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  • Frames and Mirrors in Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis
  • Babak Elahi (bio)

Marjane Satrapi explains in an interview in Bitch magazine that

Today, it's important more than ever that people know: what is this "axis of evil"? You are completely reduced to a very abstract notion. But the 70 million people [of Iran] are human beings, they are not an abstract notion. They are individuals with life, love, hopes. Their life is worth the life of anybody else in the whole world.

(Wood 55)

Indeed, as Edward Said suggests in Culture and Imperialism, the writing of empire—in the literature of the colonizer—involves "the intellectual will to please power in public, to tell it what it wants to hear, to say to it that it could go ahead and kill, bomb, and destroy, since what would be being attacked was really negligible, brittle, with no relationship to books, ideas, cultures and no relationship either, it gently suggests, to real people" (298). This intellectual will to please power produces what Said, using the structuralist terms of Kenneth Burke, calls "frameworks of acceptance," a whole way of seeing the world that has "for decades in America" produced "a cultural war against the Arabs and Islam: appalling racist caricatures of Arabs and Muslims suggest that they are all either terrorists or sheikhs, and that the region is a large arid slum, fit only for profit or war" (301). Frameworks of acceptance, then, divide the abstraction of identity into polarities of good and evil, and it is to this kind of framing that Satrapi attempts to respond. While Satrapi wrote her comic-book memoir, Persepolis, before George W. Bush coined the phrase "axis of evil," she has expressed in a number of interviews1 as well as in the introduction to Persepolis that she wrote her book in response to one-dimensional representations of Iran as a terrorist nation. In response to this ideological framing of Iran, Satrapi reframes its [End Page 312] people as "individuals with life, love, hopes." Since Satrapi works in the graphic novel form, we might consider the ways in which frameworks of acceptance work in relation to the literal pictorial framing of the comic art panel. In what follows, I want to connect social science theories of framing with sequential-art theories of framing, and to subject both of these to critical theoretical models of ideological interpellation as a frame structure in order to understand how Satrapi's book reframes Iran and reconstructs Iranian subjectivity. Satrapi uses the frame of the comic panel to redirect the gaze of Western European and North American readers toward the individual life and the complex identity of her own narrative and autobiographical persona. At the heart of this process of reframing is Satrapi's use of mirrors as a motif that doubly frames the self and allows for a deconstruction and reconstruction of Iranians as individuals who matter.


Social scientists Alex Mintz and Steven B. Redd claim that political leaders set foreign policy agendas through various forms of framing, including what they call thematic and sequential framing. They give examples such as Ronald Reagan's framing of the Soviet Union as the "Evil Empire," George H. W. Bush's framing of Saddam Hussein as Hitler, and the framing of the war in Afghanistan (by Laura Bush and Donald Rumsfeld) as the liberation of the women of Afghanistan. We may wish to add to Mintz and Redd's list something they do not mention: George W. Bush's framing of Iraq, Iran, and Korea within the rhetorical structure of "the axis of evil." Mintz and Redd call this political marketing in which a potentially unacceptable course of action—invading Iraq, for example—is repeatedly framed through the same rhetorical structure before, during, and after the course of action is taken. Though Mintz and Redd don't mention them in their study, we might recall phrases such as "WMD" and the "axis of evil" as frames used to guide popular thinking and policy decisions with regard to Iraq.

Another point I would add to Mintz and Redd's analysis is that this process of framing takes an issue out of the flow of...


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pp. 312-325
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