By Matthew Alford and Robbie Graham | January 21, 2009
Here we build a prima facae case supporting the idea that Hollywood continues to be a target for infiltration and subversion by a variety of state agencies, in particular the CIA. Academic debates on cinematic propaganda are almost entirely retrospective, and whilst a number of commentators have drawn attention to Hollywood’s longstanding and open relationship with the Pentagon, little of substance has been written about the more clandestine influences working through Hollywood in the post-9/11 world. As such, our work delves into the field of what Peter Dale Scott calls “deep politics”; namely, activities which cannot currently be fully understood due to the covert influence of shadowy power players.
The Latest Picture
A variety of state agencies have liaison offices in Hollywood today, from the FBI, to NASA and the Secret Service. Few of these agencies, though, have much to offer in exchange for favourable storylines, and so their influence in Hollywood is minimal. The major exception here is the Department of Defense, which has an ‘open’ but barely publicized relationship with Tinsel Town, whereby, in exchange for advice, men and invaluable equipment, such as aircraft carriers and helicopters, the Pentagon routinely demands flattering script alterations. Examples of this policy include changing the true identity of a heroic military character in Black Hawk Down (2001) due to his real-life status as a child rapist; the removal of a joke about “losing Vietnam” from the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), and cutting images of Marines taking gold teeth from dead Japanese soldiers in Windtalkers (2002). Instances such as these are innumerable, and the Pentagon has granted its coveted “full cooperation” to a long list of contemporary pictures including Top Gun (1986), True Lies (1994), Executive Decision (1996), Air Force One (1997), The Sum of All Fears (2002), Transformers (2007), Iron Man (2008), as well as TV series such as JAG (1995-2005).
Such government activity, whilst morally dubious and barely advertised, has at least occurred within the public domain. This much cannot be said of the CIA’s dealings with Hollywood, which, until recently, went largely unacknowledged by the Agency. In 1996, the CIA announced with little fanfare the dry remit of its newly established Media Liaison Office, headed by veteran operative Chase Brandon. As part of its new stance, the CIA would now openly collaborate on Hollywood productions, supposedly in a strictly ‘advisory’ capacity.
The Agency’s decision to work publicly with Hollywood was preceded by the 1991 “Task Force Report on Greater CIA Openness,” compiled by CIA Director Robert Gates’ newly appointed ‘Openness Task Force,’ which secretly debated –ironically– whether the Agency should be less secretive. The report acknowledges that the CIA “now has relationships with reporters from every major wire service, newspaper, news weekly, and television network in the nation,” and the authors of the report note that this helped them “turn some ‘intelligence failure’ stories into ‘intelligence success’ stories, and has contributed to the accuracy of countless others.” It goes on to reveal that the CIA has in the past “persuaded reporters to postpone, change, hold, or even scrap stories that could have adversely affected national security interests…”
These admissions add weight to several reports and Congressional hearings from the 1970s which indicated that the CIA once maintained a deep-rooted and covert presence in national and international media, informally dubbed “Operation Mockingbird.” In its 1991 report, the CIA acknowledged that it had, in fact, “reviewed some film scripts about the Agency, documentary and fictional, at the request of filmmakers seeking guidance on accuracy and authenticity.” But the report is at pains to state that, although the CIA has “facilitated the filming of a few scenes on Agency premises,” it does “not seek to play a role in filmmaking ventures.” But it seems highly implausible that the CIA, whilst maintaining a decades-long presence in media and academia, would have shown no interest in the hugely influential Cinema industry.
Indeed, it should come as no surprise that the CIA has been involved in a number of recent blockbusters and TV series.The 2001 CBS TV series, The Agency, executive produced by Wolfgang Petersen (Das Boot, Air Force One) was actually co-written by ex-CIA agent and Marine Bazzel Baz, with additional ex-CIA agents working as consultants. The CIA gladly opened its doors to the production, and facilitated both external and internal shots of its Langley headquarters as the camera gazed lovingly at the CIA seal. This arrangement was comparable to the Feds’ efforts on the popular TV series The FBI (1965-74) which was shaped by the Bureau in cooperation with ABC and which thanked J. Edgar Hoover in the credits of each episode. Similarly, The Agency glorified the actions of US spooks as they fought predictable villains including the Russian military, Arab and German terrorists, Columbian drug dealers, and Iraqis. One episode even shows the CIA saving the life of Fidel Castro; ironically, since the CIA in real life had made repeated attempts to assassinate the Cuban President. Promos for the show traded on 9/11, which had occurred just prior to its premiere, with tag lines like “Now, more than ever, we need the CIA.”
A TV movie, In the Company of Spies (1999) starring Tom Berenger depicted a retired CIA operative returning to duty to save captured Agency officers held by North Korea. The CIA was so enthusiastic about this product that it hosted its presentation, cooperated during production, facilitated filming at Langley, and provided fifty off-duty officers as extras, according to its website.
Espionage novelist Tom Clancy has enjoyed an especially close relationship with the CIA. In 1984, Clancy was invited to Langley after writing The Hunt for Red October, which was later turned into the 1990 film. The Agency invited him again when he was working on Patriot Games (1992), and the movie adaptation was, in turn,granted access to Langley facilities. More recently, The Sum of All Fears (2002) depicted the CIA as tracking down terrorists who detonate a nuclear weapon on US soil. For this production, CIA director George Tenet gave the filmmakers a personal tour of the Langley HQ; the film’s star, Ben Affleck also consulted with Agency analysts, and Chase Brandon served as on-set advisor.
Media sources indicate that the CIA also worked on the Anthony Hopkins/Chris Rock feature Bad Company (2002) and the Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster Enemy of the State (2001). However, no details whatsoever about these appear to be in the public domain. Similarly, Spy Game director Tony Scott’s DVD commentary for said film indicates that he visited Langley whilst in pre-production but, according to one report, endorsement appeared to have been withheld after Chase Brandon read the final draft of the script.
More details than usual emerged about CIA involvement in the Tom Hanks movie Charlie Wilsons War (2007) and Robert De Niro’s The Good Shepherd (2006) – but not many. Milt Beardon had traveled to the Moscow Film Festival with De Niro and claims the pair then “disappeared and hung out with the mob and KGB crowd for a while. I introduced him to generals and colonels, the old guys I had been locked with for so many years.” De Niro later tagged along with Beardon to Pakistan. “We wandered around the North-West Frontier Province,” Bearden recalls, “crossed the bridge [to Afghanistan] I built years ago, hung out with a bunch of guys firing off machine guns and drinking tea.” Still, The Good Shepherd didn’t fulfill the CIA’s earnest hopes of being the CIA equivalent of Flags of Our Fathers (2006), which the Agency’s official historian says it should have been – all in the interests of what he calls a “culture of truth.”
Charlie Wilson’s War depicted the United States’ covert efforts to supply arms to Afghanistan to fight the Soviet Union in the 1980s which had the real-life consequence of America’s old ally turned against it in the form of al-Qaeda (as Crile explains in the book of the film). However, Beardon, who was the CIA agent who supplied the weapons, worked as consultant on the film and said prior to its release that it “will put aside the notion that because we did that, we had 9/11.” CIA involvement in the film therefore appears to have paid dividends.
The real reasons for the CIA adopting an “advisory” role on all of these productions are thrown into sharp relief by a solitary comment from former Associate General Counsel to the CIA, Paul Kelbaugh. In 2007, whilst at a College in Virginia, Kelbaugh delivered a lecture on the CIA’s relationship with Hollywood, at which a local journalist was present. The journalist (who now wishes to remain anonymous) wrote a review of the lecture which related Kelbaugh’s discussion of the 2003 thriller The Recruit, starring Al Pacino. The review noted that, according to Kelbaugh, a CIA agent was on set for the duration of the shoot under the guise of a consultant, but that his real job was to misdirect the filmmakers: “We didn’t want Hollywood getting too close to the truth,” the journalist quoted Kelbaugh as saying.
Peculiarly, in a strongly-worded email to the authors, Kelbaugh emphatically denied having made the public statement and claimed that he remembered “very specific discussions with senior [CIA] management that no one was ever to misrepresent to affect [film] content – EVER.” The journalist considers Kelbaugh’s denial “weird,” and told us that “after the story came out, he [Kelbaugh] emailed me and loved it… I think maybe it’s just that because [the lecture] was ‘just in Lynchburg’ he was okay with it – you know, like, no one in Lynchburg is really going to pay much attention to it, I guess. Maybe that’s why he said it, and maybe that’s why he’s denying it now.” The journalist stands by the original report, and Kelbaugh has pointedly refused to engage us in further discussion on the matter.
