Posts Tagged ‘Argo’

Argo & Zero Dark Thirty now get to lie to many more people, with their DVD and Blu-Ray releases. If you haven’t yet read about these monumental piles of propaganda, then here:

Zero Dark Thirty Scandal Files
The Argo Recap

Short version: Argo makes the murderous CIA the heroes and embellishes enough to demonize all Iranians, wihch is grade-a war propaganda if you’re looking to start a new war on that nation. Zero Dark Thirty fabricates a justification for torturing people by falsely showing torture leading to bin Laden. Not much has changed since Leni Riefenstahl and the Nazis, except the propaganda has gotten more subtle and sophisticated.

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Former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr. (Photo credit: Peter Weis)bani-sadr-bypeterweis-206x300

Bani-Sadr said he and all other major candidates for the Iranian presidency supported releasing the hostages. He noted that after taking that position, he won the election with 76 percent of the vote. He added:

“Overall, 96 percent of votes in that election were given to candidates who were against [the hostage-taking]. Hence, the movie misrepresents the Iranian government’s stand in regard to hostage-taking. It also completely misrepresents Iranians by portraying us as irrational people consumed by aggressive emotion.

 

“October Surprise” and “Argo”

by Robert Parry

CAVEAT: I usually disagree with Robert Parry and his blinkered views and partisanship.  On this issue, however, he is well versed.

 

With quite a bit of luck compiling all the Zero Dark Thirty files into one place, I thought I’d do the same here for Argo, the 2013 alleged “Best Picture” according the the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (Is there any kind of actual academy, or is it more of an elite club, btw?)

The problems with Argo are of two main strands:

  1.  A pro-CIA propaganda bent that ignores way too much to be redeemed.
  2. Demonization of the Iranian people, reducing them to a frothing irrational mob, rather than the desperate people with real grievances they were.

 

Argo: Time to Grow Up and Get Angry? by Kieran Kelly
Argo’s Truth Problems by Nima Shirazi
Imperial Propaganda: Oscar Edition by Joe Giambrone
Target Iran: Argo’s CIA Heroes vs. A Separation by Jennifer Epps
Can Argo’s Best Picture Win Stop War with Iran? by Ruth Hull
“Argo, Fuck Yourself” by Kim Niccolini
Argo in Context by Patrice Greanville
Argo (2012) by Eric Walberg
Timely CIA/Iran Propaganda Film: “Argo” by Danny Schechter
The Lies Screenwriters Tell Themselves by Joe Giambrone

 
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Argo: Time to Grow Up and Get Angry?

by Kieran Kelley

 

The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off” – Gloria Steinem.

There have been a number of critical condemnations of the film Argo. The most thoroughgoing that I have read is this one. What seems to me to be missing is any critique that successfully conveys the utter ludicrousness of expecting something other than lying propaganda to come out of a Hollywood film about the CIA in 1979. It is like expecting the Soviets to have made an accurate and unbiased account of KGB activities during the Prague Spring. I saw the preview before the film’s release, and after about 5 or 10 seconds of suspense it became apparent that it was a load of crap – the usual Orientalist stuff, straight out of the Reel Bad Arabs playbook, except with Persians instead of Arabs. The film mirrors the preview – at first it seems possible that one might be about to see a balanced and thoughtful movie, and then… not. Decidedly not.

Let me begin with some historical context. The CIA’s first coup in Iran, considered at the time “its greatest single triumph”,1 brought the Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlevi to a position of supreme power. The CIA “wove itself into Iran’s political culture”.2 They created SAVAK, a notorious “intelligence” agency, trained in torture by the CIA3 and supported by the CIA and DIA in a domestic and international dissident assassination programme.4 Repression was at its peak between 1970 and 1976 resulting in 10,000 deaths.5 By 1976 Amnesty International’s secretary general commented that Iran had “the highest rate of death penalties in the world, no valid system of civilian courts and a history of torture that is beyond belief. No country in the world has a worse record of human rights than Iran.”6

