Persian advice, current events show has devoted following
Written By Bob Strauss, Staff Writer for LA.com
Posted: 02/21/2012 08:42:30 PM PST – Link to Original Article
“It’s really just two moms talking” is how Shahrzad Sepanlou describes the advice show she co-hosts with Dr. Nelly Farnoody-Zahiri for a Tarzana-based Persian TV network.
But really the two Encino residents’ show, “Mom Talk L.A.” is much more than that. Broadcast in Farsi since it launched last fall, the show has gained a devoted following among Iranian mothers in the U.S. and worldwide who are eager for parenting advice in their native tongue.
The show on the San Fernando Valley-based satellite American Farsi Network, also known as Tasvir-E-Iran, is beamed to viewers throughout North America, Europe and Iran. They are also taking initial steps toward English-language podcasts and radio broadcasts.
Their discussions, they feel, transcend borders, much like their backgrounds do.
“Yes, we are two Persian-American women,” said Farnoody-Zahiri, a child psychologist who is pioneering ways to meld her practice with the growing, worldwide Peace Learning movement. “But we’re obviously going to change content according to who our audience is.”
The show also tackles broader topics, notes Sepanlou, a singer-songwriter with a social activist bent.
“For example, our last show was about Whitney Houston,” Sepanlou added. “We try to start by bringing in current events, then somehow relate it to parenthood and children and learning how to deal with stuff.”
The shows are part of a larger effort by Farnoody-Zahiri to spread her ideas about teaching children from a very early age to be more respectful and understanding of others.
These include parental emphasis on her “Five Cs” – compassion, communication, culture, conservation and cooperation – from the initial attachment stage of development. She’s writing a book about it and also hopes the concepts can be integrated into toys and games, and spread through shows like hers and child-consumed media.
“It just really hit me that you can plant the seeds of peace and bring this Peace Learning home on a really grass-roots level,” Farnoody-Zahiri said.
The Peace Learning philosophy, as its name implies, calls for teaching peaceful co-existence and conflict resolution.
The women first met backstage at a Persian TV show some years ago, but didn’t really connect until last year when their children started going to Brentwood Presbyterian Church Preschool together.
Friends who heard their conversations suggested that others may want to hear them, too, and they took that idea to the network in fall 2011.
“They talk about kids, and sometimes about adults also, life’s challenges and other psychology things,” said Amir Mirchi, general manager of American Farsi Network. “A lot of callers wanted this kind of show, one that presented new ideas.”
While precise ratings measurements aren’t available, Mirchi estimates the network overall has a viewership of about 1 million worldwide, including some 700,000 in Iran, in addition to viewers in North America and Europe. “Mom Talk” he estimates, probably captures about 10 percent of the network’s overall audience.
Farnoody-Zahiri said the real inspiration for all of this was having her own three, still preschool-aged children.
“I’ve got twins, hmm, this is like a human laboratory,” Farnoody-Zahiri said with a sly grin.
Her co-host may joke but Sepanlou, who has seven- and three-year-old daughters, seemed a bit awed by how things worked in the doctor’s home.
“It is amazing just to watch Nelly’s daily interactions with her kids,” Sepanlou said. “There is a certain respect that she gives her kids, and she speaks to them as though they’re adults.
“That is the thing that makes the strongest impact on me, and I believe it teaches children that you give respect to other people regardless of how old they are. That’s really beautiful, and I’m actually trying to be that way with my children, much more than before.”
While many of their ideas – and future ambitions – are universally applicable, Farnoody-Zahiri and Sepanlou acknowledged that much of what they’re doing now has special resonance in Persian communities here and elsewhere.
“There is a theory that Iran is a traumatized nation, so we are all kind of suffering collectively from post-traumatic stress disorder,” Sepanlou said. “So we need to be extra aware of how we treat others.
Though born in Emporia, Kan. to two Persian psychology Ph.Ds, Farnoody-Zahiri returned to Iran with her parents at the age of six, shortly before the shah was overthrown by the Islamic Revolution. The family didn’t have much of a future in the oppressive theocracy that followed – her mom was a women’s rights activist – and they came back stateside shortly before Nelly reached adolescence.
Sepanlou emigrated from Iran around age 12 with her family to Hacienda Heights in the mid-1980s. She studied sociology at UCLA, but the music career took off right after graduation.
Both women, though nonreligious and no fans of the current Tehran regime, are deeply concerned that heightened tensions over Iran’s nuclear program may lead to war.
“We’ve had many conversations about that, especially in this past year,” Farnoody-Zahiri admitted. “There’s a sense of urgency, we are at a very critical time in history. It’s a complicated situation. On one hand, the people of Iran have always been peace-loving. That hasn’t changed.”
“They just haven’t been represented well,” Sepanlou interjected. “They’re being represented by a regime that’s just unreasonable. A lot of Americans equate Iranians with the ruling class, but that’s just not correct. The average person there, they are truly good people. And they want peace, they don’t want bloodshed, they don’t want to live in this state of turmoil.”
Could Peace Learning possibly alleviate the tension? Her arguably idealistic theories notwithstanding, when it comes to that subject, Farnoody-Zahiri is a stone realist.
“Extremists will always be extremists,” the psychologist said. “Our audience are not the extremists, we are targeting the families that are more moderate, more modernized, more flexible. They’re willing to engage.”
“If we had enough programs like this,” Sepanlou mused, “if maybe the parents in the ruling class in Iran right now were talking about this, maybe the next generation would be different.
“Of course, this applies to all countries.”