Clandestine agencies have a long history of interference in the cinema industry. Letters discovered in the Eisenhower Presidential Library from the secret agent Luigi G. Luraschi (identified by British academic John Eldridge), the Paramount executive who worked for the CIA’s Psychological Strategy Board (PSB), reveal just how far the CIA was able to reach into the film industry in the early days of the Cold War, despite its claims that it sought no such influence. For instance, Luraschi reported that he had secured the agreement of several casting directors to subtly plant “well dressed negroes” into films, including “a dignified negro butler” who has lines “indicating he is a free man” in Sangaree (1953) and in a golf club scene in the Dean Martin/Jerry Lewis vehicle The Caddy (1953). Elsewhere, CIA arranged the removal of key scenes from the film Arrowhead (1953), which questioned America’s treatment of Apache Indians, including a sequence where a tribe is forcibly shipped and tagged by the US Army. Such changes were not part of a ham-fisted campaign to instill what we now call “political correctness” in the populace. Rather, they were specifically enacted to hamper the Soviets’ ability to exploit its enemy’s poor record in race relations and served to create a peculiarly anodyne impression of America, which was, at that time, still mired in an era of racial segregation.
Other efforts were made. The PSB tried –unsuccessfully– to commission Frank Capra to direct Why We Fight the Cold War and to provide details to filmmakers about conditions in the USSR in the hope that they would use them in their movies. More successfully, in 1950, the CIA –along with other secretive organizations like the Office of Policy Coordination (OPC) and aided by the PSB– bought the rights to and invested in the cartoon of George Orwell’s Animal Farm (1954), which was given an anti-Soviet spin to satisfy its covert investors. Author Daniel Leab has pointed to the fact it took decades for the rumours about CIA involvement in Animal Farm to be properly documented; this, he observes, “Speaks volumes about the ability of a government agency to keep its activities covert.”
Additionally, the production of the Michael Redgrave feature Nineteen-Eighty Four (1956) was in turn overseen by the American Committee for Cultural Freedom, which was supervised by the CIA. Key points in the movie were altered to demonise the Soviets.
The CIA also tampered with the 1958 film version of The Quiet American, provoking the author, Graham Greene, to denounce the film. US Air Force Colonel Edward Lansdale, the CIA operative behind Operation Mongoose (the CIA sabotage and assassination campaign against Cuba) had entered into production correspondence with director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who accepted his ideas. These included a change to the final scene in which we learn that Redgrave’s anti-hero has been hoodwinked by the Communists into murdering the suspicious American, who turns out not to be a bomb-maker as we had been led to believe, but instead a manufacturer of children’s toys.
Behind the Scenes
It would be a mistake to regard the CIA as unique in its involvement in Hollywood. The industry is in fact fundamentally open to manipulation by a range of state agencies. In 2000, it emerged that the White House’s drug war officers had spent tens of millions of dollars paying the major US networks to inject anti-drug plots into the scripts of primetime series such as ER, The Practice, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Chicago Hope. Despite criticism for this blatant propagandizing, the government continued to employ this method of spreading its message on drugs.
The White House went to Tinsel Town again the following year when, on November 11, 2001 a meeting was held in Hollywood between President Bush’s then Deputy Chief of Staff, Karl Rove, and representatives of each of the major Hollywood studios to discuss how the film industry might contribute to the ‘War on Terror.’ Jack Valenti, president of the Motion Picture Association of America said with a straight face that, “content was off the table”, but Rove had clearly outlined a series of requests. It is hard to gauge the consequences of the meeting, but a Rambo sequel, for instance, was certainly discussed, and duly produced. Similarly, several series with national security themes emerged within a short time of the meeting including She Spies (2002-2004) and Threat Matrix (2003).
The meeting was, in fact, just one in a series between Hollywood and the White House from October to December, 2001. On October 17, in response to 9/11, the White House announced the formation of its “Arts and Entertainment Task Force,” and by November, Valenti had assumed leadership of Hollywood’s new role in the ‘War on Terror’. As a direct result of meetings, Congress sought advice from Hollywood insiders on how to shape an effective wartime message to America and to the world. In November 2001, John Romano, writer-producer of the popular US TV series Third Watch, advised the House International Relations Committee that the content of Hollywood productions was a key part of shaping foreign perceptions of America.
On December 5, 2001, the powerful Academy of Television Arts & Sciences convened its own panel entitled “Hollywood Goes to War?” to discuss what the industry might do in response to 9/11. Representing the government at the meeting were Mark McKinnon, a White House advisor, and the Pentagon’s chief entertainment liaison, Phil Strub. Also in attendance, among others, were Jeff Zucker, President of NBC Entertainment, and Aaron Sorkin, creator and writer of the White House drama The West Wing (1999-2006). Immediately after, Sorkin and his team set about producing a special episode of the show dealing with a massive terrorist threat to America entitled “Isaac and Ishmael”. The episode was given top priority and was successfully completed and aired within just ten days of the meeting. The product championed the superiority of American values whilst brimming with rage against the Islamist jihadists.
The interlocking of Hollywood and national security apparatuses remains as tight as ever: ex-CIA agent Bob Baer told us, “There’s a symbiosis between the CIA and Hollywood” and revealed that former CIA director George Tenet is currently, “out in Hollywood, talking to studios.” Baer’s claims are given weight by the Sun Valley meetings, annual get-togethers in Idaho’s Sun Valley in which several hundred of the biggest names in American media –including every major Hollywood studio executive– convene to discuss collective media strategy for the coming year. Against the idyllic backdrop of expansive golf courses, pine forests and clear fishing lakes, deals are struck, contracts are signed, and the face of the American media is quietly altered. The press has yet to be granted permission to report on these corporate media gatherings and so the exact nature of what is discussed at the events has never been publicly disclosed. It is known, however, that Tenet was keynote speaker at Sun Valley in 2003 (whilst still CIA head) and again in 2005.
Many would recoil at the thought of modern Hollywood cinema being used as a propagandist tool, but the facts seem to speak for themselves. Do agencies such as the CIA have the power, like the Pentagon, to affect movie content by providing much-sought-after expertise, locations and other benefits? Or are they able to affect script changes through simple persuasion, or even coercion? Do they continue to carry out covert actions in Hollywood as they did so extensively in the 1950s, and, beyond cinema, might covert government influence play some part in the creation of national security messages in TV series such as 24 and Alias (the star of the latter, Jennifer Garner, even made an unpaid recruitment video for the CIA)? The notion that covert agencies aspire to be more open is hard to take seriously when they provide such scant information about their role within the media, even regarding activities from decades past. The spy may have come in from the cold, but he continues to shelter in the shadows of the movie theatre.
Arnon Milchan, renowned producer of such Hollywood hits as “Pretty Woman,” “Fight Club” and “LA Confidential”, has come forth with perhaps his greatest story of all: he was an Israeli spy who helped boost the country’s nuclear program in the 70s and 80s.
In an in depth interview broadcast on Monday with Israel’s Channel 2 flagship investigative program ‘Uvda’ (Fact), the 68-year-old producer discussed his involvement in clandestine arms deals and efforts to buy technologies Israel allegedly needed to make nuclear weapons.
The expose followed Milchan’s career from the late ’1960s and early ’1970s, when he was a young and successful businessman in the United States who had a close relationship with current Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Peres, who at the time was helping set up the Negev Nuclear Research Center, tasked Milchan with acquiring equipment and information necessary to get the project off the ground.
“Do you know what it was like to be a 20-something guy whose country decided to let him be James Bond? Wow! The action! That was exciting,” the Israeli daily Haaretz cited Milchan as saying. He ran a thriving fertilizer company in Israel before finding success in Hollywood.
The report also outlined how Milchan set up bank accounts and companies in order to facilitate the transfer of materials and equipment through Lakam, Israel’s secretive Bureau of Scientific Relations. At the height of his operations, Milchan was operating 30 firms in 17 different countries.
The acquisition of nuclear triggers for Israel by Milchan’s company, Milco, almost landed him in hot water with the FBI, which discovered they had been shipped to Israel without the proper licensing. The aerospace executive Richard Kelly Smyth, who used one of Milchan’s companies to deliver triggers to Israel, was indicted in 1985 over the affair. Milchan claimed he was completely unaware Israel had ordered the triggers.
“I didn’t even know what triggers were.”
After the trigger incident, which was followed by the 1986 arrest of Jonathan Jay Pollard, a US civilian intelligence analyst who was later convicted for passing classified information to Israel, the Bureau of Scientific Relations was shut down.
Milchan further described how he once persuaded a German engineer to take home plans on how to construct a nuclear facility from a safe where he worked.
Saying the engineer “couldn’t be bought,” Milchan said he talked the scientist into leaving the plans on a table at home and when he went out to dine with his wife, someone would enter the premises and photograph the documents.
He also used his clout in Hollywood to help the South African apartheid regime clear up its international image in exchange for helping Israel acquire uranium.
