Like all great ideological revolutions, the Iranian one has relied on every possible medium to get its message across: political speeches, print and electronic media, school books, movies, songs, poems, slogans, graffiti, murals, posters, banners, stamps, banknotes, coins, calendars, and even chewing-gum wrappers. Staging a Revolution examines these media for "the massive orchestration of public myths and collective symbols" in the making of the Islamic Revolution and the 1980-88 war with Iraq.
Arguing that "this was primarily a pictorial revolution," Chelkowski and Dabashi devote much of their study of the "art of persuasion" to the visual archive at their disposal, what they humorously dub the "Museum of Furious Art." And furious it is, with a remarkable portion of the pictures dripping with martyrs' blood or the corpses of the American, Israeli, and Iraqi enemies. Specific chapters deal with the different methods of propaganda; perhaps the most interesting are those dealing with calendars and with children's activities. One picture shows a small girl in black chador, cradling a – presumably fake – Schmeisser machine gun while sucking on a pacifier. Or this: a poster of Ayatollah Khomeini surrounded by cherubim turns out to be based on a painting of the Virgin Mary by the Spanish religious painter Bartolemé Estéban Murillo (1617-82).
This ensemble of evidence is both stunning and depressing; what a catalogue the authors have assembled of esthetic depravity and political falsification. The text is useful, if a bit lengthy. The ambitious visual presentation, though designed by an award-winning artist, is not a great success. Are the montages revolutionary posters or the designers' handiwork? The many type faces, the use of italics, bold, and small capitals, confuses. Fraktur type irrelevantly brings Germany to mind. But these are quibbles; the book is a stunner.