Skip to main content

'Californication': Duchovny, On the Prowl Again

Fresh Air's TV critic reviews the new Showtime dramedy Californication. The show stars X-Files veteran David Duchovny as a charming, jaded rogue of a writer trapped in a Hollywood identity crisis. The studios have turned his dark novel into a romantic comedy, but that's hardly the worst of it. He's still hung up on his ex — so much so that he's sleeping with every woman who'll let him.

06:31

Contributor

Related Topics

Other segments from the episode on August 13, 2007

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 13, 2007: Interview with Frances Harrison; Review of the television program "Californication."

Transcript

DATE August 13, 2007 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: BBC correspondent Frances Harrison on Iran
DAVE DAVIES, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, sitting in for Terry Gross.

American policymakers are never quite sure what to do about the government of
Iran. The Bush administration condemns Iran's nuclear program and its support
for insurgents in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Gaza, but many argue that
engagement with Iran is critical to progress in Iraq and easing tensions in
the Middle East generally.

Our guest, BBC correspondent Frances Harrison, has spent much of the past
three years taking her listeners inside the country President Bush once
labeled part of the axis of evil. Harrison chronicled the political and
cultural changes in Iran since the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
brought an end to what Westerners regard as a period of reform in the country.
Before going to Tehran in 2004, Frances Harrison reported from the BBC from
Pakistan, Kuala Lumpur, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Well, Frances Harrison, welcome to FRESH AIR. You've spent time in Tehran,
kind of spanning the reform period, which generally is thought to have lasted
from, I guess, '97 until 2005, and then have been there since there as the
climate has changed, and, you know, one measure of the degree of political
openness of a society is how journalists can operate. How are you finding
things? Are Iranians less likely to talk to a foreign journalist these days?

Ms. FRANCES HARRISON: The atmosphere is closed in in a major way, I would
say, in the last year or so. We've had two years of President Ahmadinejad, an
ultraconservative and extreme hardliner, in power. Things didn't change
socially immediately. It took a while before he made his mark, but certainly
in the last few months there's been a serious crackdown both on journalists,
on political opponents and activists, on even some civil servants and on
social freedoms. So many students I know have been jailed, and human rights
organizations say they've been beaten in jail, including one that I knew very
well who was a good source for us. Two to three days after I left the
country, he was arrested and he's in solitary confinement and I had repeatedly
warned him not to come to our office and to be careful because of the risk of
arrest. But there are people in Iran, students and other activists who are
extremely brave and who feel that they have to speak out about what's
happening there.

DAVIES: Now, do you suffer direct interference for the government? I mean,
are you followed? Are your reports censored?

Ms. HARRISON: I don't think that I'm followed. I wasn't aware of being
followed. But I know that all the staff and, you know, support staff are
questioned by the Ministry of Intelligence. Not necessarily, you know, every
week or every month, but periodically questioned in order to make sure that
they're a source of information, and I assume that my telephones are all
tapped, including my mobile, and I believe that they were but not necessarily
everything was listened to all the time.

And, you know, they basically--you had to have written permission from the
Ministry of Islamic Guidance, which is like the Information Ministry, in order
to travel for work outside Tehran, and you had to apply for it 72 hours in
advance, and quite often they would say no. So in practice, in the last year
or two, it's been impossible to go to any of the borders areas bordering Iraq
or Afghanistan and even towns sometimes like Natanz, where the nuclear site
is. I did get to go once but, you know, sometimes you're not allowed to go.
So any kind of travel outside Tehran requires written permission. A lot of
filming inside Tehran or recording or interviews requires, again, written
permission from the government. And quite often, if it's something that's
sensitive, they just say no or they don't say anything at all. They just
don't answer.

DAVIES: But once, you actually write your reports, you're able to file them
without interference?

Ms. HARRISON: Yes, you're able to file them, but the question is what
happens to your permission to operate thereafter, whether they are any
complaints, what happens to your visa if you're a foreigner. We've seen quite
a few British journalists having their visas not renewed, the journalists for
the Independent newspaper. I know the Guardian correspondent had some
problems. So, you know, there can be repercussions, and everyone is aware of
that.

DAVIES: Well, does any of this, including the threat of having your visa
taken away, caused you to censor yourself, do you think, to moderate what you
would otherwise report?

Ms. HARRISON: I think you're very careful about how you say things, but in
my case, no, I think I was quite outspoken about some of the things that
started to happen in the last six months. I don't know whether if I'd had
remained in Iran I would have been able to continue to do that. It's very
difficult. But I didn't have a visa. I'm
a...(unintelligible)...international. Because I'm married to an Iranian, I
have an Iranian passport. But you know then, a lot of, you know, lawyers and
human rights activists and other journalists joke with you that it's not a
question of being kicked out, it's a question of not being allowed to leave.
You know, the government could stop me leaving the country, which is more
alarming.

DAVIES: Now, you wrote in April about the crackdown over dress codes for
women. Give us a sense of how standards changed during the reform period and
what's happened since.

Ms. HARRISON: Well, during the reform period it became a lot more liberal in
terms of dress. So, for example, colors were allowed. Now, that may sound
like a very minor point to be able to wear a pink head scarf, or a red one, as
opposed to black or brown or blue. I mean, originally the colors were very
sober. But, you know, for people who want to express themselves, express
their personality and look attractive, it's actually very important. It
sounds very trivial but it's not.

