Look. We need to have a talk about the Iron Sheik.
Hossein Khosrow Ali Vaziri is practically more popular right now in 2014 than he ever was at his professional peak in the 80s. That's when he rose to B-level celebrity prominence as the Iron Sheik, a mid-card villain milking cartoonish Cold War anxieties for the xenophobic soap opera that was the nascent WWF. He'd come out to a chorus of boos, snarl into a microphone about the superiority of Iran and the USSR, an all-American certified Good Guy would come out to kick his ass, big pop, U-S-A chant, and the crowd in Peoria would head home happy. Being a heel was his business, and business was good.
He was near the top of the industry for a short time, but ultimately the shelf life of most pro wrestling careers - especially for gimmick characters - is relatively short. Like a long list of other wrestlers, the Sheik's career fizzled in a slow burn of injuries, booze, and - in a bit of bad luck for his gimmick - the changing attitudes of audiences in a post-Cold War, post-Ayatollah world.
Now, in your typical pro wrestler story, this is usually the part where we fade to black and reveal the In Memory titlecard. Instead, not only is the Sheik still alive against all odds, he's catapulted himself into a whole new branch of internet infamy with a new generation of fans probably too young to remember the Iran hostage crisis that sparked his heel character's gimmick.
Today, it seems you can't swing a dead cat on the internet without hitting an interview, promotion, or carefully-cultivated controversial tweet from the 74-year-old. Ever since his retirement from the ring – and enough physical pain, heartache, and narcotics to last several lifetimes – Vaziri has carved out a second career for himself as America's Outspoken, Insane, Drunk Persian Uncle.
And it's all a big, stupid lie.
We'll skip the wrestling accomplishments part of the biography for now, and the even-more-interesting stuff that preceded that - being a bodyguard for the Shah, fleeing Iran, competing in the Olympics (but never winning a medal, despite his boasts to the contrary) - and skip ahead to 2003. That's when the Iron Sheik story gets tragic.
Already a down-and-out crack addict, and in too much chronic pain to be able to subsidize much income with cursory in-ring appearances at indie shows like most washed-up wrestlers (two botched knee surgeries had left his body in constant agony), the unthinkable happened: Vaziri's eldest daughter was murdered by her boyfriend.
He was devastated. This was truly rock bottom for the Sheik. He was once a sought-after celebrity with his own merchandise and action figures and Saturday morning cartoons, a hulking strongman who could grab a microphone and enrage a sold-out arena full of Texans to boo and hiss and take the occasional swing at him from over the barricades. Now he was a grieving, lonely drug addict in constant pain, spouting his out-of-date Soviet-sympathizer catchphrases at baseball card conventions to make ends meet.
And like moths to a flame, people started getting closer to the trainwreck.
He first got back into the spotlight amongst a certain crowd of online wrestling fans in the mid-00s after a series of "shoot" interviews with wrestling websites found Vaziri, likely drunk and broke and fucked up on pain pills, mouthing off against myriad real and imagined enemies. Hulk Hogan, Ultimate Warrior, Brian Blair, opponents he faced well over two decades ago – he raged at them with profane spittle-flecked outbursts, with particular fondness for the phrases "cheap Jew", "faggot", and "fuck his ass and make him humble". He still seemed as amped-up and in-character as he ever was at his WWF heel peak, and fans loved it.
This indie buzz led to a string of unhinged Howard Stern appearances, and to mobs of trainwreck-craving fans and interviewers goading him into being more profane, more racist, more crazy.
Here's a video of him from 2007, slumming it at an indie show, when his car is surrounded by fans of his then-recent shoot videos. He's a broken-down, rambling, angry drunk, refusing to get out of his car unless they pay him his promised $10 and a bottle of beer. Instead, he's surrounded by a bunch of giddy fuckwits trying to goad him into saying offensive things on camera. (The whole video's pretty stupid and sad, but just skip to 2:42 or 3:57 for representative samples of some jackass trying to get the Sheik to say racist shit about black people.) The Iron Sheik's old wrestling gimmick was dead, and this was his new gimmick: angry old coot saying offensive things for your amusement. "Shit My Sheik Says".