Nafeez Ahmed cites the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) who detail an extensive police state of intense surveillance and informant networks and torture “passed on to it” by US, UK and Israeli intelligence. Ahmed quotes the FAS on methods including “electric shock, whipping, beating, inserting broken glass and pouring boiling water into the rectum, tying weights to the testicles, and the extraction of teeth and nails.”7 Racism allows commentators such as Tim Weiner to blithely exculpate the CIA of fundamental guilt: “The CIA wanted SAVAK to serve as its eyes and ears against the Soviets. The shah wanted a secret police to protect his power.”8 After all, what could civilised Westerners teach Orientals about torture? But something of the real US attitude to such repression can be seen in the official reaction to the unrest developing in the late 1970s. Aside from US officials consistently urging and praising military responses to protest action, including inevitable massacres,9 the US ambassador objected strongly to a reduction in repression. In June 1978 he reported his finding that, “the Shah’s new directives to his security forces, such as instructions to desist from torture… are disorienting.”10 The funny thing about this was that it occurred after the US had forced the Shah into the liberalisation that set loose the forces that were to rip his régime apart.11 This may seem puzzling, but it made more sense for the US to push Iran into the easily vilified “enemy” hands of an Islamic theocracy than to try to maintain control over a Shah who, however repressive, was determined to develop his populous oil-rich country independently.

That is the key point that you will almost never hear about: the US was sick of the Shah. He had become too nationalistic and developmentally inclined, and they didn’t want him any more. They may not have really wanted a revolution in Iran, but they weren’t going to shed tears over the Shah’s departure. Their main fear was the strength of the secular revolutionary left, which had more popular power than the Islamists (despite SAVAK’s repression) so the US helped nurture the Islamist factions.

The CIA were far from unaware of the impending fall of the Shah’s régime, here is a quote in the film which is an instance of absolute barefaced deception: “Iran is 100% not in a pre-revolutionary state. CIA brief, November first, 1979.” Let’s not be stupid here – it is one thing to claim not to know of an impending revolution, but the film is claiming that the CIA were unaware of a revolution that had already happened. Of course some people in the CIA knew that revolution was brewing and the actual CIA brief was from August 1978 and was plainly dishonest even then. By that stage even the State Department was planning for a post-Shah Iran.12 The revolution had actually happened nearly a year before Argo claims that the CIA believed it wasn’t going to happen (the Shah fled Iran in January, Khomeini returned from exile on February 1). But Argo makers really, really, really want you to “know” that the CIA were caught flat-footed and are willing to go to considerable lengths to make you believe this lie.

There is another deception in the film which indicates a conscious systematic attempt to indoctrinate the audience. Some describe Argo as “well-intentioned but fatally flawed”, but these “good intentions” cannot possibly be reconciled with the disgusting propaganda treatment of the issue of the shredded documents put together by Iran. The documents seized by radicals in the embassy takeover were the Wikileaks of their time. Most seized documents were not shredded and they exposed massive systematic illegality and wrongdoing by US personnel, especially the CIA. They were extremely historically significant. Iran spent years piecing together the shreds and the reconstruction was a major intelligence and propaganda coup. In the film, however, we see a very different narrative played out, and we are shown a set of very different images.

In the film, for some inexplicable reason, there were xeroxed photographic images of the staff who had escaped from the embassy when it was seized by radicals. Could this simply be a cinematic plot device for generating suspense? Not really. Any number of other devices might have been used – such as a dragnet, or informants, or surveillance (mobile or static), signals interception and cryptography. You name it, if you are willing to make stuff up, then there is quite a lot you could make up that would be potentially more suspenseful and, unlike this particular conceit, wouldn’t run such a risk of the audience losing their suspension of disbelief because of such an obvious unrealism.

“Realism”, I should add, is a very import aspect of this film. It is not done in a documentary style, but is presented as a dramatisation of historical events. Let me illustrate with a quote at length from Wide Asleep in America:

[Salon’s Andrew] 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.”

To emphasise this point, the initial part of the end credits juxtaposes images from the film with real documentary images. They show how much the actors look like the people they portray. The show how they had faithfully recreated scenes from the revolution. And they show the teeny tiny hands a the poor slave children forced to piece together shredded CIA documents. Wait a second though… don’t the hands in the real photo, despite severe cropping, look more like a woman’s hands? And why would young children be used to piece together valuable and vulnerable documents written in a language that they could not possibly understand?

For some reason the film makers took it upon themselves to invent a whole bunch of “sweatshop kids” putting together these documents. There is no conceivable reason to do so that does not involve conscious deceptive propaganda. In this case, the intent is to make deliberate emotive subliminal association. What do I mean by subliminal? As Joe Giambrone explains:

The father of modern propaganda, Edward Bernays, wrote in the late 1920s:

The American motion picture is the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda in the world to-day. It is a great distributor for ideas and opinions. The motion picture can standardize the ideas and habits of a nation.” (Bernays 1928)

Bernays noted the “unconscious” character of much film propaganda. It was not necessary to directly state messages, but to let the scenarios and the story world carry the messages in the background. Once immersed in the foreground story — whatever it was — the “unconscious” background elements were passed to the audience without critical interference and often without the viewer’s knowledge.

