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It is not a true story
March 2, 2013 3:20 AM   Subscribe

"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." -- Nima Shirazi explains what's wrong with Argo's depiction of the Iranian hostage crisis.
posted by MartinWisse (110 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
Related:Ben Affleck starts new project detailing CIA’s battle at Vimy Ridge
posted by Brodiggitty at 3:37 AM on March 2, 2013 [26 favorites]


The continuous barrage of American propaganda and lies continues apace, and in fact, speeds up and becomes more blatant. Next up - How the CIA won the Battle of Britain.

I doubt anyone will do a film about the OSS/CIA and Reinhard Gehlen.
posted by marienbad at 3:48 AM on March 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


No, propaganda and lies are deliberate attempts to deceive. Develop a high enough level of arrogance and the self-aggrandizing myths tell themselves.

Brodiggitty must be an American to have come up with such a perfectly apposite link.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 4:03 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Someone should write a sequel wherein we discover that Argo was a bullshit film, made up by the CIA in order to further their political interests in Iran. Who can we cast that can act a bit to portray a director who goes through a reasonably convincing journey from the scrap heap to emotional oscar acceptance? I wonder if Affleck is available.
posted by pmcp at 4:04 AM on March 2, 2013 [9 favorites]


(Oh dear, I'm on the internet concocting conspiracy theories. Time to get some fresh air.)
posted by pmcp at 4:06 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thank god for this article. I'm glad someone was able to put into words the feeling I have about this film. America you worry me sometimes. I don't know why you need so much truthiness; it just seems unhealthy.
posted by vicx at 4:10 AM on March 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


A very good article. Although I have to say that the utter indifference to any possibility that the US might be in the wrong on some matters is hardly exceptional to this movie (Just look at the list of nominees for this year.), but of course the subject matter brings it very much to the foreground. Those quotes from Affleck are also very revealing.

However this bit from the article was kind of jarring:

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;

The difference being that an Oscar is an award presented for the best fictional film and it wasn't a bad film, as far as Hollywood movies go. Comparing an Oscar to a Nobel peace prize is just weird though.
posted by Authorized User at 4:23 AM on March 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


It would be interesting to compare American propaganda films with those of other nations during times of increasingly authoritarian grips.
posted by DU at 4:26 AM on March 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


I agree with DU, and I don't want to misread the sentiment, but: I don't want to dismiss this as, "Oh well, everyone's always done this."

It is important to take these things in context and see how they happen elsewhere. And it would be interesting to explore media and behavior like this (or its opposite) in different historical and societal contexts.

However, if there's one endeavor in which you can truly say the US is exceptional, it's film. We really have historically set the bars and norms. We SHOULD do everything we can to be mindful and better than this. Of course this kind of movie get's made everywhere. It's been made here hundreds of times, too. Making it "Best Picture" is where we stumble.

Whether you want the US to engage the global community more evenhandedly or you believe that the US has a positive, exceptional role to play on the world stage, it is clear that we should hold our hugely influential film culture to a higher standard than this.
posted by es_de_bah at 4:42 AM on March 2, 2013


Next up - How the CIA won the Battle of Britain.

That was pretty much done by the film U-571, where the Americans somehow captured a naval Enigma machine. Which was a bit of a surprise to the non-American who did it, and all World War II historians.

(As the saying goes, don't let the facts get in the way of a good story.)

For balance, there's also been plenty of examples in the other direction, films and TV shows made for a British audience on how the plucky Brits pretty much single-handedly won World War 2. Was pretty much force-fed on these through my childhood.

But, two (historical) wrongs don't make a (factual) right, and all that. Guess the film industries of every country make the films (they think) the largest audience wants to see.
posted by Wordshore at 4:46 AM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


American films seem to do this a lot. Even Hyde Park seemed too revisionist for me, just from watching the trailer. America's dominance in film, like in most areas, is of course based on money and power- not necessarily on talent, vision or story lines.
posted by bquarters at 4:48 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Compare with the fucking extraordinary Carlos.
posted by nathancaswell at 4:49 AM on March 2, 2013


I think it pretty much says it all when two of the nicest, most self-effacing guys in the world - Ken Taylor and Jimmy Carter - publicly call your film bullshit. All commentary after that is merely a debate on its size, richness, and consistency.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 5:06 AM on March 2, 2013 [19 favorites]


Falsities notwithstanding, I just found Argo incredibly boring and full of overacting and dull swagger. There's nothing challenging or mind expanding in it, just misbegotten hero worship. Bleh.
posted by Burhanistan at 5:11 AM on March 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


Meh.

Its a movie. Its a movie made by a American citizen, an American company, American actors and from an American perspective. So was JFK. So was Syriana. So were Forrest Gump and The Little Mermaid. That's not the same thing as American propaganda. I don't think anyone (pmpc notwithstanding) really thinks that Ben Affleck was intentionally channeling the interests of the CIA, the USG or some broader conservative historical revisionism.

That said, movies about history, supposedly based on a true story, are always inaccurate (and often bad - I thought Carlos was terrible). Sometimes the accuracy has a specific agenda (which I don't think was the case here), sometimes its sloppiness, sometimes its driven by the exigencies of narrative and dramatic structure. But its always excellent that people who know more about the context and the history step in to dispute and correct the history as much as possible.
posted by RandlePatrickMcMurphy at 5:15 AM on March 2, 2013 [14 favorites]


I didn't mind the movie as a work of fiction. It did what most Hollywood blockbusters can't do anymore: hold my attention for two hours.

What is hilarious is that during the credits, they put the movie's passports on screen with the actual fabricated Canadian passports to show how closely the actors resembled the real embassy workers. "Look at our careful attention to detail!"

For the record justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow, I'm Canadian.
posted by Brodiggitty at 5:22 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


What is hilarious is that during the credits, they put the movie's passports on screen with the actual fabricated Canadian passports to show how closely the actors resembled the real embassy workers. "Look at our careful attention to detail!"

There's another whole annoying "propaganda" element there, as well as another "well everybody does it" Hollywood tradition to be ashamed of...all the supporting roles are cast relatively lookalike and then Ben goes ahead and takes the lead himself to play a Hispanic guy. WTF? Racewashing much?

Basically when it comes down to it, the movie was called Argo and the hostages were in Iran. Those are the only solidly accurate details they seemed to care about. In that case, why even make this movie?
posted by trackofalljades at 5:35 AM on March 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


Of course all Hollywood films have an agenda. Its called Box Office. Everything else especially any version of ''truth'' is totally irrelevant.
posted by adamvasco at 5:36 AM on March 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


I mean, it's Hollywood. I don't expect any TV show or movie to accurately depict events. These aren't CIA personnel writing a propaganda film -- they're businesspersons trying to make money. They did a good job of creating a suspenseful film and capturing the visual aspects of the time (clothes, hair, etc).

But propaganda film? Change people's opinions about the CIA, Canada, Iran? Eh. It's about the past. All the major players are probably retired and/or out of power by now. It doesn't reflect on modern politics and foreign relations.

Also, I'd say Americans don't have an innate trust of Hollywood when it comes to fact checking (or at least I hope not -- maybe I'm overestimating people's natural cynicism) and truthful representations of factual events.
posted by DoubleLune at 5:37 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Two words:
Iranian Photoshopping.

Her argument is less valid.

I don't know about other people, but the first thing I did get home on seeing Argo was research it (albeit as far as Wikipedia would allow). I found it diverged considerably from the truth in serveral key areas, but it did not lessen my enjoyment of the film.

I figured out that Hollywood lies decades ago.
posted by Mezentian at 5:39 AM on March 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


On the role of global media on furthering global peace and understanding.
posted by infini at 5:54 AM on March 2, 2013


Hollywood has a very strange notion that what actually happens in the world is never interesting enough for modern filmgoers.