And then the tightness of the overcoat you wear. Basically, Iranian women by
law have to cover their hair, and the boundaries of what was acceptable got
pushed back so that people were wearing these sort of glittery, diaphanous
scarves; they were pushed back on the back of their heads. They started to
wear a lot more makeup, nail polish, tight trousers, very tight overcoats.
They have to wear an overcoat that covers the main part of their bodies,
supposedly down to their knees. But, you know, during the summer, some of the
young sort of trendy north Tehran elite would be wearing overcoats that were
sort of midthigh and very, very tight, you know, sort of a size too small.
And, you know, they looked gorgeous. They looked very attractive despite
being covered Islamically. They looked very chic and very fashionable, and
obviously that was allowed to happen for some time. It gradually went on and
on. Things became probably, I think, the most liberal they'd ever been since
the revolution. You'd see boys and girls walking down the street holding
hands, people wearing these, you know, very fashionable clothes.

And then from April, the beginning of the Persian new year, the government
decided to crack down on that and to try and stop that. Periodically, at the
beginning of every summer, there is a crackdown. Because summer, of course,
being much, much hotter, people wear more outrageous clothes and thinner
clothes and so on. So there's a kind of nominal crackdown, just to try and
keep things in check, but this year it was much, much more ferocious.

DAVIES: So what's the new standard? What are they insisting upon now?

Ms. HARRISON: Well, they want people to wear coats down to their knee, not
too tight, to wear socks on their feet, not to wear sandals. I know a Sri
Lankan lady was arrested because she was on a bus wearing sandals, not wearing
socks and shoes. So they want people to cover their feet. They want the head
scarf to be right at the front of the forehead so that no hair shows, and much
less makeup than before.

DAVIES: And what do you wear when you go out in public?

Ms. HARRISON: Well, when I'm on camera or out in public in Tehran, like
anybody else, I have to wear an overcoat and a head scarf, and if I'm going to
a government office, I would have to wear socks and shoes, which in 45 degree
heat is awful. I mean, I think that's one of the worst things. It's not so
bad wearing it in winter, because, you know, it's snowing and, you know, it's
OK to wear a coat. It's just that you normally actually in winter have to
wear two. You have to wear an overcoat, that is a sort of woolen, normal one
you wear outdoors and then you have to wear another one indoors because
everything's so heavily heated, so when you get inside you can't, you know,
sit in your overcoat, it's too hot. So you have to have another kind of
cotton one inside.

But, yeah, I go around looking like anybody else in Iran, wearing the same
sort of clothes. I do wear more colorful head scarves because I'm on TV quite
a lot when I'm there so, you know, you can't go around dressed completely in
black. Nobody can see you, so I wear more colorful ones. But most women
journalists, the Iranian ones, have kind of tended to, since the presidential
elections and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad came to power, they sort of immediately
opted for black again because they just didn't want to have any problems over
their dress.

DAVIES: And how is the dress code enforced? I mean, do police literally stop
women on the street?

Ms. HARRISON: Since April, where there's been this crackdown, yes, there
have been women police and male police on the streets rounding people up.
They've had buses. They've filled the buses with women they consider
improperly dressed, and they've been taking them to the police station, often
keeping young girls for many hours late at night in the police station without
their families and then sending them to the courts.

DAVIES: And you wrote a piece about the police department staging a fashion
show at which the proper Islamic garb was featured, is that right?

Ms. HARRISON: Yes, that was the, I think, one and only sort of public
fashion show in Iran. There are these clandestine fashion shows held in the
sort of basement of people's apartment blocks, which show off, you know, the
latest concoctions of various designers, but those are totally illegal and not
approved by the government. But this was something that the government had
authorized and allowed to happen, and now they're saying that they won't have
any more fashion shows like that. They've kind of thought better of it. But
the idea was to try and give women more choice about what they can wear while
still remaining, you know, reasonably individualistic and fashionable and yet
more Islamic than what you see on the street.

The bizarre thing was that they allowed the male journalists and photographers
to stay for the first five or 10 minutes and then they said that all of them,
all of the cameras and the males journalists had to leave for the second half
of it, and we obviously got to stay being women, and although all the clothes
in the second half were actually kind of office clothes, clothes that you
could wear to work, and people were fully covered, so we weren't quite sure
why only women were allowed to see those.

But they had a catwalk with, you know, the sort of smoke that billows out,
very loud, sort of LA Persian pop music playing, and these women in high heels
and lots of of makeup parading up and down the catwalk, wearing chador is. I
don't know if you now what chador is. It's this huge black kind of enveloping
cape that Shiite women wear, some of them, and they had these but with sort of
pearl edging and diamante and so on in different colors. And some of them
with sleeves. I mean, the most Islamic clothing you can imagine but with
high-heeled shoes, makeup, and catwalk sort of environment. It was extremely
odd.

DAVIES: And were you impressed with the fashions? I mean, was there enough
diversity so that it looked like something different, something that you might
find attractive?

Ms. HARRISON: Well, there were only--of the things they showed afterwards in
private to women, there were one or two that weren't bad. They were promoting
wearing long skirts, which is something that you couldn't do now at all. You
really have to wear trousers, and that was a quite nice to see what they'd
kind of come up with in terms of long shirts and long skirts, so there were
one or two that you know, I would consider wearing. The rest were a little
bit frumpy, I think, and certainly the women in the audience, who were kind of
quite of--a lot of them were quite critical, many of them young fashion
designers from universities who'd come to look at it, and they were saying,
you know, `Well, look at what people wear on the streets. On the streets,
people really do look like fashion models and these models are not so pretty.
They're not so attractive and the clothes are a bit kind of frumpy.' So it's
certainly true that, when you see some Iranian women on the streets--maybe not
so much now there's a crackdown, but before--as they are dressed up to the
nines. I mean, they are extremely, take a lot of time and care about their
appearance.