Arms deals and A-list accomplices
In the 1970s, Milchan also brokered deals for hundreds of millions of dollars between Israel and US companies for helicopters, missiles and other military equipment.
Uvda showed that Milchan’s company at times made as much as 60 percent off the deals, though Milchan insisted on camera that all of the money made it back to Israel.
“I did it for my country and I’m proud of it,” AP cites Milchan as saying.
Once his activities shifted to the silver screen, he continued his clandestine activities and maintained close ties with high-ranking Israeli officials.
Once word spread that Milchan was moonlighting as an arms dealer, many in the industry were reluctant to do business with him.
“In Hollywood they don’t like working with an arms dealer, ideologically,” he said, “with someone who lives off selling machine-guns and killing. Instead of someone talking to me about a script, I had to spend half an hour explaining that I’m not an arms dealer,” The Times of Israel reports.
Milchan said upon arriving in Hollywood, “I detached myself completely from my physical activities to dedicate myself to what I really wanted – filmmaking.”
“(But) sometimes it gets mixed up,” he added.
According to Haaretz, Milchan also actively recruited other Hollywood movers and shakers to get involved in his work, most notably the late director, Sydney Pollack.
Milchan says Pollack knew exactly what he was doing when he allegedly moved to acquire firearms and military hardware for Israel in the 1970s.
“[Pollack] had to decide what he was willing to do and what he was not willing to do. On a lot of things he said no. On a lot of other things he said yes.”
Milchan also admitted trying to use an A-list Hollywood star as bait to lure a US nuclear scientist to a private rendezvous at the actor’s house. The report never clarified whether that meeting in fact took place.
Milchan, a part-owner of Israel’s Channel 10 television company and who founded the New Regency film company, has produced more than 120 movies since the 1970s. He forged an especially close relationship with Robert De Niro, who along with actors Russell Crowe and Ben Affleck, was featured in the program. Milchan also helped bring Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie together for the film ‘Mr And Mrs Smith.’
Ask your provider to include in your programming
Following the remarkable success of iFilm Arabic and iFilm Persian, the English edition of Iran’s 24-hour entertainment and movie channel (iFilm English) has been launched as the first Iranian channel broadcasting movies and serials in English.
The channel, which broadcasts premium Iranian movies and serials that have been professionally dubbed, and which has been launched with the objective of introducing Iran’s culture, civilization and history to the people of the world, officially began broadcasting today, Monday, March 11, 2013.
iFilm English broadcasts movies, serials and entertainment programs in English 24/7. The audience of the channel can receive its programs through the four satellites of Hotbird, Optus (for Australia), Nilesat (for the Middle East) and Intelsat (for the EU and Africa). In addition to satellite coverage, the programs of iFilm English can also be received from the Internet on personal computers, tablets, cell-phones and smart TVs across the world.
According to Head of the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) World Service Dr. Mohammad Sarafraz, iFilm English, with the slogan of “A New Family Experience,” seeks to introduce families in Western societies to a new experience of visual media and cinema with a content different from that of Hollywood, and thus provide a safe and attractive environment for their leisure time and in their own language.
Dr. Sarafraz says the channel’s programs include dubbed Iranian movies and serials in the genres of family-society, comedy, thrillers and history, and also various interesting programs, including those depicting behind-the-scenes of the movies and TV serials, candid camera programs, 100-second dramas, various documentaries about Iran and programs establishing interaction between the viewers and the channel.
iFilm English attempts to counter the West’s campaign to spread Iranophobia by opening a window to the Iranian-Islamic culture and civilization, portraying the truths about the Iranian society and offering an image based on the reality of the peace-loving people of Iran and its ancient civilization.
Using cutting-edge technology and streaming programs on the Internet and cell-phones, iFilm English also attempts to counter the efforts recently made by certain Western satellite companies aimed at limiting the voice of the culture of the Iranian people.
The channel can be watched on the following frequencies:
Hotbird 13B at 13.0° E
Frequency: 11727 (TP XP50)
Symbol Rate: 27500
Optus D2 at 152° E
Frequency: 12706 (TP 8L)
Symbol Rate: 22500
Eutelsat 7 West A at 7.3° (Nilesat)
Frequency: 11679 (TP C25)
Symbol Rate: 27500
Intelsat 10at 47.5° E (Europe Africa beam)
Frequency: 12602 (TP 21 K)
Symbol Rate: 27500
- Press TV announces new frequency for US, Canada viewers (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Foreign policy observers have long known that Hollywood reflects and promotes U.S. policies (in turn, is determined by Israel and its supporters). This fact was made public when Michelle Obama announced an Oscar win for Argo – a highly propagandist, anti-Iran film. Amidst the glitter and excitement, Hollywood and White House reveal their pact and send out their message in time for the upcoming talks surrounding Iran’s nuclear program due to be held tomorrow – February 26th.
Hollywood has a long history of promoting US policies. In 1917, when the United States entered World War I, President Woodrow Wilson’s Committee on Public Information (CPI) enlisted the aid of America’s film industry to make training films and features supporting the ‘cause’. George Creel, Chairman of the CPI believed that the movies had a role in “carrying the gospel of Americanism to every corner of the globe.”
The pact grew stronger during World War II, when, as historian Thomas Doherty writes, “[T]he liaison between Hollywood and Washington was a distinctly American and democratic arrangement, a mesh of public policy and private initiative, state need and business enterprise.” Hollywood’s contribution was to provide propaganda. After the war, Washington reciprocated by using subsidies, special provisions in the Marshall Plan, and general clout to pry open resistant European film markets.1
Hollywood has often borrowed its story ideas from the U.S. foreign policy agenda, at times reinforcing them. One of the film industry’s blockbuster film loans in the last two decades has been modern international terrorism. Hollywood rarely touched the topic of terrorism in the late 1960s and 1970s when the phenomenon was not high on the U.S. foreign policy agenda, in news headlines or in the American public consciousness. In the 1980s, in the footsteps of the Reagan administration’s policies, the commercial film industry brought ‘terrorist’ villains to the big screen (following the US Embassy takeover in Tehran – topic of Argo) making terrorism a blockbuster film product in the 1990s.
Today, whether Hollywood follows US policy or whether it sets it, is up for discussion. But it is abundantly clear that Hollywood is dominated by Israelis and their supporters who previously concealed their identity. According to a 2012 Haaretz article:
From the 1930s until the mid-1950s, Hanukkah never appeared on screen. This was because the Jewish studio heads preferred to hide their ethnic and religious heritage in attempting to widen the appeal of their products [emphasis added]. Jews were thus typically portrayed as participants in an American civil religion, whose members may attend the synagogue of their choice, but are not otherwise marked by great differences of appearance, speech, custom, or behaviour from the vast majority of American.
This is no longer the case.
In sharp contrast to its past, Hollywood “celebrated” Israel’s 60th “birthday” [occupation] with a Gala called “From Vision to Reality”. Israeli TV blog wrote of the Gala: ‘Don’t Worry Israel, Hollywood is behind you’. Actor Jon Voight said: “World playing a dangerous game by going against Israel”.
Israeli businessman and Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, was a longtime weapons dealer and Israeli intelligence agent who purchased equipment for Israel’s nuclear program (the book, Confidential: The Life of Secret Agent Turned Hollywood Tycoon Arnon Milchan, written by Meir Doron and Joseph Gelman, recounts Milchan’s life story, his friendships with Israeli prime ministers, U.S. presidents and Hollywood stars).
It is important to understand Hollywood not only in the context of a multi-billion dollar industry, but the propaganda aspect of it and as one of the most powerful and universal methods of spreading ideas through visual propaganda. “Propaganda is defined as a certain type of messaging that serves a particular purpose of spreading or implanting a particular culture, philosophy, point of view or even a particular slogan”. With this capability, Hollywood owns the world of ideas on a scale too large and too dangerous to ignore – see this excellent example by Gilad Atzmon – Hollywood and the Past.
History is commonly regarded as an attempt to produce a structured account of the past. It proclaims to tell us what really happened, but in most cases it fails to do that. Instead it is set to conceal our shame, to hide those various elements, events, incidents and occurrences in our past which we cannot cope with. History, therefore, can be regarded as a system of concealment. Accordingly, the role of the true historian is similar to that of the psychoanalyst: both aim to unveil the repressed. For the psychoanalyst, it is the unconscious mind. For the historian, it is our collective shame.
