In an attempt to bring Iran closer to the Latin American region, Hispan TV, a channel in Spanish run by the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) and accessible on YouTube, is broadcasting Iranian TV series dubbed in Spanish for Latin American audiences. Various stories about Iranians are included in these broadcasts, including romances meant to compete with the familiar Latin American soap operas.
Iran and Latin American countries, like Venezuela, have maintained odd political ties over the years. Global Voices has written previously about the disconnect that exists between Venezuelan culture and Iran. Much of Latin American culture does not shy away from scantily clad women and alcohol, while Iran's ruling elite, and significant portions of Iranian society try to abide by conservative and religious sentiments. Despite this, it seems both countries are doing what they can to maintain an active cultural exchange, as we saw an influx of Iranians travelling to Caracas to populate government projects and offices, as part of the relationship. This exchange has continued into television media, it seems, as Iran's state-run Spanish network endeavors to win hearts and minds with its own flavour of Iranian entertainment.
But could these series, which embrace morals very close to the traditional and conservative Iranian values promoted by the government, possibly gain popularity in a region so used to a very different set of stories and aesthetics?
The views on YouTube don't seem to go over 100, even after a discrete, but noticeable evolution in the storylines. The most recent program, Longitude 0, is a romantic love story between an Iranian student and a young Jewish woman in Paris. While dabbling in a topic thought of as controversial by Iranian standards, the series seems ignorant of the typical norms of Latin American TV audiences. For instance, television and films across Latin America typically use a standard Latin American accent. In most Hispan TV's broadcasts, however, they speak with an accent from Spain, a striking and often laughable difference for Latin American audiences.
Despite this, these Iranian shows try to break from Iranian norms in other subtle ways, probably in an effort to appeal to Latin American viewers. Women, for instance, seem to wear more makeup, and even the non-Muslim characters appear on camera without the veil.
On social media, there isn't much commentary about Hispan TV, and the comments that can be found indicate resistance to the new network. Complaints appear to echo typical mainstream stereotypes about Iran. In Venezuela, for example, Leonardo Padrón, a well-known soap opera writer, tweeted an observation about the announcement of a possible connection between the previous opposition TV station Globovisión and Hispan TV. In response, users criticized the project, while others cracked jokes using the names of famous Venezuelan soap operas, imagining what they might have been called, had they been Iranian shows:
@Leonardo_Padron Lanzarán las telenovelas “La Apedreaíta”, “La Dama de Burka”, “Mi Burka Bella”, “Carita Tapada” y “Sharia la del Barrio”.
— Marco T. Socorro (@MarcoSocorro) Mayo 30, 2013
They'll release soap operas named “The Lapidated Woman,” “The Lady of the Burka,” “My Beautiful Burka,” and “Covered Face.”
Iranian television programming in Latin America has a long way to go before it can rival the appeal enjoyed by more established entertainment, like shows from Turkey. Indeed, the more lavish, dramatic, and often sex-infused Turkish soap operas, such as Thousand and One Nights, have gained a popular following in the home of the telenovela.
Inside Iran, Latin American soap operas seem to win out, too. Iranian audiences flock to tune into Latin American telenovelas in massive numbers through satellite television.
Years ago, there was a heated debate when Farsi1, a channel based in the United Arab Emirates and accessed in Iran through illegal satellites not associated with the state, broadcast El Cuerpo del Deseo. Translated as Second Chance, the subject matter of the program was deemed to be excessively sexual by Farsi1, which censored some of its content. In fact, the trailer alone for this show illustrates the cultural and stylistic differences between telenovelas and HispanTV's productions.
Iran's offering of dramas attached to family and traditional values is hard to sell against these typical melodramas. Despite these contrasts, the cultural exchange taking place is undeniable, and the contrasts in television produced in these two cultures speak volumes about the different roles and representations of women, family, romance, and more.