When it first debuted, Zero Dark Thirty was praised as being the darling of the Oscars. But, when it was finally seen as promoting a political agenda, a discredited political agenda at that, it went down in flames. Glenn Greenwald discusses whether it’s really the role of film critics to judge a film on its politics rather than just its aesthetics.
In an era where virtually everything the government does is shielded from disclosure, democratic accountability, and even the rule of law, films such as Zero Dark Thirty that purport to tell political stories are inherently highly political, likely to have an enormous impact on how political events are perceived. When blatant falsehoods are presented as truth on critical questions – by a film that touts itself as a journalistic presentation of actual events – insisting on apolitical appreciation of this “art” is indeed a reckless abdication.
And if Zero Dark Thirty wasn’t enough, consider that other critics’ favorite, Argo. Nima Shirazi sums it up very well.
Over the past 12 months, rarely a week – let alone month – went by without new predictions of an ever-imminent Iranian nuclear weapon and ever-looming threats of an American or Israeli military attack. Come October 2012, into the fray marched “Argo,” a decontextualized, ahistorical “true story” of Orientalist proportion, subjecting audiences to two hours of American victimization and bearded barbarians, culminating in popped champagne corks and rippling stars-and-stripes celebrating our heroism and triumph and their frustration and defeat.
Just as champions of Israel like to disregard history before 1948, Americans tend to conveniently disregard history before the Iranian hostage crisis. In interviews, Afleck seems not to have a grasp of the importance of the CIA role in shaping Iranian hostility toward America. He apparently thinks the embassy take-over was disconnected from past CIA involvement in Iran.
Wrong, Ben. One reason was the fear of another CIA-engineered coup d’etat like the one perpetrated in 1953 from the very same Embassy. Another reason was the admission of the deposed Shah into the United States for medical treatment and asylum rather than extradition to Iran to face charge and trial for his quarter century of crimes against the Iranian people, bankrolled and supported by the U.S. government. One doesn’t have to agree with the reasons, of course, but they certainly existed.
I recommend reading in their entirety the articles of both Greenwald and Shirazi. These few quotes don’t do justice to their thorough analysis of how far short these movies fell in terms of portraying reality and why that is important.
Nothing seems to be more difficult for the average American to grasp than the idea that America’s aggressive interference (both covert and overt) with the internal affairs of other sovereign nations creates powerful resentments that lead to deadly consequences. Instead they insist on believing that we are “the good guys” and therefore, by definition, attacks on the U.S. are unwarranted and are perpetrated by “the bad guys”.