Walking the Digital City: Language and Space in Iranian Digital Folk Narratives

By Dena Afrasiabi
Submitted to Session P5026 (Media: Circulation and Censorship, 2017 Annual Meeting
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
While collective anxieties about language change as a result of immigration may appear to be byproducts of increasing globalization, such preoccupations have been a feature of Persian literature since at least the beginning of the twentieth century. Works of modern literature such as M.A. Jamalzadeh’s Yeki Bud Yeki Nabud (Once Upon a Time), in which characters who have left Iran struggle to communicate with one another in a prison, and Simin Daneshvar’s Savushun, which features British imperial forces who speak mangled Persian, explore anxieties about language change as a result of the increased mobility brought about by modernization. As narratives migrate to the digital realm, where works of cultural production by Iranians in diaspora appear with greater frequency and in a wide range of forms, these preoccupations and anxieties remain consistent in spite of technological innovations. This paper examines how the aesthetics of this narrative tradition change when narratives themselves gain mobility, moving from the written page to the digital realm, where borders are more permeable. By focusing on a particular genre of Iranian cultural production, what I call digital folk narratives, I look at how the same anxieties about language found in modern Persian literature appear in online spaces such as social networking and user-generated content sites. The primary site of my analysis for this project is the Iranian Vines Facebook Page, which consists of short (5-15 seconds) comedic videos in which Iranians in diaspora use fragmented performances to narrate moments of rupture between the two cultures to which they belong. I argue that while digital folk narratives share similar preoccupations as the works of literature cited above, their creators’ use of space sets them apart from their predecessors. The creators of digital folk narratives use the genre to demonstrate their awareness of their ability to negotiate borders and identities through language. In doing so, these performers create a fourth space from which they render diaspora into a performance, at once drawing attention to the artifice of cultural identity and reinstating its boundaries.