Jumbled Ruminations on “Argo”
One of the most infuriating things in the world is when people expect you to “catch them up” on extremely complex histories and cultures and ethnicities and peoples and geopolitical struggles which they could very easily research on their own. What’s even more infuriating? Argo. I have had far too many folks ask me to “explain” why they shouldn’t see Argo, and almost every single time I get upset because it’s so fucking obvious — you’re watching Hollywood once again attempt to narrativize the Middle East through its Western filter. But it’s difficult to even try to explain the many layers of jingoism and self-aggrandizing propaganda in this film and its contemporaries to those who are incessantly trained to prioritize the lives of a handful of wealthy white people who are, thanks to Affleck, valorized as the “civilized,” “educated,” “elitist” Anglos vying for “safety” and “freedom” when confronted with the Angry, Bearded, Brown Revolutionaries™ — and their Supportive, Shrouded Sisters and Spouses® — who “reign over” an “exotic” and “evil” land. Someone who graced me with their presence just this past week said something to the effect of, “Well, where are all the Iranian American filmmakers? I’m sure Affleck would’ve let them take over the film production, but they apparently don’t exist.” What exactly is going through the mind of someone who thinks this way — someone who assumes that Hollywood’s power players would readily afford anyone outside of their entity of privileged, white, Euro-American, Judeo-Christian men the opportunity to make their version of this particular film at this moment in modern history? And, moreover, what exactly is going through the mind of someone who thinks that one Iranian American filmmaker is going to speak for us all? My friends and I have had far too many unnecessary run-ins with a lot of thoughtless, condescending, xenophobic, and bigoted white folks — white-passing privilege makes these experiences all the more interesting because people assume you’re “one of them” and say literally anything they want in front of you — and many of these people have fostered such a cripplingly myopic conceptualization of “terrorism” that they actually talk about “terrorism” as if it’s the polar opposite of anything that Europe and its great North American allies have ever engaged in. No one seems to think about resistance vis-à-vis “terrorism.” No one seems to think about our collective engagement in the Orientalist gaze — how we at once fetishize and denounce the victims of our leaders’ myriad neoimperialist projects. No one seems to think about the acute stigmatization and racialization of Islam. No one seems to think about just how fucking heartbreaking and rage-inducing and gut-wrenching and soul-crushing it is to see peoples and places and religions you are connected to further demonized and othered to no avail by dangerous and irresponsible profiteers — by people like Affleck and Clooney and their cohorts who masquerade as “politically-conscious artists” yet who, in all actuality, poison the masses with fuel for fire, with more reasons to hate “those savages over there.” Argo is the beating of a war drum whose reverberations are unceasing. If you’re going to spend only the first minute or so of the entire film giving audiences an historical foundation that reads like a subpar Wikipedia session, you shouldn’t be producing a mainstream blockbuster movie about Iran. If you’re going to compare CIA operations to abortions, you shouldn’t be producing a mainstream blockbuster movie about Iran. If you’re going to close your sefid circle jerk of a narrative with a soundbite from a former U.S. president instead of a cautionary message about sanctions/drone strikes/apartheid/Islamophobia/warmongering, you shouldn’t be producing a mainstream blockbuster movie about Iran.
What I do argue also is that there is a difference between knowledge of other peoples and other times that is the result of understanding, compassion, careful study and analysis for their own sakes, and on the other hand knowledge—if that is what it is—that is part of an overall campaign of self-affirmation, belligerency, and outright war. There is, after all, a profound difference between the will to understand for purposes of coexistence and humanistic enlargement of horizons, and the will to dominate for purposes of control and external enlargement of horizons, and the will to dominate for the purposes of control and external domination. […] Today, bookstores in the United States are filled with shabby screeds bearing screaming headlines about Islam and terror, Islam exposed, the Arab threat, and the Muslim menace, all of them written by political polemicists pretending to knowledge imparted to them and others by experts who have supposedly penetrated to the heart of these strange Oriental peoples over there who have been such a terrible thorn in “our” flesh. Accompanying such warmongering expertise have been the omnipresent CNNs and Fox News Channels of this world, plus myriad numbers of evangelical and right-wing radio hosts, plus innumerable tabloids and even middlebrow journals, all of them recycling the same unverifiable fictions and vast generalizations so as to stir up “America” against the foreign devil.
—Edward Said, May 2003