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Argo’s Oscar and the failure of truth

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This post originally appeared on Nima Shirazi’s website Wide Asleep in America on Saturday, Febuary 23, 2013 (i.e. the day before the Academy Awards)

One year ago, after his breathtakingly beautiful Iranian drama, A Separation, won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, writer/director Asghar Farhadi delivered the best acceptance speech of the night.

“[A]t the time when talk of war, intimidation, and aggression is exchanged between politicians,” he said, Iran was finally being honored for “her glorious culture, a rich and ancient culture that has been hidden under the heavy dust of politics.” Farhadi dedicated the Oscar “to the people of my country, a people who respect all cultures and civilizations and despise hostility and resentment.”

Such grace and eloquence will surely not be on display this Sunday, when Ben Affleck, flanked by his co-producers George Clooney and Grant Heslov, takes home the evening’s top prize, the Best Picture Oscar, for his critically-acclaimed and heavily decorated paean to the CIA and American innocence, Argo.

Over the past 12 months, rarely a week – let alone month – went by without new predictions of an ever-imminent Iranian nuclear weapon and ever-looming threats of an American or Israeli military attack. Come October 2012, into the fray marched Argo, a decontextualized, ahistorical “true story” of Orientalist proportion, subjecting audiences to two hours of American victimization and bearded barbarians, culminating in popped champagne corks and rippling stars-and-stripes celepating our heroism and triumph and their frustration and defeat.

Salon‘s Andrew O’Hehir aptly described the film as “a propaganda fable,” explaining as others have that essentially none of its edge-of-your-seat thrills or most memorable moments ever happened. O’Hehir sums up:

The Americans never resisted the idea of playing a film crew, which is the source of much agitation in the movie. (In fact, the “house guests” chose that cover story themselves, from a group of three options the CIA had prepared.) They were not almost lynched by a mob of crazy Iranians in Tehran’s Grand Bazaar, because they never went there. There was no last-minute cancellation, and then un-cancellation, of the group’s tickets by the Carter administration. (The wife of Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor had personally gone to the airport and purchased tickets ahead of time, for three different outbound flights.) The group underwent no interrogation at the airport about their imaginary movie, nor were they detained at the gate while a member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard telephoned their phony office back in Burbank. There was no last-second chase on the runway of Mehrabad Airport, with wild-eyed, bearded militants with Kalashnikovs trying to shoot out the tires of a Swissair jet.

One of the actual hostages, Mark Lijek, noted that the CIA’s fake movie “cover story was never tested and in some ways proved irrelevant to the escape.” The departure of the six Americans from Tehran was actually mundane and uneventful.  “If asked, we were going to say we were leaving Iran to return when it was safer,” Lijek recalled, “But no one ever asked!…The truth is the immigration officers barely looked at us and we were processed out in the regular way. We got on the flight to Zurich and then we were taken to the US ambassador’s residence in Berne. It was that straightforward.”

Furthermore, Jimmy Carter has even acknowledged that “90% of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian [while] the movie gives almost full credit to the American CIA…Ben Affleck’s character in the film was only in Tehran a day and a half and the real hero in my opinion was Ken Taylor, who was the Canadian ambassador who orchestrated the entire process.”

Taylor himself recently remarked that “Argo” provides a myopic representation of both Iranians and their revolution, ignoring their “more hospitable side and an intent that they were looking for some degree of justice and hope and that it all wasn’t just a violent demonstration for nothing.”

“The amusing side, Taylor said, “is the script writer in Hollywood had no idea what he’s talking about.”

O’Hehir perfectly articulates the film’s true crime, its deliberate exploitation of “its basis in history and its mode of detailed realism to create something that is entirely mythological.” Not only is it “a trite cavalcade of action-movie clichés and expository dialogue,” but “[i]t’s also a propaganda movie in the truest sense, one that claims to be innocent of all ideology.”