This subliminal quality is praised by Bernays as a positive thing, in his view. This is hardly surprising as Bernays’ concept of propaganda is broad in scope encompassing every medium and method of communication that exists. Bernays’ seminal book Propaganda begins:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized.” (Bernays 1928)”

Subliminality doesn’t mean that images are flashed too quickly to be noticed, rather that associations are made without conscious thought. It is true that you can find a great number of deliberately concealed images in advertising, but the claim that this is all that constitutes subliminal advertising is itself a deception. Advertising, in particular television advertising, is dominated by subliminal messaging, and it is not about tricky concealment. It uses repetition more than anything else, to make associations between advertised products and services with other desires – particularly, but not exclusively, sexual. If you want to sell a car, you don’t generally use brake horsepower or fuel consumption statistics. You associate it with a lifestyle, with attractive people, with status, with sex, with success, with normalcy, with excitement, with fine wine and food, and so forth. That is subliminal.

Obviously when film makers are unconsciously disseminating their own internalised propaganda they convey such messages subliminally. Subliminal means below the threshold, meaning, in this case, below the threshold of consciousness. This is a very, very significant manner in which an orthodox ideology, such as chauvinist US exceptionalism, is deepened and perpetuated. However the deliberate use of techniques designed to manipulate people by subliminal means can be far more powerful still. As an apposite example, let us examine Michelle Obama’s Oscar night appearance. Some have pointed out that Obama being flanked by military personnel as “props” suggests a desire to subliminally associate the First Lady and the presidency with military virtues. That may well be the case, but think how common it is to see faces arrayed behind political speakers in our times. Every time it is possible to do so nowadays, major US politicians will have a bunch of people in uniform behind them when they speak. But it is not strictly about the association with uniforms. Press conferences often pose colleagues behind the speaker – including military briefings almost as a matter of course – and when politicians speak to political rallies or party conferences, they are framed by a sea of supporters’ faces behind them.

You see, we automatically respond to other people’s facial expressions. In fact eliciting an emotional response is as much a component of facial expression as conveying emotion is, and this occurs subliminally. Now think again of Giambrone’s description: “… the ‘unconscious’ background elements were passed to the audience without critical interference and often without the viewer’s knowledge….” The people behind the speaker are being used as a way of evoking an emotional reaction like some science fiction mind control ray. Fortunately, people are fickle creatures and often their reaction to watching the back of a speaker’s head, no matter how eloquent, is to look bored or embarrassed. But clearly the technique is being perfected, and the people chosen are those who can be relied upon to convey the right emotions, hence the predilection for military personnel and partisan enthusiasts.

Similarly, subliminal messaging in advertising and film is often also aimed at a gut level. They are not conveying particular ideas, but emotions. The victim (I mean viewer) can rationalise these emotions any way they might later choose, and the brilliance of the system is that it enlists every victim’s own inventiveness tailored in response to each specific circumstance that might challenge or belie the conditioned sentimental sense of reality. So where does this leave us with regards to Argo‘s mythical “sweatshop kids”? We have precisely four references to them. The first is in our hero’s initial briefing: “The bastards are using these [pause and do gesture to indicate need to
convey novel concept] mmm sweatshop kids.” Nearly an hour later, we are shown about 5 seconds of the “sweatshop”. It actually looks very stupid if you pay attention to it, but it is over too quickly to register (more subliminality similar to that used in The Hurt Locker). What it actually shows, when the camera pulls back to reveal the scene for around one second, is dozens of children aged about five to eight sitting amidst piles of paper shreds. There is an unnatural hush, redolent with a sense of fear. Half of them are just staring into space, and there is no conceivable way that any of them could actually be doing any useful work. Accompanying the scene is one of the 16 tracks on the official soundtrack. It is called “Sweatshop” and here it is:

Note the image chosen for the album cover.

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Oscar Prints the Legend:
Argo’s Academy Award and the Failure of Truth

by Nima Shirazi

Originally at Wide Asleep in America

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 celebrating 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 diplomats, 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 inaccurate1 – 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.

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Can Argo’s Best Picture Win Stop War with Iran?

by Ruth Hull

On February 24, 2013, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has thrown down the Gauntlet to Congress, the President, the corporate oil vultures and the Military Industrial Complex by presenting the Best Picture Award to Argo, a movie showing that peace is the way to save lives in response to an act of war.