DAVIES: But they...

Ms. HARRISON: In fact, the authorities call them Western dolls.

DAVIES: And how do the Islamic clerical--the more conservative clerical
leaders feel about a fashion show where women are prancing around in makeup
with, you know, smoke blowing around them and rock music?

Ms. HARRISON: Well, they clearly don't like it. That's why they stopped
having any more in future. I mean, these are the same sort of clerics who
don't think women should be allowed to watch football matches, for example.
One point President Ahmadinejad tried to say that women should be allowed in
to see these matches, football being the most, sort of, you know, popular
sport in Iran and a huge kind of national interest and women being really into
it now, and several grand ayotallahs in WAM simply said, `no, it's not
acceptable. You cannot have women in football stadiums because they're
looking at men who are wearing shorts, and it's not proper.'

DAVIES: We're speaking with Frances Harrison. She was the BBC's
correspondent in Tehran, Iran, for three years. We'll talk more after a
break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

DAVIES: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with Frances Harrison.
She's just finished three years as the BBC's correspondent in Tehran, Iran.

Last year the government of Iran hosted a conference questioning the
Holocaust, and you wrote in one piece that it kind of evoked the dilemma that
someone might have faced in Nazi Germany on how to report on Hitler, whether
you take sides. How did you report on this event?

Ms. HARRISON: Well, I have to say it was quite extraordinary. I think if
somebody had told me the day before that I would meet somebody like David
Duke, who's an ex-Ku Klux Klan member, in Tehran, I wouldn't have believed
them. I would have thought they were pulling my leg, but he was there. And
the Iranian embassy in London, we heard, actually opened on a Sunday night in
order to issue visas to many of the guests. And the guest list was like a
sort of roll call of so-called revisionists, Holocaust deniers and questioners
from around the world, from all different countries--from Europe, from Canada,
from Australia, from all sorts of places who turned up there, and the more you
sort of dug into the past and the history and who was here there amongst the
guest list, it was quite shocking.

And I think it was such as sort of blatant move that it troubled a lot of
ex-pats working in Iran, people, for example, like AID workers working with UN
and so on who felt that their presence was beneficial, felt that they were
trying to help the Iranian people. On balance, despite the human rights
record of the government, it was still worthwhile being there and trying to do
something and trying to engage with the government and trying not to isolate
it. I think they were very troubled by this whole conference that made them
question really what on earth they were doing engaging with the Iranian
government.

DAVIES: And do you think the Iranian government knew what kind of people they
would be associating with in doing this?

Ms. HARRISON: I think they must have known. I mean, it's not difficult to
find out the information about these people. You just have to kind of google
them and you find out who they are on the Internet. They had everyone who was
anyone amongst these sort of people. And yes, I think it was quite difficult
to do balanced reporting in a sense because, you know, these people were
expressing opinions that were really, in a way, too odious, or too appalling
to give airtime to, and so our kind of approach was to report on the
phenomenon of the conference and who was who, who was there, but not to give
airtime to some of their sort of views about how nobody died in a gas chamber
and so on. Or the numbers were so small and what have you and their various
theories about it and they're sort of models of Treblinka and these sort of
things that they brought with them. We didn't give airtime to that. But it
was quite difficult to kind of keep them at arm's length, because they kept
wanting to tell you these things. And when they realized how we'd broadcast
about their presence at the conference, they became quite hostile. I received
a lot of very offensive e-mails from the people who'd been at the conference.
I mean, very offensive indeed, after that.

DAVIES: And what was your sense of how citizens of Tehran felt about this
issue, of the Holocaust?

Ms. HARRISON: Well, I think it's a bit sad for Iran and Iranians that they
got so sort of branded by this conference, because what we found was ordinary
young Iranians--I mean we're talking about university students and a bit
older--simply had no idea what the Holocaust was. They're just not taught
about it at school, they don't see it on TV. It's something that's very far
away. it's sort of a European thing. It's not part of Middle Eastern history
as far as they see it, and they'd just, you'd go up to them in the street and
you'd say, `What do you think about the Holocaust? What do you know about the
Holocaust?' and they wouldn't know what it was at all.

And the older generation we spoke to, some of them did more about the history
of Europe and the second world war and they were, some of them, quite
critical. They found a way of being quite subtle in saying that this wasn't
really of any relevance to them and then they would say, `Look, we need more
jobs and we need better living conditions and so on. Why do we have to
interfere--get involved with these sort of things that aren't really part of
our history?'

And the sad thing, too, is that actually during the second world war, the
Iranian government at the time played quite a role in getting Jewish children
out of Eastern Europe. They're known as the Tehran children and they went on
to Israel afterwards, but a large number of Jewish children from Poland were
helped by the Iranian embassy there to escape through Iran, so unfortunately,
you know, Iran has this history of having played a positive role and yet now,
of course, its image internationally is completely, you know, tarred by this
one conference.

DAVIES: Well, you know, there is a Jewish population in Iran, about 25,000,
which, you know, not large--it's certainly large by Middle Eastern standards
outside...

Ms. HARRISON: The largest, actually, in Middle East. Yeah. Outside of
Israel. Mm.