Such an assessment is confirmed by Ben Affleck’s own comments about the film. In describing Argo to Bill O’Reilly, Affleck boasted, “You know, it was such a great story. For one thing, it’s a thriller. It’s actually comedy with the Hollywood satire. It’s a complicated CIA movie, it’s a political movie. And it’s all true.”  He told Rolling Stone that, when conceiving his directorial approach, he knew he “absolutely had to preserve the central integrity and truth of the story.” “It’s OK to embellish, it’s OK to compress, as long as you don’t fundamentally change the nature of the story and of what happened,” Affleck has remarked, even going so far as to tell reporters at Argo‘s BFI London Film Festival premier, “This movie is about this story that took place, and it’s true, and I go to pains to contextualize it and to try to be even-handed in a way that just means we’re taking a cold, hard look at the facts.” In an interview with The Huffington Post, Affleck went so far as to say, “I tried to make a movie that is absolutely just factual. And that’s another reason why I tried to be as true to the story as possible — because I didn’t want it to be used by either side. I didn’t want it to be politicized internationally or domestically in a partisan way. I just wanted to tell a story that was about the facts as I understood them.”
For Affleck, these facts apparently don’t include understanding why the American Embassy in Tehran was overrun and occupied on November 4, 1979.  “There was no rhyme or reason to this action,” Affleck has insisted, claiming that the takeover “wasn’t about us,” that is, the American government (despite the fact that his own film is introduced by a fleeting – though frequently inaccurate [1] – review of American complicity in the Shah’s dictatorship). Wrong, Ben.  One reason was the fear of another CIA-engineered coup d’etat like the one perpetrated in 1953 from the very same Embassy. Another reason was the admission of the deposed Shah into the United States for medical treatment and asylum rather than extradition to Iran to face charge and trial for his quarter century of crimes against the Iranian people, bankrolled and supported by the U.S. government.  One doesn’t have to agree with the reasons, of course, but they certainly existed. Just as George H.W. Bush once bellowed after a U.S. Navy warship blew an Iranian passenger airliner out of the sky over the Persian Gulf, killing 290 Iranian civilians, “I’ll never apologize for the United States of America. Ever. I don’t care what the facts are.”  Affleck appears inclined to agree.
If nothing else, Argo is an exercise in American exceptionalism – perhaps the most dangerous fiction that permeates our entire society and sense of identity.  It reinvents history in order to mine a tale of triumph from an unmitigated defeat.  The hostage crisis, which lasted 444 days and destroyed an American presidency, was a failure and an embarrassment for Americans.  The United States government and media has spent the last three decades tirelessly exacting revenge on Iran for what happened. Argo recasts revolutionary Iranians as the hapless victims of American cunning and deception.  White Americans are hunted, harried and, ultimately courageous and free.  Iranians are maniacal, menacing and, in the end, infantile and foolish.  The fanatical fundamentalists fail while America wins. USA -1, Iran – 0. 
Yet, Argo obscures the unfortunate truth that, as those six diplomats were boarding a plane bound for Switzerland on January 28, 1980, their 52 compatriots would have to wait an entire year before making it home, not as the result of a daring rescue attempt, but after a diplomatic agreement was reached. Reflecting on the most troubled episodes in American history is a time-honored cinematic tradition. There’s a reason why the best Vietnam movies are full of pain, anger, anguish and war crimes.  By contrast, Argo is American catharsis porn; pure Hollywood hubris.  It is pro-American propaganda devoid of introspection, pathos or humility and meant to assuage our hurt feelings.  In Argo, no lessons are learned by revisiting the consequences of America’s support for the Pahlavi monarchy or its creation and training of SAVAK, the Shah’s vicious secret police. On June 11, 1979, months before the hostage crisis began, the New York Times published an article by writer and historian A.J. Langguth which recounted revelations relayed by a former American intelligence official regarding the CIA’s close relationship with SAVAK.  The agency had “sent an operative to teach interrogation methods to SAVAK” including “instructions in torture, and the techniques were copied from the Nazis.”  Langguth wrestled with the news, trying to figure out why this had not been widely reported in the media.  He came to the following conclusion:

We – and I mean we as Americans – don’t believe it. We can read the accusations, even examine the evidence and find it irrefutable. But, in our hearts, we cannot believe that Americans have gone apoad to spread the use of torture. We can believe that public officials with reputations for pilliance can be arrogant, blind or stupid. Anything but evil. And when the cumulative proof becomes overwhelming that our representatives in the C.I.A. or the Agency for International Development police program did in fact teach torture, we excuse ourselves by vilifying the individual men.

Similarly, at a time when the CIA is waging an illegal, immoral, unregulated and always expanding drone execution program, the previous administration’s CIA kidnappers and torturers are protected from prosecution by the current administration, and leaked State Department cables reveal orders for U.S. diplomats to spy on United Nations officials, it is surreal that such homage is being paid to that very same organization by the so-called liberals of the Tinsel Town elite.

Upon winning his Best Director Golden Globe last month, Ben Affleck obsequiously praised the “clandestine service as well as the foreign service that is making sacrifices on behalf of the American people everyday [and] our troops serving over seas, I want to thank them very much,” a statement echoed almost identically by co-producer Grant Heslov when Argo later won Best Drama.

