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Sogol Sur
Sogol Sur

Sogol Sur was born in 1988 in Tehran. She received her BA in English Literature in Iran, and is currently doing her Masters in Creative Writing at Birkbeck while working on her novel which revolves around sexual taboos, beauty, mental issues and literature itself. She’s planning to finish her novel within a year and hopefully find a publisher in the UK, but like so many other aspiring writers, she’s slightly affected by the disease of procrastination and perfectionism. She finds writing in English (her second language) both challenging and inspiring at the same time.

The Great Rebel TV

Ever since I moved to London a few months ago, I haven’t watched TV. My older brother who I’m living with abhors TV and anything that might promote capitalism. I don’t care about capitalism as long as my own pockets are full—which is rare—so I don’t really feel the need to have a TV.


It’s funny that I never argue with my brother about having a TV. We argue about many things that are much less interesting than whether to have a TV or not; like which of our relatives is more of an asshole, why I love shopping while he despises the very concept of a shopping mall, or why I’m a spoilt epicurean while he’s a bored existentialist. And yet we never discuss having a TV, which is weird because just a few months ago, when I was in Iran, I was addicted to it.


Like all kinds of addictions, my addiction wasn’t a general one; it was more an obsession with a specific channel I used to watch via our illegal cable. It was a Polish music channel called Rebel TV.


Back in Iran my father had bought the most enormous TV ever. Because, unlike my older brother, he loves watching TV; anything from censored Korean shows aired by the official government channels to Greek opera on some Eastern-European, illegal, satellite channel. Although I miss my father painfully, I don’t miss TV, even though it's associated with him more than anything else in my head.


However, I admit I sometimes miss Rebel TV which solely showed rock videos, and not just classics like Led Zeppelin or The White Stripes, but also fresh new Polish Alternative rock bands with gorgeous lead singers. Yes, I guess I miss Rebel TV. Its name, its music, its chaos. I miss how it would fill my empty, rigid routine in Tehran.


I remember many days when I’d wake in the afternoon, with no motive to get out of bed other than to pee and to go lie on the old, half-broken sofa in our spacious sunny living-room and watch Rebel TV; my parents both at work, my younger brother in college. I’d lie on the sofa and immerse myself in the new wave of Polish rock music that helped me empty my head from the nightmares I had whilst I was asleep. I would do that until my friends would call and ask me to go to the nearest café with them. If they didn’t call, I was content just to lie there until my dad got back from work and then I’d surrender the remote to him, leaving him to his censored Korean TV shows and censored Iranian news. Sometimes I’d stay in the living-room and pretend to watch the banal Korean shows, just to be there, to share something, to be in his presence. He seemed sort of glad whenever I showed interest in the shows that my mum constantly mocked. I would defend his taste and try to look interested, though I was really only checking out the Korean actors, admiring their delicate anatomies, sharp cheekbones and slanted, dark eyes; fantasising about drawing them or doing them. My mother would glare at me, making sarcastic remarks. She thought I liked cheap Korean shows to take sides with my father; as if it was a war or something. Yes mummy, maybe I was a bit of a hypocrite, but only to please you and daddy. To make you believe we had something in common, something to share, maybe a god we could all worship without arguing endlessly over its existence.


So, that was me two years ago, lying on the sofa in front of Rebel TV, convincing myself I was happy because I wasn’t taking anti-depressants like the rest of my friends. Rebel TV was my pill. It would drive me away from the world I was trapped in; from the deathly pollution of Tehran, the censored news of Iran, America’s constant threats of war, censored gender-biased Korean shows and my mother’s stream of anger at me for ‘wasting my life’. She was right though. For some reason, after having my various visa applications rejected a few times, I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t enter grad school. I didn’t look for work. I didn’t get married. She enrolled me in a French class so I would at least get out of the house and learn something—the mantra of my family.


The French class was boring me to tears. It was twice a week, 4 pm to 6 pm. After a few sessions I overslept and couldn’t make it. I thought my mum would shout at my utter uselessness, my sheer Frenchlessness. She did not. She just told me calmly, “Okay, you don’t have to enroll for the new term.” Her acceptance of my failure surprised me, even made me happy, until I realised she was too disappointed in me to care anymore. I would insult the French language which I found monotonous, difficult and a bloody cliché. I was secretly learning Polish via the Internet and Rebel TV. It was like having a forbidden love affair: sweet, seductive, consoling yet exciting. I wanted to understand the meaning of the songs I was listening to in my room when I was not watching Rebel TV, or when I was watching Rebel TV in the living-room.


