Monocolumn

A daily bulletin of news & opinion

23 September 2013

It’s hard to be different. To ignore precedent. To break the pattern. To be honest. We should talk about Iran but let’s start at London Fashion Week.

I was invited to some very nice shows last week but there’s one scene that always makes you smile. As the models return en masse for one final haughty yet amazing sweep of the runway, the designer is expected to appear from behind the scenes to take a bow. And so he/she should. But they are also expected to wear a “please don’t look at me, just my work” humble smile and then disappear again all within a few fashionable seconds. It’s just what’s expected.

Or go to a theatre and as the final curtain falls, the audience jumps to their feet in hand-numbing applause. The actors need barely get their lines out these days for the punters to do a performing seal pose. Why? It’s just what happens – both watcher and watched know what to do, so why bother breaking the unwritten rules?

Or how about when a gig finishes and you’d like to get home but you know there’s a contract that involves you cheering for three more songs and the band pretending that they are surprised. It’s what we do. It’s human instinct.

So what happens in more important circumstances where the expectations and pre-judgements are even more entrenched?

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran has been breaking the mould in the past few days. He’s aided the release of political prisoners from Iranian jails, he’s said that Iran will never build nuclear weapons and he’s said (well, his people have said) that he would be agreeable to a meeting with President Barack Obama when he heads to the UN this week. The last meeting between a US and an Iranian leader was when President Jimmy Carter met the Shah.

The White House’s response has been described as “measured”. That’s code for they are not quite sure how to behave, or what this all means. This isn’t what they’ve been signed up to for decades! This isn’t what they had planned. They almost don’t have the language to convey their thoughts.

Sure, Rouhani may prove a flake, or deceitful, or be outwitted at home by hawks in the state but perhaps he’s for real. And then what would happen? Both men are probably capable of changing track but will they be able to bring their people with them? I don’t read Farsi but any survey of US columnists and talking heads already reveals how few are able to change position or even entertain the idea of a different relationship.

Yet if both men can somehow break with precedent, not do what’s expected of them, then perhaps we will all be able to leave this seemingly endless show. And then Rouhani and Obama should definitely linger to take a big bow.

Andrew Tuck is editor of Monocle.

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