We all have a special fondness for celebrity breakdowns, and a lot of us watched with glee as this semi-obscure-80s-reference of a man would continue to pop up like a gopher. He became a staple of your basic Z-Man & The FartBoy Morning Zoo Crew-type radio show across the continent, calling in as a guest and fuming with characteristic heel rage as he listed off the various retired wrestlers he'd like to fuck up with a camel clutch. That's when things really started to blow up.
THE IRON TWEETS
The Iron Sheik's real calling turned out to be Twitter, where his verified account @the_ironsheik was launched in 2009. There, unfiltered, he amassed an army of followers who hung onto his every irreverent, broken-English tweet. Catchphrases are slathered on liberally, grammar is mangled, and the pop culture topics of the day are tackled, like the Buzzfeed homepage with more threats of sodomy.
"Fuck the Miley Cyrus I fuck her ass break her back make her humble."
"Fuck the Donald Sterling his balls smaller than the raisins he like to fuck the dead dog."
"Rob Ford you respect the legend or go fuck yourself cheeseburger tits jabroni"
It's like a Mad Libs game, where you add today's most virally-trending pop culture story, and the rest fills itself in from a wordbank of ESL catchphrases about penises and fucking.
And it's hilarious! Well, it might be, if it were actually a drunk, unfiltered 74-year-old Persian pro wrestler saying any of this.
Instead, it's all a sad, weird sham being run by a couple of douchebaggy media hucksters.
Let's step back for a second and acknowledge a few things. First of all, it's abundantly clear that the Iron Sheik doesn't actually sit down and write his own tweets. Based on interview footage, he's a befuddled old man who mainly gets around in a wheelchair or with a cane these days. And yet he has an extensive personally-cultivated presence on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, where he expertly uses pop culture topics popular with an 18-49 demographic and incorporates trending hashtags for maximum visibility, occasionally having his tweets show up as being sourced from a Blackberry (the Sheik's arthritic, D.T.-addled old hands look like they can barely dial a phone, let alone type on little Blackberry keys.) Let's at least get that out of the way: the Iron Sheik isn't actually at the wheel of any of his accounts.
That takes us to another point: the Sheik seems to have perfect spelling on Twitter, and knows exactly how to embed images and shorten links and use appropriate hashtags and retweets like a veteran social media junkie, and yet continues to type with that signature Tarzan-like "I the Iron Sheik, you the jabroni!" sentence structure. It's a very cartoony representation of broken English. It reads like an Iron Sheik parody account, some kid's idea of what the Iron Sheik might be thinking right now. And that's because it essentially is.
According to myriad sources, the entire account is written by the Iron Sheik's very hands-on managers, the Magen brothers.
Now, let's not pretend that it's shocking for someone else to tweet on behalf of a celebrity's account. It's a pretty common practice: a lot of celebrities have PR managers to handle their social media. Hell, Barack Obama doesn't write most of his own tweets. The difference is, it doesn't seem the Iron Sheik even consents to a lot of the shit that's being sent out under his name - the self-promotion, the namedropping, the hashtag hijacking, the shit-talking against swarms of athletes and celebrities, the attention-thirsty adolescence of it all. He's just a confused old man being trotted out as a prop by a couple of huckster media promoters putting words in his mouth as a promotional tool.
MEET THE MAGENS
The first thing you'll inevitably hear about Page Magen and Jian Magen, the pair of Iranian Jewish twin brothers who manage (and, evidently, create all online content for) the Iron Sheik, may be the most attention-grabbing: the Magen brothers are the Bar Mitzvah Kings of Toronto.
Now, "Kings" is not a term I use lightly. In their full-time job as entertainment promoters (as well as a number of other entrepreneurial ventures: some side work in the grown-up club promotion business, producing their Sheik documentary, dabbling in amateur comedy, an upstart sandwich shop business) the Magen brothers have primarily made a name for themselves off of 13-year-old Jewish boys in the Toronto area on the cusp of becoming men. Their entertainment company, Magen Boys Entertainment, is the top name when it comes to organizing Toronto-area Bar Mitzvah parties.
