March 16, 2013
Well, I just had to do it: go see this movie everyone was talking about. Let’s just say that Argo has more in common with Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream than with Jason and the Argonauts searching for the golden fleece. The film features a fake movie (“Argo”) “produced” by the Central Intelligence Agency to rescue six U.S. nationals from the Canadian embassy in Teheran when the overthrown Shah of Iran, himself devilishly imposed on the Iranians by the U.S., was granted asylum in the United States. Hollywood producers were enlisted in an effort to make the pseudo-film “look real” to the enraged bazaaris who had put “Islamic Republics” on the political map.
This had to be the ultimate irony for a capitalism that has come to rely on Big Lies and Newspeak: to be invoking the semblance of make-believe fiction (the nonexistent movie Argo) in the cause of a simulated lie required by the intricacies of realpolitik, which itself resolutely excludes any concern with what really goes on in society. Argo is based on “real” events. But the spectacle of the CIA immersing itself in Hollywood hijinks reminds us of how grotesquely unreal the thought processes of the capitalist class really are.
At different points we hear a voice-over of what sounds like a running Aljazeera commentary on the “Great Satan’s” foreign policy, enunciated by a woman in clear and correct American English (with albeit a trace Arab accent). The points scored in these voice-overs are criticisms well known to all Lefties. Plainly, the producers wanted the audience to grasp the real political implications of the action; they were not presenting a Disneyfied adventure sealed off in a social vacuum. Which is remarkable in a film that manifestly glorifies the CIA as a sort of collective Arnold Schwarzenegger or Jean-Claude Van Damme.
So the fake movie “Argo” embedded in the “real” movie Argo is homologous to the play within the play “Pyramus and Thisbe” in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, maintaining all the while an arm’s-length relation with a tenuously sensed real world in which capital, wages and class struggle, yes, do exist out there somewhere, but in a weirdly inverted way. You catch yourself wondering why this is such a cliff-hanger. The very real drama of the daily struggle that capitalists have reduced life to appears in the movie like so many googly-eyed tourists peering in through the glass walls of an aquarium.
Looming over this whole nefarious, psychotic maze stalks the specter of an organization that trains killers and torturers (the U.S. government), and globally promotes the interests of capital centered around the fairy tale of (U.S.) national security. Wherever it can attack efforts by the working class to organize itself, it does, often by remote control in a dismally repetitive pattern. (“Argo” was coincidentally “produced” in 1979 under the same benevolent Carter Administration that both laid the basis in El Salvador for the Reagan Administration’s bloody fairy tales and “intervened” in Afghanistan, materially contributing to the emergence of al Qaeda.) Innernashnal Commanism was out to git us. No time to waste! The Tough had to get going.
The CIA is deeply implicated in all this myth-making machinery, so it is no surprise that one of its operatives should have ingeniously suggested “producing” a fake movie in a moment of “real” crisis in Iran. At the Company they don’t fool around: they are no strangers to the vicious, the lethal and the ugly. The politic bow-ties upstairs are as good at hiring thugs as generals are supposed to be at setting up episodes of calculated mass murder. Argo lights up a sordid episode that fueled what must have been a heart-pounding experience for all of its participants. A good story, sure — but why must we have to stand on our heads to make sense of it?
The producers thankfully give the audience a chance to swim back up to get a lungful of reality when they show us a moment of celebration occurring at the end, with CIA personnel (presumably at their headquarters in Langley, Virginia) jumping up and down, high-fiving each other like scientists at Mission Control cheering a successful Mars landing. So now the Agency can get back to its Usual Business of knifing opposition movements in the back, maybe? Or of improving on the truth, or taking down the concept of “intelligence” out back in the alley?
The question all this begs is, of course, why governments do such things in the first place. But while the answer ought to be as plain as the nose on your face — that this is the road they must take to defend the interests of capital — spectacle and drama seem to be the decisive factors in shaping what we call “public opinion.” The sad fact is that the world’s working class has lost its way in the confusing hallucinations of a global capitalism that courts its victims’ political approval even as it clobbers them economically.
Yet when you leave the theater, if you tune in to the distant rumbles of global warming that persistently chatter like some sort of Langoliers at the fringes of your sense of reality, you might justifiably begin to doubt at least pieces of Capital’s Big Lie. Should it finally come to pass that a general consensus arises, that not just the capitalist class but capital itself bears the responsibility for triggering an age of ecological surprises, it is fascinating to speculate how society might receive capital’s cold-blooded refusal to shoulder that responsibility. Could a moment of truth perhaps be approaching, in which the capitalists figuratively get their heads handed to them on a platter, reminiscent of the French landed aristocracy that warm June day in 1789? For one of the truths of history is that increasingly tiny and powerful economic élites do not make good survival decisions for the rest of us. Once the ice caps disappear, our future will be indisputably on the line.
So, you want a gripping story? Try imagining a socialist revolution on a world scale following capital’s quasi-tragic attempts to break lances with Mother Nature.