This comes as no surprise, considering Affleck had previously described Argo as “a tribute” to the “extraordinary, honorable people at the CIA” during an interview on Fox News.

The relationship between Hollywood and the military and intelligence arms of the U.S. government have long been cozy. “When the CIA or the Pentagon says, ‘We’ll help you, if you play ball with us,’ that’s favoring one form of speech over another. It becomes propaganda,” David Robb, author of Operation Hollywood: How the Pentagon Shapes and Censors the Movies told The Los Angeles Times. “The danger for filmmakers is that their product — entertainment and information — ends up being government spin.”

Awarding Argo the Best Picture Oscar is like Barack Obama winning a Nobel Peace Prize: an undeserved accolade fawningly bestowed upon a dubious recipient based on a transparent fiction; an award for what never was and never would be and a decision so willfully naïve and grotesque it discredits whatever relevance and prestige the proceedings might still have had.*

So this Sunday night, when Argo has won that coveted golden statuette, it will be clear that we have yet again been blinded by the heavy dust of politics and our American mantra of hostility and resentment will continue to inform our decisions, dragging us closer and closer to the abyss.

***** ***** *****

* Yes, in this analogy, the equivalent of Henry Kissinger is obviously 2004’s dismal “Crash.”


1 The introduction of Argo is a dazzingly sloppy few minutes of caricatured history of Iran, full of Orientalist images of violent ancient Persians (harems and all), which gets many basic facts wrong. In fact, it is shocking this intro made it to release as written and recorded.

Here are some of the problems:

1. The voice over narration says, “In 1950, the people of Iran elected Mohammad Mossadegh, the secular democrat, Prime Minister. He nationalized pitish and U.S. petroleum holdings, returning Iran’s oil to its people.”

Mossadegh was elected to the Majlis (Iranian Parliament) in 1944. He did not become Prime Minister until April 1951 and was not “elected by the people of Iran.” Rather, he was appointed to the position by the representatives of the Majlis.

Also, the United States did not have petroleum interests in Iran at the time.

2. After piefly describing the 1953 coup, the narrator says Britain and the United States “installed Reza Pahlavi as Shah.”

Wow. First, the Shah’s name was not Reza Pahlavi. That is his father’s (and son’s) name. Furthermore, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was not installed as Shah since had already been Shah of Iran since September 1941, after pitain and the Soviet Union invaded and occupied Iran and forced the abdication of his father, Reza Shah Pahlavi.

During the coup in 1953, the Shah fled to Baghdad, then Rome. After Mossadegh had been forced out, the Shah returned to the Peacock Throne.

This is not difficult information to come by, and yet the screenwriter and director of Argo didn’t bother looking it up. And guess what? Ben Affleck actually majored in Middle East Studies in college. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t graduate.

The rest of the brief intro, while mentioning the torture of SAVAK, glosses over the causes of the revolution, but lingers on the violence that followed.  As it ends, the words “Based on a True Story” appear on the screen. The first live action moment we see in Argo is of an American flag being burned.

Such is Affleck’s insistence that Argo is “not a political movie.”

Still, as Kevin B. Lee wrote in Slate last month, “This opening may very well be the reason why critics have given the film credit for being insightful and progressive—because nothing that follows comes close, and the rest of the movie actually undoes what this opening achieves.”

 He continues, 

Instead of keeping its eye on the big picture of revolutionary Iran, the film settles into a retrograde “white Americans in peril” storyline. It recasts those oppressed Iranians as a raging, zombie-like horde, the same dark-faced demons from countless other movies— still a surefire dramatic device for instilling fear in an American audience. After the opening makes a big fuss about how Iranians were victimized for decades, the film marginalizes them from their own story, shunting them into the role of villains. Yet this irony is overshadowed by a larger one: The heroes of the film, the CIA, helped create this mess in the first place. And their triumph is executed through one more ruse at the expense of the ever-dupable Iranians to cap off three decades of deception and manipulation.

And brilliantly concludes,

Looking at the runaway success of this film, it seems as if critics and audiences alike lack the historical knowledge to recognize a self-serving perversion of an unflattering past, or the cultural acumen to see the utterly ersatz nature of the enterprise: A cast of stock characters and situations, and a series of increasingly contrived narrow escapes from third world mobs who, predictably, are never quite smart enough to catch up with the Americans. We can delight all we like in this cinematic recycling act, but the fact remains that we are no longer living in a world where we can get away with films like this—not if we want to be in a position to deal with a world that is rising to meet us. The movies we endorse need to rise to the occasion of reflecting a new global reality, using a newer set of storytelling tools than this reheated excuse for a historical geopolitical thriller.