If you're a parent in an well-heeled, predominantly-Jewish suburb in the Greater Toronto area (say North York, or Richmond Hill, or Forest Hill, home to good Jewish-Canadian mensches ranging from Howard Shore to Neve Campbell to Drake) and you're looking to spend upwards of six figures on an elaborate Bar/Bat Mitzvah for your teenager, the Magens are the ones you want to seek out. And from the sounds of it, they'll bring the motherfucking party. Strobe lights, fog machines, back-up dancers, oversized novelty sunglasses, Nickelodeon-style pratfalls and prop comedy - they put together a pretty memorable night for middle schoolers. The Magen twins seem like they were born with a knack for constant hustling and self-promotion, and they've definitely earned their dough in the Bar Mitzvah game.
This is where an interesting wrinkle comes into play. The Magen twins, on top of being Bar Mitzvah magnates, have also been lifelong friends of the Iron Sheik through family connections. Their father played ping pong with the Sheik back in Iran, and as kids, the Sheik and other popular wrestlers of the day would regularly visit the Magens' home in Toronto. (Some online accounts list the Iron Sheik as being the Magen brothers' uncle, but that seems to be more of an honourary title than a biological one.)
In 2006, the Magens, now all grown-up and establishing themselves in the lucrative entertainment promotion business, stepped in to start managing the career of their old family friend, the Iron Sheik. (Some accounts say that their professional relationships goes back to 1994, but 2006 seems to be the year that they really started using the Sheik as a money-making commodity.)
The rest is history. The relentless tweets, the blog interviews, the branding exercises, hawking Iron Sheik t-shirts, the documentary about the Sheik that they crowd-funded on Indiegogo. Everything that you've heard about the Iron Sheik since 2006 has had the Magen Boys' fingerprints on it.
Now, the question becomes: is the Iron Sheik even aware of what the hell's going on when one of the brothers signs in to @the_ironsheik and writes a tweet? If Page Magen just wants to write some lame pop culture joke about the NFL draft he's watching, but wants to make it look like it comes from a former wrestling icon in his 70s so that it gets 2,300 retweets, does he actually get on the phone and let the Sheik, likely napping at his home in Atlanta, know about it before he hits "Tweet"? Well, all signs point to no.
In 2012, with his Twitter account skyrocketing in popularity and websites tripping over themselves to book an interview with the "hilariously outspoken" Iron Sheik, he was booked to speak on a panel about social media. He looks utterly uncomfortable. Clearly, he has no idea what the fuck he's doing on a panel about social media as an elderly man with only a hazy understanding of what a Twitter is. He has to say something. He grabs the mic and makes his confession: his English is too poor to have any sort of Twitter account, but his young agent - and he gestures to Page Magen, sitting to his left - does all of his writing for him.
Again in 2012, he tells a fan website in no uncertain terms: "I don't have Facebook, I don't have Twitter."
Meanwhile, "the Iron Sheik" was being interviewed about his Twitter stardom by publications ranging from NBC (they've removed all of their London 2012 articles, but here's an archived version - note the shoutouts to the Magens and their shirt site) to Forbes (again, note the large plug devoted to the Magens and a link to their website) to Vice (where we get to see an embedded video of the Magens plugging their crowd-funded Sheik documentary, plus a photo of the boys and a generous sprinkling of quotes about them in the interview) to AskMen (where we're supposed to believe a 74-year-old is getting riled up over Zach Braff and Chance The Rapper) to... Deadspin? (complete with plugs for the Magen brothers' t-shirt site, their Twitter, and their documentary.)
It's alarming how many of these articles mention Page or Jian Magen by name, as if it was a term of the interview – "e-mail us the questions, we'll e-mail you back the answers from the Sheik, and just make sure to plug the Magen Boys." Have you ever seen that for any other interview? "Here's our interview with Tom Hanks, whose agent, by the way, is so-and-so?"