Meanwhile, Dennis Rodman and Kim Jong Un watch the Harlem Globetrotters together and get drunk.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 5:55 AM on March 2, 2013 [10 favorites]


It doesn't reflect on modern politics

But as a propaganda film Argo is totally relevant to modern politics. Iran might be our next big war. And we would strike with shock and awe if the neocons and their bellicose liberal allies in matters of foreign policy had their way. So any film that drags up the past in a manner that makes the people of a country (the USA) less empathetic toward the "enemy" nation is still hugely relevant to modern politics.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 6:04 AM on March 2, 2013 [12 favorites]


Counterpoint: Why I Liked Argo:
Does that make it wrong or disloyal to enjoy this film? If you were among the millions of people on this planet who, ten short years ago, organized and signed petitions and marched and protested and screamed against the war on Iraq until your heart broke, then you have earned the right to enjoy at least the stinging rebuke personified by the character of Sahar, the Canadian ambassador’s housekeeper, (played by Sheila Vand). The camera fools with us at first, coaxing us to give her the cut-eye, until she is questioned by the revolutionaries who come to the gate. “Everyone here is a friend of Iran,” she assures them. And when for this deception we see her forced to flee alone, finding asylum in Iraq, that vengeful cinematic shoe is not being aimed at your head, earnest viewer. It’s being hurled, with excellent aim, on your behalf.
posted by Sokka shot first at 6:06 AM on March 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


That movie won an OSCAR?
Lordy.
I turned it off within probably the first fifteen minutes because if I wanted to watch contrived bogeymen pursue mollycoddled pretty people I might as well watch Friday the 13th or something.
posted by AV at 6:08 AM on March 2, 2013 [5 favorites]


Hollywood is the great Memory Hole. There's no need to get rid of the unwanted truth, you merely make the lies easy to understand and far more appealing.
posted by Jehan at 6:09 AM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


People in this thread seem to forget that the movie places the blame for the Islamic Revolution squarely at the feet of the US for propping up the Shah's regime. But I guess some exaggerations are ok when we happen to agree with them.
posted by gertzedek at 6:15 AM on March 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


There was a recent Metafitler thread that was about people hating actress Anne Hathaway and numerous wondered how people could hate someone that don't know.

I can understand why people would hate Ben Affleck.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:17 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean, it's Hollywood. I don't expect any TV show or movie to accurately depict events. These aren't CIA personnel writing a propaganda film -- they're businesspersons trying to make money.

Its a movie. Its a movie made by a American citizen, an American company, American actors and from an American perspective.


Are all films now exempt from criticism of their historical accuracy or only American ones?
posted by romanb at 6:17 AM on March 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


The story is pure gold to a Hollywood studio, because you've got (a) the longstanding, unresolved anger at the Iranian hostage crisis answered with a happy ending from the U.S. perspective; (b) it's a goddamned heist story and oh how audiences love those; (c) it's a true heist story; and most importantly (d) Hollywood and its dream factory is intimately involved in the happy ending. The movie is less about the Noble and Clever CIA Saving the Day than Noble and Clever Hollywood Saving the Day.

Of course it won Best Picture. It flattered Hollywood as it most likes to be flattered: as a force for good in the real world. Heroic, even. Everything is secondary to that.

Also, one weird factor comes into play when making "true life" stories beyond the usual "needs of the drama": aside from public figures, you can only tell the stories of people whose life story rights you've purchased. This can lead to big stories told from tangential perspectives or with key people sidelined. Remember that Ryan Philippe movie about catching Robert Hanssen, and the main character was a minor dude in the whole investigation? That's because his were the life rights the studio had. I'm not an entertainment lawyer, or any kind of lawyer, but it's possible that whose life story rights they had affected the way Argo was told. (Or not -- I'm workin' without tools here.)
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 6:23 AM on March 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


Argo may be an exercise in American exceptionalism, but it won the Oscar because it's an exercise in Hollywood exceptionalism. There's no kind of film that the film industry loves more or lavishes with more accolades than the kind of film that celebrates the film industry, and Argo is as much about how Hollywood saved the hostages as it is about the CIA.
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 6:23 AM on March 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


I just re-read the article and the writer is pretty fucking dismissive of the actual hostage-taking, hm? It's like those people just had it coming. And being used as props for 444 days? No big deal, let me sing you the song of my people.
posted by gertzedek at 6:28 AM on March 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


Are all films now exempt from criticism of their historical accuracy or only American ones?

Unless you're making a documentary, all of them. They're fiction, and viewers who understand that don't take a storyline as what actually happened. When I watch a French film set in modern France, I still watch it as a fiction.

I mean, I'm sure there are viewers who don't differentiate truth from fiction, and there's power in the masses and all that. But expecting the majority of film viewers to take a fiction as truth? At least in the area I grew up, we learned at a very young age that a movie is made up.
posted by DoubleLune at 6:30 AM on March 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


I saw the movie and while the scene (the one just after he escaped from the sweet romantic liaison with one of the Ayatollah's wives by leaping off the balcony onto a racing Revolutionary Guard truck) where he wrestled three RG toughs to the ground, stole their bazooka and wiped out the viscous second in command that was about to guess his identity, was a bit over the top. I also think the makeup and cgi that was used to transform Affleck into a short man of Mexican nationality was pretty much a failure.

Yeah, it was a movie folks, CIA influence, or ticket sales? Thee guesses, the first two don't count.
posted by sammyo at 6:54 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


America you worry me sometimes. I don't know why you need so much truthiness; it just seems unhealthy.

Yeah, because when other nations hold up the mirror of nationalism only the truth is reflected.

The United States government and media has spent the last three decades tirelessly exacting revenge on Iran for what happened.

I do like the idea that the American idea of revenge is a Ben Affleck movie. I see the author saw "Reindeer Games" as well.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:54 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Unless you're making a documentary

Oh, and folks, not to be too cynical, but documentaries are movies too.
posted by sammyo at 6:56 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


If its bad when America hurts someone, its bad when Iran hurts someone. The writer's assertion that there were fears of a CiA coup, or the Shah got cancer treatment in the US isn't any justification for the seizure of 52 diplomats protected by diplomatic immunity.

Nobody is served when apologia are written, not for America, not for Iran.

One thing the writer avoids is pointing out than Iranians in Iran thought the seizure of the U.S. Embassy was morally wrong. After they learned they could not stop it because Khomeini liked the seizure, Iran's entire interim government resigned.

Taking people hostage for years is wrong. I haven't seen this film, but whatever its errors, the Revolutionary movement in Iran was wrong to hold these persons hostage.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:56 AM on March 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


Its a movie. Its a movie made by a American citizen, an American company, American actors and from an American perspective. So was JFK. So was Syriana. So were Forrest Gump and The Little Mermaid. That's not the same thing as American propaganda. I don't think anyone (pmpc notwithstanding) really thinks that Ben Affleck was intentionally channeling the interests of the CIA, the USG or some broader conservative historical revisionism.

I haven't seen Argo and won't startle too badly at hearsay or speak directly about the film, but there is a generic argument that follows this point for any movie or book produced by someone who is motivated only by thoughts of artistic accolade and a good return, and not by strictly political interests. Which is, that it is all the worse and more affrighting when citizens create of their own will, and by their own means, an entertaining piece with box office appeal that no department of propaganda could have topped. When, that is, such unashamed, nationalist mythology that neglects the non-American is what sells, when a film or other work that functions as propaganda rises to the top of the market, with no help from the state. Intent is irrelevant. What is important is what we see, what is telling is that—presumably—enough of the Hollywood higher-ups decided that a Canadian crew in Argo would not have brought in as much money on general release as would the fiction of a largely American team. (Again, judging only from the article linked to above, and from Carter's statements referenced within it.)

But I agree with you wholly that it is good for these conversations to well up. These movies often provide not only an intellectual impetus for discussion and debate that would not have taken place on such a well-seen platform otherwise, but an emotional one—fact-checking become a crusade—and that makes a country I'd like to live in. As for those who will take no part in the talks that follow these films, they had probably bought into the mythology already, or else left the theater with no doubts as to their having seen a fiction just now. Either way, no one will have been newly convinced of American exceptionalism by anything Hollywood churns out. If it sells, it's already there for the tickling.
posted by mcoo at 7:04 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


adamvasco has it, I think. The agenda is cash. If we Americans have a a bit of "American exceptionalism" vanity in our culture, there's money to be made pandering to it.
posted by tyllwin at 7:06 AM on March 2, 2013


Ironmouth, Mcoo -- great. Let's hear from others who haven't seen the movie.
posted by temporicide at 7:08 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hollywood has done worse than Argo. The 1958 version of The quiet American simply dropped the anti-war message of Greene's book and replaced it by CIA's own Edward Lansdale's input.
posted by elgilito at 7:10 AM on March 2, 2013


Roderick Heath's assessment of "Argo" on its artistic merits as "dolorously competent" made me laugh. The ongoing unquestioning acceptance of all the lethal lies, and high-profile awards given to works of art that perpetuate them, makes me want to cry. I guess it's foolish to expect Hollywood to produce anything other than propaganda, but the Academy used to nominate films like "The Deer Hunter," which at least began to question why we do what we do.