About Nima Shirazi

Nima Shirazi is co-editor of the Iran, Iraq and Turkey pages for the online magazine Muftah. His political analysis can be found on his blog,, where this post first appeared. Follow him on Twitter @WideAsleepNima.

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42 Responses

  1. David Samel
    February 25, 2013, 1:50 pm

    This is a brilliant dissection of the movie. I had not even caught the multiple errors in the five-minute prologue, but thought it was far too little too early to overcome the awful stereotypes in the remainder of the movie. Stupidly inaccurate also? I heard that Affleck has declined calls for him to replace Kerry in the Senate, but maybe he is burnishing his future image as a politician who “appreciates the service” of our troops, diplomatic corps and CIA keeping us all safe (with their destructive behavior all over the world).

    • MRW
      February 25, 2013, 10:15 pm

      I absolutely concur. Effing brilliant and accurate, especially about the Canadians. I remember at the time that Taylor was interviewed in NYC. He said he was the one who came up with that idea. He told the Americans to suggest it because of their movie industry in Vancouver. It would be believable, and would account for the number of them, meaning six people, being in the Iran together, blah-blah-blah.

      A couple of days ago the interviewed Mark Lijek. When the host asked him to talk about the CIA guy coming up with the film crew idea, Lijek says (and I paraphrase) that, Well, it wasn’t new to us. Ken Taylor asked us a week earlier if we could play that. According to Lijek, they needed covers that could come easy to them if boxed in at the airport.

      And another thing, these weren’t terrorists who occupied the embassy, they were students pissed at what the SAVAK had done to their families. The stupidest thing they did was allow the Shah to fly into New York after the coup.

      • MRW
        February 25, 2013, 10:26 pm

        Don’t forget, Carter had just fired 4,000 CIA humint agents before this happened. That’s a little known fact. For doing the rogue kinds of things they did without presidential approval in the interest of ‘national security’ and ‘good governance’. And one of them was setting up the Ayatollah (in Provence at the time) as a lackey head-up-his-ass religious leader to depose the Shah. the purpose was to allow the US to take over the oil fields. The term BLOWBACK was coined to describe what the Ayatollah did to the CIA.

  2. Citizen
    February 25, 2013, 2:22 pm

    What a surprise, a film depicting Iranians as mad anti-American zombies wins the Oscar. This is just part of a pattern, initiated in Hollywood with Exodus and its two handsome white Gentile-looking stars. Is there a better icon for dumb frat boy than Afleck? Didn’t you love his squeaky puerile voice going mad at the mike last night? I think Mel Gibson and Clooney should unite their more perceptive celtic genes, and make a movie about their sister, Rachel Corrie.

    • lysias
      February 25, 2013, 3:09 pm

      Affleck has a history of this sort of thing. He starred in the awful Pearl Harbor movie that opened on May 21, 2001. Somebody knew wars were in the offing.

    • kalithea
      February 25, 2013, 5:54 pm

      This comment is both funny and insightful. You inspired me: if Gigli and Bigelow ever come together to make a celluloid baby; I think I’ll throw up! LOL.

      Don’t expect Mr. “salt & paper” Clooney to shed any tears over his kin, Rachel, either.

    • Kathleen
      February 25, 2013, 6:02 pm

      Afleck is dancing the jig for the lobby. His message let me help set the stage for an attack. Oh and on the way do you mind handing me that Oscar. Oh my and he went on and and on at the mike. Rather pathetic in so many ways.

  3. seafoid
    February 25, 2013, 3:16 pm

    “For Israel’s last military attaché in Tehran, ‘Argo’ is kids’ stuff
    As revolution raged, Brig. Gen. (ret.) Itzhak Segev helped lead 32 other Israelis to safety”

    • marc b.
      February 25, 2013, 3:44 pm

      funny, seafoid. what would freud say, you have to ask, israel always having to best the latest in publicized masculine antics. i think SNL did a skit about something like it, the spanish game show, ‘quien es mas macho?’

    • David Doppler
      February 25, 2013, 4:25 pm

      Great link, seafoid. Segev’s memoir in Ha’aretz shows a lot on multiple levels. Perhaps some US newspaper would reprint it?

