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Features

American Porn Star Breaks Viewing Records in Iranian Music Video

March 3, 2021
IranWire
6 min read
Sasan Heydari Yafteh, an Iranian pop singer who goes by the stage name Sasy Mankan, has been running a vast campaign to promote his new song, Tehran-Tokyo
Sasan Heydari Yafteh, an Iranian pop singer who goes by the stage name Sasy Mankan, has been running a vast campaign to promote his new song, Tehran-Tokyo
In the teaser trailer for his upcoming song, Sasan Heydari is depicted singing next to American porn actress Alexis Texas
In the teaser trailer for his upcoming song, Sasan Heydari is depicted singing next to American porn actress Alexis Texas
Even before this video Alexis Texas was very famous among Iranians - to the point that some call her “Auntie Alexis”
Even before this video Alexis Texas was very famous among Iranians - to the point that some call her “Auntie Alexis”

In the past 24 hours, a 30-second video has conquered Persian-language social media and pushed everything else to the sidelines. There can be no doubt that this was a marketing miracle, but the quarrels and scuffles it has sparked based on the content reveal a corner of a much bigger picture: that of a society that apparently cannot agree on anything.

The Video

For some time now Sasan Heydari Yafteh, an Iranian pop singer who goes by the stage name Sasy Mankan, has been running a vast campaign to promote his new song, Tehran-Tokyo. On Tuesday, March 2, he released a teaser trailer for the song that showed him singing next to the American porn actress Alexis Texas.

In this 30-second video, Sasy and Alexis are dressed like the two main characters of the movie Life and a Day, a 2016 Iranian social drama that won many international awards. The name of Somayeh, the lead protagonist in the film, is repeated in the lyrics. At the time of writing, the video had been viewed on Sasy’s Instagram page more than 10 million times. The song was due to be broadcast for the first time on Wednesday on Radio Javan, a Persian-language music website and satellite radio station based in the United States.

The Controversies

Immediately after the trailer was posted it elicited a vast amount of comments on social media, some serious and some in jest. The controversies fell in three general categories:

1. Does this video drive children towards pornography?

Previous music videos by Sasy Mankan rapidly spread across social media, and were followed by many more that used the Dubsmash app to allow fans to lip-synch along to his songs. Last year, a video was posted depicted very young schoolgirls singing a song of his, The Gentleman: an act then repeated with another one of his songs, The Doctor.

Most of those who were highly critical of the new trailer said they feared children would search for the name of Alexis Texas online after seeing it. These critics were drawn from a vast pool of people with divergent political, social and cultural worldviews. The journalist Emily Amraee, for example, tweeted: “I tremble when I imagine that children might learn she is a porn star and search for her name”. Mohammad Sarshar, head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting’s Kids TV channel, wrote: “All over the world, presenting pornography to children is banned and anybody who encourages children to watch pornography is condemned by the governments and the people.”

The pair come from completely opposing ideological poles, and both were roundly criticized by other commenters. A number of other social media users pointed to the suffocating cultural policies of the Islamic Republic, and wrote that a video such as the one posted by Sasy Mankan paled in comparison with the cultural crimes of the regime.

2. Should the video be filtered?

A group of conservatives in Iran welcomed the opportunity to shout “Filter it!”. Some of the members of parliament and a few pro-regime journalists who joined this call tagged Mohammad-Javad Azari Jahromi, Minister of Information and Communications Technology, in their tweets.

These calls for censorship not only triggered counter-attacks by ordinary users of social media, but were denounced even by some other conservatives as “playing politics”. Sadegh Nikoo, an advisor to the Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, went so far as to claim that exploiting the issue for political gain was a “betrayal of children”.

3. Is this really our problem?

Yet another group reminded people of recent national catastrophes in Iran, and criticized people they believed were sidelining these events by focusing on a trivial issue. Had the background of this video been a picture of Sistan and Baluchistan, one user lamented, some attention might be paid to the plight of the oppressed people of that province. Many other tweets mentioned Saravan, the city where popular demonstrations first broke out last week.

Some even implicitly accused the Islamic Republic of being behind the publication of this video after the events in Saravan, writing that it benefitted the regime if it made people forget about the ongoing protests.

Others reminded people worried about the exposure of children to pornography about the killing of children and protesters in the streets of Iran, with one user demanding to know why they were “not bothered” by the shooting of children during the November 2019 protests. Still others pointed out that just a few days ago, ethnic Arab prisoners whose lips were sewn together had been hanged in the capital of Khuzestan, with one asking: “How come a song becomes more important than the lives of those who were hanged?”

Who are Sasy Mankan and Alexis Texas?

Even before this video was published, Alexis Texas was well-known among Iranians; some even call her “Auntie Alexis”. A look at the statistics available on Persian-language Wikipedia shows that in recent years her name has always been among the top names in searches. In 2015 she was third from the top, even higher than General Ghasem Soleimani, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards Quds Force who was killed by an American drone in January 2020. In later years Alexis Texas has continued to stay high on the list.

Sasy Mankan, for his part, has been a well-known pop singer for more than a decade and has been the subject of many controversies that he has gamely exploited to increase his fame. These include his meeting with Mehdi Karroubi, the reformist candidate in the disputed 2009 presidential election, as well as contradictory reports about his arrest in a party on Kish Island in the Persian Gulf, his emigration from Iran – first to Malaysia and then to the United States – and, most importantly of all, his lyrics.

The Funnier Side

All this aside, jokes and witty remarks made up the majority of responses to the brief appearance by a porn actress in this music video. A large number wrote that for Iranians of every age group Alexis Texas is more famous than anybody, including Sasy Mankan. “My father called me and asked me to tell him who this person was,” tweeted one. “‘Alexis Texas,’ I answered. ‘No, I mean that boy next to her,’ he said.”

Among other witticisms, a large number pointed out that the porn actress was briefly depicted wearing a headscarf in the video. “God and His Prophet failed to force Alexis to wear a headscarf but Sasy succeeded,” one wrote.

There were, inevitably, also those who used the video for political satire. One person, for example, tweeted that it is now highly likely Health Minister Saeed Namaki will apologize to the Supreme Leader for this video as well.

Related coverage:

Banning Cucumbers and Wet Bisons: Absurd Censorship in Iran

Who's the Iranian Parkour Champion Arrested Over a Kiss?

Metal, Mullahs and Muzzling: Why is Music a Crime in Iran?

A Song for the Banned Voices of Women in Iran

On Censorship, Cultural Destruction and the Power of Music

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