The killing of Neda Agha-Soltan during the election turmoil in Iran has become an instant semiotic full of rage and mortal memeing.  Neda’s bloody death mask is now the face of hope for repressed Iranian citizens looking for a way out of the morass of religious repression.

It was hot in the car, so the young woman and her singing instructor got out for a breath of fresh air on a quiet side street not far from the anti-government protests they had ventured out to attend. A gunshot rang out, and the woman, Neda Agha-Soltan, fell to the ground. “It burnt me,” she said before she died.

The bloody video of her death on Saturday -circulated in Iran and around the world — has made Ms. Agha-Soltan, a 26-year-old whom her relatives said was not political, an instant symbol of the anti-government movement. Her death is stirring wide outrage in a society that is infused with the culture of martyrdom — although the word itself has become discredited because the government has pointed to the martyrs’ death of Iranian soldiers to justify repressive measures.

Here is that YouTube video of Neda’s incredible death. Please don’t watch the video if you are weak of heart, underage, or uncomfortable seeing life drain from the eyes:

Now Neda is the semiotic for the necessary and progressive human compulsion to be free — but can a bloody visage be the leading image for a political movement?

In America, it seems, the bleeding meme of Neda’s anguished death is too visceral to promote on public pages, so a sanitization of her reality seeps and congeals, just like her blood, into the crevices of what really happened and what Neda needs to meme in the higher political perspective.

In today’s newspapers, Neda has already been sanitized for the greater, populist, good the world over.  Notice in the cartoon below how the blood is missing from her most memorable image?  If Neda isn’t her blood; then what was she?

Another editorial cartoonist this morning also took on the celebration of the memeingful Neda semiotic, but, here too, her beautiful face is no longer bloody and she has “become” Iran itself instead of herself.  We know this because the artist wrote “Iran” across her chest in case we missed the obvious point.

The greatest mangling of the bloody Neda semiotic also appeared in today’s spasm of editorial cartoons.  As you can see, Neda is now a man.  His face is turned away from us so we can’t see it’s really not Neda.  In case we missed the point, this artist has also written “Iran” across the dead body to embolden the obvious, over-reaching, semiotic.

Does Neda’s death belong to Iran or is she now part of the rest of the world?

Are the real terms of her death too harsh and too wrenching to be the foundation of a modern political movement?

Must we remove the blood and gender and the surprise of a sniper’s bullet from Neda in order to celebrate what her life will mean to us instead of what she meant to her family and friends?

Will we remember Neda for the blood she shed; or for the bloodshed she helped stop?


  1. It is a high crime that she was killed for her protest – I think that very likely, she will become an increasing icon of the political movement to change the government in Iran.

    Must we remove the blood and gender and the surprise of a sniper’s bullet from Neda in order to celebrate what her life will mean to us instead of what she meant to her family and friends?

    Not at all. I think the blood / gender / surprise need more of a mention so people don’t forget who she was and what she did for us all.

  2. It is alarming, Gordon, to read reports that in some conservative religious nations Neda cannot be the face of the revolution because she was a woman — and that men will not rise to defend the honor of a fallen woman as much as they would for a child or a man.
    Neda, without her blood and gender, is meaningless.

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