 

On November 4, 1979, Iranian students stormed the American Embassy in Tehran and took Americans hostage. This was a violation of U.S. Sovereignty. America was attacked where it was supposed to be secure under international law. But Jimmy Carter refused to take up the sword. Instead, he took up the dove and got everyone home, alive and safe.

The takeover of the American Embassy was effectively an act of war – unlike any current actions of Iran involving the United States or its citizens. Iran has not taken over any of our embassies since 1979. It has committed no acts of war against the United States. Its peaceful nuclear energy plan (albeit an unhealthy and unsafe energy plan) is peaceful.  In fact, if asked their opinion, most Americans living near nuclear power plants would gladly encourage the U.S Government to dig up and ship all 104 of our operational nuclear reactors to Iran as a belated Christmas present. I live near San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) and Californians have been trying to get rid of that plant for decades as it is the most unsafe reactor in America.

In 2013, Congress has been besieged with lies about Iran by hawks, eager to attack the country with the fourth largest oil reserves in the world, after “Venezuela, Saudi Arabia and Canada.”  Congressional warmongers are eager for war.

In the face of all this genocidal drive towards another future wasteland of dead babies and innocent civilians as a ritual sacrifice to the U.S. Military Industrial Complex, the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences has boldly stood up and reminded the blood-thirsty Congressional and Executive Branch hawks of the success of Jimmy Carter’s path towards peace.

As shown in Argo, while peace saved lives in 1979 and 1980, it did not save Jimmy Carter’s Presidency. Heroically, he put the lives of others before his own career. He could have taken credit for the rescue of six American from the Canadian Ambassador’s home instead of letting the Canadians have the credit. However, that would have risked Canadian lives in Iran. Carter was not about to risk lives to save his Presidency.

Also clear from the movie was the attempted undermining of Carter’s peace plan by a shadow government with ties to the Pentagon. Movie goers see that Tony Mendez, the CIA rescuer who conceived and carried out the plan for the Argo rescue, actually had to go against CIA superiors in order for the plan to succeed. If he had listened to his CIA bosses, the six Americans would have been captured and they and the Canadian diplomats could have been killed. This betrayal by the intelligence community is no surprise as a helicopter rescue plan was sabotaged by people in the Military Industrial Complex working against Carter and the hostages. The helicopter rescue idea was ridiculous, given the terrain and weather conditions in Iran. The military advisors had to know the helicopter plan would fail and embarrass the President even as they were working to sell the plan as a likely success scenario. Going against his bosses, Argo’s Mendez proved that he was one CIA officer who cared more about saving lives than about bringing down a President.

Continue Article

The Academy shied away from endorsing torture lies. I’d like to think that the noise we all made had some real effect on their decisions. ZD30 ended up tying for sound — what-ever. Other than that, empty handed in every category.

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Ang Lee takes home Best Director, and it is much-earned. Life of Pi is being compared to a religious experience by a whole lot of people, and it really is powerful and unforgettable.

Argo remains a poor substitute for an honest look at America’s role in the world. And we’ve talked enough about that.
 

 

On a more serious note, LIFE OF PI should win Best Picture. Here are a couple of articles on the film:

Captivating: Life of Pi (2012)

Life of Pi (2012)

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Haven’t seen Silver Linings Playbook yet, but I think Kim Nicolini is rooting for it.


 

We already covered the hell out of the propagandistic ZD30 and Argo.

Anything  else to add, people?  Speak up.

Edit

There’s also the Django wildcard to contend with.  I highly doubt Academy members are going to go that way, but with votes getting split between 9 players, who know?

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Django: Blowing the Pulp Out of Dixie

Django’s Vengeance

Django Unchained (2012)
 

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Imperial Propaganda: Our Highest Achievement

Joe Giambrone

Hollywood likes to pretend that things aren’t political when they are.  It’s that bi-partisan nationalist myth that if both corporate parties agree to cheer for the empire, then everyone cheers for the empire.  It’s gotten so bad now that races like the Oscars and the Writer’s Guild screenwriting award are tight contests between one CIA propaganda film and another CIA propaganda film.  The first one helps to demonize Iranians and set up the next World War scenario, while the second film fraudulently promotes the effectiveness of state-sanctioned torture crimes.