    • braciole
      February 25, 2013, 5:45 pm

      seafoid – thanks for reminding me what a shitty little country Israel is. Why were those Israelis there? It couldn’t have been because they were Mossad and were training the SAVAK in torture rechniques? A “diplomat” helping criminals to escape – way to go.

  4. yourstruly
    February 25, 2013, 4:40 pm

    seems that “liberal” hollywood feels compelled to prove its america right or wrong credentials?

    by deifying mass murderers?

    ben affleck, a latter day leni riefenstahl?

  5. Brown-Eyed Girl
    February 25, 2013, 4:44 pm

    First we had Zero Dark Thirty now Argo. And they say Hollywood is full of Anti-American liberals. I wonder how many years we have to wait until someone makes a movie that tells the truth about American policy in the Middle East they way Platoon told the truth about the Vietnam War. My uncle was drafted into Vietnam, served, got sprayed with agent orange, got leukemia years later and the VA spent 10 years denying there was a connection. It will probably take a long time, as the American people are not yet ready for the truth.

    • kalithea
      February 25, 2013, 6:02 pm

      ” It will probably take a long time, as the American people are not yet ready for the truth.”

      Girl, don’t you know? Sorry to break it to you: it’s not that Americans can’t handle the truth; it’s that their brain with a few exceptions hasn’t yet developed the part of the brain that recognizes the truth when it sees it. That’s why mainstream cable news, and fluff entertainment is so successful. Americans don’t like to exercise the thought muscle. So you may have a long, long time to wait.

  6. Avi_G.
    February 25, 2013, 4:59 pm

    Some of the things I didn’t like about Argo:

    1. Both New Zealandian and British press reports have corrected the record that Argo lies when it claims that both countries’ embassies turned the Americans away. That was not the case.

    2. Twice in the movie, the makers made it a point to remind viewers that those religious fanatics in Iran do not tolerate alcohol. In the movie, on an Iran-bound flight, the cabin crew makes an announcement that flight attendants will be passing through to collect any remaining alcoholic beverage as the plane will be entering Iranian airspace.

    Later, after the hostages are rescued, a similar announcement is made; something along the lines of, “We’re out of Iranian airspace. Pop open a bottle of Champagne”.

    Give me a break. It was YOUR government that installed the fanatical rulers who made alcohol consumption such a sin. And you have the gall to mock them.

    3. Then there’s the ludicrous chase down the runway as the plane takes off. That simply did not happen. But no propaganda movie is complete, it seems, without gun-toting bearded Moslems in the back of a pick up truck chasing after Westerners.

    I could go on, but I have been trying to forget as much as I could ever since I had the displeasure of watching that movie.

    As an aside, the real CIA officer about whom the movie was made, was Hispanic. I don’t think Ben Affleck is Hispanic. Hollywood, it seems, has contempt for the truth.

    • Avi_G.
      February 25, 2013, 5:11 pm

      Add to that what Spike Lee once said about Clint Eastwood’s films:

      “Clint Eastwood made two films about Iwo Jima that ran for more than four hours total, and there was not one Negro actor on the screen”.

      • lysias
        February 25, 2013, 7:04 pm

        Despite that, this retired naval officer very much liked Eastwood’s movies about Iwo Jima. They were entirely devoid of propagandistic demonization of the Japanese. Quite the contrary.

  7. DICKERSON3870
    February 25, 2013, 5:32 pm

    RE: [A]s those six diplomats were boarding a plane bound for Switzerland on January 28, 1980, their 52 compatriots would have to wait an entire year before making it home, not as the result of a daring rescue attempt, but after a diplomatic agreement was reached.” ~ Nima Shirazi

    MY COMMENT: It is quite possible that the hostages would have been released earlier but for the intervention of some CIA dissidents (with the help of Israel’s Likudniks) who did not want to see Carter reelected.

    SEE: “The CIA/Likud Sinking of Jimmy Carter”, by Robert Parry, Consortium News , 06/24/11

