By J. David Goodman http://TheLede.blogs.NYTimes.com
To celebrate last week’s 33rd anniversary of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s triumphant return from exile, Iran re-enacted his arrival at a Tehran airport, using a cardboard cutout to stand in for the late Iranian leader.
Photographs of the ceremony published on Tuesday by Iran’s semiofficial Mehr news agency seemed to lend themselves to parody, with Farsi and English Internet satirists treating them as bizarre authoritarian kitsch.
The photos showed a band playing welcome music as dozens of men in dress uniforms clutched roses and lined up on a tarmac for the staged arrival of the cardboard Ayatollah Khomeini.
Also on the tarmac, propped up behind the lines of stone-faced celebrants was another cardboard cutout of the former leader, the father of the modern Iranian state who is revered as divine. This one was a black-and-white image from his Feb. 1, 1979, arrival back in Iran.
The anonymous creator of Cardboard Khomeini has taken part of one of the photographs, the ayatollah’s oversize likeness being carried by two security officers in sunglasses, and pasted it into a variety of iconic images like the Beatles “Abbey Road” album cover, the moon landing and Ronald Reagan’s 1980 inauguration. (see selected images below)
Shortly after the airport arrival, another cardboard cutout made an appearance in southern Tehran at Refah School, which served as Ayatollah Khomeini’s base of operations. There, it was joined by officials, including the education minister, who sat in a large circle with the silent version of the revered leader and awkwardly drank tea.
Other satirists online posted the photos with cartoon bubbles of imagined conversations between the nearest official and the inanimate ayatollah.
As translated by The Times, the caption above reads:
I’m gonna punch this government in the mouth!
I’m gonna create a new government!
My government will provide free water and electricity!
I am going to accomplish many things!
Go to sleep, piece of cardboard!
In another, the cardboard Khomeini complains that he was not served a glass of tea. “I’m the Supreme Leader! Where is my tea???”
But in a comment on PBS’s Tehran Bureau blog, the writer Jasmin Ramsey worried that her mocking reaction to the images obscured the historical events they symbolized and discredited the sacrifices of other Iranians during the 1979 revolution.
“By laughing at these photos, am I disrespecting the sacrifices of people like my parents who risked everything for their dream of self-determination and sovereignty? By asking that question, am I ignoring the suffering of Iranians who are forced to live with a government they don’t want?
“I have made no sacrifices for Iran. I am not one of the thousands of innocent people who were tortured by the Shah’s forces. Unlike hundreds of thousands of Iranians, I have been spared injury and death from the cruel and bloody Iran-Iraq War.
“By that same token, I was not raised in Iran as a middle-class woman, educated and full of potential, but constrained by the Islamic Republic’s heavy hand. I have only passing experience of how suffocating daily life in Iran can be for young adults with dreams. Perhaps I don’t have the right to laugh at revolutionary ceremonies or question the meaning of laughing at them.
“But I do.”
selected images from CardboardKhomeini.blogspot.com