As Hollywood and the White House eagerly embrace “Argo” and its propagandist message, they shamelessly and deliberately conceal a crucial aspect of this “historical” event. The glitter buries the all too important fact that the Iranian students who took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, proceeded to reveal Israel’s dark secret to the world. Documents classified as “SECRET” revealed LAKAM’s activities. Initiated in 1960, LAKAM was an Israeli network assigned to economic espionage in the U.S. assigned to “the collection of scientific intelligence in the U.S. for Israel’s defense industry.2
As it stands, the purpose of the movie and its backers was to push the extraordinary revelations to the background while sending a visual message to the unsuspecting audience – to lay the blame of the potential (and likely) failure of the upcoming negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program on the Iranians — the gun-wielding, bearded Iranians of Argo who deserve America’s collective punishment and the crippling, deathly sanctions.
- Martha Bayles, Wilson Quarterly, Summer 2005
- U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Israel: Foreign Intelligence and Security Services, Washington, D.C., March 1979, p. 9 (typescript). The report classified SECRET, was released to the world by Iranian students who occupied the U.S. embassy in Tehran in 1979. Cited by Duncan L. Clarke, “Israel’s Economic Espionage in the United States” (1998).
Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich is a Public Diplomacy Scholar, independent researcher, and blogger with a focus on U.S. foreign policy and the role of lobby groups.
Hollywood likes to pretend that things aren’t political when they are. It’s that bi-partisan nationalist myth that if both corporate parties agree to cheer for the empire, then everyone cheers for the empire. It’s gotten so bad now that races like the Oscars and the Writer’s Guild screenwriting award are tight contests between one CIA propaganda film and another CIA propaganda film. The first one helps to demonize Iranians and set up the next World War scenario, while the second film fraudulently promotes the effectiveness of state-sanctioned torture crimes.
If there ever was a time for loud disgust and rejection of the Hollywood / Military-Industrial-Complex, this would seem to be it (firstname.lastname@example.org). Naomi Wolf made a comparison of Zero Dark Thirty’s creators Bigelow and Boal to Nazi filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl (Triumph of the Will). That, to me, seems inappropriately offensive to Leni Riefenstahl. The good German filmmaker never promoted torture through deception. Nor was Triumph a call to war. The film was simply an expression of German patriotism and strength, rebirth from the ashes of World War I. The current insidious crop of propaganda, as in the CIA’s leaking of fictional scenes about locating Osama Bin Laden through torture extraction, are arguably more damaging and less defensible than Riefenstahl’s upfront and blatant homage to Hitler’s leadership.
The Zero Dark Thirty scandal should be common knowledge by now, but here is what the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence wrote to Sony Pictures about it:
“We believe the film is grossly inaccurate and misleading in its suggestion that torture resulted in information that led to the location of Usama bin Laden… Instead, the CIA learned of the existence of the courier, his true name and location through means unrelated to the CIA detention and interrogation program.”
The filmmakers had every opportunity to explore the issue more fully, instead of relying on the “firsthand accounts” of the torturers themselves, and/or their allies within the Central Intelligence Agency. Notably, torturers are felons and war criminals. Those who know about their crimes and help cover them up are guilty of conspiracy to torture. Thus, these self-serving fairy tales that illegal torture led to the desired results (bin Laden) are tangled up with the motivation to protect war criminals from prosecution. Not only does this claim of successful torture help insulate the guilty from legal prosecution, it also helps to promote further criminal acts of torture in the future.
Once this red flag issue was raised by the Senate, the filmmakers could have taken a second look at what they had put up on screens and reassessed the veracity of their material and the way it was being sold to the world. Instead they doubled down. Bigelow and Boal want it both ways, extraordinary access to CIA storytellers for a documentary-like “factual” telling of the bin Laden execution, but they also want license to claim that it’s just a movie and can therefore take all the liberties they please.
Jessica Chastain, who plays a state-employed torturer/murderer, who also allegedly located Osama bin Laden, said:
“I’m afraid to get called in front of a Senate committee… In my opinion, this is a very accurate film… I think it’s important to note the film is not a documentary.”
In a nutshell, that’s the Zero Dark Thirty defense. It’s a highly sourced “very accurate film,” but we can take all the liberties we like because it’s not a documentary, and so if we made up a case for torture based on the lies of professional liars in the CIA, then oops.
Mark Boal went so far as to mock the Senate Intelligence Committee, at the NY Film Critic’s Circle:
“In case anyone is asking, we stand by the film… Apparently, the French government will be investigating Les Mis.”
Any controversy over the picture seems to help its box office, as more uninformed people hear about it. The filmmakers themselves suffer no penalty as a result of misleading a large number of people on torture, to accept torture, to accept a secretive criminal state that tortures with impunity.
Kathryn Bigelow’s wrapped-in-the-flag defense of the film:
“Bin Laden… was defeated by ordinary Americans who fought bravely even as they sometimes crossed moral lines, who labored greatly and intently, who gave all of themselves in both victory and defeat, in life and in death, for the defense of this nation.” (emphasis in original)
Nice propaganda trick at the end equating those who “gave all of themselves” and “death” with the individuals who “sometimes crossed moral lines.” Everyone’s dirty; you see. All heroes are torturers; so it’s okay.
Bigelow’s half-assed response to getting called out by the Senate for putting false torture results into her film, is to say:
“Torture was, however, as we all know, employed in the early years of the hunt. That doesn’t mean it was the key to finding Bin Laden. It means it is a part of the story we couldn’t ignore. War, obviously, isn’t pretty, and we were not interested in portraying this military action as free of moral consequences.” (emphasis added)
Ignore? By her reasoning, because the Central Intelligence Agency tortured people, she was required to fit it into the plot somehow, whether it was relevant to the investigation or not. That’s her excuse. No matter that the scenes are fabrications, and the actual clues about bin Laden’s courier came from elsewhere (electronic surveillance, human intelligence, foreign services).
Bigelow told Charlie Rose, when asked the same question about the torture: “Well I think it’s important to tell a true story.” Unfortunately, when confronted with the Senate investigation, truth quickly takes a back seat.
The truth Bigelow now clings to is that, “Experts disagree sharply on the facts and particulars of the intelligence hunt, and doubtlessly that debate will continue.” To Kathryn Bigelow, the fact that the so-called “experts” she has sided with are torturer criminals with a vested interest in her portrayal of their crimes never occurs to her. She can dismiss the entire matter as a “debate.” Perhaps she no longer finds it “important to tell a true story?”
Kathryn Bigelow, America’s Leni Riefenstahl, claims that Zero Dark Thirty tells “a true story,” even when confronted by evidence that it is a lie. She is unapologetic and completely divorced from the real world damage her propaganda encourages. If this film takes home the Best Picture Oscar, it should serve as the cherry on top of a brutal, deceptive, decrepit and immoral empire, and signal this reality to the rest of the world. If this is allegedly the “best” of America, then we are truly finished.
As for Ben Affleck’s Argo, its sins aren’t so readily apparent. Both films show wonderful Central Intelligence “heroes” acting to further US interests and take care of imperial problems. The Argo scenario is a rescue, however, instead of a hit. The problem is that Iran, a country thrown into a bloodthirsty dictatorship after its nascent democracy was murdered by the very same CIA in 1953, is now the bad guy. There are clearly two sides, and the film takes sides with the people who destroyed democracy in Iran and propped up an illegitimate monarch in order to control its oil and its refineries. When this despotic monarch whose secret police disappeared, tortured and murdered the political opposition – with the help and training of the CIA – is overthrown, we are supposed to overlook all that, because America is always good. We rescue our people. We risk our lives, and we come up with elaborate creative plans to help our people. We are heroic and triumphant vs. the inferior wild-eyed Persians and Arabs of the world.
Now I do believe there’s a real story there, and the situation is ripe for telling, but an extreme sensitivity to the political context would be required.
“… [T]he Iran we see in the [Argo] news clips and the Iran we see dramatized are all on the same superficial level: incomprehensible, out-of-control hordes with nary an individual or rational thought expressed.
… But we never go behind-the-scenes at this revolution. (Instead, Affleck and screenwriter Chris Terrio’s tempering historical introduction is soon outweighed by the visceral power of mobs storming walls, chador-clad women toting rifles, and banshees screaming into news cameras.)
… The problem is that viewers … aren’t going to walk out of [Argo] muttering “gee, it’s more complicated than I thought.” Instead, they’ll leave with their fears and prejudices reaffirmed: that Middle Easterners create terror, that Americans must be the world’s policemen, and that Iranians cannot be trusted because they hate America.
… Argo almost completely ignores individual Iranians; its portrait of an entire culture is neither refined nor sophisticated; and it does reinforce a simplistic, Manichean perspective.”
So why are Argo and Zero Dark Thirty receiving all these awards? Are the awarding bodies so full of hyper-patriots who believe pro-American films can deceive and demonize with impunity, that they want to send an unequivocal message of support for these practices?
Is hyper-nationalist propaganda in vogue now?
