History Shrugged in Hollywood
By: Guest Authors
by Natasha Rose
History is past politics and politics is present history. Rewriting history is nothing new to mankind or to leaders who strive to maintain their country’s image of global strength. Just as George Orwell outlined in his novel, 1984, Communism in Russia employed historical revisionism to advance their specific and political agendas. Likewise, the movie Argo (2012), about the history of the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis, appears to have been strategically rewritten in order to mask Obama’s failure to rescue four Americans in the Benghazi attacks in Libya, on September 11, 2012.
In the Benghazi attacks, a heavily armed group of terrorists attacked an American diplomatic mission and four Americans were killed, including a U.S. Ambassador. Their deaths were initially blamed on a spontaneous response to a movie that had gone viral on the Internet, insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. The U.S. State Department disclosed a month later that prior to the attacks there were no protesters at the Benghazi consulate. But Obama and his administration repeatedly said the film had triggered protests by angry mobs in Egypt and around the world.
Obama’s claim served as an airtight distraction to the truth, while the media served to protect his presidential image in an election year. Even during a Presidential debate with Mitt Romney, Candy Crowley, a chief political news correspondent on Cable Network News (CNN), unconventionally injected her opinion into the debate. Romney called those deaths a terrorist attack while Crowley spoke up supporting Obama’s position. Months later, after Obama was re-elected, the investigative committee of U.S. Congress grilled the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, regarding the deaths of these four Americans. In an effort to deflect criticism, she exclaimed defensively, “What difference does it make?”
But it does make a difference. The President failed to provide appropriate security for those four Americans, and then blamed an American made video clip. The Commander-in-Chief now appeared ineffectual. A means to change public perception, reinstate the heroism of a popular president, and substitute action for inaction was sought after by Obama’s liberal and Democrat supporters.
Hollywood to the rescue! Argo makes the CIA that presidential hero, soliciting none other than Hollywood producers for help. Unfortunately, it does so through a convenient fiction. Based on the 1979 Iran Hostage Crisis, the story has parallels to the Benghazi affair in that American diplomats were cornered in a far away land by hostile Islamic extremists. There are, however, two key differences that make the story of the Iranian crisis inherently more palatable than the Benghazi attacks to patriotic Americans at home. Firstly, the situation ended without American bloodshed. Secondly, and more importantly, the hostages escaped their captors. The movie is historically inaccurate and the hostages were never rescued by the CIA as the movie portrays. This spin at a critical historical moment amounts to a political victory for the current President. The movie-going public is now left with the impression that our CIA can work wonders, even when officially the President appears inactive, and all will be well.
Argo was released on October 12, 2012, prior to the Presidential Election in America. It had won acclaim, but had not been popular enough to affect public opinion about Benghazi. How to broaden its appeal? Give it an Oscar! On the night of the 85th Academy Awards in Hollywood, February 24, 2013, with the gowns long and lights bright, First Lady Michelle Obama appeared direct from the White House with actor Jack Nicholson to present Argo with the Award for Best Picture. Instantly Argo was thrust to the top of the media pyramid, dwarfing all the buzz that had for months surrounded other, more popular contenders. Culture and politics had been fused in an unprecedented manner, with a plot aimed at defusing a very current foreign policy flop.
Prior to the 85th Academy Awards night, former President Carter was asked about Argo’s nomination for Best Picture on “Piers Morgan Tonight,” a talk show on CNN. Even Carter admitted that Argo changed the history of the Hostage Crisis which occurred during his presidency. While it is true that the six American diplomats in Tehran survived the Iran Hostage Crisis, in reality, they quietly escaped and remained hidden by the Canadians. And while the movie addresses the Canadians’ contributions, it minimizes their role while greatly exaggerating the role of the CIA. The truth is their escape was neither sensational, nor as exciting as the story ends in Argo.
