AUG. 26, 2017
TEHRAN — It’s a common theme in the state-controlled media in Iran: The armed forces are not to be trifled with; they’re tough men doing a tough job, defending a country permanently under threat. Nevertheless, it was a shock to some young Iranians when a video appeared featuring a well-known rapper delivering the same message from the deck of a navy frigate.
Things like chanting “death to America,” burning effigies of Uncle Sam and painting murals of Lady Liberty with a skull as a face lost their impact long ago, particularly among younger Iranians. Forced to adapt or fizzle out, Iran’s propaganda machine has sought to embrace the latest trends and technologies to try to tailor messages to the sensibilities of a new generation.
A number of such propaganda videos have appeared in recent years, distributed on Apparat, a local version of YouTube, as well as on the messenger app Telegram.
Below is a selection of some of the most prominent.
Rapping With Sailors
Iranian clerics have long insisted that rap music is the devil’s work, but they had no complaints when Amir Tataloo, a rapper with a hard-partying, gangster-style reputation, turned into a nationalistic admirer of Iran’s military effort in the Persian Gulf. Standing on the Damavand, a frigate in the Caspian Sea, Mr. Tataloo sings that “an armed Persian Gulf” is Iran’s “absolute right.”
The rapper delivers an ode to Iranian power, with flags waving, and soldiers singing along and stomping their feet.
“What better way to attract the youth to our ideals than a rapper who subscribes to those?” said Mohammadreza Shafah, the head of the Soureh Film Club, a state-backed group that is seeking to inject life into Iran’s fossilized official propaganda.
“If we hadn’t changed, we would’ve lost our audience,” he said, waving off a suggestion that rap music should be taboo in Iran, where dancing is technically illegal.
While the video received wide attention, not everyone was taken by it. “These are state-of-the-art methods to feed nonsense into people’s minds,” said Arian Mozaffari, 27, who is unemployed.
But Mr. Mozaffari acknowledged that people were increasingly influenced by the stream of patriotic songs and videos on the internet. “The idea that we should be strong or will be eaten did not gain a lot of traction 10 years ago, but now for some it does,” he said.
‘We Will Resist’
Rallying around the flag is a recurring theme. “We Will Resist” is an eight-minute, $250,000 mini-epic about coming together as a country in the face of dire threats. It starts with a computer-generated scene of a plane taking off — Iran Air Flight 655, a civilian airliner that was shot down by an American naval vessel in 1988, killing all 290 people on board.
The film then cuts to a sunny beach where a young man, a famous religious singer, plants the Iranian flag on a mosque. Another perfect day is dawning in the Islamic Republic: Young boys are playing soccer; ethnic minorities are preparing food and repairing fishing boats.
Behind them, oil refineries are rising under the direction of the country’s smart, young, all-male engineers. In the distance, a nuclear reactor’s dome shines. Back on the beach, a veiled woman brings tea to her husband, as a young man helps children fly a kite. The message is clear: All people from all walks of life are welcome here. Notably missing, though, are women in Western dress.
Suddenly, dark clouds appear, as the airliner passes overhead and is struck by an American missile. “We wanted to make this event as real as possible, to remind people,” said Mr. Shafah of the Soureh Film Club.
Bodies float in the sea, on the horizon, a flotilla of American ships appears. Jets fly over, dropping bombs on the mosque, right where Iran’s flag had been blowing proudly in the wind.
United, however, Iranians ultimately triumph by using their willpower to create a giant wave that sinks the entire American Fifth Fleet.
While the producers say they are hopeful that one or more of their videos will go viral, the results so far have been less than stellar. “We Will Resist,” the most watched of the new propaganda videos, has garnered only 17,439 hits.
A Commander on Screen
Gen. Qassim Suleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, is the scourge of the West, making him the perfect lead character in the computer animated, 90-minute feature film “Battle of the Persian Gulf,” which arrived in cinemas in Iran this year.
Missiles are launched left and right, Iranian special forces roam through jungles, and General Suleimani warns the Americans, “This is Iran, the end of the world for guys like you.”
The movie was shown in most Iranian theaters. “Hollywood is trying to invade Iran, and this is our answer,” said Farhad Azima, one of the film’s creators.
The Persian Gulf, where Iran and the United States are most likely to engage in a shooting war, plays a central role in Tehran’s propaganda universe. It sees the United States’ sprawling military presence in the region as an invasion, while Washington is wary of Iran’s frequent threats to close the Strait of Hormuz, the only transit point for oil tankers.
“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,’” Mr. Azima said. “The American aircraft carriers, vessels and warships will be sunk and converted into beautiful aquariums in the bed of the Persian Gulf,” he added.
Iran’s deep involvement in the Syrian civil war has elicited an extended propaganda campaign in an effort to justify the sacrifice of money and life.
“The Shield,” produced by the Seraj Cyberspace Organization, which also makes computer war games, is an ode to those fighters, who are portrayed as good people battling the Islamic State militant group, saviors who are risking their lives abroad to keep Iran safe and peaceful. The atrocities committed by the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad are never mentioned.
The star of the show is Hamed Zamani, a specialist in propaganda music, who is best known for what is widely acknowledged as the most popular propaganda song to date, “U.S.A.”
A Familiar Refrain
In “U.S.A.,” Mr. Zamani sings, “Our injured throat is familiar with your claw,” next to a version of the Statue of Liberty as a skeleton holding up a menorah instead of a torch.
“You are the best in knowledge,” Mr. Zamani sings, as fire and dust storms erupt around the statue. “The knowledge that kills people. Your policies are leading the world toward death.”
Then he switches to English, returning to Iran’s familiar ideological message: “So we say, ‘Down with U.S.A.’”