DAVIES: Right--outside of Israel. Give us a sense of sort of what kind of
religious and ethnic tolerance there is of their presence.

Ms. HARRISON: I think amongst ordinary Iranians there's quite a bit of
tolerance and respect for other religions, for Christians--there are a lot of
Armenian Christians, as well, in Iran, and they're given quite a bit of
status. I mean, people are quite respectful of them; there's no sense of
segregation. And the same--Islam recognizes Judaism and Christianity as
religions of the book, so they're officially recognized after the revolution
by Ayatollah Khomeini as religions of the book, as officially sanctioned
religions inside Iran. So there is a Jewish MP, and there is a Christian MP
and so on. So they're given a lot more freedom than other religions, I think.

In a way, Zoroastrians complain, who are the original Persian religion. They
complain that they have less status in Iran because they're not religions of
the book, as it were, and certainly kind of Baha'is, who are a form of what
the Iranian government would see as a deviant sect of Islam, they are
persecuted quite seriously in Iran. So Jews and Christians have a certain
degree of space within which to operate that's not too bad. I mean, they say
that their main problem is the fact that there's so very few of them, that
it's really hard to find someone for their children to marry or, you know,
that they're lonely socially, they don't go to weddings because everybody's
emigrated and gone to America or to Israel.

So there are a lot of problems for the community, and most of them don't work
in government service of any kind because then they would face prejudice, I
think they work in sort of--they've become middle class who work in private
businesses, small companies, and they have something to stay for in Iran and
they're not willing to give it all up and go abroad, necessarily. But it goes
through waves. I mean, there have been times when Jews have been arrested and
accused of spying for Israel, and it sent shock waves throughout the community
The recent remarks at the Holocaust conference and so on have alarmed Jews in
Iran.

DAVIES: If you have a president who is embracing Holocaust deniers--I mean,
is that a signal that this government will be blatantly anti-Semitic and will
stir, you know, anti-Semitic actions?

Ms. HARRISON: Well, of course, he says that he's anti-Zionist, not
anti-Semitic, but having this conference, of course, was something that Jews
in Iran, as elsewhere, felt was deeply offensive, and in fact the Jewish MP
did come out on the eve of the conference and say that he felt it was
offensive and that it would upset the Jewish population in Iran, and that it
might well trigger a new wave of emigration abroad amongst Iranian Jews. So
yes, they are worried about these comments about wiping Israel off the map and
the Holocaust not having happened to the extent that it did happen and so on.
That does alarm Jews in Iran.

And there have been some very right-wing Islamic papers inside Iran who have
tried to say that Iranian Jews have been celebrating Israel's independence day
and this sort of thing with actually bogus pictures, pictures that show
synagogues inside Israel--not inside Iran--but they say in the caption that
the pictures are inside Iran. So there have been people who have been trying
to stir trouble in that way, but I think on the whole, the Jews that remain in
Iran feel very determinedly Persian, or Iranian. They feel that their culture
is Persian, that they want to remain in the country if they possibly can. You
know, they have this huge sense of history. They've been in Iran, you know,
since before the Bible, since 3,000 years ago, that they were protected by
Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire. That they speak Farsi,
that they don't speak Hebrew really properly. They eat Persian food. You
know, they feel that they--they read Persian poetry. They feel very Iranian
and they don't want to be forced out. So many of them feel that they will
stay here until they cannot stay in Iran.

DAVIES: Frances Harrison has just finished three years as the BBC's chief
correspondent in Tehran. She'll be back in the second half of the show. I'm
Dave Davies and this is FRESH AIR.

(Announcements)

DAVIES: One of the things that you've written about is the peculiar attitude
that Iranians have toward the British. Tell us about that and about being a
British reporter in Iran.

Ms. HARRISON: Well, I think it's probably the worst nationality to be in
Iran, certainly worse than being American. I mean, when I see my colleagues
from the US who, you know, get visas and come for short trips to Iran, you
know, they're treated like royalty in a way. I mean, there's the sort of
glamour of the unknown and you know, schoolgirls will come up to them at
demonstrations and ask for their autographs, and, you know, they get
interviews with officials and all this sort of thing because of being kind of
exotic, if you like. Whereas, you know, Britain has an embassy in Tehran, so
if anybody wants to attack the West, they go and throw stones at the British
embassy. There is no American embassy any more, officially, and BBC has an
office there. So when they want to attack the Western media, it tends to be
the BBC.

The Iranians have this sort of long, historical problem with Britain because
of Britain's role in the nationalization--trying to stop the nationalization
of the oil industry, Britain's historic role as a colonial power, its
occupation of parts of Iran during the second world war. A whole range of
kind of historical grievances that it has. And there is this popular idea,
and people say it as sort of a half joke, but half serious, where they say,
`Well, there's a British hand behind everything.' They say...(Farsi spoken).
In Farsi it means the British hand is behind everything. And when you say
that as a British person to, you know, a taxi driver or some official or
whatever, they laugh but they laugh rather nervously as you sort of discovered
their guilty secret. And it's half joke, half serious. I mean, there is this
thing that they feel that Brits are very kind of devious and clever and behind
everything so, you know, there are jokes like if you remove the turban of a
mullah, it will say "Made in Britain" on it; and there are many Iranians who
say somehow it's the British that created the Islamic revolution.

DAVIES: Now, as a journalist--because you deal in controversial topics--often
find yourself at the center of controversy. What kind of reactions have you
gotten from all sides of the Iranian political spectrum, and probably, you
know, foreign powers as well? It's an age when people can, you know, can blog
and e-mail and let you know how they think.

