the subject of CENSORSHIP in Iran I think a few words on that are long due. I can not think of a publication, a journal, a report, a TV channel, or for that matter , any kind of mass media on this planet earth that is free from what we commonly refer to it as CENSORSHIP. Do I support censorship? When I was a young man I would say "hell no". I like to think that I have matured now ( not many people around me will agree with that including my ex!!) and I have seen the way the world is being run and I would say I will not bet a penny of my money on seeing a day that we will see a censor free country, organization, institution, mass media and what have you....Do I support censorship? First we have to define what it is and then I am sure many considerations will come in that wont necessarily make the argument any easier to follow. However there is lot of grey area in this subject something I would never accept as a young man but as a mature!! person I am willing or forced to admit it. The easiest part of this argument would be to distinguish the sophisticated censorship from not so sophisticated and lets it call it (kharchang ghoorbaghei censorship). But I think we don't need to go all the way to Iran in order to talk about censorship we can start right here on this site. Babak don't take this personal ..just see it for what it is... 1) on your article WHAT DID KHATAMI REALLY SAY, you talked about "Shah's self-imposed exile". In my comment to you I wrote that was not a self imposed exile, it was an escape from Iran and any average student of history would tell you that. And I am sure you knew that too ..but you decided to call it a "self imposed exile". The choice of words you used... Is that called censorship? distortion? propaganda? playing loose with facts? 2) I spent quite a bit of time to write my long comment on your post and after a while the entire comment was erased and never appeared again. The only comments left on your post were the friendly ones (to you of course) and the ones who simply agreed with you. Is this called censorship? or some unfortunate accident?!!! 3) in your post "Peace In the Air" regarding a meeting between the PA and Israeli representatives you wrote :"The heads of the two states met and talked peace.." I thought it was funny you referred to Palestinians as a "state" and their representative as head of the state. I am sure you know Palestine is not a state (not yet), if it was there would be no conflict left for the PA and Israelis to talk about. I am sure you know that Palestine is an occupied land and this occupation has been the most brutal, bloody, inhumane, occupation ever since the fall of Nazis and yet you refer to it as a that playing loose with facts? censorship? or just a little "ever occurring error " in your posts? 4)in your post in Oshin you referred sarcastically to Iran-Iraq war as a "sacred"Iran-Iraq war. Now I am sure you are well familiar that the dominant term used in Iran during and after war was "Defae moghaddas" (sacred defense) and not "jange Moghaddas"(sacred war). So this kind of writing and reporting is censorship? or simply playing loose with facts again? it can not be just a mistake all the times.... I haven't read all your posts but only some...maybe there is more....lets hope not..but... my point is it is easy to talk about and condemn censorship but it seems it is even easier and more f ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
heydarbaba at May 24, 2005 12:10 AM [permalink]:

To Arash,
Since you brought up the "bad translation" I thought to add couple of things to your examples...
First one is the publications of the embassy documents by the students who took over the US embassy. In their translation of one of the documents they had translated the phrase "with the ultimate objective of.." (ba hadafe nahaee) as "ultimately objecting" (dar nahayat ba mokhalefate.....) At the time my English was really poor but even I could see the difference. But the worst one that I saw was the case of a (translation/book jacking). A relative of mine in Iran showed me a Physics book written in Farsi named "modern Physics" that three Iranian physicists had authored it. (their names were on the cover). He wanted my opinion on that. As I looked through the book I could see there were many figures that were so familiar to me. The content and the discussions seemed very familiar also...Then I got little bit suspicious and immediately looked at the Table of Contents...and suddenly it clicked..the book was a word by word, paragraph by paragraph and pic by pic translation of a physics text book called "Concepts of Modern Physics" by Arthur Beiser ( I was teaching it at the time) but those Iranian translators had gone ahead and published it under their own names!!! Poor Arthur had no idea some body stole his lunch bag.....thousands of miles away...

Francisco at May 24, 2005 11:53 AM [permalink]:

I came to Europe from CHILE and I did watch OSHIN in my homeland 2 times!!

In fact, OSHIN is one of my all time favorite from JAPAN to the world.

The rearview mirror to a unfair sexist society trying to reborn from war economical an moral disaster, and the mixture of suffering, honor, sacrifice just can't keep you off the screen...

So sad to notice censorship when something so simple can be watched in other place.

I love Tanaka Yuko!!!