Yet I do not miss having a TV. I don’t feel the need to have a TV in London. For in London I feel I’m in some kind of TV show myself, living, doing something, having a plot, a character and a setting, although technically I’m not doing anything and I know I never will. Some people are just too lazy, too self-satisfied, too petrified in the present to do anything. I am one of those people. My mere existence is fulfilling to me.


For a year, I didn’t do anything but watch Rebel TV, read Oscar Wilde and go to a certain café with my best friends; talking obsessively about Wilde, trying to go numb. I wonder if we ever actually went numb, like we wished; for even though we were pretty bored with our lives, we were nervous for some reason. It was a kind of chronic nervousness; I don’t know at what point in my life it started to form or even why it had begun. Naively, I used to think that once I managed to get out of Iran, I would leave the nervousness behind. I’ve been in London for a few months now, chilling out, appreciating life, and I’m still carrying it along, unable to shake it off; it’s still stuck with me like a faithful tumor, like an abusive parent. In fact the times I miss Rebel TV in London, are the times that the chronic nervousness strikes for some reason and I find myself needing to listen to someone screaming in Polish in the name of music. I’d also want that person to be sexually appealing so I can imagine fucking him too, and thus turn my nervousness into lust and positive things like that. So maybe after all, I need a TV, a Rebel TV in London too.


After a while I noticed none of my friends watched Rebel TV, they did not even know it existed; such a cool, relaxing channel, and even when I told them about it, although they tried to seem interested for my sake, it was obvious they weren’t that moved. They just couldn’t be bothered with something so insignificant and awkward. And even though they would totally appreciate the Polish musicians I introduced them to from time to time, they never really shared this specific interest of mine. After a while, I noticed that it wasn’t just my friends living their lives oblivious of the great Rebel TV; the ultimate rock station, the pill, the drug, the saviour; but nobody else had heard of it either, except my younger brother’s band mates who mostly criticised it for showing ‘too much alternative rock’ and ‘not enough real heavy metal’—another one of Rebel TV’s positive points. Unlike my brother’s band mates, I absolutely reveled in Rebel TV’s choices of music videos. In fact I’d never felt as musically close to any person as I did to Rebel TV. Nirvana, Placebo, Pulp, Blur, Garbage, Portishead, The White Stripes, Muse, Depeche Mode and so on—it was all there in Rebel TV; the treasure was non-stop. Even when it wasn’t showing a music video from one of my favourite bands, it was still showing something appealing. I’d still be interested; I knew I could trust Rebel TV in this dark, cruel world. In fact I was starting to believe it was the only thing I could trust.


After a while I found myself more obsessed with Polish alternative rock bands, than English-speaking, international ones. For the bands that were writing songs in English were fast becoming a cliché. They were everywhere; you could find a music video of Muse on an Iranian, pop music channel somewhere amongst vulgar Persian pop videos and Beyonce Knowles, you’d hear Muse in advertisements and underground parties in Tehran. You might be exposed to so much Muse that you might even get sick of it after a while, no matter how you used to enjoy it at first. Whereas the Polish rock bands were always new. Always rare. Always transient. The faces, the styles, the vocals, the piano riffs were just different. Different from anything else you’d ever experienced.


My only criticism of Rebel TV was its language. It would announce every programme in Polish. There was no trace of English—the international language—on this channel and this used to bother me at first. I even emailed them about this issue, and to my utter surprise my email didn’t change anything. They did not even reply to it. I don’t think they really cared a damn about their non-Polish speaking audience. And why would they? I’m sure the channel wasn’t targeted at the hopeless, lazy youth of Iran.


After a while my only criticism of Rebel TV turned into another positive point on my list. I concluded that I didn’t really want to know what Polish musicians were singing. I just wanted to watch something as meaningless as possible. I wanted to listen to something senseless. I was fed up with all the meanings and analysis of the words used in music, literature and news. I was yearning to be unaware. Now that I'm thinking of it, I finally know the reason behind my father’s interest in Korean TV shows. I can finally fathom his fondness, his need for irrelevance and meaninglessness.