If there ever was a time for loud disgust and rejection of the Hollywood / Military-Industrial-Complex, this would seem to be it (contact@oscars.org).  Naomi Wolf made a comparison of Zero Dark Thirtys creators Bigelow and Boal to Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (Triumph of the Will).  That, to me, seems inappropriately offensive to Leni Riefenstahl.  The good German filmmaker never promoted torture through deception.  Nor was Triumph a call to war.  The film was simply an expression of German patriotism and strength, rebirth from the ashes of World War I.  The current insidious crop of propaganda, as in the CIA’s leaking of fictional scenes about locating Osama Bin Laden through torture extraction, are arguably more damaging and less defensible than Riefenstahl’s upfront and blatant homage to Hitler’s leadership.

The Zero Dark Thirty scandal should be common knowledge by now, but here is what the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence wrote to Sony Pictures about it:

“We believe the film is grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to the location of Usama bin Laden…  Instead, the CIA learned of the existence of the courier, his true name and location through means unrelated to the CIA detention and interrogation program.”

The filmmakers had every opportunity to explore the issue more fully, instead of relying on the “firsthand accounts” of the torturers themselves, and/or their allies within the Central Intelligence Agency.  Notably, torturers are felons and war criminals.  Those who know about their crimes and help cover them up are guilty of conspiracy to torture.  Thus, these self-serving fairy tales that illegal torture led to the desired results (bin Laden) are tangled up with the motivation to protect war criminals from prosecution.  Not only does this claim of successful torture help insulate the guilty from legal prosecution, it also helps to promote further criminal acts of torture in the future.

Once this red flag issue was raised by the Senate, the filmmakers could have taken a second look at what they had put up on screens and reassessed the veracity of their material and the way it was being sold to the world.  Instead they doubled down.  Bigelow and Boal want it both ways, extraordinary access to CIA storytellers for a documentary-like “factual” telling of the bin Laden execution, but they also want license to claim that it’s just a movie and can therefore take all the liberties they please.

Jessica Chastain, who plays a state-employed torturer/murderer, who also allegedly located Osama bin Laden, said:

“I’m afraid to get called in front of a Senate committee… In my opinion, this is a very accurate film… I think it’s important to note the film is not a documentary.”

In a nutshell, that’s the Zero Dark Thirty defense.  It’s a highly sourced “very accurate film,” but we can take all the liberties we like because it’s not a documentary, and so if we made up a case for torture based on the lies of professional liars in the CIA, then oops.

Mark Boal went so far as to mock the Senate Intelligence Committee, at the NY Film Critic’s Circle:

“In case anyone is asking, we stand by the film… Apparently, the French government will be investigating Les Mis.”

Any controversy over the picture seems to help its box office, as more uninformed people hear about it.  The filmmakers themselves suffer no penalty as a result of misleading a large number of people on torture, to accept torture, to accept a secretive criminal state that tortures with impunity.

Kathryn Bigelow’s wrapped-in-the-flag defense of the film:

“Bin Laden… was defeated by ordinary Americans who fought bravely even as they sometimes crossed moral lines, who labored greatly and intently, who gave all of themselves in both victory and defeat, in life and in death, for the defense of this nation.” (emphasis in original)

Nice propaganda trick at the end equating those who “gave all of themselves” and “death” with the individuals who “sometimes crossed moral lines.”  Everyone’s dirty; you see.  All heroes are torturers; so it’s okay.

Bigelow’s half-assed response to getting called out by the Senate for putting false torture results into her film, is to say:

“Torture was, however, as we all know, employed in the early years of the hunt. That doesn’t mean it was the key to finding Bin Laden. It means it is a part of the story we couldn’t ignore. War, obviously, isn’t pretty, and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences.” (emphasis added)

Ignore?  By her reasoning, because the Central Intelligence Agency tortured people, she was required to fit it into the plot somehow, whether it was relevant to the investigation or not.  That’s her excuse.  No matter that the scenes are fabrications, and the actual clues about bin Laden’s courier came from elsewhere (electronic surveillance, human intelligence, foreign services).

Bigelow told Charlie Rose, when asked the same question about the torture: “Well I think it’s important to tell a true story.”  Unfortunately, when confronted with the Senate investigation, truth quickly takes a back seat.

The truth Bigelow now clings to is that, “Experts disagree sharply on the facts and particulars of the intelligence hunt, and doubtlessly that debate will continue.”  To Kathryn Bigelow, the fact that the so-called “experts” she has sided with are torturer criminals with a vested interest in her portrayal of their crimes never occurs to her.  She can dismiss the entire matter as a “debate.”  Perhaps she no longer finds it “important to tell a true story?”

