Argo: The One-Sided

Paper by Lauren Musso.

The U.S. aided Iran’s previous Shah in his efforts to “westernize” Iran in exchange for oil supply. The Shah began implementing his economic and social reforms but also refusing political freedom and exiling anyone who opposed him. When his efforts were overthrown in a revolution, he fled Iran and was given asylum in the U.S. to receive proper treatment for his cancer. When the Prime Minister, Ayatollah Khomeini who was previously exiled by the Shah for opposing his ideals, returns to take over his position, he incites riots, anger and extreme anti-Americanism which led to the demand for the Shah to be returned and executed. With the U.S. refusal to abide by this request, the hostage crisis began. Ben Affleck’s film “Argo”(2012) tells the true story of the hostage crisis in Iran where Iranian militants invaded the U.S. embassy and took 66 American captive for 444 days. Six Americans were able to escape and given refuge by the Canadian Ambassador. Exfile specialist, Tony Mendez, is hired to rescue the six, posing as a Hollywood producer scouting locations in Iran with his “film crew” in an effort to return the Americans home safely. The film’s representation of Americanism is further perpetuated through repetition as the media is paralleled between Iran and the US political institutions in the news. It emphasizes the significant contrast in political ideals and values, painting Iran in a negative light through image making institutions such as Hollywood. Politics is presented as a stage in which each sides propaganda plays the role of forging a national political identity and in the films case, enhancing the U.S. image to the rest of the world by paralleling Iran’s image of barbarianism and uncivilization.

Throughout the film there is constant repetition of side-by-side news footage that contrasts the patriotism and peacemaking tactics of America versus the corrupt, evil and violent ways of Iran. The film presented through Hollywood shows the way in which media and image making institutions are used to provide a positive image for America to gain national favoritism. The scene that most represented the political theme of the film which parallels media to forge a national political identity begins at the reading for the Argo script, as a server sets down Tony’s glass in the kitchen right in front of a T.V. which brings together Iran news coverage, American news coverage and Hollywood’s role. When the glass is set in front of the T.V. is signals to not only pay attention to what Iran is saying but also ties together for the first time in the film all three aspects of media’s role in politics and the differing in attitudes between the countries. The first sequence of news coverage begins with Iran news as a woman is speaking in a hijab with very neutral darker colors contrasting the table reading of Argo as everyone is in elaborate clothing, bright vibrant colors, music, people smiling and happy. The contrast is emphasizing the difference is cultures and lack of freedom in Iran. The woman is talking about how our people working in Iran are nothing more than spies. We see Tony’s coworker Jack O’Donnel looking at the screen as she is saying this with squinted eyes to portray his anger to the audience for Iran’s lack of knowledge and false ideas about what is going on. She goes on to say in the name of God, we want to expose the hateful acts of the United States which shows the propaganda on both sides using the news media to spread false information as a political agenda and to gain favoritism from the nations. The aspect of media is similar to Frank Capra’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)” with a long shot of all the men standing in front of her with cameras as she is sitting. This is emphasizing the news media politics of Iran that women are subordinate to men and portrays the power of the media. The scene pans back to the table reading of Argo where a character says, “Our world has changed, fires of hope stopped burning in this galaxy long ago (Affleck 2012).” The script of Argo in a way represents Iran and its people as the good guys are the white people and the bad guys are the ones that look like apes emphasizing their lack of civilization. The line is trying to portray the way Iran has changed and the lost hope in ever having a civilized and peaceful relationship. The next line says “a gravitational force that strong will kill any…(Affleck 2012)” and fades into the U.S. news where President Carter relays that they will not yield to International advances of power control. The first line contrasts the strength of Iran and power they hold which is diminished by President Carter saying he will not allow the U.S. to yield to outside power showing the power play. The scene of President Carter on the news is in the room with the six American refuges which also contrasts between the President’s voice of power to this ultimately powerless situation. Then the scene shoots back to the table read where a robot says there’s not enough time with the sound fading back to Iran news media where the woman says “the United States considers revolutionists as terrorists, but itself and the CIA are the most terrorizing group of all time(Affleck 2012).” The shot during this part transitions to the Iranian military yanking the hostages from their beds. This part furthers the political ideals set by the U.S. of Iran to portray that their words do not match with their actions showing Iran as the cruel ones to counter the woman’s claims. The scene in Iran is dark and the faces of the military are not shown to dehumanize them which makes it easier to see them as the enemy. Then the shot transfers from the table read which a woman says” we will find her chance, for Argo lies my hope (Affleck 2012),” and back to the woman on the news in Iran who says they will begin the trials but where does the “parade of hatred end” and the shot changes back to the hostages held by Iran. This sequence of scenes illustrates the heroic acts of Argo to save the hostages from the “evil” people of Iran who they portray as liars wanting the parade of hatred to end but then showing the hostages being brought down to be executed. The scene is trying to parallel the words of Iran not matching the actions and paint the U.S. and Argo mission as heroic. Then the shot goes between the Shah on the news and the hostages. This is a comparison of the two as she says that the U.S. claims to believe in human rights but gave the worst criminal of all, the Shah, asylum. The shot then transfers to a video of the Shah. The Shah is looking down and seems submissive and in no way powerful or evil. The shot then goes back to the hostages with bags on their heads in a line of execution. The portrayal of the Shah not matching the way Iran depicts him shows the U.S. efforts to continue to devalue their claims to make their political propaganda less believable giving more power to the U.S. The contrast of Iran speaking about human rights and the shot changing to the hostages being prepared for execution with bags over their heads furthers to paint Iran’s words as lies. The execution is followed by no bullets as the hostages drop to their knees and voice of the final lines of Argo are read saying “we go outside of the ship now holding a single red flower as it goes to the ruins of the starship in the desert (Affleck 2012).” The red flower symbolizes life and possible death of the hostages if the mission of Argo is unsuccessful with the ruins of the desert being Iran.