Ms. HARRISON: Hm, yes. Well, both sides I have add it from at times. Quite
vicious attacks from abroad, for example, blogs abroad who are kind of
pro-Zionist or right wing, who say that, you know, I am supporting the Islamic
regime. I have things like, for example, one of them put a photograph of a
woman wearing a kind of...(unintelligible)...it's a black sort of Islamic kind
of hood thing, head scarf, and she had a noose around her head next to an
article about me. And they knew perfectly well I was a woman because they'd
written lots of things about how shocking it was that I had an Iranian
husband, and, you know, the implication was this woman Frances Harrison should
be hanged.

And I've had blogs that have asked, you know, whether my husband beats me,
because he's a Muslim, which is outrageous. Or said that my husband is a
pro-government journalist in Iran, which is also outrageous because he
actually wasn't allowed to work for more than a year in Iran, and he's never
worked for the Iranian media. So, you know, some pretty vicious personal
stuff.

I've also had a lot of attacks or discussions or kind of interest because of
having to wear a head scarf on air. You know, basically if I'm outdoors in
Iran, I have to wear the head scarf. In the TV studio I wear it because,
first of all I'm in an office with men, legally I have to wear it in Iran, and
you know, often I'm standing in front of picture which sort of pretends that
I'm outdoors. And I've had people e-mailing the BBC, people ringing up the
BBC complaining about, `why is your correspondent wearing a head scarf?' You
know, it means that she's not objective and so on and so forth. At one point
there were like 40 e-mails to the BBC to one blog discussing my red head scarf
and, you know, whether I wore it out of conviction or not, how much makeup I
was wearing at the same time and all this. And it was most bizarre.

But it can be quite sort of disturbing to be the center of quite so much
attention. I mean, it gets to the point people question your independence,
your integrity. It's almost like sort of pointing the finger and saying, `Oh,
you're a traitor.'

DAVIES: You know, we talked a good a bit about what's happening with the
situation of women's rights and dress codes and other issues that affect women
in Iraq. One of the fascinating developments there that you've written about
is that more women than men are now getting higher education, which is
probably not what a lot of people would think of a society that they would
regard as repressive towards women. What are the implications--yeah?

Ms. HARRISON: Well, this is a major misconception, and in fact this is
another story where I got quite badly attacked on Internet sites abroad by
right-wingers who said that the women I'd seen in universities were all
daughters of the regime and this was nonsense, and women were oppressed in
Iran and so on. I think obviously the argument that women are opposed is used
as an argument for regime change, as it was in Afghanistan. And when you look
at women in Iran, they're, you know, pretty emancipated compared to women in
Afghanistan or many Arab countries. You know, women drive very openly. A lot
of them are in the workplace. I mean, several government offices, now you'll
see much of the work is done by women, and women are beginning to break
through the glass ceiling and get more important kind of management jobs even
in the civil service in Iran.

And, yes, they pay a cost because they look after their families. They go
home and they cook, and their husbands probably don't necessarily help that
much with the housework and so on and looking after children. But they are
progressing and things are really changing and when those women who are at the
sort of lower levels of government offices get to a more senior management
level, things will really change.

DAVIES: And how do the ayatollahs regard this growth of the Iranian career
woman?

Ms. HARRISON: Difficult to say. I mean, obviously many of them believe in
an interpretation of Islam that doesn't approve of women, you know, being out
of the house, particularly in the evenings or late at night. They feel that
women should have the primary responsibility for bringing up children. Many
of them do; not all of them, of course. There are very liberal clerics, as
well, to be fair, I mean. That's something you sort of don't realize if you
live abroad. There are clerics who've been to jail in Iran because they're
reformists or they want reform or they're moderate, and they're very outspoken
and very brave, too. Not all of them are, you know, against women's rights or
human rights, or these sort of things. But yeah, there are some that find
that difficult, but I think that what you're seeing is the fact that women
took part in the revolution that they've therefore came into their own a bit
after that, the fact that the Islamic system allows women to have the vote.
That's really important. So they still have to woo women to a certain extent
because they're half the electorate.

DAVIES: And what explains the predominance of women in higher education now?
Why are more of them getting college degrees than men?

Ms. HARRISON: I think a large part of it is the creation of this university
called Azad University, free university, which has branches in many provincial
towns, and a lot of families who didn't want to send their daughters to Tehran
or big cities because they felt there might be sort of corrupting influence
and they couldn't keep an eye on them, were happier to keep the daughters at
home or close by and let them go to this university.

Then, of course, the fact that the university system since the revolution has
been, you know, highly segregated and, you know, you know that your daughter's
going to be safe, and she's not going to be running around with boyfriends.
That's the kind of attitude, so people have been more ready to send their
daughters to universities. That's helped a bit, too.

And then, of course, you know, there's huge economic pressure on young men to
earn money and they don't seem to see a university degree as a route to a
better career. They seem to think that they have to start working
immediately, and many families are under a lot of economic pressure, so they
leave school and they start work in various business or trade or whatever.
And the girls, who are not expected to produce money for the family
necessarily, they go to university. And so there's this huge imbalance where
roughly 65, sometimes 75 percent of the students in universities are women,
and, you know, then you have this issue, who do they marry? Do they marry a
guy who doesn't have a university degree, and what kind of problems does that
cause later on in their marriage?

