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Listening to Michael Jackson in Tehran

after Azar Nafisi

 

Smuggled across the fierce chasm

between us and the US, and then

 

hidden, stuffed between Farsi

and Science textbooks in my school

 

bag, the illegal and sacrilegious

cassette-tape of Thriller, ready for

 

revelation to the sheepish, ignorant

kids on the bus to my primary school

 

in war-stricken Tehran. My plan:

to expose the forbidden thing, exhibit

 

my courage, rebelliousness, etc. Autumn

of ’83, desperate for attention/approval

 

from the other kids. My copy of

dangerous Western ‘art’ would

 

unsettle the boring, Islamic world

of my classmates – and elevate my

 

cowardly, chubby, unpopular

self. I whispered to the kid next to me

 

if he had ever heard of  ‘Billie Jean’

and ‘Beat It’; if he knew anything at all

 

about the number one famous

star of our wicked enemy. “I love

 

Thriller! Aren’t the zombies so scary

in the music video! They’re so ugly!” His

 

boisterous words echoed. The bus

vibrated with the singer’s name. Another

 

shouted he had a Thriller poster, and

another, a ‘Billie Jean’ T-shirt, a gift from

 

Turkey. Silenced, robbed of my planned

stardom, I sank in my seat; later threw out my

 

Thriller tape, the fetish of Great Satan’s

useless, ubiquitous popular culture.

 

Originally published in Ashes in the Air, by University of Queensland Press.

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  • Listening to Michael Jackson in Tehran