This holiday season, my wife indulged one of my lowbrow habits by gifting me with a 3-DVD collection of pro-wrestling highlights from the 1980s, entitled The Best of Saturday Night’s Main Event. If you are casually familiar with wrasslin’, you know that hokey patriotism is one of the script writers’ favorite ways of riling up the crowd. Two of the great villains who riled up the crowd back then were Nikolai Volkoff and his partner, the Iron Sheik.
One of the great inside jokes of pro-wrestling was that Volkoff was played by Yugoslav defector Josip Peruzovic, while the Sheik was played by Hossein Khosrow, who apparently served as one of the Shah’s bodyguards before emigrating to the United States.
Something I just noticed while watching my new DVDs is that the massive Iranian flag the Sheik carried with him to the ring was not a the flag of revolutionary Iran, but the imperial flag of the Shah’s Pahlavi dynasty — not that anyone noticed, except perhaps some viewers in Tehran.
Something else that occurred to me just now is the ridiculousness of the entire premise that a Soviet wrestler and his Iranian counterpart would get along so well. Lest we forget, revolutionary theology declared that the Soviet Union was the Little Satan while the United States was the Great one. However, the Sheik would grab the microphone before almost all of his matches and yell out, “Russia number one! Iran number one! America, [spitting noise]!”
As a scholar of international relations, I should probably be horrified at this dangerous lack of nuance and realism. As a nine-year old, I thought it was the greatest thing in the world.
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