DAVIES: Well, you know, in February there were a lot of stories in the United
States about plans for military action against Iran, you know, motivated both
by anger over Iran's nuclear program and the accusation that Iran is fueling
the insurgency in Iraq and supplying deadly weapons to kill US troops. Do
Iranians think that there may be an American invasion, that it's a real
possibility?

Ms. HARRISON: Well, it depends on which particular period. I think Iranians
have become more worried since the UN sanctions came into place. That, you
know, the international community is going to take action against Iran over
its nuclear program, and they all worried about the impact of that on the
economy.

Before that, before the UN sanctions came into place in late December, really,
when you talked to people about the prospect of military strike or sanctions,
they were terribly blase, and partly because they were sort of brainwashed by
Iranian television, which told them that, `Look, we've been under American
sanctions for decades and it hasn't hurt us.' Actually it has, but I mean,
they argue that it hasn't really damaged Iran. It's certainly damaged its
industry. And they say, `Well, you know, we've been through a very
devastating eight-year-long war with Iraq in the '80s and we survived that
and, you know, all the superpowers, all the powers abroad backed Iraq and we
were isolated and yet we survived.' So they've told people that, you know,
Iran is so powerful, it's such a great nation, it has such a wonderful
military that it can survive an American attack if it were to happen. I mean,
they say Iran is so powerful `nobody will dare to attack us' and that sort of
thing. And a lot of people have swallowed that.

And then you know, you also have to remember that Iranians live under the
threat of attack and isolation and, you know, being ostracized. They've lived
like that for decades. You know, there's always one crisis after another.
And so if you're a person living in Iran, you just have to go about your
normal life. You have to plan for sending your kids to university. You have
to save money. You have to move house. You know, you can't be worrying about
a military attack all the time. But certainly people, you know, do
periodically ask. They particularly ask us as foreign journalist, you know,
`What do you think? Do you think it will happen?' Some people start sort of,
you know, sort of thinking about whether to send their children abroad and
that kind of thing, and some shopkeepers start hoarding goods and worrying
about the exchange rate and so on. But on the whole, people live their lives,
you know, with this thing in the back of their minds.

DAVIES: You know, a lot of Iranian leaders have argued that, on this issue of
Iran being a major player in the insurgency in Iraq, that Iranians don't
really regard a disintegrated Iraq as being in their interest, that they
really want a stable, Shia-dominated government.

Ms. HARRISON: Mm.

DAVIES: What is your view of the US assertion that Iran is really fueling the
insurgency in Iraq?

Ms. HARRISON: Well, I mean, it's very difficult sitting in Iran to know
quite what the Iranian involvement in Iraq is. I mean, I think in a way, a
correspondent in Baghdad might have a much clearer idea of quite how
entrenched the Iranians are. I mean, certainly they have an interest with the
Shiite groups, the armed groups, many of whom like have been based in Iran
during the Saddam Hussein years and have very, very close links to the
Revolutionary Guards in Iran. There are close ties there--politically,
militarily, and certainly the Iranian government and establishment feels it
can't betray the Shiite population inside Iraq; it has to help them if they're
under threat from Sunnis. So there is that aspect there. You know, whatever
goes on in terms of any kind of alleged military assistance and so on, is very
hidden. It's secret. It's not something that you know if you live in Iran.
It's very difficult to say what actually happens. But there is, you know, a
lot of interest, keen interest, in what goes on there.

But the other argument that, overall, it doesn't serve Iran's interest to see
the disintegration of Iraq is a very strong one, and a lot of people say that,
and that is the argument that the Iraqi foreign minister's been using whenever
he's come to Iran to try and persuade the Iranians to take part in direct
talks with the United States over Iraq. He said, you know, look what will
happen. Iraq will break into a separate Kurdish entity, and that will be a
problem for your Iranian Kurdish areas. They will then want to be separate
even more than they do already. It will break into a Sunni kind of entity,
and that will be an implacably opposed to Iran, and it will be worse than
Saddam Hussein's Iraq, and then you will have a small Shiite sort of state and
OK, that will be pro-Iranian, but you'll have to protect those Shiite people,
and how are you going to do that? So, you know, I think that argument has
been made very forcefully by the Iraqis to, you know, even the President
Ahmadinejad that they have to prevent all-out civil war in Iraq, that Iran
must play a positive role in order to protect the Shiites inside Iraq.

DAVIES: Many Americans' views of Iran were formed by the 1979 revolution and
the subsequent hostage crisis and the image of the Ayatollah Khomeini. What
do Americans not understand about Iran?

Ms. HARRISON: Well, I mean, I'll tell you something funny about the hostage
crisis now. Every year the Iranians have this sort of demonstration--protest
kind of gathering, rally--whatever you call it--outside the former American
Embassy, which they call the `den of spies,' and they bus in school children
to shout slogans like `Death to America' and so on and people to make speeches
and one time I asked the school kids, who were quite rowdy and behaving rather
badly, but mostly happy to get a day off school, I asked them, `OK, what is
this building behind you? Do you know what this building is that you're
demonstrating outside of?' And they said, `Oh, den of spies' and I'm like
`Yeah, but do you know what is was before?' And then they didn't know and I
said, `Do you realize this is the former American embassy.' And they said,
`No.' And we said, `OK, why are you here today?' And they said to honor the
martyrs, which is, you know, a classic kind of Iranian thing, to honor the
martyrs. And we were like, well, which martyrs? You know, none of the
hostages taken died. `Would it surprise you to know that none of them are in
jail and they're reformists now?' and they were shocked. They thought they
were all died.

