by Nina Ippolito
On Tuesday, Tehran police chief Hossein Sajedinia caused an uproar when he disclosed that he had arrested six young Iranians for the unforgivable crime of — fair warning, sensitive readers may want to stop here — making a bland YouTube video in which they dance along to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” The three men and women have since been released on $100,000 bail, after confessing on state-run television, and denying that they intended the video for online consumption.
Behold, the scandalous video:
The police chief’s announcement sparked outrage both on Twitter and around the world, as fans of “Happy” and free speech took to the internet to denounce the arrests. Even Iranian President Hassan Rouhani criticized the police chief’s draconian means of downvoting a video, saying:
"#Happiness is our people's right. We shouldn't be too hard on behaviors caused by joy." 29/6/2013
— Hassan Rouhani (@HassanRouhani) May 21, 2014
Rouhani’s tweet aside, Sajedinia may have a point. Surely, the reason that police arrested the videographers (luring them into the station house by falsely telling them that a friend had been hurt in a car accident) isn’t that Tehran’s police force is disturbingly out of touch, much like Iran’s clerics.
No. Clearly, the arrests were an attempt to stem the unrelenting and devastating tide of viral memes in Iran.
Who can forget how, back in March, Pharrell brought the world to a standstill when he called on fans to upload videos of his banal pop hit to 24hoursofhappiness.com, both in celebration of a dubious “International Day of Happiness,” and in support of the United Nations Foundation? The result was an unremitting glut of twee takes on his meaningless pop hit. The Western world still hasn’t recovered from those videos, and the catchy but meaningless song continues to be broadcast in tight rotation on top-40 radio stations worldwide.
Surely, Sajedinia didn’t see the mild Iranian “Happy” as “a vulgar clip which hurt public chastity,” so much as an opportunity to protect his country from the ravishes of a plague not unlike the Great Harlem Shake Disaster of 2013. He was obviously taking swift and decisive action, arresting the six men and women within hours of identifying them, to prevent contagion in a way that a host of other countries — many still suffering from #YOLO tattoos, planking, and lackluster Gangnam Style parodies — have not.
What better way to say, “Seriously, guys, this is some basic shit. Pharrell’s video ripped off Girl Walk, and I’m still not sure what it means to ‘feel like a room without a roof.’ Why don’t you try listening to this new Parquet Courts single, instead?” than by both incarcerating six young people who merely “wanted an excuse to be happy,” and making your country look decidedly foolish on the world stage?
I suppose Sajedinia could cave to his critics, and take a broader view. Rouhani certainly did so this past weekend, when he gave a speech touting the internet as a resource, saying that Iranians, “must recognize our citizen’s right to connect to the World Wide Web…Why are we so shaky? Why have we cowered in a corner, grabbing onto a shield and a wooden sword, lest we take a bullet in this culture war?”
After all, though many of us, like Sajedinia, would be perfectly happy to never hear “Happy” ever again, earplugs are always an option.