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Nov-07-2012 10:44printcomments

Argo: From Hollywoodism to Iranophobia

Argo is a far cry from a balanced narration.

Argo (2012)
Argo (2012)

(TEHRAN) - In recent years, Iranophobia has come to encompass a wider scope of media including cinema which is incontestably capable of exercising a more powerful effect on manipulating the audience.

Along the recent Iranophobic attempts comes Argo (2012), a ‘nail-biting thriller’ which according to David Haglund, takes a few liberties with the history. A few liberties, indeed! The false façade of the movie and the glorification of CIA agent Antonio Mendez (the hero, played by Ben Affleck) in particular and the intelligence apparat in general in smuggling the escapees out of Tehran gives a flimsily larger-than-life flair to the movie on the one hand and a too-good-to-be-true feeling to the multitude of audience whose minds have already been hijacked by western media about Iran.

In its idiotically crude manner, the movie attempts to describe Iranians as overemotional, irrational, insane, and diabolical while at the same, the CIA agents are represented as heroically patriotic. Argo is replete with historical inaccuracies and distortions. One might say that the titling of the film mentions it is loosely based on Antonio Mendez’s account of the incidents. However, the audience barely finds any slim chance to realize this and all he believes is all he sees. Aye, there’s the rub for in doing so, the moviemaker craftily sees an audience too engrossed in the movie to pay any attention to the titling. Even if he does, the audience’s mind has already imbibed all the lies secretly and dastardly dictated by the movie. This is done with incredible ingenuity. For instance, in one shot, morosely veiled Iranian women are shown to be in military uniforms, a falsity also depicted in an earlier anti-Iran movie titled “Not Without My Daughter (1991)”. After the elapse of thirty-odd years, you may find Iranian women in uniforms but only in female garrisons let alone on the streets. So, the depiction of Iranian women in military uniforms is but a figment of the writer’s imagination.

It appears that Argo owes enormously to Brian Gilbert’s Not Without My Daughter (1991) though the former is technically a step forward.  Not Without My Daughter (1991) details the story of an American woman who is married to an Iranian doctor. They live happily in America but once they travel to Iran, the man (Alfred Molina) changes from a well-bred and highly educated man to a rustic boar who decides to force his wife Betty (Sally Field) by any means of brute force to stay in Iran. No one knows the reason for such a drastic change in the man, and interestingly, no hiatus apparently takes place in the storyline. Apart from the stereotyped and caricatured view of Iranians the filmmaker delivers, he consciously pokes fun at the very customs and traditions within the Iranian community. In one scene, when Betty arrives in Iran (the movie has been ironically filmed in Israel), they slaughter a sheep as a votive offering at the sight of which Betty falls into a swoon. This incident which is part of the Iranian tradition becomes a matter of scorn for the filmmaker.

Film critic Roger Ebert describes the film as vitriolic and spiteful and says, “If a movie of such a vitriolic and spiteful nature were to be made in America about any other ethnic group, it would be denounced as racist and prejudiced.”

Likewise, Argo is another dastardly attempt at fanning Iranophobia by continuing Brian Gilbert’s Not Without My Daughter (1991).

Though Argo achieves some degree of success in stereotyping and demonizing Iranians, the movie is at its best a propaganda flick barely unworthy of the kudos it receives, not because it is nothing more than one big yawn but because it is poorly structured and frivolously written.

Strange as it might be, the film ingeniously seeks to sound balanced by inserting a voice-over at the beginning of the film describing how the popular government of Mossadegh was overthrown through a coup engineered by the CIA and how Mohammad Reza Pahlavi (who is erroneously referred to as Reza Pahlavi) tyrannized over people. However, the mere mention of a CIA-engineered coup is not enough to make the film sound balanced. In fact, Argo is a far cry from a balanced narration. Everything is narrated one-sidedly. Everything is depicted in black and white. The escapees are good and have to be saved with the help of the CIA agent who ridiculously functions to bring about catharsis in the audience and the Iranians are depicted as demonic and hysteric. Thus, sympathy is easily wrung from the audience in favor of the CIA agent and the entire Iranian population is tragically plunged in a negative light.

In fact, authoring a coup in Iran is not CIA’s magnum opus. The intelligence apparatus has been notoriously instrumental in fomenting a war against Iran at the hands of the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and bringing about over one million casualties.

According to Said K. Aburish, author of Saddam Hussein: the Politics of Revenge, Saddam made a visit to Amman in 1979 before Iran–Iraq War. There, he met King Hussein and three CIA agents. Aburish says there is considerable evidence that he discussed his plans to invade Iran with the CIA agents. As a political product of Washington’s mind, Saddam was on intimate terms with the US. Aburish says that it was “a relationship of cooperation, but never trust. Neither side never trusted the other. And they helped him stay in power by providing him with electronic systems to guard against a coup d’état. They helped him stay in power by providing him with armament that he needed badly. They helped him stay in power by refusing to raise the issue of human rights. And they helped him to stay in power by supporting him during the war with Iran. So they really helped him, practically politically, practically financially, any way you can look at it.”