With the ascendancy of Barack Obama, there is no longer a moral anti-war voice of any significant size in America. Obama, the smooth talker, has soothed away morality, ethics, law and rights. The empire is beyond reproach because Obama runs it. So the liberal center/left says nothing. Nothing but empty blather and ignorant praise of the Democrats. Murder is being codified in secret as we speak. Bush’s wars are being publicly scaled down, only to ramp up new covert wars of conquest across Africa. Nothing substantial has changed since George W., only the style.
There was a time when no one trusted the CIA. Far from heroes, they were the prime suspects in the assassination of president John F. Kennedy, and presidential candidate Robert Kennedy. CIA support of terrorists was well known, if not loudly opposed. This agency has sponsored Cuban exiles to commit acts of terrorism inside Cuba. Its Phoenix Program kidnapped and murdered Vietnamese villagers by the thousands, torturing and killing them for alleged communist sympathies. The CIA overthrew democracies from Iran to Gutemala to Chile, and was instrumental in waging a terror war against Nicaragua by employing drug-running mercenary terrorists called “Contras.” When the Church Committee investigated the agency in the mid-70s, lots of dirty laundry was aired. The agency was reined in for a time. Assassination was made technically illegal.
In the 1980s, the CIA fought a proxy war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan by funneling money and arms to radical Islamic Jihadists – like Osama bin Laden – and creating an intelligence/military monster in Pakistan, known as the ISI. With untold billions of dollars of US tax money, plus Saudi oil money, the Pakistanis were propped up as a central hub for militant groups to operate throughout the region. Pakistan is where Osama bin Laden allegedly ended up living for the last decade of his life, half a mile from the Pakistani military academy.
The CIA today is instrumental in the blitzkrieg of terror across Syria. It funnels arms and money to radical Islamic Jihadists, exactly as it did in Afghanistan in the 1980s. In 2011 it participated in the Libyan Crime Against the Peace doing much the same type of activity on behalf of the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, a group that helped take over that nation despite being included on the US State Department’s Terrorist List! The LIFG has sent its fighters over to Syria, after the fall of Qadaffi, to assist in the genocidal guerrilla war against the Syrian state, as well as civilians. The CIA assists in these activities.
But of course those victims aren’t Americans. So none of that counts.
“…Is it healthy for us to hold up images of Cold War CIA agents as selfless do-gooders?” –Jennifer Epps
- Academy Awards for the Promotion of Torture?
- Oscar-nominated Palestinian director detained at LAX
- Abe Lincoln, Racist Fascist?
- Hollywood myths harming the whole world: Ken O’Keefe
- Pictures Speak Volumes in Oscar-nominated Israeli Films
- Oscar Prints the Legend: Argo’s Upcoming Academy Award and the Failure of Truth
Since the Islamic Revolution of 1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran has been ferociously attacked by the American motion picture industry. The attacks have grown more vehement in recent years.
Iran’s response: Drop a “truth bomb” in retaliation.
The multi-megaton truth bomb – the third Hollywoodism Conference at the Fajr Film Festival – brought together fifty authors, scholars, political figures and filmmakers to oppose and expose Hollywood’s war on Islam in general, and the Islamic Republic in particular. (Full disclosure: I was a participant in the conference, which ended Wednesday.)
Former Senator Mike Gravel, a Democratic candidate for President in 2008, said Americans are being fed a distorted view of Iran. “Everything Iran has done has been entirely within its rights” (to develop peaceful nuclear energy) Gravel stated at the conference. Merlin Miller, another US presidential candidate who ran with the Third Position Party in 2012, added: “The nonexistent Iranian bomb is not the real issue.”
America’s CIA and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei agree on one very important thing: Iran is not developing nuclear weapons. Supreme Leader Khamenei has pronounced nuclear weapons haram (forbidden). Anyone who understands the role religious authority plays in Iran knows that no Iranian scientist would even think of contravening the Supreme Leader’s ruling.
Most of the participants, including Miller, agreed with Mark Weber of the Institute for Historical Review (IHR) that Hollywood demonizes Iran for a fairly obvious reason: Hollywood, even more than the rest of the US media, is controlled by Zionists. Since Iran opposes Israeli apartheid, and supports the Palestinian resistance, Hollywood endlessly bashes Iran on behalf of Israel.
Weber cited quotes and statistics revealing that Jewish power dominates Hollywood. According to Weber, the vast majority of Hollywood studio heads and top-level executives are Jewish and committed to Israel. Even at the lower-level but important creative positions, Weber argued, Jews are wildly over-represented. The result: Hollywood ceaselessly bashes Arabs, and churns out nonstop hate propaganda supporting Israel’s war on Islam and the Muslim world.
Weber cited Jewish Hollywood columnist Joel Stein, who famously tried to sweeten the bitter pill of Jewish-Zionist power with a dash of humor:
“How deeply Jewish is Hollywood? When the studio chiefs took out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times a few weeks ago to demand that the Screen Actors Guild settle its contract, the open letter was signed by: News Corp. President Peter Chernin (Jewish), Paramount Pictures Chairman Brad Grey (Jewish), Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert Iger (Jewish), Sony Pictures Chairman Michael Lynton (surprise, Dutch Jew), Warner Bros. Chairman Barry Meyer (Jewish), CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves (so Jewish his great uncle was the first prime minister of Israel), MGM Chairman Harry Sloan (Jewish) and NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker (mega-Jewish). If either of the Weinstein brothers had signed, this group would have not only the power to shut down all film production but to form a minyan with enough Fiji water on hand to fill a mikvah.”
“I don’t care if Americans think we’re running the news media, Hollywood, Wall Street or the government. I just care that we get to keep running them.”
Stein’s column was a response to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) press release celebrating a poll showing that only 22% of Americans know that Jews control Hollywood. In other words, the ADL was triumphantly celebrating the fact that 78% of Americans have been brainwashed into believing an outrageous, transparently false lie (“Jews don’t control Hollywood”). Talk about chutzpah.
And speaking of chutzpah, Abe Foxman and the ADL predictably launched a counter-attack on the Tehran Hollywoodism conference. Oddly, the ADL singled out four participants: Senator Mike Gravel, Jim Fetzer, Merlin Miller, and yours truly as the leaders of what they termed “a rogues’ gallery of conspiracy theorists, anti-Semites, and anti-Zionists.” (Though I am honored to be attacked by the ADL three times in less than two years, I must point out that all four of us are anti-Zionists, not anti-Semites.)
One of the conference’s most stimulating and controversial speakers was Dr. Michael Jones, a Catholic who wears his anti-Jewish credentials on his sleeve. Dr. Jones argued that the “Jewish revolutionary spirit” is the source of Hollywood’s attacks on traditional values, including the religious values of Islam. If the ADL feels the need to attack anti-Jewish thinkers, they should target Dr. Jones and give his sophisticated and disturbing work some much-deserved publicity.
A key theme of this year’s Hollywoodism conference was 9/11 truth. European 9/11 authors Thierry Meyssan (France) and Roberto Quaglia (Italy) joined such Americans as filmmaker-politician Art Olivier, philosophy professor Jim Fetzer, 9/11 hero and eyewitness William Rodriguez, and yours truly. All conference participants, and every Iranian we met, expressed skepticism about the official version of 9/11 and/or belief that it was an inside job.
Many participants observed that this conference could not have been held in any Western country, where it would have been harassed by the authorities, boycotted by the media, and (possibly) bombed by the officially-tolerated terrorist group the Jewish Defense League. Many though not all participants are holocaust revisionists, making them unemployable in the US and subject to arrest when they travel to many European countries.
The entire conference – roughly fifty hours of high-quality videos of the presentations and interviews – will be archived at the website Hollywoodism.org.
A prominent human rights activist says Hollywood films and other media portray a false account of US history, perpetuating great harm to Americans and the rest of the world.
On the latest episode of Press TV’s Cinepolitics, panelists discuss Hollywood’s impact on global politics and society, with a particular examination of Steven Spielberg’s use of psychological manipulation and disinformation in his recent film “Lincoln”.
Press TV has conducted an interview with Ken O’Keefe, human rights activist, to further discuss the issue. O’Keefe is joined by Maria Duarte, a film critic with The Morning Star. The following is a rough transcription of the interview.
Press TV: How accurate was this portrayal?
O’Keefe: It was another nauseating example of Hollywood propaganda and it really has no resemblance to the truth.
In fact, there was another Lincoln movie that came out earlier that year, Lincoln the Vampire Slayer, and I reckon that there was just about as much – I’m not kidding when I say there’s just about as much evidence to support Lincoln as a vampire slayer as there is about him wanting the end of slavery and freeing black people. There’s no historical truth to that whatsoever.
Lincoln’s life is a testament to the fact that he was a man of his time. He used the word n***** repeatedly in his life. He never had any kind of an epiphany and changed his perspective. He never cared anything about freeing the slaves.
