Saturday, January 5, 2013

Argo is a well-made narcissistic propaganda film for the CIA

nk they represent the target audience. The opening shots of the film provide historical context, and encourage the viewer to identify with Iranian protesters (with a soup├žon of the vicarious frisson many young Western bourgeois seem to have felt while watching the "Arab Spring" unfold), but after that, Iranians are presented in this film as a threatening, flat, undifferentiated unit, except for the Canadian ambassador's maid, Sahar, who doesn't get a personalArgo has beautiful cinematography and lighting, excellent set dressing and costumes, tight editing, and some nicely framed shots. Affleck's primary focus in this film is himself, playing Hero CIA Agent, lining himself up for some Major Award while he remains inexpressive as usual (but behind a beard this time; at least he can modulate his voice, unlike Keanu Reeves, another famous block of wood). For bonus points, he is whitewashing, or more correctly Anglowashing, Antonio Mendez (the historical Hero CIA Agent his character is based on, who is of Mexican ancestry), as is usual in Hollywood (cf Cloud Atlas, many more). We get a gratuitous shot of his carefully gym-built hairy chest at one point, to drive the point home with no subtletly whatsoever. His secondary focus is, as a unit, the group of mostly young white Americans who were extracted by the Hero CIA Agent in question, and who I found conventional, decadent, self-interested, and bourgeois in this portrayal. I thiity either, except as Noble Servant (and why the f*ck should she protect the Americans anyway?) From sharp or blank-eyed women in chadors to disheveled men in beards and army greens or suits, Iranians in this film are caricatures and set dressing, presented through the American eyes of Ben Affleck's character and American news broadcasts and pictures. Protesters' slogans aren't translated, most likely to make them threatening and unintelligible. (I found myself identifying with the protesters at the beginning more automatically than any other group, with a flashback to one of the few protests I've been in, and found myself more afraid for the men who climbed over the gate than any other character in the film. "Oh sh*t, the Americans are going to shoot them" is what actually went through my mind. This is not me waving my liberal credentials, this is saying that the film did sway me, but not in the way it intended, I think.) I think the popularity of this film, like Persepolis (which also encouraged sales of the book) has a lot to to with trying to capitalize on, and build, unrealistic American views of Iran, and build a case for war in Americans' feeble little minds, as well as bolster the reputation of the CIA, which is a secret police agency presently engaging in a secret war against Afghanistan's population via drone strikes which our saintly president refuses to talk about (although I'll give him credit for the good things he has done, and better him than Bush). I also found it interesting how the soldiers defending the embassy in the film ignored their commander's instructions not to use tear gas unless necessary (whatever that means). It was also unsettling how unsympathetically the writers and director presented him for trying to reason with the protesters. I do not know if this reflects historical events or not, but I find myself thinking of how superior officers who ordered soldiers under their command to torture let those soldiers take the full blame for the abuses at Abu Ghraib. Other folks have made the same argument as me . . . Oh yes, and Argo does not exist in a vacuum I came away from this film having imbibed a political message, but not the one intended. I now have a reinforced sense that loud and physical public protest is a civic duty, and one I too often shirk.

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