Babak S at May 24, 2005 09:12 PM [permalink]:
heydarbaba ye aziz, You ask "Do I support censorship? First we have to define what it is..." How about we start with a rather simple definition, cen·sor, transitive verb: to examine (as a publication or film) in order to suppress or delete any contents considered objectionable — Source: Merriam-Webster's Dictionary of Law, © 1996 Merriam-Webster, Inc. I'm sure we can agree on this much about defining what censor is. Now it is simple to answer your question: I do not support censor and not only that, I am against censor in all its forms. Simple as that. This means that removing material due to other reasons than objectionabl-ity is not censor. Sometimes, it is not possible to publish a work in its entirety simply because there is not enough space for it in the intended publication format. And what's more important, expressing a view, even a false view, is not censor. Just because it doesn't represent other opposing views, it doesn't make it qualified for the label. I hope you see that I haven't taken your comment personally. But there is a rather malevolent thread in your comment that I would very much like to assign to just a difference in opinion. It's hard but I'll try to manage anyway. My rebuttal to your false claims follows. 1) You wrote on your article WHAT DID KHATAMI REALLY SAY, you talked about "Shah's self-imposed exile". In my comment to you I wrote that was not a self imposed exile, it was an escape from Iran and any average student of history would tell you that. And I am sure you knew that too ..but you decided to call it a "self imposed exile". The choice of words you used... Is that called censorship? distortion? propaganda? playing loose with facts? You posted no comment under that post. You have a point in what you are saying, but in qhat I had been meaning to write about in that article, this played no central role. So I think it wouldn't have really made a big difference in the context if I had written instead "Shah returned from his (cowardly) escape". My choice of words here is called just a choice of words. I wasn't even trying to express an important view of that event. 2) You wrote I spent quite a bit of time to write my long comment on your post and after a while the entire comment was erased and never appeared again. The only comments left on your post were the friendly ones (to you of course) and the ones who simply agreed with you. Is this called censorship? or some unfortunate accident?!!! So you had a technical glitch and that leads you to think that there is a conspiracy going on here. I have experienced the same problem many times. My solution to it: make a copy of your writing before pushing the send/post button. You can simply do this by highlighting the text and copying it to the clipboard, so later you can recover your writing by simply pasting it back. I do this regularly when I am webmailing, for instance. So my friend, there is no conspiracy here. Except for spam I don't think any comments are actually removed. Even if a comment is removed it is not because it is "objectionable" but because this web site has set up a few rules for commenting in order for more effective communication among the readers, and in order to avoid legal prosecution. Although as far as I know even those rules are most often not enforced. In short, I find your implying that there is some sort of censorship going on here completely void of truth. 3) You wrote in your post "Peace In the Air" regarding a ["Toooo long!" editors say, "Here: click to read the whole thing!"]
sadaf at May 31, 2005 10:01 PM [permalink]:

this whole web site is a crap if you even allow yourself erase someone else's postings. you should not assume falsely that you are superior than the readers that you can in case you didn't approve the content to simply erase it.
the whole point that we had been stagnating in history for so long is basically because of the attitude I can obviously see here that we assume we are supposed to approve or disapprove whatever other people believe or do; however, in the world of modernity, usually no one gives a heck to what you think as long as you respect the freedom of thought and speech and rights of other citizens. as long as you don't invade other people's privacy, who cares!!
if bunch of intellectuals erase each other's postings simply because it seemed off the topic, then what do you expect from bunch of uneducated mullahs that censor the entire life of people for other somewhat similiar reasons like for being immoral!!! or inappropriate.

heydarbaba at June 22, 2005 05:52 PM [permalink]:

To Babak and Sadaf;
I haven't responded to your comments so far for a simple technical reason. I hadn't paid my phone/internet bill and I had lost my service for a while.!! I was using the public library computers and there is simply no time for writing and posting comments in that situation. So it wasn't that I ignored the comments. I am not good at doing that. lol. I have a few words to say but not now . peace.

rachelle at October 3, 2005 07:53 PM [permalink]:

i love u oshin
by the way i am rachelle oshin my father named me oshin cause he love the tv show oshin eventhough i didn watch that particular show i know it was great,cause many people love it.i am from the philippines.i hope that oshin will be shown also too here in the philippines.

navaneeth at November 3, 2006 10:23 AM [permalink]:

What does the name "OSHIN" MEAN?

JAMES LE at November 23, 2006 04:53 PM [permalink]:

Hi, everybody,
I've ever watched OSHIN FILM in my country Vietnam, but not whole film. So now, I want to find this film and I want to buy it. Any Japanese friend can help me?? If it'll better translate to English, yeah? Thank you.

Leila at December 28, 2006 01:41 PM [permalink]:

Interesting article and intersting convesation. Thanks.

Just a side note here, that I am amazed that they show the X-Files in Iran!

h.sahra at January 11, 2007 02:11 AM [permalink]:

thanks alot for giving some information about the real oshin.but i want to know the real story of the oshin.can you help about it.

i look forward to hearing from you.

h. sahra
good luck

Spoof Card at September 6, 2007 10:46 AM [permalink]:

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Spoof Card at September 7, 2007 03:24 PM [permalink]:

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