This was all about concentrating power, maintaining the union and concentrating more power in the Federal government.
The implications of that bloody war, Civil War, and concentration of power into the Federal government, we see to this very day. That’s why I’m not going to forgive Spielberg or the propagandists of Hollywood for this kind of junk because it perpetuates myths that cause great harm in this world.
Press TV: I have a letter from president [Lincoln] himself to Horace Greeley where he says, “My paramount object in this struggle is to save the union; it is not either to save or to destroy slavery.” He goes on to say, “What I do about slavery and the colored race I do because I believe it helps to save this union.”
…Do you think that this Lincoln movie corrects his image? -Because historically, I believe that he was shown as a villain.
O’Keefe: Well, there’s no question that in America there’s a cult surrounding the mythological Lincoln and it protects him very, very well.
I suppose there are many important reasons why the powers that be want to maintain this myth because the American people in general don’t want to face many facts about their country. Hell, they’re not even able to understand the fact that it’s not actually a democracy; it’s a republic.
Under a republic, the states are supposed to have rights.
In fact, the Federal government – the original founding fathers envisioned the United States of America, i.e. nation states of America, was that the states would be able to determine their own political reality and that the Federal government would only have so much power as would be required for it to maintain certain duties.
Instead, what we have, and that’s where the implications of this film are quite so profound, is the beginning of the concentration of power to the point that we see the American empire now at this point in time running roughshod over the world.
If that Federal government had been kept in check and the states had been allowed to make up their own minds and decisions, slavery would have ended. Let us not mistake the fact that America’s the only nation in the world that had a bloody civil war that had to deal with slavery.
Every other country in the world managed to do this without such a bloody war. They did it before the United States, as well.
Lincoln was not this great emancipator.
In fact, the Emancipation Proclamation did not free any slaves at all. It only provided the means for slaves in the South that were rebelling against the Union because they were trying to increase taxes and so on and so forth. That’s the only people that it dealt with.
It didn’t do anything to free the slaves up North, and there were slaves there as well.
Really, there’s just so many myths. Again, the implications of maintaining these myths is that the American people and others around the world continue to be in the dark about the real reality of American history. I think that’s an important subject for us to be aware of.
Press TV: Ken, what do you think about that scene [in the beginning of the movie]?
O’Keefe: It was a noxious scene, and it was the first scene in the film.
There is simply no way that black men would have had an audience with the president in that kind of context and actually been affectively sort-of chastising Lincoln for more equality not coming that much quicker. It’s ridiculous!
I can see how it would work on much of the American population because it’s been so dumbed down that most people will swallow whatever is put into their mouths no matter how much rubbish it is. That was an absolutely ridiculous scene. There’s more such scenes like that later on in the film.
Press TV: Ken, what do you think [of the relationship between Lincoln and his wife]?
O’Keefe: Wherever it can take liberty with issues that we can’t possibly know the real details, it does. And where it comes to historical realities, it just blatantly, intentionally, willfully deceives the viewers.
I wouldn’t be surprised if these kind of exchanges are so far from the truth that it bears no resemblance to anything that actually happened. At the same time, I don’t know enough about their personal relationship to say it’s accurate or not.
Press TV: In the House of Representatives there’s obviously a lot of interaction – the Republicans and Democrats are actually at each other’s throats. How do you think they’ve been portrayed? Was it accurate, their view towards slavery?
O’Keefe: Party politics obviously was a factor then as it is now. So, that was definitely somewhat accurate, I would say.
The truth of the matter is that the abolitionists were clearly in the minority. This idea that all the Republicans were very much in agreement about freeing slaves and what not is again completely ridiculous.
Again, when we see these sort of debates and the idea that Republicans are for this and the Democrats are against it, that’s simply not true.
The abolitionists – if you want to give credit to anyone in America for actually helping to bring about the end of slavery or at least get that issue to the floor, it is a very small minority of abolitionists who really did stand for that. It certainly wasn’t Lincoln, that’s for sure.
Press TV: Somebody, I think a historian, accused the film of exaggerating the possibility that by January the war might have ended with slavery still intact. Do you think that’s an accurate statement to make?
O’Keefe: It’s true but the fact is that slavery would have ended one way or the other. In fact, it was becoming quite unprofitable.
The Civil War was really sort of a tax revolt. The union, the Federal government, was exercising powers that were being abused and those abusive powers were translating into higher taxes for the Southerners. This was making life too difficult for them. That is why, ultimately, they revolted. That’s really what this is about.
Press TV: And the wealth was actually in the South, the cotton mills, the plantations…
Do you think that Spielberg is guilty of presenting possibly a utopian vision of the US?
O’Keefe: Yeah, it’s perpetuating the myth. The myth of America is freedom and democracy and so on and so forth. In fact, it’s an empire. It’s the latest empire. Like all other empires, it’s falling and it’s going to continue to go down.
Also, in that scene it shows another one of those lies, that Lincoln was somehow a most adored and loved president. Actually, he was probably one of the most hated, certainly one of the most hated.
Press TV: Mary says this on the film. His wife, she says you’re one of the most loved.
O’Keefe: Yeah, that’s not true at all. Only after he was killed did we find some sympathy for him. Actually, many people in America, in facts large numbers of people would have celebrated his death. He was in fact one of the most hated presidents.
This is just another blatant lie. You cannot say that that is an accident. It’s intentional. It’s a willful intent to deceive the audience.
Press TV: I read an academic online. She said she was going to be using this film as part of an aid in her history classrooms. I thought, is this the version of events that’s being presented to future generation in textbooks?
O’Keefe: I think there are some good teachers out there who will teach in a more accurate understanding.
But largely there is a cult protecting the myth of not only Lincoln but of the US as a whole. Of course, it would be no surprise at all that students are being cheated out of a real understanding of history and ultimately being told this sort of rubbish. This will help perpetuate that kind of misunderstanding.
Press TV: You’ve mentioned something earlier. Yes, the acting was superb but if you’d done it with the accurate facts, it would have made it all the more better.
O’Keefe: With that kind of resource, you know, that kind of acting talent, the producers, everything that’s involved in a movie of that magnitude, if it were done accurately, it would have been a hugely important and beautiful film. I’ll agree, the acting, it’s incredible.
But if you had given the actors a real script that reflected an honest understanding of what had really happened, then it would have been a magnificent film.
Of course, Spielberg is not in the business of making historically accurate films. He’s in the business of propaganda and he’s done it well once again.
It is a rather curious time for Hollywood to launch a blockbuster movie based on the worst US-Iranian diplomatic fallout in history. Currently Iran is threatened with attack from the West almost on a daily basis, and sanctions have devastated the rial, plunging millions into poverty for the crime of (allegedly) developing the same weapons that Iran’s agitators enjoy without reprisal. Meanwhile, in the fantasy emporiums of high street cinemas, millions of moviegoers across the world are invited to imagine the opposite scenario, a tale in which the innocent Western subject is faced with extinction at the whim of an Iranian aggressor.
Ben Affleck’s Argo is a nail-biting thriller based on the incredible true story of the CIA operation that rescued 6 American diplomats from the turmoil of a revolutionary Iran. Conspicuously, the film barely touches on the central humiliating debacle of the Iranian hostage crisis in which 52 Americans were held for 15 months and 8 American servicemen were killed during a fiasco of a ‘rescue mission’, commonly blamed for costing Carter the 1980 election. Instead, the narrative depicts a parallel, minor side-story of an America that duped the Persians with lashings of moral superiority and Machiavellian cunning. Indeed, an uninitiated Western audience would almost certainly leave the cinema with the firm impression that the Iranian hostage crisis was one of the most triumphant episodes of US history – instead of one of the most embarrassing.
Ben Affleck’s film goes out of its way to deflect the kind of criticism I offer here. He begins the movie with a quick narrated round-up of Iran’s pre-revolutionary history, including a confession of the CIA-MI5 coup that replaced the democratically elected Mosaddegh with the universally despised Shar. In one scene, an Iranian mocks our heroic CIA protagonist with dialogue straight out of Edward Said’s Orientalism, accusing the American of seeking “snake charmers and flying carpets”.
Affleck is clearly well-versed in standard post-colonial discourse. His film delivers its main points with a disingenuous candour that enables the audience to feel superior without feeling like a supremacist. But the pseudo Western self-criticism is undercut by the fact that, aside from one traitor, there is not one single Iranian who is remotely likeable in the entire film. The Iranians in Argo are essentially a screaming, braying mass of hysterical mobs. They bang on cars, smash buildings, exploit children, torch flags and torment innocent people. They are scary, suspicious, and innately violent.
