TV's drug-taking yobs gain cult status in Iran

They are so popular that T-shirts and posters with the faces of prominent characters are being sold in Tehran's rambling bazaar, and a series of toys have been planned. The creator, the cartoonist Bahram Azimi, says they have even proved a success in Dubai and Iraq after being translated into Arabic.

With satirical takes on trendy young men experimenting with ecstasy pills and lowlife robbers casing a house, the humorous adverts have a become a must-see for viewers more used to dour religious sermons.

One pair of buffoons who feature prominently drive around pumping dance music from their small silver Peugeot, the wheels of choice for middle-class Tehrani young people. Their fashionably-trimmed sideburns, goatee beards and use of slang make them instantly recognisable.

At a party one of them takes ecstasy and collapses. He ends up on a stretcher while his friend sits next to him wailing: "What will I tell your mother?" Ecstasy use has risen in Iran, which already suffers from widespread heroin addiction. During the election, many people said they thought drug use among the young was one of the main problems the new government must address.

The adverts pay tribute to popular film genres too. In one, a man peeps through the blinds, a harsh ray of sunlight cutting across his face. In the street he can see two villains in a battered car watching the house. As he twirls, a phone to his ear, the theme tune to The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly makes him a virtual hero, facing down the bad guys with his call to the police.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently demanded the end of "decadent" Western music being played by state broadcasters. But these cartoons and other programmes show that the regime understands the limitations of fighting a cultural battle against what it calls "Westoxification."

At the end of each advert, a handsome policeman turns to the camera and gives a pep talk. His clean-cut image is in line with that promoted by Mohammed Baqer Qalibaf, the chief of police since 1999.

Mr Azimi says the police wanted him to show realistic, bad-mouthed characters, but he sometimes needed to convince them to go further. "They didn't really like our use of pop music at first, but we persuaded them that you needed that kind of music in the adverts or they would seem phoney."

* The Iranian government yesterday ordered the closure of the daily economic newspaper, Asia, and banned a planned women's publication, Nour-e Banovan, in the first media crackdown since President Ahmadinejad took office in August.