I need to cheer myself up right now, so, some alternatives to the River of Jingo: the films of Jafar Panahi or Abbas Kiarostami. And then there's Persepolis. There are many others if people want to look for them.
posted by Currer Belfry at 7:18 AM on March 2, 2013


I took it first and foremost as fiction, ' loosely based on' perhaps: but watching it, the whole time I couldn't help thinking of the other hostages. To the point that it was distracting - fine you got those six out but, um, what about all the others?

Talking about it with a non-'Murican the other day I was struck that he thought it was a mediocre flick that missed the really interesting point: that this idea to get these people out was nuts, but they went with it. What leads to that kind of decision? That would have been an interesting movie - its a nervy and surprising idea - maybe not that good, but its what they came up with. It is revealing of a certain mindset.

The whole actual event is worth re-visiting as at the bottom is 'blow-back' of a kind that has haunted the US for quite some time.
posted by From Bklyn at 7:21 AM on March 2, 2013


OK, now consider this: After Jaws hit theaters, we nearly drove sharks to extinction with feverish hunting, to the point that their populations may never recover.

Every single person who saw that movie knew that it was fiction, and that those characters were just actors. They probably knew that, in real life, there isn't a shark big enough to eat your boat. But, when the genius scientist character in the movie agreed that killing the shark was the only way to prevent dead tourists, we assumed that part was true. The same as we assumed you could really blow up an oxygen tank by shooting it.

So, we killed all the sharks, based on what the make-believe movie told us.
Cracked, "5 Ways You Don't Realize Movies Are Controlling Your Brain"
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:22 AM on March 2, 2013 [15 favorites]


Ironmouth, Mcoo -- great. Let's hear from others who haven't seen the movie.

I'm interested in the conversation around Argo and hope to have said nothing that would have depended on my having seen it. Arguments about the uninterested intent of any writer or director accused of having created a nationalist film are, as I argued, secondary to how the film functions. This is a discussion that has been ongoing, and I can think of no case in which I wouldn't have responded to RandlePatrickMcMurphy as I did above, even if (as now) I had no reason to be alarmed about the success of the particular work being scrutinized. I hoped to have made that clear, and am sorry I didn't.
posted by mcoo at 7:28 AM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not as bugged by honing in on one tiny "victory" in a massive defeat as I am by a wholesale thieving of someone else's. Still makes me mad, this.
posted by Decani at 7:29 AM on March 2, 2013


Even as a work of fiction, I remember in the theater thinking that the whole story was rather thin and underdeveloped, like they wrote the script from a standard Hollywood how-to book (which Bridesmaids did way better), and really trying to stretch the drama out in very obvious ways.
posted by fuzzypantalones at 7:31 AM on March 2, 2013


But expecting the majority of film viewers to take a fiction as truth? At least in the area I grew up, we learned at a very young age that a movie is made up

My expectation is that criticism of film is not shrugged off because film is 'just fiction'. In the same way that any documentary or a work of Shakespeare or Greek mythologies can be contextualised and analyzed. To believe that films have no effect on people's understanding of events, when there are endless examples proving otherwise, even in places where people are taught to be skeptical, well let's just say I'm skeptical.
posted by romanb at 7:33 AM on March 2, 2013


I was troubled by Argo's distortion of reality (not as troubled as by Zero Dark Thirty, mind), but I thought the meta narrative was brilliant.

In the movie, Tony Mendez (played by Ben Affleck) brings together a team of Hollywood oddballs to create a fictitious hero movie, designed to fool a hostile country into thinking it's authentic.

Meanwhile in real like, Ben Affleck (played by Ben Affleck) brings together a team of Hollywood oddballs to create a fictitious hero movie designed to fool a hostile country into thinking it's authentic.

Well played, Mr Affleck.
posted by Conductor71 at 7:35 AM on March 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


I just re-read the article and the writer is pretty fucking dismissive of the actual hostage-taking, hm? It's like those people just had it coming. And being used as props for 444 days? No big deal, let me sing you the song of my people.

Well, um, the United States did sort of hold Iran hostage for a quarter century, installing and propping up an authoritarian government because cheap oil trumps democracy.

So there's that.

(This kinda hugely important detail -- the reason for the revolution -- was conveniently left out of the film.)
posted by Sys Rq at 7:50 AM on March 2, 2013 [7 favorites]


(^ real life, not real like)
posted by Conductor71 at 7:51 AM on March 2, 2013


It's interesting to compare the national mythos of the US to that of the UK, especially through representations in popular culture. I know a bit about the history of technology, which has the advantage that it's recent, relatively well documented and of high enough commercial importance to attract a healthy amount of academic and popular attention in its own right.

The average Brit, I find, thinks that we invented radar, TV, the jet engine, the cracking of Enigma, and possibly Teh Computer and Teh Intarnetz (Arise, Sir Tim). Very little of these beliefs is true, although all of it has enough to be taken onto arguments about definitions without falling apart immediately. And some of it, the wartime stuff, meshes imperceptibly about self-perceptions of the plucky, tenacious, eccentric British brand of genius.

And many of the people of other nations with whom I've spoken have their own national mythos of inventing some or all of the above - I'd love to read a decent treatment of the creation of television in the modern folklore of different nations, for example. But where it feeds into any sense of national exceptionalism, it seems to me to be second-order, embellished or coloured to suit, rather than being a result of the exceptionalism. I expect the same to be true

I also suspect that the British sense of exceptionalism is heavily modified by everything that's happened since 1939. having had a fairly good run in the previous century and a half. How much of that we bequeathed to the nascent American nation, where it took a path not constrained by the gaining and loss of empire and global domination, may also be interesting waters in which to paddle - or, for properly trained divers, to plumb.
posted by Devonian at 8:00 AM on March 2, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's another whole annoying "propaganda" element there, as well as another "well everybody does it" Hollywood tradition to be ashamed of...all the supporting roles are cast relatively lookalike and then Ben goes ahead and takes the lead himself to play a Hispanic guy. WTF? Racewashing much?


It's worse than that, trackofalljades.

There is an annoyingly vain bit of spin going on with the supporting characters too.

Maybe call it 'agewashing"!

The Canadian ambassador, Ken Taylor, at the time of the real crisis was aged 45.

Yet in the movie, Affleck has him played by a 63-year-old actor.

It's almost as if we are being manipulated to see the CIA as youthful and vigorous and capable (there is a scene in Argo that Affleck plays - totally pointlessly - with his shirt stripped off, come to think of it!) - in contrast, say, to the timid, aging, cardigan-wearing Canadian diplomat!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:03 AM on March 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


I figured out that Hollywood lies decades ago.

Speaking as someone who (for her sins) has had to grade undergraduate history papers based on their understanding of history filtered through film I have to say that the issue of the deliberate misrepresentation of fact in popular culture is larger than your own personal awareness of the functions and purposes of history.

Adults are just as likely to believe idiotic things that are directly related to the self-serving America, Fuck Yeah attitude of our media. For example, US WWII movies are generally written as if the US triumphantly came forward to stop the Nazis and free the Jewish people, ignoring that the Soviet Army on the Eastern Front was arguably a much larger impact on the ending of the conflict and that Roosevelt and the State Department actively worked to keep out Jewish refugees although they (Roosevelt in particular) had been aware since 1933 of the situation for European Jewish people. And so, whenever the subject has come up in my life, people who haven't made any study of the subject invariably present the situation from the point of view of those movies. They don't even know that there is another way of looking at it - since it's not relevant to their interests they simply accept the cultural narrative about the war they've been taught through the media. That blind acceptance of that narrative poisons their understanding of our nation's history and its role in the world, and they don't even know that it's inaccurate, because generally speaking people don't analyze fundamentals of their worldview that are based on facts they don't even know are wrong because they never stopped to think about their complexities.

So every time there's another one of these 'based on a true story' cultural products I'm enormously grateful to the people who clamor about the inevitable inaccuracies. Even though it doesn't actually remove the damage that the perpetuation of xenophobic, generally jingoistic national myths does to the overall national discourse, at least it does remind people that critical analysis of popular culture is important for everyone.
posted by winna at 8:11 AM on March 2, 2013 [21 favorites]


Sys Req, the CIA-sponsored coup that installed the Shah is explicitly referenced in Argo as the main reason why they hate us.
posted by vibrotronica at 8:30 AM on March 2, 2013 [8 favorites]


This kinda hugely important detail -- the reason for the revolution -- was conveniently left out of the film

No it isn't. And that is what makes the entire premise of the post bullshit.
posted by spaltavian at 8:33 AM on March 2, 2013 [14 favorites]


Are all films now exempt from criticism of their historical accuracy or only American ones?