    [EXCERPTS] . . . It is far easier to assure the American people that no such thing could occur, that Israel’s Likud – whatever its differences with Washington over Middle East peace policies – would never seek to subvert a U.S. president, and that CIA dissidents – no matter how frustrated by political constraints – would never sabotage their own government.
    But the evidence points in that direction, and there are some points that are not in dispute. For instance, there is no doubt that CIA Old Boys and Likudniks had strong motives for seeking President Jimmy Carter’s defeat in 1980.
    Inside the CIA, Carter and his CIA Director Stansfield Turner were blamed for firing many of the free-wheeling covert operatives from the Vietnam era, for ousting legendary spymaster Ted Shackley, and for failing to protect longtime U.S. allies (and friends of the CIA), such as Iran’s Shah and Nicaragua’s dictator Anastasio Somoza.
    As for Israel, Likud Prime Minister Menachem Begin was furious over Carter’s high-handed actions at Camp David in 1978 forcing Israel to trade the occupied Sinai to Egypt for a peace deal. Begin feared that Carter would use his second term to bully Israel into accepting a Palestinian state on West Bank lands that Likud considered part of Israel’s divinely granted territory.
    Former Mossad and Foreign Ministry official David Kimche described Begin’s attitude in his 1991 book, ‘The Last Option’, saying that Israeli officials had gotten wind of “collusion” between Carter and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat “to force Israel to abandon her refusal to withdraw from territories occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem, and to agree to the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
    Kimche continued, “This plan – prepared behind Israel’s back and without her knowledge – must rank as a unique attempt in United States’s diplomatic history of short-changing a friend and ally by deceit and manipulation.”
    However, Begin recognized that the scheme required Carter winning a second term in 1980 when, Kimche wrote, “he would be free to compel Israel to accept a settlement of the Palestinian problem on his and Egyptian terms, without having to fear the backlash of the American Jewish lobby. . .
    . . . Yet, while motive is an important element in solving a mystery, it does not constitute proof by itself. What must be examined is whether there is evidence that the motive was acted upon, whether Menachem Begin’s government and disgruntled CIA officers covertly assisted the Reagan-Bush campaign in contacting Iranian officials to thwart Carter’s hostage negotiations.
    On that point the evidence is strong though perhaps not ironclad. Still, a well-supported narrative does exist describing how the October Surprise scheme may have gone down with the help of CIA personnel, Begin’s government, some right-wing intelligence figures in Europe, and a handful of other powerbrokers in the United States. . .


  8. DICKERSON3870
    February 25, 2013, 5:43 pm

    RE: Instead of keeping its eye on the big picture of revolutionary Iran, the film settles into a retrograde “white Americans in peril” storyline. It recasts those oppressed Iranians as a raging, zombie-like horde, the same dark-faced demons from countless other movies— still a surefire dramatic device for instilling fear in an American audience. ~ Nima Shirazi

    SEE: “How the Power of Myth Keeps Us Mired in War”, by Ira Chernus,, 01/20/11

    [EXCERPT] . . . White Americans, going back to early colonial times, generally assigned the role of ‘bad guys’ to ‘savages’ lurking in the wilderness beyond the borders of our civilized land. Whether they were redskins, commies, terrorists, or the Taliban, the plot has always remained the same. Call it the myth of national security — or, more accurately, national insecurity, since it always tells us who and what to fear. It’s been a mighty (and mighty effective) myth. . .

    SOURCE –

    P.S. ALSO SEE – “Iranophobia: The Panic of the Hegemons”, by Ira Chernus, Tikkun Magazine, November/December 2010
    LINK –

  9. Sassan
    February 25, 2013, 6:09 pm

    I don’t know how anyone can consider Argo a “pro-American/anti-Iranian” movie when in fact the movie at the very beginning distorted history to frame an anti-American narrative in blaming America for the revolution. The whole narrative of “America was responsible for 1953 coup”, “Shah and his wife were evil”, etc plays very well into the Kinzer narrative. I know the IRI doesn’t like the movie as it shows their evil ways, but the movie was far from a pro-American narrative. It can go both ways.

    • goldmarx
      February 26, 2013, 9:56 am

      Indeed, unlike Zero Dark Thirty, there was no CIA torture or killing in “Argo”. Also, there is one scene where Alan Arkin and John Goodman give a positive shout-out to Karl Marx. It made one wonder if Tony Mendes worked for the CIA or the OSS, which employed US lefties during the WWII alliance with Stalin.

  10. biorabbi
    February 25, 2013, 6:12 pm

    How about the great Sally Field in her role in ‘Not without my daughter’ which I’ve come to learn is a true story about an American woman who wasn’t exactly treated that well in the decidedly post-Orientalist Iran. Was her story also Orientalist Porn, and when the holy government of Iran strings up homosexuals… is that Hasbara, orientalist porn, or the sad truth? Thanks.

    • Cliff
      February 25, 2013, 6:50 pm


      • ToivoS
        February 25, 2013, 7:31 pm

        There was a time when hasbarists tried deflection or obfuscation they often succeeded diverting a thread. Now it seems to warrant little more than a chuckle.