And so, you know, the level of knowledge is tragic really in Iran amongst
school children, who are bused in for the event. They don't even know what
really happened during the hostage taking now, this generation, and yet, you
know, it's something that's affected the outside world of United States, you
know, for decades. And it's something that doesn't really impinge very much
anymore on Iranians. And when you look at the hostage takers themselves, very
few will come out and say, `We made a mistake.' They will say it was right at
the time, but they've all changed their politics. And you know, the majority
of them are now reformists who want gradual change, who want a different kind
of Islamic system in Iran, and that in itself is pretty significant, that the
people who did this have moved on.

DAVIES: You know, you've spent this three years, you know, kind of straddling
British and Iranian culture. You're married to an Iranian man, and you have a
son who has, you know, one British mom and an Iranian dad. I'm wondering if
you've given thought to how he's going to regard these two cultures and how
you're going to present them to him?

Ms. HARRISON: Well, I think we've had to present both of them to him, you
know, already. This issue has come up, although he's only just about seven.
You know, I hope that he will remember the good things about Iran, not just
his family, of course. We have a lot of, you know, relatives in Iran with
whom he's sort of instinctively very close. You know, the blood tie is very
strong. But I hope he will remember the things that he can be proud of, like
the heritage in Iran, the ancient civilization, you know Persepolis. My son
is called Cyrus. Cyrus is, you know, the founder of the Persian empire. It's
a distinctly un-Islamic but very Persian name, and it's important. And so
he's very interested in Cyrus the Great's tomb. He's been there.

I think, you know, the culture still is very strong. Persian culture,
although the Islamic regime has tried to wipe a lot of it away and destroy it,
it's still there an,d you know, you see it. It's very rich. People will eat
pizza and burgers and so on, but they will also, you know, eat kabobs on
Friday, for sure, and they will know how to cook Persian stews and curries,
which are quite distinctive from anything else in the Middle East. There's a
sort of thing called ta'ruf, it's like a sort of politesse, a courtesy thing
where you have to speak in a sort of code to each other which is quite
beautiful to watch if it's done properly. And so there's a sense of
hospitality that's huge.

There are many things that, you know, as an Iranian you can be proud of, even
if you live abroad or you don't support the Islamic system and so on. But,
you know, I hope that by living there, he will have seen what's good about
Iran and understand that as well as well as, of course, you know, speaking
English and living in Britain.

But the thing that struck me in the last few months in Iran that is becoming
more difficult is because of this increasing sort of phobia about contact with
foreigners, particularly Brits and this sense that there is no place for
Iranians who bridge the two worlds. I mean, we've seen that more and more
like the Iranian-Americans, the diaspora who come back and get arrested, or
you know, the demonstrations outside the British embassy where they said that
any Iranians who had contact with the British embassy or went to their social
functions were dirty traitors and dirty Iranians. You know, that was pretty
personal for me, in a way, because my son is half-Iranian, half-British, and
what does that mean, you know? If you're an Iranian, you can't have anything
to do with British people, then you're a dirty traitor? Does that mean my
husband is one? You know, there is less space in this very conservative
environment for the people who want to, you know, bridge the gap between the
West and Iran, and inside Iran those people are not necessarily welcome at the
moment. The time is not right for them. So that is quite difficult if you're
mixed.

DAVIES: Well, Frances Harrison, thanks so much for speaking with us.

Ms. HARRISON: You're most welcome.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Review: David Bianculli looks at the new Showtime show
"Californication," starring David Duchovny
DAVE DAVIES, host:

Tonight on the Showtime cable network, David Duchovny of "The X-Files" returns
in a new weekly series about a New York author transplanted not very happily
to Hollywood. It's called "Californication," and, according to TV critic
David Bianculli, it's one more successful campaign in the battle of cable vs.
broadcast TV.

DAVID BIANCULLI reporting:

In three weeks, it'll be Labor Day. The week after that we get the Emmy
Awards and the first of the fall premieres from the broadcast networks,
courtesy of Fox. Before you know it, it's late September, and all the
networks trot out their new stuff, signalling that it's time to start watching
TV again. The long, hot, dull summer is just about over.

There's no question this summer has been hot, and if you've been restricting
your viewing to the commercial broadcast networks, there's no question it's
been dull. The highlights the last few months, such as they are, included the
final burned-off episodes of NBC's "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," the
entertaining stop-animation comedy "Creature Comforts," which CBS yanked after
a few outings, and ABC's "Masters of Science Fiction," which is halfway
through its run. The networks aren't trying because they think you aren't
watching. Except for reality shows, which they'll keep trying because they're
so cheap, and if they hit, they hit big.

But if you have cable TV, it's like an alternate universe. HBO's "The
Sopranos" ended in June--or didn't end--and we're still spinning from that.
And while its replacement, David Milch's "John from Cincinnati" never gelled,
"Big Love" has been fun and, in the past few weeks, the new music and comedy
series "Flight of the Conchords" has upped its game to delightfully high
levels.

Five years ago, HBO pretty much had summer TV audiences all to itself, but
though the broadcast networks haven't wised up yet, other cable networks have.
This summer the FX cable network has given us the season finales of "The
Shield" and "The Riches," a fresh run of "Rescue Me," and a fabulous new drama
series starring Glenn Close called "Damages." AMC has given us "Madmen," an
increasingly satisfying and original comedy drama, and Showtime, which started
the summer with a daring new import called "Meadowlands," tonight presents an
attention-getting doubleheader. it starts with the season premier of "Weeds"
with the amazing Mary Louise Parker as a suburban drug dealer and finishes
with David Duchovny, returning to series TV in a dark comedy called
"Californication." Add the terrifically twisted drama series "Dexter" to that
list, and Showtime suddenly looks to be matching HBO if not lapping it.

