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Cinema

The growing awareness that modern technology might be dangerous for both historical buildings and the physical health of people was accompanied by an increasing cognizance of possible harm to the mind.74 Consequently, modernist authors called for further regulations also to prevent psychological complications. The cinema illustrates this concern quite clearly and highlights the modernists’ dilemma, caught between striving for fast progress and at the same time pleading for a regulated use of technology. They regarded the cinema as a progressive form of entertainment and a useful tool for educating people, especially since it was very popular among large parts of the Iranian populace.75 However, not all movies were considered adequate for a general audience. One of Ettela‘at’s columnists, for example, reported that a film showing “one of these vulgar and meaningless fights which ten or fifteen year olds like” created such an aggressive atmosphere among some petty criminals sitting with their wives and children in the audience that the screening ended up in a punch fest.76

Especially children who were taken to the movies by “ignorant” parents attracted the attention of several modernist authors. They agreed that, above all, horror films could bring mental harm to young spectators. But also romantic movies were regarded as a threat to the moral constitution of children. The author of one article was appalled by small children in movie theatres watching kissing scenes: “When the lips of the lover touch the lips of the beloved, the sound of kissing [imitated] by attending children reaches the ear even before the [sound of the] cinema loudspeakers.”77 The common practice to bring even small children along to the cinema was also mentioned by the German Walter Hinz, who frowned on the noise children made and the fact that everybody read aloud the Persian subtitles of the mostly Russian films. He commented on the emotional involvement of the Iranian audience, astonished at the cheering or disapproval during the screening of a movie.78 Such observations probably fuelled the concerns of the modernists, who accordingly welcomed the revision of the cinema statutes, issued by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of the Interior in 1939, in several newspaper articles. The revised statutes imposed the legal obligation on cinemas to refuse entrance to children under the age of seven. Children between seven and sixteen were only admitted to special screenings of educational films, which should take place once a week. Even the fact that these regulations contained a kind of pre-censorship of films did not diminish the authors’ applause for this state intervention.79

The Ettela ‘at articles dealing with cinema generally reveal the predicament in which the Iranian modernists were caught: despite their wish to introduce Western media as fast as possible, they could not accept it in its entirety and refused some of its productions, especially commercial films like action and horror films. The authors argued that such films had been produced for the European and American lower classes and did therefore not answer Iran’s needs, but would rather pose a threat to the progress and reform of Iranian society.80 Western-oriented, but also vested with a strong nationalist fervour, the modernists were often trapped in such conflicts. On the one hand, they considered a strict imitation of Western ways of employing and using technology as the only way of reducing dangers, assumed to occur only due to misapplication. Most of all, they were convinced that the correct usage of modern technology would definitely help to reduce Iran’s image as a backward country. On the other hand, this would always imply the adoption of the corresponding cultural aspects as well, at least to a certain degree. This in turn stood in stark contrast to the ambition of Iranian modernists to limit the increasing Western cultural influence. Of course, this dilemma was not a uniquely Iranian, but rather a global phenomenon at that time.81

This attitude arose out of an increasing awareness among modernists of the risks and dangers that accompanied modern life. It must also be seen against the general background of growing nationalistic sentiments, sometimes even xenophobia, in Reza Shah’s state of the 1930s, so frequently reported by foreign travellers at that time. For instance, the German journalist Margret Boveri had to face anti-European attitudes during her stay in Tehran. She as well attested to the Iranians’ inconsistency between their blind adoption of modern technology and the newly awakened national quest for liberation from foreign influence. In her opinion, everything European was taken over jauntily as long as it was mere technology; as soon as Weltanschauung was touched, the state strongly intended to remain purely Iranian.82

 
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