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I can’t help but feel a little relief that it wasn’t ZDT.  Perhaps the judges there were cautious enough to avoid that stigma.  Who wants to be known for supporting torture lies?

Argo, however, is more CIA so-called “heroism” with the people of Iran in the crosshairs.  As we “look forward instead of backward” in the words of Obama, on why he won’t enforce the law against torturers, we must all bear in mind what “forward” entails.  It entails the known hit list of the US military industrial complex, and at the top of that Mafia styled listing is Iran.  Former General Wesley Clark, among others, have revealed the war plans against Iran for many years now.

Argo is a piece of despicable propaganda because it failed to tell the whole truth about the US fucking over that nation.  Training the Shah’s death squads and secret police, the SAVAK, this was a prime motivator for the mobs of 1979 to rise up and overthrow their oppressors.  Argo sides with the oppressors, and it renders caricatures of Iranians, wild eyed, irrational maniacs to be feared.  Its propaganda value today is clear.

Articles reviewing Argo:

I’m not posting this video here. It’s a discussion of some highly-paid word jockeys, some of whom penned notable political films, including Argo and Zero Dark Thirty.

I stopped watching after the Argonaut tried to pretend that he wrote a balanced portrayal of Iranians, when the most glaring complaint about the film is the exact opposite interpretation:

The film offers only scant insight into how the Islamists came to win over a country that had previously been quite secular and sophisticated.

Very, very few Iranian characters are individualized in Argo, and most of the time when we see Iranians on-screen, their words are not translated for us. Take Farshad Farahat’s character. He is an officer in the Revolutionary Guards, one of the final terrifying obstacles the escaping protagonists must face at the airport. Farahat tries not to play stupid or cartoonish like so many ethnic villains in Hollywood movies, but most of the little he has been given to say is un-translated, so Farahat has to do almost all of the work with his eyes. The movie apparently never intended much more for him: his character’s name is merely “Azzizi Checkpoint #3″.

Another Persian, Reza (Omid Abtahi), makes an appearance in the marketplace in Tehran. His defining characteristic is whether the Americans can trust him. When he is friendly, his words are translated. When an altercation breaks out, there are no subtitles.

And even the point of the jokey snippet of dialogue that is translated seems to be to mock his idea of a Hollywood movie even more than Argo sends up the fake sci-fi B-movie. This dialogue emphasizes his cultural Other-ness, making him sound as sexist and out-of-touch as a Sacha Baron Cohen creation.

Nowhere, in a caper that exists in part to celebrate movie magic, is it mentioned that Iran has its own cinematic tradition…
Iran, Politics, and Film: “Argo” or “A Separation”?, by Jennifer Epps

“The movie is packed with rioting American-hating Iranians with guns, yet the film has no tension whatsoever. Other than a brief history lesson in the beginning of the film and one scene in a public market when an outraged Iranian insists that the diplomats give him a Polaroid photo they shot and mentions that the Shah killed his son, the movie completely neglects to provide the Iranian’s side of the story. The film is a sanitized version of the events. It minimally alludes to the back story of the Iranian revolution but then turns the Iranians into window dressing. They are simply a backdrop that allows the film to tell its patriotic story of the American Hollywood-CIA heroic and covert operation to rescue the diplomats.” –“Argo, Fuck Yourself”, by by KIM NICOLINI

The other Big Lie I’ve heard from screenwriters since time immemorial is that “it’s just entertainment,” as opposed to art. The implication being that films don’t affect the viewer and alter their perceptions of the world. Obviously this is a false view. The father of modern propaganda said it in 1928:

“The American motion picture is the greatest unconscious carrier of propaganda in the world to-day. It is a great distributor for ideas and opinions. The motion picture can standardize the ideas and habits of a nation.” (Propagnada, Edward Bernays, 1928) more

I included the above link to the screenwriter’s discussion mostly because Michael Haneke makes some interesting points about the responsibility to history, and the exploitation of historical situations by the movie business.

“Argo, Fuck Yourself”

by KIM NICOLINI

I have to admit that the numerous times I saw the trailer for Ben Affleck’s Argo (too many to count!), I wasn’t very enthusiastic about it. I wondered who the hell would want to watch this movie about the 1979 Iran hostage crisis as seen through a Hollywood-CIA covert operation. I tend to enjoy historical movies, but this one just looked so weird, scattered and unsure of its message. After seeing it the other night, I can say that while the movie is indeed a little weird, it is far from scattered. Its message is pretty clear and insidious. In fact, Argo is so un-scattered and linear that it is boring while also being politically dubious.