Most harrowing of all, their streets are peppered with cranes hung with the corpses of collaborators. For the audience, it is almost impossible to root for any character that acquiesces in such a harrowing spectacle. And yet, for some reason, the fact that the American Ronnie Lee Gardner was executed by firing squad in the state of Utah in 2010 never made it into a Hollywood movie. Gardner’s death wouldn’t seem too pretty in HD surround-sound either. In short, Argo ultimately reinforces the binary opposition of a civilized West and a savage Iran. We hear a lot of Farsi in the movie, but only when Farsi is spoken by a Western character is the dialogue given subtitles. Farsi spoken by Iranian characters in the film is merely incomprehensible noise. Here the film accurately mirrors our contemporary reality, in which we inflict our discourse on Iranians, but are incapable of listening to theirs.
We all know that in Hollywood, narratives are applauded for their appeal, not their accuracy. Fictional reconstructions of past events do not claim to ask questions about history. What they do provide are parables loaded with collective wishes, hopes, fears and unarticulated anxieties. In this movie (and in real life) the Americans escape Iran by pretending to be a Canadian film crew with a real, bona fide Jewish Hollywood producer, LA studio backing, reviews in the Californian press, posters, merchandise and a genuine commissioned script about alien invaders taking over the planet. It is this movie within a movie that makes Argo a complex example of the power of fiction, to not only tell a story, but also to shape reality. Both espionage and film making rely on telling complicated lies that people need, not necessary to believe in, but to suspend our disbelief. As such, Argo provides a respite from America’s encroaching anxiety surrounding its own impotence at a time when it was locked in conflict with an enemy it failed to conquer in the past. It retells the tale of the worst fiasco in US/Iranian history as if the West had triumphed. But the West didn’t triumph then, and it may not triumph now. The film implores us to differentiate between what we know and what we believe. It tells us that if we all invest in the myth of Western omnipotence the West might prevail. Let’s see if it works.
Visit Sarah’s website.
Even after millions rallied against the passage of SOPA/PIPA, the House is still quietly trying to pass a related bill that would give the entertainment industry more permanent, government-funded spokespeople. The Intellectual Property, Competition, and the Internet Subcommittee of the House Judiciary Committee recently held a hearing on Lamar Smith’s IP Attaché Act (PDF), a bill that increases intellectual property policing around the world. The Act would create an Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property, as well as broaden the use of IP attachés in particular U.S. embassies. (The attachés were notably present in Sec. 205 of SOPA—which was also introduced by Smith.)
The major issue with this bill—and all similar bills—is that the commissioning of people in the executive branch who are solely dedicated to “intellectual property enforcement” caters to Big Content. The IP attachés are charged with “reducing intellectual property infringement” and “advancing intellectual property rights” around the world, but not to critically engage IP complexities and limitations. From our perspective, this bill is nothing more than the government giving Hollywood traveling foot soldiers.
The presence of people with such a narrow cause as “intellectual property enforcement” fosters a single perspective in the federal government. In an environment where the deep-pocketed copyright lobby is pushing through favorable legislation on both a domestic and international level, this is the last thing we need. As Techdirt and Public Knowledge rightly state: trying to squeeze bits of SOPA past the people—the same people who rejected the bill earlier this year—is an awful idea.
- SOPA Critics Cry Foul Over IP Attache bill (techdailydose.nationaljournal.com)
- SOPA Lives! New Bill Seeks to Resurrect Expansion of IP Enforcement Powers (readwriteweb.com)
- SOPA architect now pushing for “IP Attaché” legislation (arstechnica.com)
- Lamar Smith Looking To Sneak Through SOPA In Bits & Pieces, Starting With Expanding Hollywood’s Global Police Force (informationliberation.com)
I want to talk about something which is taboo yet cliche. It is widely accepted yet universally denied. Those who talk about this are ridiculed as conspiracy theorists and racists. On the other hand, many people freely admit this reality but dismiss it as inconsequential and ‘the way it is’.
Jews dominate Hollywood, the global news media, and the global financial system. By extension it is often argued that ‘Jews run the world’. Essentially, one group of people with a unifying ideology and vested interest, is controlling the institutions by which we receive news. In addition to this, the film industry and cinematic media is something which we develop a very profound emotional attachment to and identify with closely. In other words, we are talking about an instrument of brainwashing. Is this not something we should talk about? If, for example, Hollywood, the global news media, and our ‘fiat money’ financial institutions were dominated by Arab Muslims, would we perceive this as a problem?
Of course we would, and rightly so. But this is not the case currently – we are afraid of speaking out and tackling this. Why?
What other group would be capable of attacking the world’s most powerful superpower, killing thousands in a sophisticated terror attack, and get away with it, blaming it on someone else? 9/11 is but one example, the USS Liberty is another. Most Americans have not even heard about the Liberty – a false flag attack designed to draw the USA into nuclear war with Soviet Russia.
The truth of the matter is, Jews are largely exempted from criticism in the West, and this runs much much deeper than any of us care to admit. Most people reading this are subconsciously thinking: ‘He just hates Jews because he’s Muslim’, ‘He’s a conspiracy theorist and he’s got nothing better to do’. Well, no I don’t hate Jews. No I’m not Muslim. No I’m not a ‘conspiracy theorist’ either; I am merely trying to exercise intellectual courage. We are constantly singing the praises of freedom, liberalism and democracy, but we are nothing more than a servile herd of cattle when it comes to being intellectually courageous. Our claims of love for democracy and freedom are utterly hollow without this.
Even the more ‘enlightened’ activists and bloggers (no point talking about the bought-and-paid-for mainstreamers) are more obsessed with catering to their readers’ ignorance and stroking their own ego, than performing an honest appraisal of these issues. Let’s be honest – it’s nice to get lots of ‘likes’ and to be patted on the back by your nodding, agreeing peers. To paraphrase Mark Twain, if you find yourself on the side of the majority, then it’s time to check yourself.
It is clear – talking about this issue makes one severely unpopular. This fact alone is a startling clue as to the underlying truths. Those who discuss this topic are stigmatized and ostracized, and it would be silly to think that there is no reason for this.
On a not unrelated note, I want you to help me with something. The popular reading of history portrays Jewish people as perennial victims who are persecuted anywhere they go for no reason other than that they are Jews, and irrational ‘anti-Semites’ hate them. The ‘holocaust’ is a paradigmatic example of this, and this is another issue which cannot be discussed in an open forum (so much for democracy). What I would like help with is this: history is replete with massacres, murders, torture, wars, and a myriad of different crimes that have been perpetrated by everybody from the Romans to the Americans; can you name a single historical event wherein, in the popular reading of history, Jews are portrayed as the aggressors and criminals?
Perhaps Jews really are perennial victims and have never done anything wrong. Or perhaps our reading of history is manipulated, censored, and reconstructed to convey a certain narrative? We often repeat the adage: history is written by the victor. Is there some truth in the idea that history is written by the powerful? If so, are we not being subjected to what is essentially mind control, whereby we harbor a completely incorrect interpretation of history? And is it not time that we started to put all historical events, especially those which we are told not to question, under the microscope?
- There are two kinds of people in this world (empirestrikesblack.com)
Earlier this year, I was in Tehran for a conference on Hollywood’s power and impact. It was called “Hollywoodism,” featuring many scholars and critics of the values and political ideologies featured in many major movies with a focus on the way Israel (a.k.a., “the Zionists”) are continually portrayed as if they do no wrong.
What we didn’t know then while we were debating these issues was that some of Hollywood’s biggest stars were at that very moment making a movie that will certainly be perceived as hostile to Iran, if not part of the undeclared war that Israel and the United States are waging with crippling economic sanctions and malicious cyber viruses.
The movie is “Argo,” and the hype for it has already begun. In a business driven by formula, a “hostage thriller” must have been irresistible to an industry always more consumed by itself and its own frames of reference than anything happening in the real world.
An NBC entertainment site explains:
“Superstar Ben Affleck directed ‘Argo,’ a film being produced by George Clooney, about former CIA Master of Disguise Tony Mendez and his most daring operation. … Mendez smuggled six American’s out of Tehran in 1979 by concocting a fake movie production, called ‘Argo.’”
Predictably, the background and context of these events is conspicuous by its absence, as are the reasons for the Iranian revolution and the role played by the United States in working with the British in the overthrow of the Mossadegh government and support for the despotic Shah.
“It’s not political,” a movie industry insider told me. A film set in the Iranian revolution, that most political of events of an era, “not political?” That’s Hollywood for you!
Hollywood movies want to be seen only as exercises in dramatic storytelling, so their focus is always on characters and action. As Wired Magazine described what happened in a 2007 story based on the book that led to the film:
“November 4, 1979, began like any other day at the US embassy in Tehran. The staff filtered in under gray skies, the marines manned their posts, and the daily crush of anti-American protestors massed outside the gate chanting, ‘Allahu akbar! Marg bar Amrika!’
