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Oscars and Azar Nafisi

Originally posted at LiveJournal on Mar 2, 2011

Yes, I realize one wouldn't usually expect to see those two topics lumped into one post -- one is a fun, sparkly, creatively orchestrated, but ultimately frivolous tradition, while the other is a fantastic author who's described the hazards of being a dedicated, open-minded female professor in Iran.

But here I go. 
First, hooray to Colin Firth and The King's Speech for getting Best Actor and Best Picture.  And hooray to Toy Story 3 for their Best Picture nomination!  It would've been awesome if an animated movie won that category, and TS3 is one of my favorite Pixar movies ever...but seriously, The King's Speech deserved it more.  I can't comment on how it compares with any of the other nominees, because I haven't seen any of them.  I've heard True Grit is amazing, and would've made a great Best Picture.

Second, Anne Hathaway is one of my favorite Oscars hosts so far (I still bow down to Billy Crystal, not to worry).  She has such a genuine, sweet sense of humor and she shows excitement without seeming fake or like she's overdoing it.  Her intro sequence with James Franco, stumbling through scenes from Inception, True Grit, Black Swan, etc., was hilarious (Alec Baldwin: "It's a dream inside two dreams...you just got Inceptioned").  And her song-rant, using Les Mis' "On My Own," about Hugh Jackman standing her up for some musical number.  It really doesn't take much to amuse me, does it?

Third, it was nice to not see any really awkwardly long or politically preachy acceptance speeches this year. 

Finally, it was also nice to not see any WTF-was-she-thinking dresses.  In fact, they were all...tasteful!  Take a gander.  Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit) was my favorite--that lacy pink fairy ballerina princess number made my inner five-year-old very happy.  It was sweet, but not childish, and definitely appropriate for a 14-year-old.  Oh, and Anne Hathaway's eight dress changes (including a tux for her Hugh Jackman rant).  I think the strapless frilly black one with the silvery leaf pattern was my favorite.
Ok, now on to something more substantial.

I took a trip up to Milwaukee last week to see a presentation by Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran.  Here's a rough play-by-play of the night.

6:30:  I get in, find a nice second-row seat, get out my copy of Reading Lolita, and wait as more people trickle in.  

6:45ish:  Azar Nafisi arrives, and chats with the people who will be presenting her.  I happily eavesdrop as she describes her flight (smooth), and her impressions of Milwaukee.  Meanwhile, I reflect that she seems so down-to-earth and approachable--who doesn't imagine their favorite authors as superhuman, ethereal beings?  And yet, here she was, chatting about her flight, and reminding me, in voice and appearance, of one of my favorite aunts.

7:00:  The presentation.  Mrs. Nafisi speaks about what she calls "The Republic of Imagination," by which she means a way of imagining the world through literature.  I.e., instead of focusing on the (often politically) negative aspects of different countries--such as the repressive regime in Iran--why not focus on figures like the poet Rumi, and Shakespeare, and Mark Twain?  It's through literature that we can really, freely, explore other nations--it's literature that defies political boundaries.

She spoke about her frustration with the popular media's focus on only the most repressive aspects of nations, and the popular claim that "that's just their culture."  In the case of Iran, the repression of women, for example, is not a natural part of the Iranian or Islamic culture; and those (male) leaders who were more progressive didn't give women rights--as if those rights didn't already exist before that.  In other words, the women already considered themselves powerful and deserving of respect; it's just that some (male) leaders choose to acknowledge that power, while others choose to ignore or repress it.

8:00:  Q & A session.  A young man from Malaysia adds to Mrs. Nafisi's reflections on what Islam really is, as opposed to the ways different governments have twisted its definition and applications.  Another young man gives a more specific example of the different applications and mis-uses of Islam, noting that in his experience with Islam, women (let alone 9-year-old girls) can't be forced into marriage; they have to be consulted in the matter.

8:30:  Book-signing.  Seeing that a few other people are doing it, I feel less awkward shamelessly asking for a picture with Mrs. Nafisi--a cell-phone picture, but still!  And she signs my copy of Reading Lolita--she even writes my name in Persian.
So that was my week :)

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