Of course not, and no one is saying that whatsoever. It's good to point out the obvious that the film is fictional and not to take it as "true", but then our culture lacks a widespread understanding of narrative, mythos, and archetypes. Apparently some people fail to understand the difference between fact and fiction, but that's not the problem of the work of art. So pointing out that things didn't happen this way and didn't happen by these people is fine. That's not criticism though, it's just a reminder for those who fail to realize that it's not true.

Criticizing fiction by holding it up to documentary standards is absurd. If Argo were a documentary then it would be a nice piece of horrible propaganda. It's not a documentary. As usual, works of art are often held to extra-literary to borrow a phrase from Northrop Frye concerns, such a how is this work Marxist, Feminist, Fascist, etc., all the while ignoring how is this a work of art in the artistic universe of myth, metaphor, and symbolism.
posted by juiceCake at 8:43 AM on March 2, 2013


But expecting the majority of film viewers to take a fiction as truth? At least in the area I grew up, we learned at a very young age that a movie is made up

About 10 years ago I was watching TV with my uncle and CSI came on, his favorite show at the time. He turned to me and said, "I read that this is the most realistic show about detective work on TV," which, now that I think of it, could have been true, I suppose.

Then there was the time I was watching Pawn Stars with my mom, and I mentioned some kind of detail about a transaction. She didn't get what I was getting at until I explicitly said, "It's because these transactions are staged." It never occured to her at all that a show that has the trappings of reality might be scripted. She still thinks that Coke machine was just a really good restoration.

So the lesson here is that I watch way to damn much TV.
posted by dirigibleman at 8:44 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


What Winna said - and if you doubt the importance of encouraging critical analysis of cultural myths, just look at how repressive regimes and reactionary groups instinctively regard it as highly dangerous. There are many places where it will get you locked up, or worse. A freedom too precious to let atrophy.
posted by Devonian at 8:46 AM on March 2, 2013


It never occured to her at all that a show that has the trappings of reality might be scripted.

The thing that kills me about "reality" television is how there always seems to be a camera inside of a place that a protagonist just found so that we can see them walking into the place from the outside as well as the inside, complete with the lighting all setup on this place they apparently didn't know about.

Or course the Beatles are famous for saying something like let's film what happens and nothing really really does, hence the need for a narrative structure.
posted by juiceCake at 8:49 AM on March 2, 2013


It's kinda of silly - the movie wasn't meant to be a historical record, it's entertainment and the award is a farce. It's Hollywood - sheesh. If folks don't like it, then maybe they should make their own version in the Canadian Hollywood. The film was so-so either way...
posted by vonstadler at 9:12 AM on March 2, 2013


It's kinda of silly - the movie wasn't meant to be a historical record,

Then why is Ben Afleck constantly talking about how they tried to make it very accurate. Reading that article you can't help but think - how much did the CIA pay Affleck to concoct this Pro-USA/CIA fantasy?

When you make a film "based on true events" and then change most of the 'facts' in a way that conveniently supports your country's current intentions to go to war the 'baddies' of the "true-events" then yes it is propaganda.
posted by mary8nne at 9:21 AM on March 2, 2013 [6 favorites]


To criticize a film is absurd; to criticize criticism of a film, that just makes sense and is not at all silly.
posted by romanb at 9:25 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


About 10 years ago I was watching TV with my uncle and CSI came on, his favorite show at the time. He turned to me and said, "I read that this is the most realistic show about detective work on TV," which, now that I think of it, could have been true, I suppose.

Around 2003? Then Da Vinci's Inquest was on the air and, at first glance at least, seems a much more promising candidate for that title (at least in those later seasons).
posted by stebulus at 9:30 AM on March 2, 2013


It's kinda of silly - the movie wasn't meant to be a historical record...

Unfortunately, the movie is now creating the historical record!

The 2012 movie tie-in book is "Argo" by Tony Mendez (the Ben Affleck character) and journalist Matt Baglio.

It is subtitled: How the CIA and Hollywood Pulled Off the Most Audacious Rescue in History.

And you will find it under "non fiction"!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 9:37 AM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


This kinda hugely important detail -- the reason for the revolution -- was conveniently left out of the film

No it isn't. And that is what makes the entire premise of the post bullshit.


Um, no, it makes that sentence I wrote wrong. My bad.

The article makes a lot of really good points, and I don't see how my ignorant misstatement reflects on it at all. (Especially since the article itself contradicts what I wrote.)
posted by Sys Rq at 9:40 AM on March 2, 2013


When you make a film "based on true events" and then change most of the 'facts' in a way that conveniently supports your country's current intentions to go to war the 'baddies' of the "true-events" then yes it is propaganda.

I think you'll find that our current intentions towards going to war with the "baddies" are not quite as extreme as you've come to believe and one of the reasons why we're letting the current commander of CENTCOM go home early. Moreover, why we've been reluctant to engage in Syria as well. Re: CIA paying Affleck... you may be on to something!
posted by vonstadler at 9:47 AM on March 2, 2013


Man, movie was so dumb. Its greatest achievement was accurately copying the look of some photographs. Ben Affleck was dull as paint to watch and I kept wishing the movie would be about one of the other characters, any of the other characters, John Goodman, Bryan Cranston, the guy who looks like Sonny Bono, anyone really.

The worst is that they replaced the sci-fi story, originally based on the awesome Lord of Light by Roger Zelazny, with a much, much dumber sci-fi story.

The list of dumb things about this movie is so long that the fact that it's a pathetically transparent piece of propaganda barely makes the top ten.

I really want to see the Master and Margarita version of Argo though, in which the "real life" story is a completely surreal farce and the science fiction story is told in a straightforward and thoughtfully elegiac style.
posted by speicus at 10:02 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


I figured out that Hollywood lies decades ago.
posted by Mezentian at 1:39 PM on March 2


So did anyone with half a brain. That doesn't make it okay.
posted by Decani at 10:52 AM on March 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


Sys Rq: "(This kinda hugely important detail -- the reason for the revolution -- was conveniently left out of the film.)"

You're wrong. The film makes the connection between the Western support of the Shah and the Islamic revolution several times, by several different characters and by the voice-over recap at the beginning of it.
posted by gertzedek at 11:01 AM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


The article makes a lot of really good points, and I don't see how my ignorant misstatement reflects on it at all

The idea that the movie ignores over the hostage crisis and, indeed, the Revolution, being a stinging American failure is presented. Rather, the movie argues just the opposite and indicates American responsibility. The idea that it rewrites the crisis as another story of American triumphalism is false.
posted by spaltavian at 11:26 AM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


The article did seem to have a viewpoint and cherry picked elements of the film to support it's thesis. Kinda like a scientific paper using the Dawn of the Dead films to prove zombies will come.
posted by sammyo at 11:33 AM on March 2, 2013


Did the people who are saying "It's just a movie." read the whole article? Because it goes on and on about how Ben Affleck is running around everywhere saying it's all true and he hasn't changed anything. So why is he doing it, if it's clearly not true?

[Mind you, I've a had a general dislike for Affleck for a long time, but not one that I've ever thought out, or would have even claimed was justified. This article does fit well with my preconceptions.]
posted by benito.strauss at 12:22 PM on March 2, 2013


The CIA Goes To Hollywood: How America’s Spy Agency Infiltrated the Big Screen (and Our Minds)
posted by homunculus at 12:37 PM on March 2, 2013


New Light on the CIA Coup in Iran on its 60th Anniversary: Why “Argo” Needs a Prequel (Sternfeld)
posted by homunculus at 12:37 PM on March 2, 2013


So why is he doing it, if it's clearly not true?

How the hell would anyone of us know. Can you ask him?
posted by juiceCake at 1:37 PM on March 2, 2013


Argo is an irresponsible piece of sophistry and exploitation. When I saw it in a suburban movie theater outside of NYC last fall, it literally caused a standing ovation. Pandering to the audience in this way, it reinforces a predominant, privileged American ideology while suppressing the true diversity of intellectual perspectives. This is exceedingly harmful to American culture—our culture. And now whose job is it to undo this damage?
posted by polymodus at 1:48 PM on March 2, 2013 [4 favorites]


How the hell would anyone of us know. Can you ask him?

