chapter  6
15 Pages

The dancing body in the anti-obscenity discourse of the Islamic press in pre-revolutionary Iran

The expansion of new sites of sociability, the permeation of new communication media, and the transformation of the public sphere prompted a politically conscious religiously oriented press of the Pahlavi era to reflect on the socio-political refashioning of the country. The result was the formation of a moralizing discourse that associated a cluster of practices, spaces, and mediums with “eroticism” (shahvat), one I here dub “the anti-obscenity discourse.”1 This discourse consisted of recognition of and objection to those erotic zones, which were deemed to be undermining public and familial “chastity” (‘iffat) and causing a “disorder” in the society. In this context, the public dancing body, especially in the popular scene, was a pivotal element of this anti-obscenity discourse. While sharing some similarities with the nationalist and Marxist-inspired

discourses on art, a key distinguishing feature of the pre-revolutionary Islamic anti-obscenity discourse was its rejection of all performing art forms. This was mainly due to the fact that the Islamic authors were not engaged in the newly emerged performing arts spheres, and did not differentiate between generic categories of art while reacting to them. As I demonstrate in this chapter, during the four decades leading up to the 1979 Revolution-along with the growth of leisure, media, and political and cultural transformations of the pressthe constituents and meanings ascribed to the “erotic zones” were transformed. Using the Marxist theater and national(ist) art discourses as a backdrop, this chapter focuses on the ways the politically motivated Islamic press reacted to the female public (performing) body, crafting it as a driving force in the revolutionary process.