“Argo f*** yourself.” – popular media and politics

Ever since I shifted to my current field, I’ve found myself watching more and more shows and films inspired by its themes, the people heavily involved in it, and the events that dot its colourful historical trajectory. Argo, of course, belongs to the latter group, and is certainly a fascinating example of reality defying all expectations about how the secret services really work. However, this film is also interesting as a small indication of how the aims of popular media and the choices that their creators make can negatively affect relationships between countries.

Definitely the best promotional picture of the lot.

Definitely the best promotional picture of the lot.

The reach of the Internet and the high availability of information in most regions around the world, renders the tale of Argo impossible today. But even back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it was probably a leap of faith that all the people involved in planning the operation took. I can’t imagine anyone believing that Tony Mendez and the six US Embassy staff would have had such a smooth passage through the city and airport onto their flight: even though there are some real photographs of Iranian women and children piecing together the implicating photographs of the staff of the Embassy, none of the obstacles that the film threw at the group actually occurred in 1979. According to then President Jimmy Carter, “the American hostages left Iran and landed in Switzerland and landed before the Iranians ever discovered that they had been there [sic].” And, of course, they didn’t even think of going location scouting. All up, it was an amazing success, and one that the attempted rescue of the other Embassy hostages three months later failed to emulate.

More interesting to me, however, have been some of the politically-minded reactions to the film. As Hollywood tends to do, Ben Affleck and his fellow creators took a number of liberties with the truth in order to make the film more entertaining. Wikipedia has a pretty good summary of them, but there are three points that I will go into a bit further. First, the diminished role of the Canadians, who were actually the main drivers of the operation, has drawn some pointed remarks from then Ambassador Ken Taylor himself. Furthermore, the negative portrayal of other members of the diplomatic corps in Tehran at the time has given rise to ire from Britain and New Zealand, for their diplomats did not just turn away the six refugees, as implied in the film. Finally, the Iranians can only be fuming at being depicted as buffoons who can be won over by cheesy Hollywood memorabilia.

I’ll admit that Argo is quite a fun movie to watch, but at the same time, it’s somewhat indicative of the many issues that I continue to have with a certain hegemonic power. Whilst I am sure it was not the filmmakers’ intention, Argo shows how the perception of history can be rewritten in the eyes of the public, through the tools of popular media, and reflects poorly on what I would say is an American tendency to do so.

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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