The classic US stereotype of attempted Iranian ideological indoctrination via chants of “Death to America” and such has been old hat for quite some time. As noted by the New York Times on Saturday, in the past few years Iranian pro-government propaganda efforts have increasingly taken the form of rap videos glorifying the country’s military, spread on sites like local YouTube equivalent Apparat and apps like Telegram.
The Times rounded up some of the most high-profile attempts to appeal to the nation’s youth by pairing Iranian rappers with sweeping shots of military personnel and CGI-infused battle scenes, some of which are pretty over-the-top. They’re fascinating to watch, especially at a time when the current presidential administration has gone full hawk on Iran.
They’re also more than a little uncomfortable, both because they show an oppressive government’s approach to a digitized era of propaganda and, if we’re being honest, they do kind of resemble pro-military media produced in places like the US.
One video highlighted by the paper features Amir Tataloo, a musician with a “hard-partying, gangster-style reputation,” who extolled “our absolute right / to have an armed Persian gulf” while singing alongside naval personnel on the frigate Damavand. (The Simpsons fans may notice a strong “Yvan Eht Nioj” vibe.)
Another video from last year, titled “We Will Resist,” cost $250,000 and featured a computer-generated wing of US fighter jets bombing a mosque by a sunny beach, flanked by newly constructed oil refineries. A battalion of Iranian youth carrying flags retaliate by charging towards the water, conjuring up a gigantic tidal wave which sinks the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
Another released in 2016 by the Seraj Cyberspace Organization, which is affiliated with the Iranian Revolutionary Guards’ Basij volunteer militia, shows Iranian-backed fighters in Syria taking the fight to ISIS insurgents flying the terror group’s infamous black flag. The video features Hamid Zamani, who the Times noted was the mastermind behind the anti-imperialist song “USA.”
“By Zaynab, we are the defenders of Damascus!” the singer croons as a sniper takes out an ISIS fighter in slow-motion. “Husayn’s sister calls us to the Golden Shrine / How can the flames of death possibly set it ablaze?”
Another Iranian propaganda effort highlighted by the Times was the 90-minute CGI action film Battle of the Persian Gulf II, which stars an animated version of Quds Force commander Gen. Qassem Suleimani annihilating US troops and naval forces.
“The Americans threaten us, we want to say, ‘If you attack us, if you dare to do so, a rain of hot melted lead will be poured on you,” co-creator Farhad Azimi told the paper. “The American aircraft carriers, vessels and warships will be sunk and converted into beautiful aquariums in the bed of the Persian Gulf.”
So yeah, all this is unsettling.
But again, lest Americans get too high on their horses about this, the US military-industrial complex, its marketing partners and Hollywood filmmakers have basically been doing higher-budget versions of the same thing for decades. One of the more obvious examples is the NFL, where flashy flyovers with high-tech military jets, troops marching with flags and even camouflage jersey sales have been a fixture for years, and the military has pumped tens of millions of dollars into patriotic displays at sports games. Others include the close relationship between the military and the video game industry, or its tight collaboration with the movie industry.
Indications are strong President Donald Trump’s administration is seeking ways to back out of the US-Iran nuclear deal, per CNBC, which would set the stage for tensions to escalate rapidly—though with stakes a good bit realer than CGI tsunamis and bullet time.