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A round of Cards Against Iranians, Syrians et plus
Participants in a round of Cards Against Iranians, Syrians, et plus. Photo by Hiroshi Clark.

- By RFKarimi

I designed Cards Against Iranians, Syrians, Iraqis, Somalis, Yemenis, Libyans, Afghanis, Sudanese, Chadians, North Koreans, & Venezuelans (CAISISYLASCNK&V) as an expansion pack for Cards Against Humanity (CAH) that uses the game’s system as foundation to critique President Trump’s Muslim Ban. As an Iranian-Guatemalan American who remembers the CIA creating a list for Iranians in ‘79 and the Patriot Act registrations, the institutionalization of fear-mongering hits a sore point. There’s no mistaking that both France and the US have a history of this — in relation to transgressive acts from Al Qaeda and Daesh and other groups - that led to laws that affect families not related to these political organizations.

I chose CAH for its popularity; the game made my most anti-racist friends feel “free” to be as offensive as possible. CAH’s cards and rules set the tone for snarkiness, irreverence. The idea of being as offensive as possible to win a black card symbolize for me the veiled prejudices within the game’s system and spoke to me as source for satire.

The playtests for the game supported my hypothesis: if I challenge an audience to be as offensive as possible towards these countries, could they do it? Their failure or success in playing the game could lead to a healthy and balanced discussion about these issues and even lead to people across the aisle seeing the law’s absurdity. Every time we play, people’s shock or delight leads to heated conversation and laughter. It surprises them that the expansion pack exists.

The other reason I created CAISISYLASCNK&V: I want people to see playfulness as a way to talk about pertinent human issues. Why do we always need to be so serious when discussing pertinent issues? Why can’t humor and playfulness be a part of the conversation? Why can’t we be uncomfortable and let our laughter be the release? Let's be uncomfortable together, laugh, and talk about that uncomfortability and the release that is laughter.

Cards Against Iranians, Syrians, et plus participants playfully examining their cards. Photo by Hiroshi Clark.
Cards Against Iranians, Syrians, et plus participants playfully examining their cards. Photo by Hiroshi Clark.

Playfulness is central to my work. Food and games drag you in. In talking about complex issues, food and games get us to the table. They invite people to play and pique imagination immediately. I love that! Someone knows something is going to happen, and that they are going to be a part of it. How that is going to happen is the mystery. Fun may happen, delicious food may happen. Who knows? That’s the excitement. And if the artist delivers, even better, right?

The other idea of drag I play with is drag as friction. The questions I asked to design this experience: How does one bring people of different views into a room to create that drag? How does one create frictious moments that do not ruin play or the meal, but get the audience to realize “Oh wait, this is not just any ordinary game night.”

I want people to come in ready to play and eat. I often ask audiences, do they play to play, play to win, or play to survive? I want people to wonder how they played, was the food delicious, and how can they continue the story of what they experienced beyond our night. That’s the magic I hope to create. 

Robert Karimi’s piece: Cards Against Iranians, Syrians, et plus is part of The Dialectic of the Stars: Drag Me Crazy, a FLAX (France Los Angeles Exchange) presentation taking place at the Ford Theatres on Sunday, February 18. For more information, please go here