Obviously not. And it seems like no-one who has access to him will ask either. I guess we'll never know. What a bummer, having no way to understand other people's actions beyond what they tell us about themselves.
posted by benito.strauss at 2:01 PM on March 2, 2013


I would speculate that he actually believes what he's saying or feels it's the best way to "sell" the film but who knows. What he says about the film really has nothing to do with it being fiction, whether he claims otherwise or not. Such claims are easily refuted.
posted by juiceCake at 3:47 PM on March 2, 2013


"… stole their bazooka and wiped out the viscous second in command that was about to guess his identity …"

Having not seen the film, I'm just going to assume the 2IC was viscous after being shot by the bazooka…
posted by Pinback at 3:52 PM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


What I was bothered by is that the write-up of the Tony Mendez operation in Wired magazine was very compelling reading just on its own. Affleck made up events that didn't happen when real events were perfectly suspenseful enough on their own.
posted by jonp72 at 5:57 PM on March 2, 2013


This article in Wired?

How the CIA Used a Fake Sci-Fi Flick to Rescue Americans From Tehran

I love how there's still a discussion going on the comments, six years after the article was posted.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:09 PM on March 2, 2013


I'm boycotting Argo because its success probably prevents a real Lord of Light adaptation from being made from Jack Kirby's sketches (and because I read the article) (and because Afflreck whitewashed his character's nationality).
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 6:56 PM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thank god for this article. I'm glad someone was able to put into words the feeling I have about this film. America you worry me sometimes. I don't know why you need so much truthiness; it just seems unhealthy.

I don't know of any great civilization that does not tell myths about itself or mix myth and history. What's 'unhealthy' for the psyche is insisting on bare facts taking precedence over ecstatic truth.
posted by Charlemagne In Sweatpants at 7:00 PM on March 2, 2013


Did the people who are saying "It's just a movie." read the whole article? Because it goes on and on about how Ben Affleck is running around everywhere saying it's all true and he hasn't changed anything. So why is he doing it, if it's clearly not true?
Perhaps because Ben Affleck is a putz?
posted by evilDoug at 7:32 PM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


While I know that "anecdotes are not data," etc., just last night at dinner one of my best friends - who I would characterize as probably just about as informed on international politics topics as any slightly-above average American - said that prior to seeing Argo he had no idea the CIA and the US had been involved in installing the Shah, and the resulting tyranny in Iran. So to say the movie ignores this or omits it is clearly wrong, because if it taught this to my friend, it taught it to others as well.

And even acknowledging the wrongness of putting the Shah in power, does that excuse what was done to the individual Americans at the embassy who were themselves innocent of that particular crime? Does it excuse and exonerate Khomeini for installing his own reign of terror, oppression and religious barbarism, much of which lasts there to this day? If I, as an American, feel bad for what the CIA did with the Shah, does that mean I should rather wish those embassy hostages had been killed?

The scene in the bazaar and the runway chase didn't happen? Ok, fine, and honestly those were two points where I think the film is flawed. The bazaar scene doesn't make sense, and the runway chase is too over-the top (though, as a mere exercise in film drama, it works well.)

The interrogation at the airport, though, I will argue in favor of even if it didn't happen. It's about "showing not telling." A movie can tell is in words that "this is dangerous and risky" as much as it wants - but the best way to get the audience to fully understand that is to make that risk real and actual. The interrogation does that. It confronts us with the risks they were taking, whether or not the scene actually happened. As far as I can see, that scene falls squarely within acceptable compressing of the facts to fit the movie - along with leaving out one of the two main Canadian officials who housed the Americans.
posted by dnash at 8:19 PM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]


And even acknowledging the wrongness of putting the Shah in power, does that excuse what was done to the individual Americans at the embassy who were themselves innocent of that particular crime? Does it excuse and exonerate Khomeini for installing his own reign of terror, oppression and religious barbarism, much of which lasts there to this day? If I, as an American, feel bad for what the CIA did with the Shah, does that mean I should rather wish those embassy hostages had been killed?

No. Did anyone suggest otherwise?
posted by Sys Rq at 10:09 PM on March 2, 2013


Post quote:
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...

In context quote from Rolling Stone:
"Q: What do you think the Iranian reaction is gonna be?"
Affeck: Who the FUCK knows – who knows if their reaction is going to be anything? This is still the same Stalinist, oppressive regime that was in place when the hostages were taken. There was no rhyme or reason to this action. What's interesting is that people later figured out that Khomeini just used the hostages to consolidate power internally and marginalize the moderates and everyone in America was going, "What the fuck's wrong with these people?" You know, "What do they want from us?" It was because it wasn't about us. It was about Khomeini holding on to power and being able to say to his political opponents, of which he had many, "You're either with us or you're with the Americans" – which is, of course, a tactic that works really well. That revolution was a students' revolution. There were students and communists and secularists and merchants and Islamists, it's just that Khomeini fucking slowly took it for himself.

I think Affleck's observation fairly astute.

If nothing else, "Argo" is an exercise in American exceptionalism - perhaps the most dangerous fiction that permeates our entire society and sense of identity.
Did we really want to talk about filmmaking and Iran?
Marzieh Vafamehr ring a bell?

If we're talking about danger in terms of the exercise of power and propaganda, a film like Argo is pretty low yield compared to The Birth of a Nation. It's not even Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo.

Affleck mentions Rashomon. I suspect it's better to think about Shirazi's piece in this context.

Certainly there are elements in the U.S. that want war with Iran. I don't know that they may have had a direct hand in making or supporting Argo but it wouldn't surprise me.
(Funny line from Foreign Affairs: "The Mafia and many shady foreign investors were notorious for backing productions in Hollywood," so it was the perfect spot for the CIA to operate.")
That the Academy Awards are mercenary shouldn't surprise anyone.

There's a valuable criticism and a discussion to be had and I think a lot of progress has been made in that direction in this thread.

In the article though? There are valid points and a case to be made, but it's misleading, written in the same "mote and beam" hypocrisy that it criticizes and it's overblown.

If we're talking about what's going to start a war, I think most observers are looking at the Iran-Pakistan pipeline more than the film.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:12 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Then why is Ben Afleck constantly talking about how they tried to make it very accurate.

It is very accurate: powerful, wealthy Americans hire a Mexican to take care of a dirty job for them.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:15 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


Everybody here remembers hoder, right?

I agree with Ironmouth and Smedleyman and others that this article is bullshit, though. It whitewashes what in legal terms was an act of war -- the illegal occupation of sovereign US territory (our embassy) and the seizing of innocents as hostages. The writer says the US has "continued to punish Iran", as if Iran has prostrated itself before us, prosecuted the perpetrators, and paid damages to the hostages or WHATEVER A RESPONSIBLE COUNTRY WOULD DO. Fuck that.

I don't see that the fudging of a few facts or injection of a frisson of drama is a criticism of the film. That's Hollywood. I don't see that picking the one uplifting story out of the fucking mess is wrong, because who wants to tell the other story, especially since all these years later it has no resolution? Our embassy is still occupied. Our hostages are still uncompensated.

Yeah, you want to play the underdog sympathy card, and stoke some vague fears of possible war, but no matter what the US did in 1953 our policy in 1979 was support for continued relations with the existing regime. If Iran didn't want that, they had every legitimate means at their disposal to sever diplomatic relations and expel our diplomats. There's a reason that there is such a thing as diplomatic immunity, and its violation should remain an enormous taboo. Without that taboo, we are back to the middle ages and kings and queens holding each others' progeny as hostages to "guarantee peace" or whatever. Until Iran comes to terms with this crime, they're not a nation that the US has any reason to trust. This is a choice they have made.

They're certainly not a lovely little democracy and flower garden of freedom that we need to admire, either.

Pretty damn crazy overreaction. It's one of the only wholly good things the CIA ever did, maybe. But this isn't the movie "EVERY BAD THING THE CIA EVER DID EVER" and who would go to see that, anyway? Hell, even a recent James Bond movie had a CIA operative as the oily bad guy.

Everybody remember hoder? No, that doesn't make it right to whitewash American history either, but this movie doesn't do that. This is history. It's just an actual feel-good part of American history and why the hell shouldn't Americans enjoy watching that?
posted by dhartung at 4:11 AM on March 3, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm boycotting Argo because its success probably prevents a real Lord of Light adaptation from being made from Jack Kirby's sketches

This world is not awesome enough for that to ever happen.
Ever.
I mean those sketches are just mindblowing, and I have never read Lord of Light.