It was an escape. Rebel TV was my escape, just like the Korean shows were my father’s escape. How easy it was for me to get lost in Polish music videos, without knowing or even wanting to know what the singer was singing about. The point was the pretty sound with the pretty Polish face. So meaningless. So exotic. So irrelevant to everything I was supposed to be concerned with: learning French, academia, getting a visa, applying for universities, following the news of Iran, protesting against the atrocious government like some (brave) people, criticising the government non-stop like everyone else, and being scared and scorned like everyone else. On Rebel TV I could stare at some lean, attractive lad singing something sweet-sounding like ‘ish moistish mon’ in a sensual tone, and be sure he was not singing about Iran, its government, the sanctions, and the process of getting a visa. By just looking at him I knew he was singing about love, sex, beauty and nothing else. Well, what else is there to sing about?


Sometimes when my mum was home, she would sit beside me on our half-broken sofa and watch a few videos with me. At first she asked me why I was interested in this channel, or she would just leave the room and shelter in her bedroom to avoid this loud, weird, foreign channel that her daughter was mesmerised by for some reason. But after a while, she also yielded to the secret charms of Rebel TV. Whenever she’d arrive home early from work, she’d sit beside me, in front of the great Rebel TV, focusing on the new wave of rock music. At last I had someone to talk to about Rebel TV—my deliberate distraction.  


But sometimes analysis is just a way of slaughtering something. Since being analysed by me and my mother, Rebel TV started to lose its sacred aura. I just wanted to relish Rebel TV in peace; I wanted to trust it, to let it take me away. I wanted to drown myself in it. But as my mother had also developed an interest in it, it wasn’t like that anymore. Something was stained, shattered, lost. My mother would constantly comment on the beauty and style of the Polish singers and would ask for my opinion too. Before that I used to find all of them stylish and beautiful, distant and foggy; until my mother started objectifying each and every one of them, making me think in more critical ways too. Sometimes, we’d miss what Rebel TV was showing, as we were having a heated discussion about a specific song, band, or style of a musician. We were disrespecting Rebel TV instead of cherishing it.


It was around the time of the presidential election in Iran, so the government was getting harder on people; sending the police force into residents’ houses to get rid of illegal cable to eliminate the political influence of foreign broadcasting.


I was worried about my Rebel TV.


Even though my mum had already poisoned the pureness of my relationship with Rebel TV, it was still better than nothing. I was still dependent on it. Like hell.


They came.


I wasn’t home. And my father didn’t give me the details.


I can imagine though. One can always imagine and suffer: four stout men in stinky, military uniforms, reeking of sweat and self-righteousness breaking into our house, going straight to the balcony where the sinful equipment was situated—breaking the whole thing. The Greek soap opera my dad has been fondly watching, cuts off halfway. My dad is nervous—almost shocked—but does not say anything. They leave while spewing a prayer, taking the broken cables with them. My father goes to the empty balcony to smoke—the echo of the opera and their violent prayer stinging his ears; his hands shaking more than ever.


It wasn’t a total tragedy, however. My father managed to find a new set of cables—through one of his PhD students—with all our favourite channels including Rebel TV, in less than a week. We had access to the drug again. Thank God for all the drug dealers (PhD students) on the planet. How unbearable human life would be without all the drugs.


I just realised; it’s not that I don’t feel like having a TV, but on some level I hate it. I remember the four of us stuck in front of our gigantic TV, horrified, watching the news; many people rallying in the main streets of Tehran for they believed the elections were rigged, and they had voted for another candidate. We too thought the elected president had cheated, but for some reason we had stopped caring, or maybe we were just too scared to do anything. The government opened fire on the protesters. We didn’t want to get shot or tortured in the lovely prisons of the Islamic Republic of Iran. So I checked what was on Rebel TV. It was a special programme on Depeche Mode. Yes! I want to watch that. Sorry, gotta change the news channel to Rebel TV. I thanked the non-existent God for the existence of Rebel TV, changing the channel swiftly. It was showing a man crashing his car into a wall, while Dave Gahan was shouting at the top of his lungs. Wrong! And it was at that moment that it dawned on me that the special programme on Depeche Mode was as horrifying as the news.


So no, I don’t think I need a TV here in London. I don’t even miss it. I don’t even need my perfect Polish Rebel TV to distract me from my life. I just wish my father were in London too to see with his own eyes how well I’m managing without Rebel TV; the drug, the saviour, the door to nowhere.



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