How Argo won

I hear that Argo has won the Academy Award for best picture. I saw the movie on Scott’s recommendation and thought it was quite good, but inferior to Lincoln which I also saw on Scott’s recommendation.

How Argo compares to other highly-regarded movies of 2012, I cannot say. Absent a strong recommendation by someone I know and trust, I don’t attend Hollywood films. But I suspect that Argo clinched its Academy Award not just through its riveting tale of heroism and escape, but also through its left-liberal introduction and conclusion.

Argo is based on the rescue of six State Department employees who had escaped from the American embassy in Iran at the time of the embassy’s takeover. As Scott pointed out, the film alters and gilds the true story to enhance the drama of the escape. As importantly, for purposes of pleasing Hollywood, Argo wraps itself in what Scott calls a “canned liberal history of the rise of the Ayatollah at the outset” of the movie and an audio voiceover by President Carter at the end.

The canned liberal history demonizes the Shah of Iran, and by extension the U.S. for supporting him. The Shah was no saint, of course, but the introduction creates the impression that he was a monster of the same order of magnitude as the Ayatollah who came to power in 1979, which is nonsense.

As part of its case against the Shah, the movie notes that his wife bathed in milk while the country suffered from severe poverty. From what several Iranians and my wife who lived in Iran at the time tell me, this was just a rumor of dubious veracity. In any event, as a symbol of egregious opulence, bathing in milk (not champagne, milk) doesn’t cut it. This is a “luxury” anyone in the American middle class can afford, if he or she is foolish enough to indulge.

The introduction then blasts the Shah for modernizing Iran in disregard of the country’s traditions. But his modernization campaign helped remedy a good deal of the poverty that the filmmakers decry. Better to have a leader whose wife takes milk baths but whose economic policies help create a middle class than a frugal leader whose policies promote stagnation. And better to have either kind of ruler than the kind Iran has suffered under since the fall of the Shah.

But left-liberal Hollywood wants to have it both ways — a Shah who was indifferent to the welfare of his people and who disrespected their traditions. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi was not that Shah.

The hack liberal narrative spills over into the beginning of the action. As the mob is about to storm the U.S. embassy, one U.S. diplomat says “What do you expect, we let the guy torture and deball an entire nation.” This statement is ridiculous. The Shah’s regime used torture, but not on anything like the scale this statement suggests.

Another diplomat complains that the U.S. admitted the Shah for treatment of his cancer: “So great, we’ll take in any punk as long as he’s got cancer?” But the Shah was the bulwark of American foreign policy in the region, and a bulwark against the developments we have witnessed in Iran and elsewhere in the region since his fall. The U.S. was right to admit him for medical treatment; it would have been indecent not to.

The film ends with a voiceover by Jimmy Carter, who reminds us that every hostage eventually was released. True, but no thanks to Carter. The hostages were released only after Carter left office (that day, in fact) because America finally had a president the Iranians feared.

Moreover, while no hostages were lost, America did lose 8 servicemen who tried to free them in an ill-conceived rescue attempt that Carter authorized. That rescue attempt, and the fate of the American hostages in general, is beyond the scope of the action in Argo. But if the filmmakers were going to deal with this topic through a postscript that purports to provide a final accounting of the hostage crisis, it should not have “forgotten” about the Americans who died in the humiliating public debacle of Jimmy Carter’s failed rescue attempt.

Would Argo have won the Academy Award for best picture if it had just told its story without adding the left-liberal packaging? Maybe. But the filmmakers sealed the deal with that wrapping.

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