We'll never get the Kirby-designed movie we deserve.
(*grumble grumble whitewash Avengers*).
posted by Mezentian at 4:49 AM on March 3, 2013


I think it pretty much says it all when two of the nicest, most self-effacing guys in the world - Ken Taylor and Jimmy Carter - publicly call your film bullshit. All commentary after that is merely a debate on its size, richness, and consistency.
Mary Ellen Carter at 5:06 AM on March 2
Jimmy Carter: "I think it’s accurate enough".
posted by ysangkok at 7:19 AM on March 3, 2013


...The interrogation at the airport, though, I will argue in favor of even if it didn't happen. It's about "showing not telling." A movie can tell is in words that "this is dangerous and risky" as much as it wants - but the best way to get the audience to fully understand that is to make that risk real and actual. The interrogation does that. It confronts us with the risks they were taking, whether or not the scene actually happened. As far as I can see, that scene falls squarely within acceptable compressing of the facts to fit the movie - along with leaving out one of the two main Canadian officials who housed the Americans.

dnash,
I find it hard to agree with a word of this.

The insertion of the interrogation scene at the airport is not an "acceptable compressing of the facts". It's straight up inventing facts - or - at the very least -lavishly embellishing facts.

If that scene worked brilliantly for you, of course that's fine!

But you can't accurately call it "compressing" the facts - as if it was some clever technical solution to the problems implicit in making a movie based on true events! Inventing critical scenes in a "true story movie" is not remotely comparable to making a composite character out of two real life characters, or truncating the political context.

You also seem to be bizarrely underestimating what a film director can do to involve the audience in the interior lives of his characters!

"A movie can tell is in words that "this is dangerous and risky" as much as it wants - but the best way to get the audience to fully understand that is to make that risk real and actual."

Maybe that's the best option for a great Bond movie! But the best directors can communicate dread, paranoia, fear, suspicion etc without any of the stunts Affleck pulled in "Argo".
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:05 AM on March 3, 2013


I agree with Ironmouth and Smedleyman and others that this article is bullshit, though. It whitewashes what in legal terms was an act of war -- the illegal occupation of sovereign US territory (our embassy) and the seizing of innocents as hostages.

It's not whitewashing that at all. It's just giving it context.

And some might say that taking a handful of hostages (or, more accurately, prisoners; they weren't exactly "innocent" so much as "all complicit with American actions in Iran, and exactly the right people to take captive") is less of an act of war than, say, forcibly overturning another nation's government because they dared to nationalize their oil industry.

Whether you like the Ayatollah or not (and there is indeed plenty of reason not to), it's hard to argue that taking Iran back from foreign colonialist powers (by fighting off the CIA-backed forces of Iran and Iraq) wasn't fully justified. And that justification is entirely the fault of the US and UK. Good job!
posted by Sys Rq at 8:09 AM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


it's hard to argue that taking Iran back from foreign colonialist powers (by fighting off the CIA-backed forces of Iran and Iraq) wasn't fully justified

I see what you're saying in terms of the overall picture. The general fighting foreign powers, sure, justifiable.
But in terms of embassies, no, it's pretty easy to argue. The point dhartung was making was that a diplomatic mission is not the same as meddling.

Ambassadors are certainly symbols of the country the represent, but their job is to facilitate communication. Their job is to understand the nation they're in and reflect that feedback to their own country.
Blaming them for their complicity in the actions of their government is exactly equal to shooting the messenger.

This is why under the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations the host country is responsible for their security.
The Marines, yes, but mostly they're there to guard the material, not the diplomats.
If you'll notice in Argo, there was a lot of document shredding going on. The main job of the Marines was to protect that action.
The secondary is to protect people. (Hell, says it right there on the web page)
They're not there to just look pretty in stripey pants, but typically the Marine contingent is understaffed as a matter of policy. Because it's not supposed to be a military post.
There are forces equipped to deal with the full spectrum of diplomatic and consular security sometimes proactively (typically non-state actors) and work with local law enforcement, but they too are understaffed and not part of policy making.

That's the critical bit. And so few people seem to understand that. (On the other hand, if more people understood the difference between action against policy and blindly striking out at a convenient symbol we wouldn't have debates on issues like flag burning much less attacks on embassies).

International law has had - for centuries - its foundation in regulating and normalized relations among states and embassies and consulates are the symbol of that method of
communication.

There is simply no argument that Iran had any possible justification at all in attacking an embassy. None.

The International Court of Justice has said that the inviolability of diplomatic envoys and embassies are the fundamental prerequisite for the conduct of relations between states:
"The institution of diplomacy, with its concomitant privileges and immunities, has withstood the test of centuries and proved to be an instrument essential for effective co-operation in the international community, and for enabling States, irrespective of their differing constitutional and social systems, to achieve mutual understanding and to resolve their differences by peaceful means... the inviolability of consular premises and archives, are similarly principles deep-rooted in international law."

It's an act of war. Period.

Attacking an embassy is about the worst thing you can do. You're going after the people who want to understand you and speak to you. You're saying there can be no relations other than war between us.
It's why expelling diplomats is so often seen as a prelude to war.

In '99 in the Kosovo thing the U.S. accidentally bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.
There was a senate hearing, an investigation, Clinton went on T.V. and apologized, there was an emergency session called in the U.N., Kofi Annan said we should re-think the whole operation, Slobodan Milosevic (!) got to denounce the U.S. for human rights violations (!), the Chinese denounced the act as barbarous, a violation of the Geneva Conventions - and regardless of whether it was a genuine accident or not (it's debatable), the U.S. was willing to pay a settlement for it.

Yeah. Hit our guys though, well, f'em. They're from the U.S. They had it coming.

The irony here is, about a year before the hostage crisis the U.K. fulfilled its security obligations to the consulate of Iran by sending in the SAS to deal with Iranians (terrorists) who had seized the Iranian embassy in the U.K.
Iran thanked them for that.
In this case the terrorists were anti-Ayatollah. They were fighting against the Shah, but said "once they were in power "the new leaders forgot all their promises to the people."

Just recently German police responded a bit too slowly for Iran's liking.

As it happens, I agree with Iran (and the German foreign minister) there. But not so long ago Iranian authorities stood and watched while the U.K. embassy was stormed.

So, who's "innocent" here? Same regime today (they're amputating prisoner's hands in public, that serves to repulse Imperialism does it?) Are there any Iranians complicit with Iran's action in Iran?

Point being, in anyone's definition including Iran's, if an embassy falls under attack it's, at the very least, a failure of the host nation to adhere to one of the oldest and certainly the most fundamental of international laws.

In the case of Iran, in this particular instance, I think Affeck's analysis is dead on (this isn't to say I agree with Argo or disagree with criticism of the film (other than in intensity).
The Ayatollah leveraged the attacks and subverted the disparate movements - most of which were interested in taking their country back - to force them into positioning themselves with him.

Any legitimacy or just cause the Iranians had went right out the window as soon as that happened.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:24 PM on March 3, 2013


it's hard to argue that taking Iran back from foreign colonialist powers

Meet the new boss, same as the more fundamentalist than the old boss.
posted by spaltavian at 4:44 PM on March 3, 2013


There is simply no argument that Iran had any possible justification at all in attacking an embassy. None.

Really? So if, for example, Liechtenstein were to overthrow the American government because, I don't know, cheese tariffs were a bit high for their liking, that would be a-ok?

Look at all 9/11 "justified" -- every bit of it illegal under international law. Heck, look at what the Iran hostage crisis "justified."

But to overthrow a goddamned government, that doesn't justify locking down the culprit's embassy? Please. It was a super shitty thing to do for all kinds of reasons, (moral, legal, tactical, etc.), and it helped put a horrible regime in power, but hell yes it was justified, and if the roles were reversed I'd expect the US to do far, far worse.

It's an act of war. Period.

It's a volley in a match already in progress. Period.
posted by Sys Rq at 5:58 PM on March 3, 2013 [1 favorite]


The hostage crisis, which lasted 444 days and destroyed an American presidency,...

And made another one, primarily through subterfuge.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:51 PM on March 3, 2013


Look at all 9/11 "justified" -- every bit of it illegal under international law.


We have different definitions of what's just. Is deliberately targeting 3,000 civilians justified? I don't think so. Is it understandable? Sure.
So if that's what you're saying, I can see the "why" of a terrorist attack. But understanding the reasons for it and saying it's ok are two entirely different things.

I have some major issues with bombing even in a declared war. But collateral damage is lawful as long as it's not deliberate. Again, understandable, these things happen in war, but I don't think bombing is justifiable when innocent civilians are killed.

