A handful of young Iranians were sentenced to six months in prison and 91 lashes for the unpardonable crime of dancing to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” in a viral video posted on YouTube. But others behind a new social media phenomenon, a comically tasteless and aspirational Instagram account called “Rich Kids of Tehran,” are getting away with behavior that flies in the face of the Islamic Republic.
Ostensibly inspired by the “Rich Kids of Instagram” account, Tehran’s version celebrates the upper echelons of Iranian society with images of scantily clad women, fancy cars, and gold-encrusted watches, interspersed with a few stately buildings and party pictures. The Instagram account’s unfettered ostentation and gaudiness—a garish display of privilege inaccessible to most Iranians—has attracted almost 39,000 followers since posting its first photo three weeks ago.
Monday’s post, “Gathering in Tehroon,” shows two young women in crop tops and thigh-skimming skirts with a selection of notably unironic but apparently relevant hashtags: #RichKidsOfTehran #Tehran #Iran #Persian #Luxury #Lavish #Lifestyle #Gathering.”
Previous gems include a heavily decorated wrist on the wheel of an Audi R8; young men posing in front of a black Mercedes; Piguet watches and Porsches photographed like product placements. “This is Tehran City…The real Tehran which you don’t know much about,” one caption reads.
This much is indeed true. The West hasn’t been privy to the lifestyle of Iran’s wealthy, elitist youths, which—if anything like that of the “Rich Kids of Tehran”—is dramatically different from that of the average Iranian citizen struggling to make a living in a country where the economy is in freefall and unemployment rates are staggeringly high (50 percent among women).
The closest we’ve seen to the “Rich Kids of Tehran” may be Bravo’s typically bombastic and confrontation-heavy Shahs of Sunset, a reality TV series which began in 2012 about a group of Iranian expats gallivanting around Beverly Hills, or “Tehrangeles.”
The show was criticized by Iranian-Americans, including Firoozeh Dumas, author of the New York Times bestselling memoir Funny in Farsi for sensationalizing “a slice of materialistic, shallow and downright embarrassing Iranian culture. I just want to shout, ‘We are not all like that!’”
It’s no surprise then that the “Rich Kids of Tehran” Instagram account has provoked backlash from other Iranians. Its shameless flaunting of material wealth and women exposing their midriffs are not typically tolerated in the fundamentalist Islamic state, a closed society where censorship runs rampant and citizens live under the boot heel of religious police.
In a country where women are imprisoned for watching men’s volleyball, wealth, it seems, is the only thing that grants them some measure of freedom.
According to the London Times, it seems unlikely that the account’s creators and contributors will be hunted down by the Islamic Republic to be accused of corrupting the morals of Iranian society and offending the will of Allah with images of shirtless Iranian bros smoking from a giant hookah. “Most of them have fathers who are untouchable,” Sara, an IT consultant in Tehran, told the Times. “If they get in trouble it will disappear.”
Managers of the “Rich Kids of Tehran” account have shrugged off such accusations anyway. “Every country of the world has the wealthy and the poor. I know it can be emotionally draining for some people that might not have such lives as the pictures we portray but you don’t need to follow us,” one administrator of the Instagram account recently wrote, responding to a deluge of criticism in Middle Eastern media. I would like to inform everyone not to take the page too seriously, we are not trying to promote anything. We created the page for fun, for young people interested in luxury pages.”
A representative of the “Rich Kids” told The Daily Beast in an email: “We are trying to show the good side of Tehran/Iran to the whole world. Iran is always in the news regarding negative things and we are not interested in that. We are just trying to show what they don't show in the news channels.”
The Instagram page will likely provoke the same response in Westerners as “Shahs of Sunset”: detached amusement and head-shaking derision. That is, unless its participants are subjected to the same harsh punishment as the Pharrell Williams “Happy” dancers—then no-one will be laughing.