There is also constant repetition between the different news media’s where the U.S. counteracts the claims of Iran by showing the U.S. patriotism and efforts of peace versus videos of the riots in Iran where the American flag is being burned and it looks chaotic and violent. These images further the political ideals promoted in the film as they flash from images that symbolize American patriotism such as the Capitol Dome and the president to the chaos an uncivilization that is happening in Iran as the power of storytelling acts as a tool to change the narrative. This begs the question does the film’s responsibility to representation accurately depict Iran or is this anti-Iranian film used to promote America as superior and does this image contaminate the reality of Iran to the rest of the nations. In Gerry Coutler’s article “Visual Storytelling and History as a Great Toy-The Lives of Others,” the author brings this idea that fiction trumps history which poses the issue of inaccuracy being held at higher value than the truth. This ties into Charles Wolfe’s “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: Democratic Forums and Representational Forums,” where he discusses Hays’s revolutions of Hollywood’s efforts to maintain an image of necessity in the industry as well as creating films that help promote an idea about a city or nation in order to benefit that place. He discovered that these films were the ones making top box office and attracting viewership by also bringing the films to foreign places to not only promote Americanism but also counteract foreign films portray of a failed American political system. This made Hollywood an “essential industry” in times of war as it spread positive information about America and their patriotism. Even though this is a positive revelation, especially for movies like Argo, it also is at the expense of another nations identity that is being portrayed in a more negative light. Finally, to tie all together the press importance in forging a national identity is the quote said by Lester “if you want to sell a lie, you get the press to sell it for you,” which shows that at the end of it all you really can never know what’s true and what’s false, nor can you fully trust media to portray accurate representations, it’s all about maintaining a good image. With the parallel of both media sides in the film shows that they are both trying to put out a good image by making the other look bad.

The film Argo brings to light the many ways in the role Hollywood and media play in spreading a sense of Americanism but with the loss of the opponent’s reputation. The ways in which the stories are told shows the power and value in words and images, but these strung together in a certain way can completely alter the meaning sometimes relinquishing the full truth and changing the context in a favorable manor.

Affleck, Ben, et al. Argo. Distributed by Warner Bros. Entertainment Australia, 2013.
Buchman, Sidney, et al. Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. Columbia, 1939.
Corrigan: Ch. 1; ‘Compulsory’ Viewing for Every Citizen: Mr. Smith and the Rhetoric of
Reception (Smoodin); Mr. Smith Goes to Washington: Democratic Forums and Representational Forms (Wolfe).
Corrigan: Ch. 2; Visual Story Telling and History as a Great Toy (Coulter); The Lives of Others (Bernstein).
Michelle Obama announces the winner of the best picture Oscar via video link from the White House at the 85th Academy Awards in Hollywood, Feb. 24, et al. “Iran Reacts Angrily to ‘Argo’ Oscar.” Al,
Norman, Wayne, ‘2 Forging Identities: The Politics and Ethics of Nation‐building’, Negotiating
Nationalism: Nation-Building, Federalism, and Secession in the Multinational State (Oxford, 2006; online edn, Oxford Academic, 1 Sept. 2006)

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