    • Palmyra
      February 25, 2013, 10:43 pm

      “Was her story also Orientalist Porn..?”

      No, it was a Lifetime movie. Even worse.

    • Maximus Decimus Meridius
      February 26, 2013, 12:53 pm

      When I visited Iran a few years ago, I spent time with an American woman who like Betty Mahmoody (the author of ‘Not Without My Daughter’) was married to an Iranian man, living in Tehran. She knew Mahmoody, as they both frequented the same ‘American women in Tehran’ group. My friend says that she never heard Mahmoody complain about her situation at all. She also says that Mahmoody worked for the State Dept at the time, though I’ve no evidence for this.

      Also, Mahmoody’s husband, the late Sayyed Bozorg Mahmoody, made a documentary film called ‘Without My Daughter’ which contradicted every detail of his wife’s story, claiming that she knew she was going to Iran to live, and that she was free to leave at any time. Now, I’ve no idea who is telling the truth – my guess is it’s probably somewhere in the middle. But let’s just say there’s good reason to doubt Betty Mahmoody’s story.

  11. lobewyper
    February 25, 2013, 6:40 pm

    By way of contrast with the above article and comments (with which I wholeheartedly agree), here’s a snippet from respected American film reviewer James Bernardinelli’s review illustrating a point made by Kevin Lee about film critics:

    “Argo contains many elements that may make it an Oscar contender. It’s a compelling story that keeps viewers on the edges of their seats while delivering the goods. It’s based on real events. It’s directed with flair and style by an admired actor-director. And the period recreation is impeccable. A lot of movies take us back to the late ’70s/early ’80s, but few have done it so forcefully and with so little application of kitsch. Argo is a good movie. More than that, it’s a smart good movie – something to savor in the early days leading up to the end-of-the-year cinematic feast.” [See entire review at:

    As Lee suggested, movie reviewers often fail to bring relevant historical context to his/her review. Because the film states that it is “based on true events,” that’s obviously sufficient for Bernardinelli, who IMO is a pretty good reviewer (but no historian).

  12. Avi_G.
    February 25, 2013, 6:46 pm

    Oh, and before I forget. Hey, Affleck, Argo f*** yourself.

    • kalithea
      February 25, 2013, 8:11 pm


    • Citizen
      February 26, 2013, 7:13 am

      @ Avi_G.

      I read that the REAL Tony Mendez is Latino and has spoken before about how his skin color was part of what allowed him to fly under the radar in Iran, so Ben Affleck portraying him is undeniable racist whitewashing.

      Sorta like Hollywood’s hero in Exodus? More like Hollywood’s most famous Moses?

  13. RoHa
    February 25, 2013, 7:09 pm

    To be fair, Hollywood has never been interested in truth.

    Look at U-571 or Braveheart – just two of a long stream of inaccurate films.

    • Woody Tanaka
      February 26, 2013, 7:32 am

      “To be fair, Hollywood has never been interested in truth.”

      To be fair, an artist has no obligation to be the slave to factual truth. If the art, if the story, requires a lie, then the artist has the obligation to lie.

  14. kalithea
    February 25, 2013, 7:59 pm

    This is one of the best thought-out articles I’ve read around here and I’ve appreciated more than a few. The truth is always such a relief, isn’t it?! You feel almost like you’re allowed to breathe again! It’s maddening to see the sheeple devour so much bullshet. You end up almost doubting yourself and thinking: Is it just me or is this thing really as crappy as I know it is? Pheeew! Thank God it’s not just me!

    I’m so tired of the Hollywood elite slobbering over Gigli! That’s how seriously I take him. The truth is that Afflak, or Gigli or Congress rep-in-waiting is a good pretender and if the Oscars got one thing right it’s not including him in the Best Director category.

    Every time Gigli won something this season, be it at the Globes or other, he never missed an opportunity to trash Iranians and Iran and whine about how awful Iranians have it, when whatever misery Iranians do suffer is almost STRICTLY based on the U.S./Israeli-instigated sanctions and the decades of meddling in Iran’s internal affairs by the mob CIA and Mossad interlopers. I’m sure Gigli can appreciate the inner workings of mob-groups as he got his reputation pretending at the mob thing on film too. Maybe he should just stick to getting his ego stroked by the Jennifers of this world and pretending to be a flaky mobster, James Bond wannabee Jack Ryan or romantic hearthrob. We should be so lucky.

