Ben Affleck’s Argo won the Oscar for Best Picture as expected. The film’s storyline builds on the real-life seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran by Iranian students in 1979 and the ensuing 444-day hostage crisis. Events unravel from the perspective of a CIA agent, played by Affleck himself, who rescues several American hostages stowed away in the Canadian Ambassador’s home.
Unsurprisingly, radical Iranian authorities, who appear to be incapable of understanding Hollywood discourses, were quick to resort to their favorite theory: conspiracy theory. Iranian analysts and cinema critics affiliated with the state do not view Hollywood as a dream-making (and a money-making) factory, but rather as a place where a cluster of Jews, or “Zionists” in their words, work toward their political goals.
Therefore, the announcing of the Best Picture award by Michelle Obama proved to be a field day for Iran’s conspiracy theory enthusiasts, to the extent that state-run Fars News Agency dubbed Warner Bros a “Zionist company.” In this school of thought, everything is politicized, and Hollywood is nothing more than a propaganda machine for America’s politicians, and the CIA of course.
This attitude, which either stems from a genuine paranoia or an excuse for the promotion of political goals, asserts that Ben Affleck, not only plays the role of a CIA agent, but that he is in fact a CIA agent in the real world, who is conspiring to harm Iran through Argo. The wild accusations took me back to my school days when one of our teachers warned all the students that the US used Michael Jackson’s stardom to “corrupt” Iranian teenagers.
Claims that the Iranian Supreme Leader has described Argo as a “deliberate lie” are doing the rounds on Persian websites. The minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance, the highest-ranking official in Iranian cinema, stated that:
In yet another offensive act, the Westerners have produced the movie Argo, which narrates the seizure of US espionage by Iranian students in Tehran in 1979 from a Western perspective and in their interests. Nevertheless, Western countries are still after pursuing their evil goals in a psychological warfare against Iran. The creators and active participants in the country’s [Iran’s] cultural production, therefore, are doubly obligated to producing expressive movies which safeguard the values [of the Islamic Republic].
After the film’s Oscar victory on Sunday night, the minister continued his tirade: “Argo is an anti-Iranian film without any artistic value and we do not expect anything else from the enemy.” Others have expressed a similar sentiment. “This movie is just an example of their fury against Iran. Argo reopens the past wounds in order to shape the minds [of the people],” said Nader Talebzadeh, a film theorist affiliated with the state. “This film is not coincidental. Its release date is very important,” he stated at an anti-Hollywood convention attended by 130 foreign guests, including leftists and Muslims, who were introduced as professors, researchers and movie critics on state television.
“Hollywood is not an ordinary industry. It is a conspiracy of capitalism and Zionism. We must respond against this movie and the previous ones,” said Mehdi Tondro, who presented himself as a “specialist in anti-Iranian and anti-Islamic films.”
Argo has become so unbearable for Iranian politicians masquerading as art critics that one of the largest governmental organizations, the Islamic Development Organization, even more conservative than the Ministry of Culture (it often withholds permission to release the movies already approved by the Ministry of Culture) has approved the production of an expensive movie in response to Argo.
The movie, Setad-e Moshtarak, or The Joint Chiefs of Staff, will narrate Iranian officials’ version of the story. While some of the hostage-takers repented years later, Iranian state officials and radicals still celebrate November 4 as the anniversary of “the Seizure of the US Espionage Den.” A day, that for many other Iranians, has shaped the destiny of Iran, resigning the country to isolation and economic instability.
Because of its American-style heroism, Argo has undoubtedly been favored by the American movie-goer public, as well as the Golden Globe and the Academy Award judges, who focus on the industry of films rather than the art of films. Interestingly, both its supporters in the West and detractors in Iran contend that Argo is a Hollywood-type movie, though their definition of a Hollywood-type movie is markedly different.
Although Argo appears to be a political movie on the surface, it is indeed just an action movie that only tries to grab and rivet the viewer’s attention from the very beginning up to the end, attempting to be a captivating narrator more than anything else. The creators have deliberately chosen to maximize the entertainment value rather than stick strictly to the facts.
The movie is grounded in the Hollywood paradigm of heroism in the face of evil. Argo panders to America’s self-image; its emphasis on the US’ moral code, national pride and superpower status. All Argo’s rivals at the Academy Awards had the same features.