But to overthrow a goddamned government, that doesn't justify locking down the culprit's embassy?

I don't think you're making the differentiation between the functions of government and the functions of embassy or consulate.

Let me put it this way, would you'd be fine with U.K. forces immediately storming the Ecuadorian embassy in London to take Julian Assange in to custody?

The U.K. was roundly condemned for even threatening to enter the embassy by force for violating the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and of the rules of international law over the past four centuries.
So either we universally agree that embassies are recognized as sovereign spaces or we don't.
There's no "Oh, but in THIS case..." because everyone has a different idea of what constitutes their own special pony case.
Last I heard there were some spooks siding with Assange (or at least teaching him some Kuniba style Goshin while he's on ice)


It's a volley in a match already in progress. Period.


So then you're cool with us bombing the hell out of them at any point. We're at war. It's a contiguous regime. We can attack them regardless of the political state of affairs.
Or is it just ok to keep attacking each other obliquely?

The act of war was not the student seizure of the embassy, it was the failure of any authority - what the students represented or thought they represented - the clerics, anyone who could have been considered the Iran government - to protect the staff.

You seem to be laboring under the idea that the embassy seizure was not a security failure.
It was students who attacked the embassy. Yes, because of the Shah and the coup in '53. However the government in power is still responsible for the security of embassy personnel. That is by design.
The act of war as allowing the security breach. Then allowing it to go on for 444 days.

Had anyone thought about it for two minutes they would have seized the buildings, grabbed the material as fast as possible and cut everyone but the Marines loose.
That's if they were genuinely - or competently - trying to prevent a counterrevolution.

But a lot of these folks have a real problem understanding the difference between symbol and actual. Or prefer to ignore them whenever its convenient. Still do.

Ask yourself who's interests it serves to prevent communication.


Diplomats have done more to prevent wars than any other force in the world. Unless you want to argue all communications between states should be cut off.

The main fear of the hostage takers in Iran was counter-revolution. So they held diplomats hostage.
Well, that's entirely stupid. It's irrational. And understandable, because sometimes people do irrational things under fear and anger.
Doesn't change the fact though that they not only did the entirely wrong thing - for perhaps some of the right reasons - and gained an entirely self-defeating result.

They weakened their own position. Destroyed the possibility of the moderates rise to power and supported the radical clerics position and ultimate takeover of their country. And the only thing their country got for holding our hostages is the clerics got some tank killer and antiair missiles (amongst other things).

That's their legacy. That's what comes of acting out of rage and ignorance. The forces of fanaticism gain strength. Your country becomes more insular and self-focused.

Plenty of criticism when it happens in the U.S. Does that fact somehow change because it's another country or we consider it a special case?


"and if the roles were reversed I'd expect the US to do far, far worse."

Really? Has the U.S. stormed any embassies? Noriega took refuge on Vatican soil and the U.S. didn't enter the building. There was certainly some line pushing in terms of pressure (blasting music over loudspeakers, etc) but great pains were taken to protect the embassy staff.

During the hostage crisis Ardeshir Zahedi was the ambassador to the U.S. He was a major league asshole, but he left the U.S. just fine as did the Iranian embassy staff.
Hell, we're STILL fulfilling our diplomatic obligations to protect their shit thirty years after we broke relations.

And now we have no diplomatic relations with Iran and that's led to gigantic butt hurt in sorting out tons of the problems we may have and it is probably the #1 reason (IMHO) we would wind up fighting WWIII with a limited nuclear exchange.

Lack of communication really, really, really sucks. Destroying the mechanisms to speak to each other is really, really, really stupid. No matter how legitimate or justifiable your anger is.
I've always said, if someone harmed my kids, I'd likely kill that person. But I recognize that as the wrong thing to do. I see that as me in a completely distraught state of mind. People might understand. I might not go to jail. But vengeance is not a system we can live under.

Point being - extremity of degree does not make up for the difference in kind.

Deliberately targeting innocent civilians because you don't like something their government did is always wrong.
It was wrong when the U.S. did it in Dresden in WWII. It was wrong on 9/11. It was wrong here. And it kept being wrong for a year and a half.

The logic that "well, they did something SOOOO bad, that we just GOTTA "X" " is the same logic assholes like Dick Cheney use to try to justify torture.
No. It's wrong. 9/11 doesn't justify torture. A coup doesn't justify holding diplomats hostage.
It's understandable people feel that way, that anger is easy to sympathize with.

But we cannot tolerate having it as a matter of course.
posted by Smedleyman at 2:46 PM on March 4, 2013


Jimmy Carter: "I think it’s accurate enough".

While discrediting just about every major particular in the movie. So much for the Hollywood ending with the Iranians hot on our heroes' heels at the airport, when they didn't even know about the embassy staff until they had safely landed. So much for the brilliant CIA work when the plan was "ninety percent...Canadian." So much for the role of the Ben AFfleck character, who was only in Tehran for a day and a half.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:56 PM on March 4, 2013


We have different definitions of what's just.

Um, no, we have different definitions of the word "justification." I'm not saying it was right, I'm saying it had a reason that goes deeper than "Iran = baddies."

So then you're cool with us bombing the hell out of them at any point.

What the fuck are you talking about? Of course not. I'm not cool with anyone killing anyone for any reason. Understanding why things happen isn't the same as endorsing those things.

Has the U.S. stormed any embassies?

You don't need to storm embassies when you can destroy whole nations, and destroying whole nations is America's shtick.

Lack of communication really, really, really sucks. Destroying the mechanisms to speak to each other is really, really, really stupid. No matter how legitimate or justifiable your anger is.

Agreed 100%. But, um, maybe in that case it'd be worth preventing people from becoming angry with you in the first place?
posted by Sys Rq at 4:07 PM on March 4, 2013


So much for the Hollywood ending with the Iranians hot on our heroes' heels at the airport

Look, when you're making a movie, there's this thing about exposition. It sucks. If there is story tension that needs to be brought to the fore, having characters talk about it -- outside of an art film, Dinner With Andre context -- is sub-optimal. Thus almost any historical drama you can name compresses characters, invents dialogue, and creates dramatic scenes that show that tension in concrete ways that the audience can understand.

I don't know what the actual problem with these scenes is. Are you saying it makes the Iranians out to be bad guys, somehow? Guess what. THEY WERE THE BAD GUYS, at least in this story. These were diplomats with immunity under international law who had every reasonable fear of being arrested, tortured, and tried as spies. How do you show that to the audience? A long discussion of the Vienna Convention?

The act of war was not the student seizure of the embassy, it was the failure of any authority - what the students represented or thought they represented - the clerics, anyone who could have been considered the Iran government - to protect the staff.

This is really critical to understand. The students were non-state actors. But the State of Iran abrogated its treaty responsibilities in a way that should ABSOLUTELY make them an international pariah until they make amends.

Even during the worst of the Cold War, the US and USSR only arrested people for espionage when they were out in the field, on the territory of the sovereign power.

But to overthrow a goddamned government, that doesn't justify locking down the culprit's embassy?

OK, I just want to check here. You realize the coup was in 1953, and the embassy seizure -- which was precipitated by the Shah's admission to the US -- was in 1979, right? Twenty-six years later. Are the embassy personnel there in 1979 responsible for any espionage acts that took place in 1953? Or is this some sort of collective punishment doctrine which extends throughout all time? I want to know your thinking on this point.

Obviously, first of all, this wasn't the only interference with a government in that era, and yet somehow only Iran has this sort of blood debt thing going on with us. Today, most Vietnamese are welcoming of Americans -- we've actually re-established military cooperation -- , and I doubt you can make a case that Iran suffered worse from our alleged Imperialism than Vietnam. Second, clearly one of the errors the film makes is to say that the US "installed" the Shah, which is wrong because he was already in power. But this coup could not have taken place without the significant intervention of Iran's own pillars of power. So I also don't buy that this is something we own alone and exclusively. Finally, Iran as a state entity had many levers at its disposal to demand we apologize or financially compensate them (in addition to the military aid which was flowing to Iran at the time mind you). Three days before the hostage crisis began, US National Security Adviser Brzezinski met with the Prime Minister and gave him a handshake guarantee of non-interference in Iran's internal affairs, but this meeting itself, when reported in Iranian media, became a precipitating trigger for the takeover.