The same goes for FX, which has the highest ratio of quality dramas of any
network, cable or broadcast. These cable networks are providing better
programming in the summer than most broadcast networks are all year long.
There have been lots of articles in national magazines and newspapers this
summer proclaiming it the year of the mature woman on TV, because of stars
like Glenn Close on "Damages" and Holly Hunter on TNT's less impressive but
still noteworthy "Saving Grace." But Helen Mirren started that trend years ago
with "Prime Suspect" on PBS, and the real story isn't limited to women. Men
of a certain age--and Duchovny is one of them--are gravitating to TV, too, for
the same reason. The best work is more challenging, and plentiful, than most
of what today's movies have to offer.

So here comes "Californication." Duchovny plays Hank Moody, a serious novelist
who moved to the West Coast when Hollywood called. His first novel was turned
into a sappy hit movie, which made him wealthy but also made him sour. His
long-time relationship with a woman ended recently, but he's not over her.
And they have a 12-year-old daughter whom he still sees and loves a great
deal. What he wants most, it seems, is what he's just lost. But he can't
seem to help himself from flirting with the beautiful women who cross his
past. That includes Mia, a brash, playful, very young woman he meets in a
bookstore when she catches him flipping through a copy of his own book. Mia
is played by Madeline Zima, which is kind of a shocker, if you remember her
mainly as Grace Sheffield, the little daughter on the Fran Drescher sticom,
"The Nanny."

(Soundbite of "Californication")

Ms. MADELINE ZIMA: (As Mia) What are you doing?

Mr. DAVID DUCHOVNY: (As Hank Moody) What do you mean? You were just like
calling me over.

Ms. ZIMA: (As Mia) No, I was like totally ambivalent.

Mr. DUCHOVNY: (As Hank Moody) Oh.

Ms. ZIMA: (As Mia) Listen, you'd better get up because my boyfriend will be
back any second.

Mr. DUCHOVNY: (As Hank Moody) You're a weird chick.

Ms. ZIMA: (As Mia) I am. I'm also just kidding. Have a seat, please.

Mr. DUCHOVNY: (As Hank Moody) What if I don't want to now?

Ms. ZIMA: (As Mia) Fine. Your loss. I mean, why the hell would I want to
get to know a guy who's so in love with himself that he hangs out in
bookstores reading his own work?

Mr. DUCHOVNY: (As Hank Moody) If you're under the impression that I'm in
love with myself, then it's possible that you are higher than me right now.

Ms. ZIMA: (As Mia) Oh. So I'm battling some low self-esteem?

Mr. DUCHOVNY: (As Hank Moody) Oh, you have no idea.

Ms. ZIMA: (As Mia) Mm. Poor baby.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. DUCHOVNY: (As Hank Moody) Hank. My name is Hank.

Ms. ZIMA: (As Mia) I know. Mia.

Mr. DUCHOVNY: (As Hank Moody) Nice to meet you, Mia.

Ms. ZIMA: (As Mia) Likewise.

(End of soundbite)

Mr. BIANCULLI: All by itself, that clip may not seem that impressive. But
what I'm not playing you is what happens next, when they end up in bed
together. The nudity. The sex. The violence. All of which manages to be
funny. And I refuse to spoil the surprises that make this casual encounter
even richer. Except to say, in "Californication" the surprises are so good
and so truly unexpected, they pull you in completely before the half-hour
pilot is over.

Forget summer, "Californication" is one of the best new shows of the year.
And it shows up tonight with "Weeds," which is even more cartoonish than last
season but no less entertaining. And a few episodes in, when Matthew Modine
shows up as a sleazy real estate developer, Mary Louise Parker has a wonderful
recurring guest star to play against and to play with.

Tune to "Weeds" and "Californication" tonight on Showtime and you'll see some
great summer TV programming. Or tune to broadcast TV and ABC's new reality
show "Fat March" about obese people walking the Northeast corridor to lose
weight, and you won't.

DAVIES: David Bianculli is TV critic for the New York Daily News.

Here's Randy Newman singing "Little Boxes," the song that opens each episode
of the series "Weeds."

(Soundbite of "Little Boxes")

Mr. RANDY NEWMAN: (speaking) OK, here we go.

(Singing) Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes made of ticky-tacky
Little boxes on the hillside
Little boxes all the same

There's a green one and a pink one
And a blue one and a yellow one
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they all look just the same

And the people in the houses
All went to the university
But they were put in boxes
They came out the same

There's doctors and lawyers
And business executives
And they're all made out of ticky-tacky
And they look just the same

(End of soundbite)
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?

Advertisement

Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR

43:07

Has Tucker Carlson created the most racist show in the history of cable news?

The NY Times did an exhaustive survey of the Fox News hosts' broadcasts. Reporter Nicholas Confessore says Carlson's show is based on ideas that were once "caged in a dark corner of American life."

42:05

British 'Office' co-creator Stephen Merchant isn't afraid to fuse comedy with tragedy

Merchant co-created the British Office and Extras with Ricky Gervais. His new show, The Outlaws, is about people court-ordered to do community service for low-level crimes. He spoke with producer Sam Briger about what inspired the new series, his best writing advice, and how being very tall (6'7") has informed his personality.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue