“Argo” as Orientalism and why it upsets Iranians
Posted on 02/26/2013 by Juan

The taking of US diplomatic personnel hostage by radical Iranian activists and angry crowds in November of 1979, and then the backing for this action of the government of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, was profoundly illegal. I know some of the former hostages, and deeply sympathize with their trauma. Nothing justifies what was done to them.

But Ben Affleck’s otherwise fine, Oscar-winning film, “Argo,” about the escape of some US embassy personnel, functions as American propaganda and a sort of neo-Orientalism. That it was based on a memoir of the incident by a former Central Intelligence Agency operative involved in the rescue is part of the problem. That memoir is a primary source and valuable, but good history, and good story-telling about history, weights sources and tries to correct for their biases. “Argo” does not. Some of the Iranian objections to the film are equally grounded in propaganda concerns, but some are legitimate.

It isn’t just that the memoir slights the massive contribution of the Canadian embassy and Canadian diplomats to the mission and plays up the relatively minor CIA role. (Virtually every good idea that contributed to the success of the rescue came from Canada, but somehow American movie audiences insist that it all has to be about us.) Nor that Britain’s important role is denied and even denigrated Nor is my main objection that a whole series of exciting events are invented that never occurred. It is that the entire context for these events is virtually absent and the Iranian characters are depicted as full of mindless rage.

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