    Please spare us the next piece of propaganda passing as a cinematic masterpiece! We’re not that stoopid! And the Academy better start raising it’s standards to the level they used to be: This film does NOT rise to the level of (not even close): To Kill a Mockingbird, Apocalypse Now or The Killing Fields! Oh what’s that?…and they didn’t even win! That’s how low the Academy has fallen picking Argo.

    • Maximus Decimus Meridius
      February 26, 2013, 12:55 pm

      ”Please spare us the next piece of propaganda passing as a cinematic masterpiece! We’re not that stoopid! ”

      Sadly, many/most people are.

  15. MRW
    February 25, 2013, 10:31 pm

    I just have to say this again. Goddam brilliant article, Nima. You got it on the record for posterity.

  16. bilal a
    February 25, 2013, 11:50 pm

    Ethnocentrism at the Oscars;

    Mark Wahlberg and Ted joke about Hollywood discrimination against Gentiles:

    Ted: “Are you Jewish?

    Wahlberg: Wrong answer try again..dont you want to work in this town, or dont you ? ”


    More of an Ethnic power threat than an anti=semetic trope , depending on the ear of the listener I suppose. Gentiles might hear the threat, while its critiqed an an independent insensitivity by the ADL.

    To believe the latter, you have to believe the Ted dialogue , which Wahlberg clearly answers as part of a script, went unreviewed for a mulimillion dollar global presentation.

    Its prefaced by:

    Ted: “I was born Theodore Shapiro and I would like to donate money to Israel and continue to work in Hollywood forever,”

    • Annie Robbins
      February 26, 2013, 1:45 am

      Wahlberg: Wrong answer try again..dont you want to work in this town, or dont you ?

      ted has that line, not wahlberg

  17. Keith
    February 25, 2013, 11:51 pm

    Several comments are in order. First, yes, this is a great article! Second, although I have looked and can’t find the source, I remember reading that at the time of the Iranian revolution, the government of Israel considered intervening on behalf of the Shah, but decided against it. One of the more radical of the officials felt that several thousand well disciplined troops could secure victory. Third, I continue to maintain that Hollywood and the rest of the entertainment media are at least as significant as the MSM in propagandizing the American people. They are the keepers of the mythology which forms the reality against which the ‘news’ is perceived and evaluated. Finally, even a cursory look at the violence and militarism coming out of Hollywood speaks volumes about where the dominant elites are taking us. Extreme violence and torture are being normalized, the inevitable byproduct of a warfare state.

  18. MHughes976
    February 26, 2013, 6:09 am

    On the somewhat related topic of Zero Dark 30, there’s a review in the London Review of Books (often called anti-Israel) by Michael Wood, which is quite favourable. Less about advocating torture than presenting Obama spouting bland falsehoods.

    • marc b.
      February 26, 2013, 4:48 pm

      mHughes, i got mine yesterday in the mail, and that was a truly putrid review by wood. i think he really missed the point of the movie. the more i reflect on the two-plus hours i spent watching that movie, the more layers of grotesque propaganda come to the surface: the sensual almost sexual symbiosis portrayed between the terrorists and their pursuers, the amorphous cinematic smudge that makes up the ‘islamic’ masses, the insistence through its form that zd30 (like argo) is some new form of documentary. it’s all very disturbing, that last point in particular. are argo and zd30 just more movies ‘based on real life events’, or are they are a radical departure, an open, explicit subversion of ‘real’ history in favor of the ‘triumph of the will’ as bigelow put it in one of her interviews? (although i don’t know if she meant it like that.)

  19. Ecru
    February 26, 2013, 5:48 pm

    To be fair Hollywood has a terrible track-record when it comes to making films about historical events. U-571 must be the classic example. A U-boat captured by American sailors who hadn’t even entered the war yet, the awful portrayal of the German submariners and they even got the name of the boat wrong! If you want anything even approaching historical veracity – better skip the Hollywood machine. Don’t even get me started on Gladiator!

    As for the rest of it, much I feel can be explained by Americas strong strain of xenophobia (ironic in a nation made up of immigrants), insularity and frankly boundless national chauvinism. Of course the Canadians couldn’t be given their true credit, only the USA can be the hero because the simple truth seems to be that if Hollywood wants a film to succeed they HAVE to make the hero American or American audiences simply won’t watch it. Look what they almost did with the Battle of Britain movie Tom Cruise was linked to.

    What IS dodgy is the timing. It just seems a little TOO convenient for me that this movie was made while Israel and the USA are ramping up towards another war. This time with the “baddies” of the latest blockbuster. And I know that’s conspiracy territory but not all conspiracies are fictions.

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