It's also worth noting that the Iron Sheik's official Twitter account is constantly thanking the Magens for being the Sheik's "intelligent Jew" agents, or promoting their business endeavours, or retweeting jokes tweeted by the brothers (they're trying to get into the standup comedy business, naturally) to get them broadcast out to a larger audience. It's the Magens shamelessly self-promoting, while bragging about how great they are, through the mouth of a former wrestling icon and family friend.
There's also a constant stream of starfucking @-mentions where the Magens-as-the-Sheik give a shoutout to every celebrity under the sun, hoping it will net them a 4-way meet & greet where they can drag out the Sheik's body like a prop while the brothers take photos with the celeb. The whole sad affair is like some sort of creepy, self-indulgent form of Twitter-roleplaying.
Are the Magens even asking the Sheik for input before they answer some blog interviewer's question about Selena Gomez? Considering that they already ghost-write all of his tweets, and all of "the Sheik's" print interviews are written in that same tone, very dissimilar to the Sheik's actual spoken tone, you start to ask questions. It seems that when the Magens provide the canned answers to an interviewer's questions, they either completely write them themselves in the style of what the Sheik might say complete with all of the Twitter catchphrases and Balki-like sentence structure, or they heavily-edit the answers based on some egging-on and some grunts of approval or disapproval from their client. At that point, they're barely better than the fans in the earlier video from 2007 who were goading the Sheik into saying racist shit. "Hey Sheik, say something about black people for my video!" "Hey Sheik, say something outrageous and offensive about Selena Gomez for this interview!"
If you're a reporter looking at the Iron Sheik's social media presence, everything seems to be on the up-and-up. He's got the blue Verified checkmark from Twitter, so it must be him sitting down and saying all of these outrageous things, right? Verification rules are pretty flimsy, though. To the left is the Iron Sheik's verification photo to prove that he "runs" his official MySpace page (wearing a Magen Boys hoodie, natch.) He looks like a bewildered hostage held in a basement, being asked to hold something up for reasons he doesn't fully understand. The more you see of the Sheik these days, the more you get the impression that everything coming out of his mouth is first whispered in his ear by his agents.
At best, the Iron Sheik's Twitter is a shitty parody account run by shitty Bar Mitzvah promoters putting words into their old family's friends mouth about racism and cock sizes and lazy pop culture-hijacking and a bunch of other tired, adolescent shit. (Who better to write tweets that are funniest to 13-year-old boys than a pair of promoters whose full-time job is entertaining 13-year-old boys?) At worst, it all seems like it's verging on elderly abuse.
While I'm sure the Sheik appreciates the attention and money that his newfound rise to prominence has earned - and he does seem genuinely fond of the Magens, like his adopted nephews, for all of the work they've put into resurrecting him into the spotlight - it doesn't mean that any of this is good, or worthy of our attention, or a thing.
Here's all I ask. The next time you see something on the internet promoting something new and outrageous that the Iron Sheik has said, you can either enable the shittiness, or just look away.
So what? Can't we just be happy that the Sheik's making money? Sure, in the purest sense, this is all good news for the Sheik. He's got money and fame now, which is pretty good considering his past and his health. This isn't meant to denigrate the Sheik. Here's all I want: to get people to stop pretending that the Iron Sheik's Twitter account is somehow good or valuable or funny or worth our attention, and to get people to stop pretending that the Iron Sheik is actually saying any of this. (And also, to admit that the Magens are unfunny jerkoffs taking advantage of their situation for personal gain.) We don't need to write and read actual news articles over "what outspoken Twitter personality the Iron Sheik said THIS time!" It's a shitty fake account for idiots.
I know someone else writes it, but I still think his Twitter account's hilarious! Really? Do you think all of those fake roleplaying accounts that just say stupid, trend-humping shit in the guise of a celebrity are hilarious?
Hell yeah, I love those. I follow like 4 Will Ferrell parody accounts. I guess it's unfair to make fun of you, since you are literally 12 years old. But hey, if you're Jewish and in the Toronto area and your parents are looking for someone to organize your Bar Mitzvah, I know of some promoters you can call.