It is very probable that Ben Affleck and the screen writer Chris Terrio are sorely ignorant of these facts or else they would have incorporated some of these facts in Argo to sound balanced.

Or would they?

Overall, Argo is an arrant instance of Hollywoodism. In point of fact, it is yet another attempt to foment Iranophobia not only in the USA but across the world as well.


Dr. Ismail Salami is an Iranian writer, Middle East expert, Iranologist and lexicographer. He writes extensively on the US and Middle East issues and his articles have been translated into a number of languages.

Dr. Salami examines the historical developments that impact national relations today, and the way western people view Iran. has carried stories from Iranian writers for years and the critical politics have been and remain under our microscope of truth and fair play. This is essential in a world teetering on the brink of a third world war, over continual unfounded allegations of Iran's development of enriched uranium for a nuclear bomb.

The stark irony of the story is that Iran's primary accuser, Israel, is in possession of hundreds of nuclear weapons, the very type they accuse Iran of "plotting" to develop. In truth, Iran has almost no history of aggression toward the United States.

Misinformation shapes opinion, and a large percentage of Americans have never been provided accurate information about the history of Iran and the western powers and their eternal quests for cheap oil. They don't comprehend the fact that Iran was ruled by the west, by proxy, throughout the years of the Shah, and that this only ended with the Islamic Revolution in 1979.



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Patricia Butler November 19, 2012 12:29 pm (Pacific time)

"After the elapse of thirty-odd years, you may find Iranian women in uniforms but only in female garrisons let alone on the streets. So, the depiction of Iranian women in military uniforms is but a figment of the writer’s imagination." So then you're saying that the actual news footage upon which that shot was based -- and which was shown in its original form at the end of the movie -- was fabricated? It's hard to give your own extremely biased review much weight when you start it off with a statement that's so blatantly untrue and so easily disproved.

Ralph E. Stone November 9, 2012 7:49 am (Pacific time)

This is a Hollywood movie and every action movie needs a villain. During WW II, it was the nazis and the "Japs." During the Korean War, it was the Chinese. In Vietnam, we had the Viet Gong. Now, during the "war on terrorism," we have Arab terrorists or anyone looking like an Arab, including Iranians who don't even consider themselves Arabs. In such movies, the U.S. is painted white and the bad guys are painted black. That's just the way it is in such action movies. Is it fair or politically correct? Probably not.

Marivel Guzman November 8, 2012 12:51 pm (Pacific time)

I beg to differ in the overall of the movie Argo. I m guilty to be swallowed into the drama of the script without taking in consideration the whole historical Iran, but I think given the pressure producers and directors go thru the proccess of making a good socially awakening movie, they did inserted little bit of what is not even known for the regular American.
They did explained at least little bit the situation of dissenter, the torture the ransacking of the country during the "Sha of Iran" times.
I think you are not being fair to Ben Affleck that we know it is a open minded actor, that has spoken against Israel crimes in the pass and defended the Palestinians.
I really think the movie Argo it wasn't done to straighting up the political story of Iran/US relations but to give a us glimps of the famous event of Iran hostages.
I really think that in the little minutes they dedicated to explain the political situation, they tell the young Americans and to young people people why US hates Iran. They remove their puppet!
The movie did great and keep people wondering, off course this is from the CIA perspective which it is exactly why the movie is good.
If Ben Afflect was to make a movie from the Iranian perspective I think he would have used another version of the events. This is not about history, but about a single event "hostage crisis"..
And I lived the story, some how, in the paid Mexican news, I never knew about why?, never heard the whole story of the Sha of Iran thrown out of Iran..and if I was new to Iran politics, this movie gives me a glimpse. Offcourse, I m not new to Iran politics so I do not expect that Ben Affleck will dedicate 2 hours to give a Political class on Iran and expect to be promoted by Hollywood.
I give many kudos to Ben Affleck.
Now if you ask me, what do I think of the political situation of Iran and US, I said what I always say.
First and all I m against Monarquy, which to start discount the return of the Pahlavi family, and I would support (not that it matters alot, because I m not Iranian) the revolution that Reza Khan started before 1925. With all the restrictions and conditions of the times, I think he did great.
The US is not and should not be the world police, and Iranian government should not criminalize dissent, they just like the US, UK, Israel, France and I can name all the countries, all of them use torture, they all oppressed their citizens in one way or another, they all suppressed the innovator voices that goes against the Status Quo. There is no perfect society. Off course they are worse government than ours.
Now let's not forget that Iranian society with all their discontent they lived the western life style for many decades, and at the verge of the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 the majority of the population where in a explosion mode, kind of liberation, not because they dislike the Western style, but because any new revolution brings a sense of liberation. At least from some sectors of their society; like in any other, there are rule class and their benefactors and beneficiaries.

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