Among the other eight movies nominated for Best Picture, there were two other historical dramatizations listed in that category. Lincoln (2012), is about President Abraham Lincoln’s efforts to abolish slavery in 1865, and Zero Dark Thirty (2012), is about history’s greatest manhunt for Osama Bin Laden. The cultural implications of both movies point to Obama’s Presidential challenges in office. Either one would have been equally suitable to win for Best Picture. Obama struggles to negotiate with Congress about fixing our economy as Lincoln struggled, albeit successfully, in the battle to abolish slavery. And the founder and head of the jihadist organization, al Qaeda, responsible for the 9/11 attacks that killed over 3000 people across 90 countries in 2001, is finally dead. Obama has been duly credited.
The case of Argo is more fitting to the Communist past of Russia, not the tradition of America, and today Russian culture attempts to shine light on its rewriting of history. One recent example can be found in an eleven-part Russian miniseries, Esenin (2005). The miniseries is in Russian with no English or other subtitles, and it’s about a Russian 20th century popular poet, Sergei Esenin, whose persona and poetic works were (and still are) adored nationally amongst many Russians. Esenin features the poet’s life during the tumultuous times of Russia’s historic and tragic transition from Czarist reign to Communism, as he survived the Russian Revolution and World War One.
According to Esenin’s certificate of death, he committed suicide at the age of 30, in 1925. In Esenin, however, a shadow of doubt is skillfully cast to that record. The movie shows dramatically how the poet was murdered by The Peoples Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD), the politically repressive secret police.
While the movie may have used poetic license to absolve Russia’s adored and mythological poet of suicide, it is reasonable to believe he was murdered. Esenin was a national celebrity, and Communist authorities were suspicious of his popular poetry, which conflicted with the doctrines of Socialist realism. As a celebrity, Esenin exerted publicly manic behavior, which Communist authorities regarded as “hooliganism.”
We may never know for sure if this 2005 movie sets the record straight about Esenin’s death. From 1922-91, the Communist Party in the Soviet Union was known to have manipulated their history by rewriting or erasing their political, academic, and cultural history, hence the story of a celebrity poet’s death. Also, most of Esenin’s writings were banned by Moscow’s Kremlin in the time of Joseph Stalin, who ruled from 1922-53. The ban remained until 1966, during the Brezhnev Era (1964-82), when Esenin’s works were republished.
Argo runs in the wrong direction, heading towards the onerous powers of a totalitarian state. In 1949, George Orwell’s then futuristic novel, 1984, warned readers about the dangers of Communism and dictatorship. Orwell wrote 1984 in response to The Cold War, a militarily political war from 1947-91, between free countries like the U.S. in the West and Communist countries like the Soviet Union in the East.
In Orwell’s 1984, a society of humanized farm animals is tyrannized by the “Party” and its totalitarian ideology. All news media and history are controlled by the Party, by which information is rewritten for the purpose of that greater good. Tyrannical rule in the name of a greater good justifies the Party’s actions, along with “Big Brother,” the seemingly divine Party leader with questionable existence. Individuals are denied record keeping of their past, for the purpose of blurring memories, confusing history, and subjecting citizens to become gullible to whatever the Party says. The Party manipulates the past to control the present, and thereby justifies all its present actions. Even past newspaper articles are rewritten so historical records are shown to support current Party line while Big Brother is watching.
History shrugged in Hollywood as George Orwell predicted. Parallel to the powers of the Orwellian Party, Argo manipulated the past to control how audiences in the future will view their history. While Obama’s administration failed to rescue the four Americans in Benghazi, the First Lady presented the Oscars to a movie about a successful rescue of American embassy workers. The Iran Hostage Crisis of 1979 has revised with a happy ending for future viewers to remember while justifying President Obama’s foreign policy. This leaves one to wonder, is this irony or a strange coincidence? For the wife of a major political figure to ceremoniously hand an award to a political film with a politically convenient ending on television – for millions of viewers to see – is quite Machiavellian. And as a Hollywood insider suggests in Argo, “If you want to sell a lie, you get the press to sell it for you.”