Monday, December 5, 2022

Reference groups of Iranian youth have changed

A Tehran University Professor Taghi Azad Armaki brings into sharper focus the emotional reaction people showed to the untimely death of Morteza Pashaei, a pop singer.

The untimely death of Morteza Pashaei, an Iranian pop singer, and the hearty farewell Iranians bid to him in his funeral became a topical theme for Arman-e Emrooz newspaper on its November 22 issue which featured an interview with Taghi Azad Armaki, a sociologist and a Tehran University professor.

Taghi armaki

The death of the young singer and the subsequent hearty, spontaneous outpouring of grief grabbed headlines in the country. Those active in social networking sites were quick to react to his passing; artists, athletes and even famous politicians cabled condolence messages, and many attended his funeral.

Although official media, especially Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, talked about this issue belatedly, the spontaneity of people’s reaction helped stage one of the most glorious commemorative ceremonies in a society which is at times blamed for its insufficient attention to artists. It is not all that happened. Since Pashaei was not viewed as an A-lister, many talked, among other things, about a shift in the artistic taste of people, the influence of modern communication tools, veneration of the dead.

Some even went further to claim that Pashaei was merely an excuse, talking about the dawn of a new era in which the reference groups of Iranian youth have changed.

In the interview, Azad Armaki talked about his take on the events that followed Pashaei’s death. IFP has translated a summary of the interview, and changed its format without damaging its content.


What is going on? Are the Iranian people waiting for events such as a funeral procession of a key figure, a victory in a football match or political and cultural success on global scenes to take to the streets and express their feelings? Do the Iranians seek to give vent to their pent-up excitements which they fail to let out in normal conditions? Or is it another story? Do these events show the emergence of a new social and cultural atmosphere or we are still entrapped in a dual society? […]

What is the secret behind this? First, society has undergone fundamental metamorphoses; second, reference groups have changed dramatically; third, social and cultural issues have taken on importance; and fourth, borders have been drawn between politics on the one hand and social and cultural issues on the other.

The current situation which is bound to be repeated in different forms down the line should be viewed as the beginning of a social and cultural transformation leading to political change in which new forces will emerge with new forms, new wishes and new demands.

It would be better to concentrate more on new social forces in Iran. By and large, I should say that alongside intellectuals, politicians, bureaucrats and women, new forces have been formed, chief among them, artists, athletes and ethnic groups. In the shadows of intellectuals and politicians, these three forces would be given fewer opportunities to make their presence felt in the past. That’s why they have turned into independent actors and found new voices, trying to enter the race independently. […]

To develop a better understanding of this, it’s better to take a serious look at what has happened in art, music, cinema, theater, literature, football, wrestling and ethnic groupings. […] Each has established new traditions for themselves. They do not wait for politicians and intellectuals to do the job for them. They have introduced new mechanisms for production, presentation, consumption, judgment, and utilization of what they have to offer. This means Iranian society has undergone major changes which I think are very effective.

[…] Those who care for and are concerned about culture and society and have grown familiar with social and cultural changes will certainly hear the voice of constant change in Iranian life. The problem is that some who claim to know society are unable to fathom what is happening, because they lack the required tools to do that. They try to impose their own policies and wishes on society rather than getting familiar with or studying the events and circumstances. […]

According to one of the main findings of young Iranian sociologists, the reference groups have changed and more importance is being attached to athletes and artists along with women and the youth.

Sociologists who focus on values say values and mindsets have changed and new lifestyles have emerged in Iran. Therefore, we cannot say people are taken aback by such developments. When it comes to Iranian sociologists, they are not surprised at all. […]

As far as the lack of understanding of social event goes, multiple factors are to blame. That political players have replaced researchers familiar with social life is one factor.

Efforts in media by two rival groups to create excitement in society account for the second factor. One group claims it favors modernity and views these events as the result of the failure of tradition; the other blames malfunctioning of culture and science for what has happened. Such political dualism has turned an excited atmosphere in society into a grey area which is no longer in focus. […]

Hyperbole plays an important role as well. As I said earlier we are not facing an odd event in society. On various grounds, society has seen – and is still seeing –small and big incidents on different fronts. This incident [Pashaei’s funeral] is just one of them. Why are hyperboles so common?

A young society in which new social groups have surfaced witnesses new incidents. Aren’t women seeking to attend sporting events? Isn’t it common these days for people to leave cities, especially Tehran, en masse during public holidays? Isn’t it common for people to tend to consume luxury items? Aren’t people in Tehran and other cities spending too much time watching and listening to foreign media via satellite TV channels? Isn’t it important for women to enter new social and cultural areas? Isn’t it surprising that Iranians are more willing to emigrate? And many more.

These events have not happened overnight. They have happened over time and become persistent. The question here is “Why do we blow an incident out of proportion when it takes place?” I think these incidents will repeat themselves, and the reoccurrence of one event indicates that Iranian society is going through fundamental social and cultural change.

The occurrence of these incidents should be studied from different angles: first, they are exclusive to special areas and they are less likely to find their way into other areas at a national level. Second, they are less political and solely focus on social and cultural issues. Third, they have been formed over time and will stay in society. Fourth, each one is based on a special logic, and ignoring them will do nothing to make them disappear. Fifth, they are persistent and effective; their ideals, lifestyles and traditions fail to bring about their ephemerality. And finally, their main concern is “life in the modern world” which is the standout feature of such phenomena.

To develop a better understanding, we need to refer to the works of Morteza Pashaei. He has talked, among other things, about love, loneliness, the need for togetherness, compassion, faith and life. That’s why he has pulled in a broader audience. All those who talk about life in the modern era will attract the audience, and their works will be durable.


Those political groups which are seeking to link these social events with their policies are suffering from hallucination. People like Pashaei are unwittingly walking down the path of modernity, inviting their followers to understand and behave in a non-ideological and not anti-ideological fashion. They are not after inflaming political bickering. Rather, they get out of their way to instigate cultural and social order through collective efforts.

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