“Argo”, Just Another Assault on Middle Eastern People

21 Feb

I never intended to see “Argo”.  I assumed it was just another movie of how a crew of clever Americans outsmarted Middle Eastern brutes.

Then I saw the free ten minute “preview” of the movie and I thought I was wrong.  It featured a two-minute history of Iran which talked all about the U.S. overthrowing the democratic government headed by Mossaddegh, restoring the Shah to full power and how the Shah maintained himself by torture.  Hey, I thought, the liberals Ben Affleck and George Clooney created the movie.  Maybe it shows some sympathy to Iranians.  So I watched the whole film.

No, I was right the first time.  “Argo” is all about showing American/Canadian ingenuity and Iranian simple-mindedness. It’s a “caper” movie with the CIA  outrageously posing as a film crew supposedly scouting “locations” for a science fiction movie in Iran as a “cover” for their rescue of six U.S.  diplomats.  The diplomats had escaped the U.S. embassy and were hiding in the Canadian embassy.   The Iranians are basically shown as  savages   As Sarah Gillespie points out in her fine review Farsi is generally translated with sub-titles only when Westerners speak it.  Otherwise it’s just a scary babble.

There is one exception (plot spoiler here).  There is an interchange between a Iranian housekeeper at the Canadian embassy and an Iranian Revolutionary Guard.  She backs up the tale about the “Canadian” guests just staying there only a few days. Reviewer Gillespie calls her a “traitor”. Reviewer Sarah Shourd (who herself was captured and imprisoned by the Iranian regime in 2009-2010) has a different take.  For her the maid was the hero of the story.  She displayed the ” courage shown by ordinary people when they simply do the right thing”.

I have no idea if the maid really existed.  Reading Wikipedia it seems that Affleck took huge plot liberties. Efforts of the CIA are glorified and the Canadian ambassador is at most assisting.  Supposedly it was the other way around. Most of the climatic drama was made up (plot spoilers) like the bazaar visit that never happened, and the drama at the airport.  While if they had been captured they would have been put with the other hostages at the embassy and shared their fate, they were never in any imminent danger.

Certainly the story about the maid’s humanity is not the highlight of the film.  At the end (plot spoiler) she’s shown leaving the country.  All the other Iranians are shown as angry Islamists who are fairly easily fooled.

Argo is a liberal response.  The Iranian regime is calling it just another neo-con operation, but that’s incorrect.    Besides the opening history lesson  Affleck does have a bit here and there showing off his supposed open-minded credentials.  He includes a sound byte from the Shah ridiculously claiming he didn’t know people were tortured. He shows a bigoted American.  He has an Iranian guide make some remark about the “Canadians” looking for a exotic Oriental setting.  It’s more than that, however.  The movie’s whole point is to show how this “caper” successfully brought home the Americans without violence.  It says that explicitly in titles on the screen at the movie’s end and the last voice you hear in the movie is none other than Jimmy Carter.

It was a pity that Affleck couldn’t have made a different movie   Instead of making Carter the “man of reason” vindicated by history,  he could have shown Carter’s total support for the Shah until the bitter end.   Affleck could have shown a bit of the incredible bravery of average people going into the streets in the million, risking being mowed down or taken to the terrifying dungeons.  Instead of showing Iranians as one fanatic pro-Khomeini mass he could have shown all the forces that brought the Shah down, especially the secular and Leftists groups who were very powerful for a time.

But then it wouldn’t have fit with the current political climate, the growing Islamophobia, the glorification of  U.S. military might and spying, the demonization of Iran, the willingness to use ever growing murderous sanctions as a supposed alternative to war with Iran.  It wouldn’t have won the slew of awards and nominations “Argo” has received.  On the other hand it might have been something significant.

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