It’s hard to believe now, but in 1856, the United States and Iran entered into a Treaty of Commerce & Friendship, a term so benign, one can picture them signing it over Persian pastries and tea. Since then, the relationship has deteriorated. The character dynamics in Mean Girls can help us understand why.
In this analogy, think of Iran as Cady. It signed the Commerce & Friendship treaty because it thought of the United States as a Janis, an ally against Britain and Russia’s Regina George-like imperial power. But the United States was not Janis. Instead, the U.S. was jockeying to exploit Iran’s newly-valuable oil reserves in the same way Regina and the Plastics exploited Cady’s attractiveness. And neither Cady’s alliance with Janis nor Iran’s with the United States was powerful enough to resist the imperial forces.
By 1907, the rulers of the Qajar Dynasty entered into a short-sighted and disastrous treaty with Russia and Britain, not unlike Cady’s initiation into the Plastics. Iran became a de facto Russo-British colony – stripped of many of its natural assets – while Cady became Georgina’s supplicant, stripped of her natural intelligence, pretending to flunk math. The seeds of both Cady and Iran’s undoing were in these agreements.
In 1921, Reza Khan staged a British-led coup of the Qajar ruler, akin to Cady’s attempt to overthrow Regina. Two decades later, Reza Khan’s son, Reza Shah Pahlavi, took over and expanded his power just like Cady expanded her power by turning Gretchen and Karen against Regina. They both began believe their own hype. Reza Shah amended the Iranian constitution to give himself the sole power to dissolve parliament while Cady made her move on Aaron at the house party.
Lawmaker Mohammed Mosaddegh, our actual Janis, reclaimed and nationalized the Iranian oil industry from Britain in 1951, for which he was elected prime minister. Janis and Mossaddegh warned Cady and Reza Shah they were becoming that which they had disdained, but neither listened. A few years after Mossaddegh was elected prime minister, Reza Shah attempted to fire him in the same way Cady abandoned Janis.
This triggered mass protests and Reza Shah fled the country – but the C.I.A. staged a coup and installed a top general in Mosseddegh’s place until Rezah Shah could return to power. When he did, Rezah Shah created a powerful secret police called SAVAK that tracked the movement of all its citizens and quashed dissent like Regina’s gossip and Burn Book. Students at North Shore High School came to fear and loathe Regina just as Iranian citizens feared and loathed Reza Shah.
Everything came to a boil when the citizens rose up against Reza Shah, who was seen by many as a puppet of the U.S. and the UK. He was forced to flee amid intensifying unrest in early 1979. Likewise, all hell broke loose when Regina scattered pages of the Burn Book throughout the halls of North Shore High School.
As Reza Shah fled, exiled religious leader Ayatollah Khomeini returned to Iran and fomented the Iranian Revolution in February 1979, which turned Iran from a monarchy with a constitutional republic into a theocracy. He was virulently anti-American and regarded the United States as an unwelcome intruder in Iranian affairs.
He was furious the United States accepted the cancer-stricken Shah for treatment in October 1979 and, in retaliation, encouraged his followers (mainly Iranian students) to seize the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. They took all sixty-three employees hostage, demanding the U.S. return the Shah to Iran to stand trial as a war criminal. Instead, the Shah died in exile.
After the Iran Hostage Crisis, the once-close relationship between the United States and Iran was never the same. Perhaps because, like Cady and Regina, it was never based on mutual respect or trust.