Affleck’s Uncharitable ArgoJanuary 24, 2013
Ben Affleck’s latest film is overflowing with ideological subtext that celebrates the CIA and demonizes the Iranian people. Argo is a film about the Iranian hostage crisis and a genius CIA operative, Tony Mendez, who develops an unlikely plan to free six of the hostages who had escaped into the Canadian consulate in Tehran. The plan involves creating a fake sci-fi film as a front to get the six onto an airplane with counterfeit Canadian passports and get them out of Iran and back to safety. Almost nobody thought that the plan would work, but it did. Fascinating story. And a well-crafted film.
The film should leave one with an inspired feeling due to the hero’s journey where the hero seemed to follow Steve Jobs’ credo: “Think Different.” Unfortunately, many mixed-feelings follow the viewing of the film. It seems that the relatively uninformed citizen will come away with the impression that all or most Iranians hate America and Americans. This is due to the fact that almost no Iranian character in the film is portrayed in any kind of a sympathetic manner. I do not assume that Mr. Affleck is a hardened orientalist, but his film comes across as pure orientalist propaganda. The timing of this film makes it that much worse. America and the west are engaged in hardcore financial warfare with Iran. This is a one-sided war that has been imposed by the west. Iranians are suffering more and more with each passing day because of a collapsing currency and cruel restrictions on medicines and hospital equipment. As the Guardian recently reported:
“Millions of lives are at risk in Iran because western economic sanctions are hitting the importing of medicines and hospital equipment, the country’s top medical charity has warned.
Fatemeh Hashemi, head of the Charity Foundation for Special Diseases, a non-government organisation supporting six million patients in Iran, has complained about a serious shortage of medicines for a number of diseases such as haemophilia, multiple sclerosis and cancer.”
What is interesting about Argo is how much it disappoints on its own promising leadoff . The beginning of the film is a short history lesson of the Persian empire that later becomes Iran. Mossadegh is elected by an ‘overwheliming majority’ of the vote. He wants to nationalize Iran’s oil and then becomes an enemy of Britain and America because they despise sovereignty of countries that are rich in natural resources or are of geopolitical importance. Britain and America engineer a coup d’etat. Mossadegh is out and the Shah is installed onto the Peacock Throne. He develops a repressive police state apparatus that tortures and kills political opponents. Then there is an uprising that is taken over by Muslim fundamentalists who storm the American embassy in Tehran and take the employees there hostage.
How surpirising that such a well-informed introduction to the film should prove such a disappointment. After the opening scenes of the film, Affleck abandons any shred of respect for, or dignified representation of the Iranian people in this film. He might be surprised to learn how many Iranians actually love and emulate the American people and their way of life, as is the case in many muslim countries. This in spite of all they have been through and continue to face because of the brutal and inhumane policies of the United States and Britain.
Affleck did not just ignore the millions of Iranian people who are not psychotic fundamentalists, he even invented scenes to make them appear more so. He invented two scenes which never occured in reality. The first is a scene where the phony film crew wander through the Grand Bazaar in Tehran and are confronted with crazy western-hating people and must run for safety. The second scene is near the end of the film where they are making their way through customs to get to the gate for their flight at the airport. They are stopped by some blood-thirsty, machine-gun-toting, Sharia law-minded military men who almost don’t let them leave. This also never happened, acording to Tony Mendez himself.
Surely Affleck invented these scenes to heighten the drama of the film. In that regard he was quite successful. But the price paid for such successful film-crafting is that the Iranian people, even in the Grand Bazaar, are portrayed as the enemy of Americans. The reality is plainly the opposite. Iranians long for the day when they can again be friends with America, but America is determined to do this only if Iran becomes a subservient client state of the U.S. Unfortunately, Argo missed a great opportunity to promote cross-cultural understanding between Iran and the west and only further served to reinforce the gross misrepresentation of the Iranian people that helps western audiences to percieve Iranians as our psychotic enemies, which serves the interests of ongoing Israeli and American agressive policies against Iran. Argo is an irresponsible work that serves to portray the CIA as a sympathetic force for good in the world. The same CIA, that the beginning of the film points out, overthrew a democratically elected government of a sovereign state and then installed a government that tortured and killed people to maintain power and serve the intersts of the west. This narrative further supports itself by portraying the Iranian people as the unholy incarnation of anti-Americanism. If Affleck had actually traveled to Iran and met some Iranians, he most probably would have considered including at least some scenes in the film that showed Iranians to be human beings possibly capable of a modicum of compassion, even for Americans. But it is precisely compassion that is missing from this film. There is no compassion shown for Iranians by the Americans and there is less than zero compassion shown by any Iranian characters toward Americans. Benjamin Netanyahu and Hillary Clinton must surely be pleased by the success of such a work of anti-Iranian sentiment.