Published March 13, 2012
They’re rich. They’re spoiled. They’re Persian.
Which means Bravo’s latest reality endeavor, “The Shahs of Sunset,” has Iranian-Americans up in arms over the stereotypes they claim it perpetuates. So much so, in fact, that petitions are circulating in Iranian communities to have the show yanked off the air.
The program, which premiered on Sunday night, follows a group of six Persian-American socialites in Los Angeles as they navigate love and life with what seems like bottomless checking accounts.
They are the children of the Iranians who escaped their country after the 1979 Iranian Revolution ended the reign of the Shah Reza Pahlavi.
Several petitions to halt the show have been circulated around the Persian-American community. One of them, “Protest Shahs of Sunset,” encourages signers to “help the Persian community by signing this petition to end 'Shahs of Sunset' and other such racist, exploiting television programming.”
Another, which has collected 500 signatures on Change.org, argues that the show promotes racial stereotypes. One signer of that petition, Shepard Jacobson, commented: “The show wants to present caricatures of Iranian-Americans. This is not entertaining. Rather, it is racist and only encourages others who do not know Persians in our American society to feed into the worst kind of stereotype, rather than showing a new generation of ambitious yet hardworking Iranian-Americans.”
The show’s focus does seem to be on the characters' frivolous sides. Golnesa 'GG' Gharachedaghi, who is being heralded as the next Kim Kardashian, is a 30-year-old trust fund baby who uses her father’s credit card to buy designer clothing and vehemently argues on the first episode that she does not like “ugly people.”
"Charge it to my Daddy" is one of her favorite sayings, and could end up being the series' tagline.
During the first episode she also adds, 'I am 30 years old, and my only paycheck is from my Daddy.”
GG nearly comes to blows with fellow cast member Asa Soltan Rahmati when Asa accuses GG of wearing clothes bought at H&M.
It was comments and scenes like those that caused some viewers to take to Bravo’s official message board to complain about the show after it aired on Sunday night.
“Due to the current political climate between the United States and factions in the Middle East, I cannot see the benefit of this show,” wrote one viewer. “I think it is rather tasteless of you to show how the rich from the Middle East can settle here to continue their lives of opulence where there are still many who still struggle to continue with their daily lives, here and there.”
Another viewer commented that the show was insulting to the Persian-American community.
“It's a shame that the premise of this show is specifically geared as a representation of Persian culture. There's not an ounce of humility and even general human decency shown here. And quite frankly, it's embarrassing to watch. I could understand how this could stereotype people from this background in a real negative way. I found myself really disliking these people by the end of the show.”
Not everyone agrees. "Shahs" cast member Mike Shouhed, a 33-year-old former high roller in the Las Vegas real estate market who claims to be looking for a woman he can bring home to his mother, told Fox411 that all of the petition makers and the haters on the message boards are simply jealous.
“The only reason people are petitioning is that they are 100 percent jealous that they aren’t on the show. All we are doing is hanging out and being ourselves,” Shouhed said. “People are intrigued to learn more about our culture instead of automatically associating us with negative portrayals like terrorism. It humanizes us in a way."
Despite the pilot proving to be more “Jersey Shore” meets “The Real Housewives” than a PBS documentary on how Persians live their lives in the States, some Persian-American advocates agree with Shouhed that good can come out of the show.
“A lot of the Iranian-American community is upset because the show does hype up negative stereotypes. You see materialism and superficiality at its worst,” says Nomar Elmi, the director of community outreach for the National Iranian American Council in Washington, D.C. “But the silver lining for me is that it will get people talking. Usually we are depicted as terrorists from the axis of evil. At least this is another side to the community. It isn’t the most positive or accurate, but it will get the American public talking.”
A rep for Bravo didn't respond immediately to a request for comment.