I checked out the reviews of the film before deciding to watch it. Metacritic turns up with an astonishing number of 100s from all the main press, and Rottentomatoes gives the film a 95% positive rating. I thought that maybe my initial impressions from the trailer were wrong.  Given the overwhelming positive responses to the film, maybe Argo really is a good movie. So I went to see it. I should have trusted my initial instincts. As a movie, Argo is a total dud. Besides the fact that it is an exercise in problematic revisionist history, it’s just a crappy movie. I’m fine with using historical material to create a movie that is not wedded to being accurate, but at least the movie should be good, interesting or entertaining. Argo is none of these things. It is a crappy movie with an insidious political agenda. It turns a fascinating “real historical event” into a lousy and tedious screenplay. It is so wedded to its CIA-Hollywood patriotic narrative that the film completely lacks complexity and tension. Its tiresome linear progression mirrors the film’s “Middle of the Road” politics and ultimately left me both bored and bugged at the same time.

The movie is based loosely on real events: Tony Mendez’s account of the historical rescue of six U.S. diplomats from Tehran. “Loosely” certainly is the operative word here. Argo is a piece of cinematic revisionist history if ever there was one. Not only did I find the movie incredibly dull in its exceptionally linear narrative perspective of these historical events, but I was also more than a little annoyed by its historical manipulation.

For me, the only “good” thing about the movie was how it used the cinematic medium to recreate a historical time – 1979. Certainly Affleck’s recreation of history is visually accurate.  If you’re interested in indulging in Set Detail and Costume Fetishism, Affleck’s  cinematic recreation of 1979 fashions, technology and cars delivers the goods while also delivering six white Americans to safety. The cinematography perfectly mimics the look of late 70s film, and the integration of archival news footage lends a sense of authenticity. But there is only so much entertainment value that can be gleaned from indulging in late 70s fetishism. Once I oohed and ahhed a few times at the haircuts and television sets, I found the movie’s seemingly interminable 120 minutes so boring that I actually fell asleep twice.

The movie starts during the tumultuous riots in Iran when Iranians were demanding that Americans return their deposed Shah (Mohammad Rezā Shāh Pahlavī) for prosecution in their own country. The movie is packed with rioting American-hating Iranians with guns, yet the film has no tension whatsoever. Other than a brief history lesson in the beginning of the film and one scene in a public market when an outraged Iranian insists that the diplomats give him a Polaroid photo they shot and mentions that the Shah killed his son, the movie completely neglects to provide the Iranian’s side of the story. The film is a sanitized version of the events. It minimally alludes to the back story of the Iranian revolution but then turns the Iranians into window dressing. They are simply a backdrop that allows the film to tell its patriotic story of the American Hollywood-CIA heroic and covert operation to rescue the diplomats.

Speaking of authenticity, there is nothing authentic about the film’s manipulation of historical events. Its authenticity stops with its haircuts and its use of archival news footage and photographs to give a sense of historical accuracy. Underneath the set details, the burning American flag, and the mirror images from photo archives, Argo really is pure political propaganda. I have some questions to ask here. Why didn’t the Americans just return the Shah to Iran? Why do Americans feel it’s their right to take care of other countries’ business? Why not let the Iranians prosecute their deposed corrupt leader? What’s that old saying about “cleaning up your own backyard before . . .” Also, excuse me in advance if this sounds harsh, but given the vast number of people who have died in the Middle East (Americans, Iranians, Iraqis, Afghanis, etc.), why should we give so much attention to 6 white American diplomats who were saved by Hollywood and the CIA? What about all the other people from so many cultural demographics who have and are continuing to be massacred, murdered and tortured daily?

Needless to say, since it is based on true events, we know the end of the story before going into the movie, and that can take the wind out of a movie’s sails if the film is not done well. But why is it that Hollywood Lefties (Ben Affleck has a clear track record for leaning staunchly to the Left) made a movie about Hollywood joining forces with the CIA to save some diplomats right before the 2012 Presidential election? Why is it that in this film the fact that the hostages were released after Ronald Reagan was elected President and during his inauguration is completely ignored? Why is it that the film ends with the stamp of Jimmy Carter (the Official Voice of American Centrist Democrats) in an actual voiceover narration? And why does it manipulate the delivery of historical information and disregard all the covert financial wheeling and dealing that led to the release of the hostages?

