The movie Clueless was released in 1995, and in it was the first positive ‘passing reference’ to Iranians I noticed in a major Hollywood picture. I was 10 years old when I saw this movie, and I still remember watching the scene where Cher, the glamorous popular high school girl, points to a group of cool-looking teenagers and says, 'That's the Persian Mafia- you can't hang out with them unless you own a BMW.' There wasn't a large Persian population in the town I was living in Texas, so just imagining these too-cool-for-school "Persians" being noticed and commented on by the most popular girl in school was astounding to me.
As the population of Iranian immigrants has grown, especially in Los Angeles where most of these movies and TV shows are made, references to Iranians increasingly sneak into popular culture. Clueless was released almost 20 years ago (what?!) and Iranian-Americans have come a long way since then. In fact, 25% of homes in Beverly Hills are presently owned by Iranian-Americans, and the last mayor of the city was Iranian-born. These passing pop-culture references may not even register to most people watching, but to us Iranians, they make our ears perk up, eyes widen, and put a smile on our faces- especially when the references aren’t about terrorism or convenience stores.
Below is a compilation of clips of many of these references. Many of them are quite silly, and there are a disproportionate number that claim that our most distinguishing characteristics are our love of BMW's and the use of too much hair gel. Oh well- I’ll take that over terrorism and convenience stores anyday!
Check out the clips below, and let us know if there are any passing references (no matter how minor and obscure) that we completely missed.
1. Clueless- Persian Mafia
Cher: "And that's the Perisan Mafia- you can't hang out with them unless you own a BMW."
2. True Romance- Turn off's? Persians
Christian: How about you... tell me about yourself... What are your turn offs?
Patricia: Ha, turn offs... Persians.
3. Change-Up- Too Much Gel
Jason: "This is called gel... too little, you look like a pedophile. Too much, you look Persian."
4. Family Guy- White BMW!
Asian reporter: What do you plan to do when you win the lottery... every Persian guy in the world?
Persian gus: White BMW!
5. South Park- Infiltrate the Persians (using Mexicans)
Watch clip here.
Lady: Janet, how is this going to work, they don't look Persian?
Janet: Sure they do. Just have to gel the hair... put on a silk shirt... some gold chains... and tons of cologne- PERSIAN.'
6. Family Guy Again- Stewie listening to Persian Radio
Stewie: I shouldn't have stayed up all night listening to Persian radio.
Persian radio: Hey, that was Roxet with You've got the Look. It's 21 O'clock and still 27 centigrade out there. Ookh, that's hot. So if you're cruising along theleft side of the road, in a 120 kilometer per hour in the Skhevy desert, turn up the decibals, cause it's Skhakheh Mami with the Alekh, on 103.2 the Akh.
7. The Sopranos- Phil is the Shah of Iran
8. Family Guy Again Again- Persian Fountains
Guy: I just hope whoever moes in doesn't mind the Persian birds next door.
Persian bird: Tweet, tweet, check out my expensive fountain.
9. South Park- Ginger Cow News in Iran
10. How I Met Your Mother- Persian Limo Driver
11. Family Guy Again Again Again- 3 Persian Guys High Fiving
12. Rush Hour 3
(This is a terrorism one, but we let is slide because it's kind of making fun of the whole thing...)
-You and I both know them Iranians were terrorists!
-They were scientists from UCLA!
-Big deal! Cause they kill cancer in rats? That don't mean they won't blow shit up!
13. Mrs. Doubtfire- Leyla, Get Back in Your Cell
Ok so this last one isn't exactly a reference to Persians, but it's a direct reference to my name, which I found mind blowing at the time! Leyla is a very popular name in the Persian language, and even though Eric Clapton's song had long been popular when Mrs. Doubtfire came out, I didn't often meet any non-Iranians with my name.
So there you go, 11 Passing References to Persian that You'll Only Notice If You're Persian. Can you think of any that we're missing? Leave them for us in the comment section below- perhaps we can do another illustrated series for all to see.
Want to Learn More Persian, for Free?
Learn Persian with Chai and Conversation is a free podcast devoted to teaching conversational Persian! In addition, we have a series of guides for each lesson that will help you get a better understanding of the language. Try out these Bonus Materials for Lesson 1 (a PDF guide and enhanced podcast) for free, and find out when new lessons are released by signing up here!