‘Persepolis’ creator Marjane Satrapi talks culture, religion and conservatism at the Phil

Clare Martin gives us an insight into the wise words of graphic novelist Marjane Satrapi, who spoke at the Phil yesterday afternoon upon receiving a Gold Medal of Honorary Patronage


Yesterday afternoon, the University Philosophical society awarded Iranian graphic novelist and film director Marjane Satrapi with the Gold Medal of Honorary Patronage. Satrapi is best known for writing and illustrating the award-winning comic book (she prefers this term to “graphic novel”, which she says sounds pornographic) ‘Persepolis’. The novel has since been translated into several languages and was made into an Oscar-winning film. Satrapi has also directed films such as ‘Chicken with Plums’ and ‘The Voices’.

Phil President Matthew Nuding asked her if she had any wise words to impart upon receiving the honor. Satrapi quipped, “If I was a very wise person I would not be so excited to get a gold medal.”

Satrapi’s words were most definitely wise, despite her tendency to be self-deprecating and smatter her sentences with curses. She explained that it was down to the fact that she learned English primarily through film and in Irish pubs in Paris.

She spoke about the Iranian Revolution and how she witnessed the executions and imprisonment of many of her leftist friends and families at the hands of religious fundamentalists. Throughout the talk Satrapi warned of the dangers of religious fanaticism and conservatism like those she experienced in her childhood.

She explained how when she was a teenager her parents sent her to Austria for fear that her rebellious ways could land her in trouble with the authorities. Satrapi told  the audience how she cut up her veil when she arrived in Europe, and resolved to “always have the wind blowing in [her] hair”. She also noted that she respects the right for veiled women to cover their heads as long as it is their own decision.

Nuding asked her about the cultural differences and “culture-shock” she has experienced between her native Iran and the western countries in which she has spent her adulthood.

“I hate the word shock of the culture”, Satrapi retorted. She reminded everyone of the “ring of culture”, how our fairytales and stories are the same across the world with different names, and how our cultural figures influence each other in a cyclical manner.

Satrapi warned against ignorance whilst considering the differences between cultures, stating, “Ignorance has this virtue that makes you think you are intelligent.”

Her advice to create real change in the world (because she believes her book made no difference), is simple; “If we want to survive, we have to be nicer.” To Satrapi, change starts with ourselves.

At the end of the lecture, she promptly left the room to go have a smoke on the steps of the GMB.