A simple act of expressing joy became an international news story with unexpectedly unifying results.
Making headlines a few weeks ago, a group of youth in Iran, supplied with nothing more than an iPhone 5S, took advantage of the global phenomenon that has become Pharrell Williams' song "Happy."
Within an eight hour time frame, they created their own version of the song - singing, dancing, chewing gum and otherwise expressing their "happiness" in Tehran. Of course, the youths are not attired in accordance with the rules of the Islamic Republic (no head coverings although they are wearing wigs, no proper body coverings), and the men and women intermingle and dance with one another as if in a very PG music video. For this, they were arrested and forced to repent on state television.
The video went viral (more than 1,000,000 views on YouTube to date) and defeated the censors for almost a month before the youths were arrested. State television did not report on this fact, claiming instead that the accused were identified and arrested within six hours. Their arrest received global news coverage.
That expressions of joy are considered so frightening is telling of a larger problem for Iranian authority . That they are so afraid of a giggle shows their inability to retain control over a youth who, while not desiring to give up their lives in a revolution, do wish to simply live, and be happy. And this is a victory in and of itself.
More interestingly, within a very short time frame from their arrest, the youths (whose names are unknown) were released. One of them immediately went on Instagram, posted a selfie, and thanked everyone.
Not too long thereafter, on May 29, the video's director, Sassan Soleimani, was released as well. After Mr. Soleimani's release, sent in a selfie to the Iranian Jon Stewart - Kambiz Hosseini - a satirist based in New York who makes it his job to incessantly mock the Iranian government. What is more, unlike the Daily Show, Mr. Hosseini's satire program needs help to reach his audience in Iran. And so has stepped in the United States government, which funds Mr. Hosseini's internet and satellite distribution of his comedy to Iran.
So now, websites and satellite channels financed by the United States government are hosting taunting photographs of a man who became an enemy of the Iranian regime simply by making a video about being "Happy" in Tehran.
It does not end there. The "Happy" video spawned not only many copycats in Iran (YouTube and social media are a flutter with Iranians presenting their own home-made versions of "Happy"), but even inspired a group of young Americans to make a "Happy" video in solidarity with the Iranian youths. The American video, titled "Iranian&American Happy song by Pharrell Williams," includes visuals of the Iranian video in the background, as well as a subtitle in English and Persian making it clear that the video was produced "in support of the 'Happy' Iranian youths who were arrested and jailed for dancing to the Pharrel Williams song."
The youth might have lost this battle of freedom, but if this surge moves forward, it is the authorities who will lose the war.