This week, Iran told Barbie, "We have to talk." It's not an all-out Dear John situation, but the blonde dolly may need to tread lightly in the country. She's not the only one: Spider-Man, Batman and Harry Potter are already on the clerical watch list. Yep, the country that brought you carpets, backgammon, ethanol, windmills and carrots—one that until the Islamic Revolution in 1979 was the most progressive states in the Islamic world—is considering a Barbie Ban. When I saw that, I wondered what other products had been branded off limits, and which gadgets were left for the Barbie-less boys and girls to play with. Turns out, the mullahs might not have their priorities straight.
The following objects are no-nos:
• Blogger, Orkut and Facebook The first of these surprises me, as Iran has the fourth largest community of bloggers in the world—even Ahmadinejad has one. (His latest entry reads "My package from Amazon arrived today—although it took its satanic time. Cancelled cabinet meeting and the Ayatollah and I hit the games room all morning. GTA IV FTW." ) Anyone who wants to start one up has to inform the authorities, however.
• Celebrity magazines "Using photos of artists, especially foreign corrupt film stars, as instruments to arouse desire, publishing details about their decadent private lives, propagating medicines without authorisation, promoting superstitions," goes the explanation.
• Boots and hats Only when worn by women, although I suspect that the Village People's steel toe-caps and leather cap might not make it past the "Down With This Sort of Thing" crew.
• Neckties Although they're not averse to slipping a length of rope around miscreants' necks, I guess a skinny number with piano keys down the front is just taking it too far.
• Breasts on mannequins Some shop windows display clothes on showroom dummies with mastectomies that look like they've been done with an ax and covered with flesh-coloured duct tape. Yeah, lose that image from your brain now.
• Western music The artist worst hit is, apparently, Kenny G, so for that let me just say Viva la Revolución!
What, no gadgets banned? Wrong. camera phones are off limits. High-speed internet, too. The reckoning is that denying these items will allow citizens to remain in a state of moral purity. The state has even invested in US-built software that can scan images and files sent by phone to ensure that the morals of its citizens remain pure. And, in a way, they've got a point. Can you remember life before broadband? Yeah, it wasn't pretty—half an hour to open a single hi-res image. Porn traditionalists who like basic missionary sex must have been dying as they strained to see what was going on below the protagonists' expressions of ecstasy as the pic revealed itself, millimeter by agonising millimeter. Not quite the skin smorgasbord Westerners now enjoy.
Nuclear reactors aside, what does Iranian gadget freak get to play with? LG, apparently. The Korean electronics company is big in Iran, which gave it the green light last year to produce five mobile phone handsets in collaboration with an Iranian manufacturer. LG stuff is advertised all over the place. Switch on the (silicone-free) Iranian music channel and you'll find the commercial breaks clogged up with plugs for LG's RoboKing robotic vacuum cleaner.
Whoah there! So, Barbie is about to be sacked, but autonomous vacuum cleaners are totally fine? Mullahs! Ahmadinejad! Do you not realise what you are doing? Now, I'm no great defender of Barbie (as a kid, I read war comics, climbed trees and played Doctors & Nurses) but these robot vacuum cleaners may be more of a threat than the blonde, pneumatic doll. In the grand scheme of things, I would think Barbie is a more traditional symbol of womanhood than a robotic floor cleaner that does the drudgery of housework, freeing the ladies of the house to dream of getting jobs, drivers licenses and other sorts of trouble. Are you sure you've got the correct target?