I’ll tell you why. Because Argo, above all else, is a piece of conservative liberal propaganda created by Hollywood to support the Obama administration’s conservative liberal politics as we move toward the Presidential election. In addition, it also primes the war wheels for an American-supported Israeli attack on Iran, so that Leftists can feel okay about the war when they cast their vote for Obama in November.

This leads me to why this movie is one big bore. It’s not a movie at all. It’s exceptionally underhanded political propaganda created by Hollywood to try to win over right leaning war supporters to Obama’s conservative liberal politics while appeasing centrist Leftists (which Hollywood embodies to the max) to feel good about voting for a President who supports war.

Propaganda, as a general rule, does not make good film. So why do so many movie critics love this movie? I seriously don’t know. If they were looking at the film critically, they would have to see it as boring and flawed.

Perhaps it is because movie critics are also part of the movie industry. The movie industry plays a considerable role in the patriotic heroics of this film. In Argo, Hollywood works with the CIA to save the day and the 6 American diplomats. Not surprisingly, Hollywood as an “institution” is the most entertaining part of the film. For the record, the movie industry is played by a tremendously amusing John Goodman and Alan Arkin. Their performances are enormously entertaining. They give us a chance to laugh, and they insert humor into this piece of propaganda as another level of making war comfortable by making it funny. Goodman and Arkin play the movie executives who work with Affleck’s Tony Mendez to create the fake film Argo as a ploy to get the diplomats out of Iran by “casting” them as members of a film team scouting for shooting locations for their science fiction film. The best part of the movie is Goodman and Arkin’s on-going joke “Argo Fuck Yourself.” After digesting the film’s conservative liberal patriotic agenda, I can pretty much say the same thing that Arkin and Goodman say about the movie they star in: “Argo fuck yourself.”

To wrap up the political agenda, the movie ends with Ben Affleck’s Tony Mendez returning home to reunite with his family as a hero, a father, and a husband. If you’re going to make a 2012 election year propaganda film, you’ve got to have your family values! Then finally, we get the reassuring “stamp of authenticity” as the film pairs photos of the real diplomats with the actors who played them while Jimmy Carter assures us that there can be peaceful resolutions to international crisis (even if a few thousand people die along the way, ahem). But the movie never talks about those people – all the ones (Iranian and American) who actually did die just because we felt like we needed to clean-up the world’s dirty laundry (so we could keep our American dirty hands in the oil supply).

Personally, I found the movie hard to stomach, not just because it is boring but because it is so ideologically problematic. Don’t get me wrong. I’m no enthusiast for Obama’s centrist Democratic politics, and never have been.  However, I do understand how the politics of this country work, so I will be voting for Obama in November. I understand that as much as my ideals would like to believe otherwise, there are only two choices in this America – More and Less Bad. Voting for the Less Bad Democrats is the only way to beat the More Bad Republicans, and I do not want my daughter living in a world where Mitt Romney is President. She has already inherited the nightmare legacy of two Bush administrations. Despite my antipathy toward Obama and his policies, I sure in the fuck hope he does win the election because the alternative makes me puke. But Democrats are not saints by a long shot, despite what movies like Argo make them out to be. Argo is just another piece of Democratic Party Packaging made to win votes by walking a conservative line that somehow attempts to be liberal while also supporting the problematic politics of the conservative liberal agenda. (e.g. It’s okay for Israel to bomb Gaza on a daily basis.)

Am I sorry that I wasted my time and money watching Argo? No, I’m not. Watching a movie like this and thinking about why people like it so much when it’s so wrong is worthwhile. I put my money on this film to win the Best Picture Oscar (even though there is nothing remotely “best” about it) especially if Obama can pull off winning the Presidential election. Since Ben Affleck has made Argo, if Obama does win, Hollywood will be so happy with itself. It can give itself a big pat on the back for helping save the American diplomats back in 1979, for supporting the conservative Democratic agenda, and for helping the Democrats win the 2012 election. Argo may be the most self-congratulatory film Hollywood has ever made, but that does not make it a good film, not by a long shot.

Kim Nicolini is an artist, poet and cultural critic living in Tucson, Arizona. Her writing has appeared in Bad Subjects, Punk Planet, Souciant, La Furia Umana, and The Berkeley Poetry Review. She recently published her first book, Mapping the Inside Out, in conjunction with a solo gallery show by the same name. She can be reached at knicolini@gmail.com.