“During the war, we had to shed blood for the revolution, and we did. Later, we believed we should publish journals and books for the revolution, and we did. Today, we think cinema expresses [our ideas] best, so we make movies.” These words were spoken in 2010 by Masoud Dehnamaki, a leading regime filmmaker, founder of the paramilitary Ansār-e Hezbollah in Iran and director of box-office-smashing films about the Iran-Iraq war. Dehnamaki gained notoriety for inspiring a “new entertainment” that communicated pro-regime messages to young audiences by appropriating forms of banned popular culture, such as music.1 In his 2010 statement, however, Dehnamaki was not talking about technique. He was speaking of a wholesale shift in emphasis. For him, the quest to make revolutionary subjects was a struggle to be waged in visual media.
Men like Dehnamaki, who had dedicated their lives to the military and paramilitary apparatus of the Islamic Republic of Iran, found media such a powerful avenue to communicate their ideals and ensure the success of their political project that they turned from a life in arms to one on screens. Earlier, in 2007, I had read on Dehnamaki’s blog that he and men from different pro-regime paramilitary organizations were planning on creating opportunities for the younger generation to make media. Given the increased economic and political power of the Revolutionary Guard, Iran’s preeminent military organization, I wondered what this new effort by Dehnamaki and his colleagues would look like and what the outcomes would be. “Culture” had been a prime battleground since the early days of the 1979 Revolution, so what would be different now?
I knew I would get formulaic answers if I pursued only formal interviews with these media producers. Like state elites the world over, they would stick to conventional answers. I wanted to understand these media producers in all of their complexities by spending prolonged periods with them at work and in their off-hours. Over a span of ten years, I gained access to regime media producers and the institutions they worked for, observing them closely as they developed new material to keep their revolution alive into its fifth decade.
Once I began my long-term research in Iran in 2009, I became immersed in the richly complex and competitive environment of regime media producers. I found a media world in which men tied to the Revolutionary Guard and the country’s paramilitary organizations held heated debates about the future of the Islamic Republic, fought with one another over resources, and pursued their projects through trial and error.
The men who appear in this book, as well as their families, challenged everything I thought I knew about Iran, revolutions, and states. Ultimately, this book is the result. It is a book not only about regime media but about the men who produce this media and what it means to doubt what they have fought for, not know what is to come, and be wrought with anxiety about the fact that they may be relegated back to the margins of society if their political project fails.
The story of how military and paramilitary media producers work on behalf of a state project raises important issues about politics, media, and revolutions. I have done my best to present these issues clearly within the narrative of the book. There is much more to be said about these issues beyond the scope of this book. I hope readers will forgive any omissions.