Bravo television has the market cornered when it comes to delightfully tacky displays of ostentatious wealth, and Sunday night's premiere of "Shahs of Sunset" was no exception.
"Shahs" follows the decadent lives of six Persian-Americans living in Los Angeles, and part of the fun of the show is watching the children of refugees gallivant around Beverly Hills in luxury cars, make million-dollar deals at work and fight about which of them is wearing a piece of clothing from the fast-fashion chain H&M.
If you missed the episode, here's a brief recap: chihuahuas bedded down in a luxury doggy daycare suite, a tiger was hired for a pool party and a 30-year-old woman gleefully admitted that her father was her "only paycheck."
But Asa Rahmati, one of the women on the show, hopes that viewers walk away with a little more knowledge about Persian-Americans -- besides the fact that they're wealthy and proud of it.
In a phone interview with the Huffington Post before the episode aired, she said, "While I think that six people cannot characterize an entire culture, we will humanize Persians to the American audience."
And because Los Angeles has the largest population of Persians outside Iran, Rahmati also hopes it will expand the minds of Angelenos who think they know the culture because they have "one Persian friend" who's obsessed with "beemers and benzes."
In the first episode, she scoffs, "When you go to a Persian party, ten girls will have the same shoes on, same Louboutins, same whatever. It's hilarious to me. Like, money doesn't buy you style at all." Later on in the show, members of the group mock her clothing and ridicule her sense of style, calling it "ghetto."
Rahmati responded to that segment to HuffPost with a laugh, saying, "I pick what I want to wear. What's really in right now? I don't open a magazine. I laugh at that kind of stuff... I don't trip because I know in a year or two, they'll be trying to wear that. It's the life of a gypsy jet setter!"
Rahmati fled Iran with her parents when she was eight years old and moved to Beverly Hills as a teenager. In the first episode of "Shahs of Sunset, she explains what it means for her to be a member of the Persian refugee community:
In Iran when I was born, we had a very easy life. We had money, we had everything -- and there was a revolution and we fled the country. We lost everything. We left Iran with one suitcase each. We just lived in like, the ghettos and the 'hood of Beverly hills.
It was like a rent-controlled apartment, one bedroom. And the messed up thing is, even if I went back to Iran today and lived there, it's not my home anymore. I haven't been there since I was seven. I'm emotionally homeless, and I forever will be. That's the refugee experience.
She now lives in Venice and works as an artist, musician and photographer, calling it the "Modern Persian gypsy bohemian lifestyle." She uses herself, radical inasmuch as she is a Muslim woman in America, as the subject for much of her work.
"I hope people who watch this get a different sense of us," said Rahmati. "Persians live out loud," she added, and the series will show that it's all about "food, friends and family."
NO ESCAPING POLITICS
A reality show that chronicles the rich and fabulous lives of Persian refugees may seem like a saucy rebuke to Iran and its leaders, who denounce everything from Barbie dolls to Paul the Octopus as symbols of the decadent west.
But Ryan Seacrest, who is executive producer of the show, and Bravo executive Frances Berwick told the Associated Press that "Shahs of Sunset" doesn't have a political message.
Berwick said that the show was "absolutely apolitical," while Seacrest insisted that "Shahs" is entertainment, "not social or political commentary."
As for Rahmati, sometimes there's no escaping politics.
Speaking of herself, she said, "If you're a Muslim woman and you're a refugee, your life is political."
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