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Some Ramblings - Argo (2012)
By Srinivas Kanchibhotla

Early 90s - The Yen was scoring mightily over the Dollar. Japanese exports, the big ticket items - the cars and the electronics, were flooding the American markets, and owing to their superior quality, started to make great inroads at the expense of their native counterparts. Next, flush with American cash, Japanese investors set their targets on American businesses, their real estate, and even Hollywood studios. If the big 'Red Scare' riled the populace up, rallying them against the phantom threat of communism during the 50's and the 60's, 'Yellow Fever' had the demagogues whipping up passions against the Japanese during the 90s. Alarmed at the rising importance of Japanese say in American everyday, the CIA stepped in, with the clear objective of reigning in the Rising Sun on the American soil. Out of nowhere, American authors (best selling ones like Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton and the lesser known ones) started to (were commissioned to) train their guns over the Japanese corporations, their business practices, ethics, their closed-out communities and their old time patriots, still licking their wounds from the Second World War loss, now raring to bring America to its knees. Following suit, movies, based on these novels, amped up the noise against their 'Friends from Far East'. American politicians, whose constituencies housed big manufacturing plants, continued the drumbeat and played their part as rabble rousers, and labor unions pitched in with not so subtle 'Be American, Buy American' war cry, even going to the extent of defacing and damaging Japanese cars in the plants' parking lots. This multi-pronged strategy was so effective that the image conscious Japanese soon retreated from their aggressive posturing, re-branding themselves as willing partners in the entrepreneurial world, a step back from the 'Take Over Tanaka's. No shots were fired, no blood was shed, no lives were lost, but, nonetheless, the war was won.

9/11 - Just a few weeks after the event that shook up the country from complacence, the National Security team invited the top Hollywood screenwriters to the White House and gave them a simple breif - come up with as many doomsday scenarios as possible, attacking both the mainland and its interests everywhere on the globe, in as many creative way as possible. Pay particular attention to the rogue techniques - spread biological and nerve agents in urban areas through simple to use aerosol canisters, explode a crude nuclear bomb, with blast radius of less than a square mile, out of a mere backpack, tunnel through the Financial plumbing of the markets and wreak havoc with it and many such. However much mass media is derided and looked down upon as low brow and lacking gravitas, when it comes to national (security) interests, there is no better partner in crime to the administration than the pomp and show of Hollywood.

'Imperialism' is hard to be spun in a positive way. The very word suggests a tyrant and an oppressor, where the will of the tyrant is forcibly imposed upon the despondent subjects, who have no say in it whatsoever. Like the invasion of Iraq, where US tried to seed democracy (and thereby protecting its interests) through wrongful means. The obvious misstep that the administration had made there, was not consulting Hollywood, the mecca of image make-overs, before the misadventure [tongue in cheek, of course]. But replace the word 'imperialism', which is archaic nowadays anyway, with an even more potent weapon - 'Cultural influence', or its slightly less evil brethren 'Cultural Exchange'. Quick, try pointing to a place on the world map, which doesn't have even a single business concern of American origin, or haven't heard of the word MTV. McDonalds and MTV combined have done more to spreading the idea of America more than all its invasions, foreign aids and philanthropies put together, which only underlines the obvious fact that US is better at selling the idea of itself than following up the idea once the dream is sold. And that is the main reason, why one often hears about how America is as much hated as the concept of America (its freedom and liberty) is loved and craved. If the administration wants to turn this antagonism towards its policies the world over, it has to start doing a better job of selling it, in short, outsource the Department of State to Hollywood [t.i.c., again].

'Argo' is a tip of the hat to one such successful collaboration between CIA and Hollywood during the Iran hostage crisis, where the hostages were extricated from behind the enemy lines by throwing over them the big tarp of the ubiquitous Hollywood. The script, though based on true events and dramatized during the key moments for the effect, is pretty straightforward when dealing with the usual procedural talk among the various government agencies. Where it stretches its limbs is in the (near accurate) portrayal of Hollywood - fast talking, back biting, self consumed, but patriotic nonetheless (similar to Dustin Hoffman's character in 'Wag the Dog'). And the contrasting styles between these two egotistical, know it all entities, drives the fun element in the script. Though the actual act of pulling the hostages out doesn't have the spectacle of, say, the saving of Private Ryan, Affleck plays with the pacing making 'Argo' a near edge of the seat thriller.

The style of the movie is a throwback to the golden age of Hollywood, the 70s, where thrillers routinely had a 'matter of fact'ness about them, with their aloof and non-interfering photographies, urgent and breathless editing patterns, not to mention, the cold and the curt talk (Ex: Three days of the Condor, The Parallax View, The Conversation etc). Put simply, Afflect makes a better movie out of the script.

Postscript: Late 80's - General Manuel Noriega, of Panama, after a fall out with his ex-employer, the CIA, tried to shutdown access to shipping lines from the US through the Panama Canal to the East. Under that pretext, US troops moved in and tried to capture him alive, to try him under a horde of other crimes, ranging from drug trafficking to troop harassment. The General, eventually holed up in a religious establishment, refused to give himself up or be taken alive. The solution - the troops surrounded the Holy See embassy with huge speakers and blared out rock, metal and industrial music day in, day out. And within a few days, the General surrendered unconditionally. Imagine, how much bloodier the world would be without the pomp and circumstance of Hollywood!

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This article is written by Srinivas Kanchibhotla
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