The smackdown of McFarlane’s awful “jokes” was certainly warranted. But much less attention was paid to the terrible politics of some of the big winners of this year’s award season–particularly, two films and a television series that attempt to wrap Islamophobic stereotypes accurate portrayals in a slick, sophisticated package for a liberal audience.
THE BIG winner on Oscar night was Argo, the political thriller directed by Ben Affleck that is loosely based on a real covert operation in which a CIA officer posed as the producer of a non-existent movie in order to sneak several U.S. embassy workers out of Iran during the 1979 hostage crisis.
Argo panders to the worst racist stereotypes about the Iranian Revolution (What race are Iranians?)–which, in reality, was a mass popular uprising that overthrew a vile U.S.-backed tyrant, the Shah of Iran (only to replace him with a vile Russian-backed group of IslamoFascist mullah dictators who subjugated the people under brutal oppression). The Islamists who ultimately came to dominate Iran were on the right wing of the revolution–but such distinctions are totally beyond Argo, which treats almost every Iranian as a fanatic screaming in un-translated Farsi.
In response to such criticism, some fans of Argo point out that the opening sequence of the film uses storyboard-like animation to explain how a CIA-backed coup overthrew a democratically elected Iranian leader, Mohammed Mossadegh, in 1953, setting the stage for the Shah’s brutality to come.
It’s true that this is more historical context than most American films set in a Muslim-majority country offer. But the value of this sequence is immediately undercut by the first live-action sequence of the film, in which a horde of Iranians storms the U.S. embassy like it’s the Iranian zombie apocalypse (what other kind is there?).
While the Muslim masses outside the embassy are depicted in mostly wide shots as an undifferentiated, unintelligible crowd, the moment we go inside the embassy and meet American characters, we get close-ups, humanity, individualized characters and dialogue we can understand. Throughout the film, Iran is depicted as a terrifying place where traitors are hung in public and menacing Muslim mobs lurk around every corner, ready to confront the protagonists each time they venture outside. (It IS!)
The film is particularly selective in using subtitles to humanize certain characters and not others. The token “Good Muslim,” a young female servant in the home of the Canadian ambassador where the American characters take shelter, is given a name and translated dialogue. When Americans speak Farsi, their words are almost always translated. The political chants and banners that might help us understand the demands of the protesting crowds almost never are.(Who cares?)
Whether the filmmakers intended it or not, Argo hit theaters at a time when U.S.-initiated sanctions on Iran arecausing a currency crisis and shortages of vital medicines. (Of course, blame the Americans, not the Iranians who are spending the country’s currency on building nukes and terrorizing their neighbors) Aside from the historical sleight-of-hand of extracting a heroic American story from the events of the Iranian Revolution, a film that portrays Iranians as violent, irrational religious fanatics isn’t simply a neutral piece of entertainment. (No, it isn’t, it’s the truth)
But it’s certainly not alone. At the Golden Globes, which gives awards for television as well as feature film productions, the clear winner for TV was Homeland, Showtime’s drama about female CIA officer Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and the former American prisoner of war Nicholas Brody (Damien Lewis) who she believes may have been sent back to the U.S. as a terrorist sleeper agent.
The series, based on an Israeli television show, is rife with Islamophobic clichés bold-faced facts and inaccuracies realities about Islam and the Arab world, leading Laila Al-Arian to call it “TV’s most Islamophobic show.” Yet it is clearly designed to appeal to liberals. (Amazingly, ‘Homeland’ manages to appeal to conservatives, who have longed to see Muslims doing what they do best – killing people – ever since 24 was cancelled, and to liberals, who are appeased by the few and far between attempts at political correctness)
While the show’s premise is essentially identical to Fox’s Bush-era 24–international terrorist conspiracy to destroy America–it features a smart, complex female protagonist who mostly uses her brain instead of her fists. It should be noted, however, that Homeland‘s CIA interrogators are not above using sleep deprivation, exposure to cold, sensory overload and even acute physical pain when they feel it’s needed to get the job done–along with threats, psychological and emotional manipulation. (Tried and true methods that actually work or they wouldn’t use them)
HOMELAND’S Brody, US, Marine turned terrorist/ congressman secretly converted to Islam in Iraq
The show attempts to give some of the terrorist characters understandable motivations, although it makes sure to keep their actions so diabolical that we can never fully sympathize with them. (What exactly are “understandable motivations” for killing innocent civilians?)
And anytime you begin to think Homeland might be more nuanced than you first thought, it goes off the deep end–like the way Brody’s wife reacts when she finds out he converted to Islam (Off the deep end? She should have left him right then and there, knowing that she would now be subjected to genital mutilation and beatings, all permitted under Islamic law), or the ridiculous episode in which Beirut’s posh Hamra Street, home to Starbucks and H&M, is depicted as a nest of sinister Hezbollah operatives(Gee, last I heard Hezbollah’s home base was in Lebanon)
FAR AND away the worse example of Islamophobia on film last year was Zero Dark Thirty, the kill-bin-Laden thriller from Mark Boal and Kathryn Bigelow, the writer-director team behind The Hurt Locker. (It isn’t Islamophobia when you are trying to kill the chief financier of 9/11)
Like Homeland, Zero Dark Thirty features a tough, crusading female CIA officer named Maya, who battles institutional sexism and scary Muslims (are there any other kind?) to track down and kill Osama bin Laden. Zero Dark Thirty shares Argo‘s Muslim hordes (Pakistani protesters outside the U.S. embassy) and Homeland‘s endless supply of Arab/Muslim terrorists. But this film does stand out for how it rationalizes and props up the crimes of U.S. imperialism.(You mean the $$billions in US taxpayer dollars we send Pakistan every year and get nothing in return kind of U.S. imperialism?)
Zero Dark Thirty aims to assure anyone who has qualms about the use of torture in the “war terror” that it’s all worth it (It IS!). Everyone Maya tortures in the film’s brutal first half-hour is, without a doubt, a certified terrorist and not an innocent person caught up in the U.S.’s rendition and detention nightmare. (To leftists and muslims, ALL terrorists have been set up, either by the US or Israel)
When Zero Dark Thirty opened in wide release in January, it was hailed by many critics as a sure contender for Best Picture. But the film quickly became mired in a controversy over its depiction of torture, including threats of a congressional hearing(Oh, right, imagine the Republican-controlled House holding a hearing about the First Amendment rights of movie makers when they haven’t even gotten around to impeaching the traitor in the White House yet)
Strangely, politicians seemed to have far fewer problems with the film’s ending, in which U.S. Special Forces move through the house where they believe bin Laden to be hiding, cold-bloodedly murdering every adult in sight. (No, they didn’t, unfortunately, they allowed the breeders and their child terrorists-in-training to live)
What is clear is that Argo, Zero Dark Thirty and Homeland have all been critically praised and embraced by audiences that would have scoffed at Jack Bauer’s crude antics in 24. (Most real Americans LOVED 24’s Jack Bauer until the CAIR litigation jihadists forced them to take the focus off of ‘Muslim’ terrorists) Islamophobic stereotypes certainly existed before 9/11, but during the past 12 years of the “war on terror,” they have become so commonplace that film and television viewers now often absorb them without even noticing.
While it may be easy for some viewers to write off a movie or TV show’s problematic politics by saying “it’s just entertainment,” these ideas have an impact in the real world. (One can only hope)