“Mark and Cora Lijek, a young couple serving in their first foreign service post, knew the slogans — ‘God is great! Death to America!’ — and had learned to ignore the din as they went about their duties. But today, the protest sounded louder than usual. And when some of the local employees came in and said there was ‘a problem at the gate,’ they knew this morning would be different… ”
The larger confrontation also served as the basis for a long-running TV news series, ABC’s “America Held Hostage,” treating those Americans as victims of a crime, but never Iran as the scene of a larger crime, a country held hostage for years by a U.S.-backed secret police and military that crushed freedom of expression, repressed religion, and enabled the CIA to manipulate Iran’s politics while U.S. companies plundered Iran’s resources [the Shah, though an oil price hawk within OPEC, recycled petrodollars for U.S. weapons].
One-sided news programming was far more effective than Hollywood movie making as a tool for mobilizing Americans against Iran. The coverage was always unbalanced. I called it “A.A.U.” — All About Us!
Now, this new movie will likely add to the propaganda even as many Americans are speaking out against a war on Iran while Washington is clearly planning one. It will bring back all the old anti-Iranian feelings and stereotypes while progressive U.S. actors glamorize a CIA agent, even though the actual movie makes the events seem absurd and at times reportedly even makes fun of the U.S. government in 1970s’ movie-making style.
I haven’t seen the film but judging from the slick trailer I saw in my neighborhood theater, it’s about clever Americans outsmarting Iranians who look robotic.
Here’s the context as Wired reports:
“The Iran hostage crisis, which would go on for 444 days, shaking America’s confidence and sinking President Jimmy Carter’s reelection campaign, had begun. … Everyone remembers the 52 Americans trapped at the embassy and the failed rescue attempt a few months later that ended with a disastrous Army helicopter crash in the Iranian desert. But not many know the long- classified details of the CIA’s involvement in the escape of the other group — thrust into a hostile city in the throes of revolution.”
In the “not many know” department, there is no reference here either about how the Reagan campaign secretly negotiated to hold back the hostages until Carter was out of office, or the illegal Iran-Contra arms deals that followed.
This tale of escape also is not a “new” story – it was told years ago in books and magazines – but “Argo” is retelling as if it is new. It is, as you would expect, all about our brilliance and their stupidity, our good guys against their bad guys – all classic “Made in the USA” commercial movie formula.
Will this thriller contribute to a deeper understanding between our two countries? Will it help us find a way of resolving our differences? I doubt it.
As it happens, when I was in Tehran, I visited the former U.S. Embassy and wrote about my impressions in a new book, Blogothon (Cosimo). The embassy is now a museum with a well-preserved group of offices, safeguarding the equipment used by the CIA for surveillance and espionage.
The Iranians had denounced the building as a “spy nest” well before the students took it over but even they didn’t know how right they were or its real covert action focus until they saw it for themselves.
U.S. Embassy security tried to destroy all its secret documents by shredding them, but the students, over months, patiently sewed the bits and pieces together and published them, exposing their nefarious tactics in books that U.S. Customs would not allow Americans to see. (Friends of mine had their copies seized when they returned from a reporting trip to Iran in that period.)
There is a reference to the recovery of some of this information in “Argo,” but not much about what was in those documents. … Full article
* Dr. Danny Schechter is listed on the 8,000 ’Self-Hating, Israel-Threatening Jews’ – S.H.I.T. list.
- Senators urge Obama to stop talks with Iran, reveal Zionist influence (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Our movie industry has created some memorable monsters on screen. But Hollywood, and the major music labels, also helped create a very real kind of monster – copyright trolls who coerce settlements from Internet subscribers using intimidation and our out-of-whack copyright laws. Last Friday, EFF Senior Staff Technologist Seth Schoen took the witness stand in AF Holdings v. Does to explain to a federal judge why BitTorrent users should be able to hold on to their constitutional rights when targeted by trolls. Although some courts have put the brakes on the trolls’ schemes, there’s no Hollywood ending in sight yet. As the entertainment industries continue to push for ever-stronger copyright through treaties, private agreements, Congress and state legislatures, it’s time to ask – how will Hollywood help protect us from the trolls?
The current crop of copyright trolls sue anywhere from 20 to 5,000 “John Doe” defendants in a single lawsuit, pinned to a list of Internet Protocol addresses that they claim to have seen downloading copyrighted movies using BitTorrent. Then, with the courts’ permission, they send subpoenas to Internet service providers for the names and addresses of subscribers. The trolls then send threatening letters, demanding settlement payments to “make this go away” or face being dragged into court – often in a faraway state. Over 200,000 U.S. residents have been caught up in these suits, with many undoubtedly settling simply to end the harassment.
The trolls are, of course, following a trail blazed by the major music labels through the Recording Industry Association of America. Beginning around 2003, they sued about 35,000 people, using the courts’ subpoena powers as a private investigation service to find names and addresses. The RIAA ended its lawsuit campaign in 2008, apparently realizing the damage that suing its own fans had done to the industry’s image.
It was perhaps inevitable that the vacuum would be filled by opportunists with no public image to protect. Since 2008, troll lawyers have sued about six times more people than the RIAA ever did, and pursued them even more aggressively, probably netting millions in settlements. Some have faced court settlements for cutting corners in court procedure, and one was even caught practicing law without a license. But this scheme wouldn’t be a viable business model without the draconian imbalances of U.S. copyright law and legal precedent that the entertainment industries and their lobbyists have pushed through Congress and the courts.
For starters, the statutory penalty for sharing even one copyrighted work – say one song – is as much as $150,000. It’s no surprise that many people choose to settle for several thousand dollars rather than risk a bankrupting court judgment – even if they broke no law. The entertainment industries insist that we need these gargantuan penalties to deter infringement, but the same “statutory damages” provisions are the knobby club in the hands of the trolls.
Then there’s the legal doctrine of “secondary liability.” The movie and recording industries are constantly pressing for broader liability for intermediaries, Internet sites and services, and makers of tools and software. Copyright trolls use these concepts to disregard actual copyright infringers and instead go after the owners of Internet accounts, who are often easier to find. The trolls suggest, using the rhetoric of secondary liability, that merely allowing others to use one’s Internet connection, or operating an open Wi-Fi node, makes one liable for any copyright infringement. This isn’t the law, but the trolls don’t warn their marks about that. Often, even those who understand secondary liability, or can afford hiring a lawyer, choose to pay a settlement for someone else’s alleged infringement rather than risk a lengthy and expensive trial, even if they would prevail.
Then there’s the very concept of lawsuits aimed at dozens or thousands of “John Doe” Internet account holders. Plaintiffs in these suits often group together Internet users from all over the country and obtain their identities from ISPs by court order. Doing this requires trampling on jurisdiction rules that keep people from being unfairly forced to defend themselves far from home, joinder rules that guarantee every defendant is treated as an individual, and the First Amendment, which gives us a right to communicate anonymously. The RIAA’s lawsuit campaign also disregarded these legal safeguards. After the RIAA opened this door, the trolls lumbered in.
Finally, the entertainment industries have spent decades, and millions of lobbying and advertising dollars, to promote the simple but flawed idea that if copyright law promotes creativity, then ever-more-extreme copyright law will promote even more. According to this philosophy, the importance of preventing even the most inconsequential copyright infringement justifies chilling free speech, unmasking anonymous Internet users, wholesale regulation of the Internet … and setting loose the trolls. This worldview was on full display at a hearing last week in the D.C. federal district court, when ISPs, assisted by the EFF, tried to quash subpoenas for Internet users’ identities. EFF’s Seth Schoen matched wits with pornography financier AF Holdings’s expert on the workings of BitTorrent and Internet forensics, and the plaintiff’s attorney defended his litigation tactics as an acceptable way to “stop piracy.”
Although there will always be people willing to use the legal system as part of a shakedown, copyright trolls are a monster created in Hollywood. Naturally, the entertainment industry’s spokespeople, lobbyists, and other mouthpieces don’t discuss how the laws, treaties, court precedents, and private enforcement agreements they spend millions to promote will be misused by opportunists. But when the next SOPA, PIPA, ACTA, TPP, graduated response agreement, or state-level copyright bill comes along, let’s ask Hollywood and its allies how they plan to keep trolls confined to the big screen.
- ISPs Ask Judge To Quash Subpoena In Troll Case — Or Let Them Appeal (eff.org)
- EFF Backs ISPs in Battle to Quash Copyright Troll Subpoenas (eff.org)
- Copyright-trolls: mind your own extra-judicial business, court says (arstechnica.com)
- Die, Troll, Die (wired.com)
- Judge rejects copyright trolls’ BitTorrent conspiracy theory (arstechnica.com)