Look, a lot changed between 1953 and 1979. The overt manipulation of levers of power became less and less acceptable. Nobody's saying the people under these US-installed-supported-bankrolled-whatever regimes weren't angry -- certainly I'm not. Indeed, the sea change from 1979 to 2001, certainly, and now in the post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan phase of the 9/11 reaction, skepticism of this sort of interventionism is high and that's all too the good. But pretending that some sort of tit-for-tat retaliation and commutative responsibility means that the story of Argo is somehow on a faulty foundation is really stretching things to make a rather poor point, i.e. that if the US acts badly or had acted badly at one point a generation ago we should only ever express our guilt and not have any joy or pleasure at seeing our own citizens, when in jeopardy, rescued without bloodshed. That's really denying us agency as badly as you believe other peoples have been denied agency.

Maybe there are other stories Americans should know about Iran, but this cutting at Argo is really punishing the wrong person in the same way as the hostages were unjustly punished.
posted by dhartung at 5:17 PM on March 4, 2013 [1 favorite]


OK, I just want to check here. You realize the coup was in 1953, and the embassy seizure -- which was precipitated by the Shah's admission to the US -- was in 1979, right? Twenty-six years later. Are the embassy personnel there in 1979 responsible for any espionage acts that took place in 1953? Or is this some sort of collective punishment doctrine which extends throughout all time? I want to know your thinking on this point.

Yep, I am aware of that. Do you realize that the CIA was still backing the Shah's authoritarian regime, training his secret police force, supplying Iran's military with weapons, etc., etc., that whole time? A government doesn't stay overthrown all by itself, you know. And where do you suppose all that was being brokered?
posted by Sys Rq at 7:32 PM on March 4, 2013


blah blah blah diplomacy international law how dare they blah blah

Isn't a key part of the point here that America has cynically used embassies to launch and coordinate what are arguably clandestine military operations for decades (in the case of Operation Ajax this detail is omitted from the primary article but mentioned briefly here), and this embassy was specifically targeted because the rebels had specific reason to believe it was used in previous operations to subvert their sovereignty, and might pose a more-than-diplomatic-shame-on-you threat to them?

It's hard to claim the higher ground and demand apologies when one's country (the US in this case) is complicit in toppling a progressive-for-its-time government to install a repressive one more friendly to their regional military and commercial strategic objectives, and creating a secret police squad (SAVAK) to suppress dissent using torture, especially when it has a track record of compromising diplomacy by using consulates and embassies as cover for intelligence and paramilitary operations. I actually kind of thought the whole "CIA embassy LOL" thing was more of a TV trope than anything else until I spent a few minutes learning about Benghazi and a little more time Googling "US Embassy Spying."
posted by lordaych at 10:15 PM on March 4, 2013


Isn't a key part of the point here that America has cynically used embassies to launch and coordinate what are arguably clandestine military operations for decades

Oh, I see we now invented both spying and "clandestine military operations". It's right there in Britannica!

Embassies are pretty much presumed to be bases for intelligence work, both of the passive collection type and the active, quasi-legal lobbying and skulduggery type. It's been a feature of multiple world wars and at the point in question, 1979, something that was a broad assumption by the public anywhere a superpower was poking its nose.

Sys Rq, and again, the US was dealing with the current government, and ready to accept any leadership, most likely, as long as they continued keeping an eye on then-Soviet-leaning Iraq and Afghanistan for us. Please note again what you said:

But to overthrow a goddamned government, that doesn't justify locking down the culprit's embassy?

They could easily have broken relations under the standing rules of diplomacy, or more precisely, a signed treaty within the UN system. Our people would have packed up and left. That's what happens. Diplomats represent the current interests of the state. But yeah, the State of Iran could have sent us a closure of embassy notice. You will note they did not choose this path.

I'm genuinely confused by your position here. In one sentence you seem to both appeal to rules and reject them. Of course, the only ruleset here is ... the Vienna Convention. The US may have engaged in spying, skulduggery, political manipulation, and even overtly supported or puppet-mastered a coup, but that isn't actually forbidden by international law. The law only covers treatment of persons caught in the act, so to speak, and processes to engage in or disengage from bilateral relations. Under those rules to which you want to appeal, the US may have done some morally bad things, especially when viewed from more enlightened times, but no actual ... crimes of law. Well, perhaps violations of Iranian law, but under the normal rules (and you're appealing to rules), expulsion of the offenders is the process, and in extreme cases of distrust termination of relations.

Diplomats are not, by and large, idealists. They are sworn officers representing their nation's interests. War by other means, and all that. A dominant theory of international relations is called Realism, and pretty much expects that a nation-state's actions are predictable based on an objective reading of its interests.

Even as a progressive, I can't defend the progressive, modern society of the United States if the US ceases to exist. As a diplomat, even one with idealist leanings, I would have had to do things that might seem awful in other eyes or latter years, but I would do them and do them again if I had to. Would I believe in Operation Ajax given the situation in 1953 and no knowledge of the next 25 years? I suspect I might have, even if I'd like there to have been more consideration of the "blowback" aspect. But of course, ironically, the US view of reform in Iran was counter to the view of the Islamic revolutionaries: Reform consisted of secular, Westernized elites promoting democratic processes, not theocratic hierarchy. I probably would have thought that what I had done as a 1979 diplomat for Iran was what Iran needed more than the Ayatollah. This was, of course, the vanguard of the resurgence of Islamism. We couldn't know either the worst of its effects (e.g. 9/11) or the best of its governance (Turkey, possibly yet Algeria and Egypt). But in any case, as a diplomat, I would have acted as my government directed me, or as I saw the best interests of my government, and if I erred or crossed boundaries not acceptable to the host government, I would accept recall.

But this idea that we can never interfere in each others' business is pretty naive and impossible to enforce in any consistent, fair, and just manner. There's existing international law and I stand on that, not on some vague statements about what we should or should not do to each other. Because those are outside any reasonable authority. You want a policy where governments pissed off about history can just rip open each others' embassies, interrogate, torture, and try the diplomatic staff? Write that treaty, and see how well it works in the real world -- because it would make international relations well nigh impossible.
posted by dhartung at 1:04 AM on March 5, 2013 [1 favorite]


[If you want to have this debate, please tone down the sarcasm a bit and assume good faith on the part of other users. Thank you.]
posted by goodnewsfortheinsane at 1:19 AM on March 5, 2013


I'm not saying it was right, I'm saying it had a reason that goes deeper than "Iran = baddies."

Then make the effort to understand and absorb what I've said. You're saying it has deep roots. Ok. You're not saying it was right. Ok. Then we're in agreement. Why are you arguing?


I'm not cool with anyone killing anyone for any reason. Understanding why things happen isn't the same as endorsing those things.

It's a match already in progress. Your words. If Iran was at war with the U.S., then U.S. was at war with Iran.

From Wiki:
Operation Ajax, was conceived and executed from the US Embassy in Tehran.

Unsourced, completely off the cuff and of course reiterated endlessly as fact.
Take a minute and think about what that sentence says.
Operation Ajax - a highly sensitive massive multi-nation intelligence and covert military operation, payoffs to Iranian military officers and high officials and political leaders, sabotage of the infrastructure, seizure of radio and other media to spread disinformation and propaganda and suppress dissent - an operation involving station and division heads and high level officials including British intelligence head, Director of CIA, the President of the U.S., Department of State, the Foreign Office - planned and executed in the one building in Iran it's most likely to be discovered.

So, they were flying Eisenhower and Dulles in and out of Iran for that, or they move the building out for the meetings?

This was all over the middle east, Beirut, Cairo, and Cyprus (Nicosia), and London, and the U.S. The declassified documents show what a large (albeit nasty) operation it was.

But, um, maybe in that case it'd be worth preventing people from becoming angry with you in the first place?


But um, maybe don't fly airplanes into buildings if you don't want to get tortured? Mkay?

Those pesky international laws, eh? Can't ignore them to torture people, can't ignore them to go after diplomats.

Well... of course you can. My understanding of what we're talking about is whether it's lawful. If you have a different issue, I don't think I've countered that.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:05 AM on March 5, 2013


Jon Stewart Taking Hiatus From 'Daily Show' To Direct Film, 'Rosewater,' This Summer
posted by homunculus at 1:32 PM on March 5, 2013


I need to cheer myself up right now, so, some alternatives to the River of Jingo: the films of Jafar Panahi or Abbas Kiarostami. And then there's Persepolis. There are many others if people want to look for them.

Public School Librarians in Chicago Ordered to Remove Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis from Shelves
posted by homunculus at 12:18 AM on March 16, 2013


Argo and the Stolen Truth About Iran
posted by homunculus at 3:13 PM on March 25, 2013


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