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Ben May Say 'Argo' to His Critics

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It is not easy to be a winner. Ben Affleck has won the Best Picture Oscar for Argo. But he seems to have ruffled quite a few feathers by taking liberties with the story of the rescue of the six American staff living in hostage conditions in Iran after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

Ben has two options. He can say sorry to those who are unhappy with the distortions introduced by him in the movie. Or he can simply say "argo" to his detractors. According to UrbanDictionary.com the term "argo" was used by outlaw bikers to shut up those who asked personal questions. It means "go f... yourself."

However, Ben should be careful not to offend the bikers by the careless use of the expression. He can't afford to make too many enemies. Can he? The outlaw bikers are known to be as rough as they can be. To be on the safe side, or rather on the outlaw bikers' side, he should also use the word "nunya" while asking his detractors to "argo." The online slang dictionary informs us that "nunya" is an abbreviation for "none of your business." The two slang words are usually used together.

Iran and Canada have both raised the red flag over the cinematic liberties taken by Ben. They are upset for different reasons. Iran is angry because it has been shown in poor light. Canada has a much stronger case against Ben. While Iran has threatened to take legal action Canada has decided to remain the good quiet neighbour to America that it has always been.

Canada's hurt is indeed genuine. The Canadian Ambassador in Tehran and other members of the embassy played a key role in protecting the hostages and their subsequent escape. Former Canadian Ambassador to Iran Ken Taylor said after seeing Argo that he felt slighted by the movie "because it makes Canada look like a meek observer to CIA heroics in the rescue of six U.S. citizens caught in the crisis." He said he did not expect an apology from Ben Affleck.

Taylor had taken the Americans in as his houseguest at great personal risk when all of Iran was seething with rage against the Ayatollah's "Great Satan." He played a key role in their escape by getting fake passports and plane tickets for them. In 1980, he was hailed as a hero by both Canada and America. But the film has overplayed the role of the CIA by grossly underplaying the Canadian part in the hostage rescue operation.

Taylor was not the only one from the side of the hostages to pick a bone with Ben. Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter told CNN that "90 percent of the contributions to the ideas and the consummation of the plan was Canadian," but the film "gives almost full credit to the American CIA."

"I saw the movie Argo recently and I was taken aback by its distortion of what happened because almost everything that was heroic, or courageous or innovative was done by Canada and not the United States," Carter said. He would know the real story better than anyone else because the hostage crisis cost him a second term in the White House.

Iran's initial response to give a befitting cinematic reply to Affleck's distorted version of the American hostage crisis made sense. Only the Iranian authorities would know who decided to take legal action for the "anti-Iran" thrust of "argo." The decision is both amusing and baffling. The best it can do is say "argo" to Ben before he gets a chance to draw.

An independent and objective rating would put Iran at the top of countries making films in their native language. It won the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar last year for A Separation. However, the Ayatollahs were not amused. They suspected the award was an attempt to undermine the legitimacy of their regime. A separation tells the story of the dilemma of a couple whether to remain in Iran and fight repression or move out to secure the future of their child.

This year Iran boycotted the Oscar ceremony to show its hurt over the American role in the making and distribution of the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims. The fact that Barack Obama condemned the film and that the American establishment distanced itself from the maker of the controversial movie was not enough to placate the Ayatollahs.

Discussing the evolution of Iranian cinema on Aljazeera, Hamid Dabashi said that "... in each of these films, there is also a hidden (not so successfully) message between Iranian filmmakers and their people: We are here, we are watching you, we are with you, we will make it through this tyranny, the dawn is near -- stay the course, life is good!"

Of course, while discussing Iranian cinema we should not mix up the people with the state. The state is repressive. The people are creative. Cinema is just one of the many creative options the people explore and exploit to keep that ray of hope alive. The decision to boycott this year's Oscar ceremony was that of the state. The decision to sue Ben for the alleged anti-Iran slant in Argo too is that of the state.

As far as the Argo controversy is concerned, a cinematic response by Iran would be a better option. In fact, Ben's account can be turned into a story of the great betrayal by six American diplomats. They gave importance to their own safety over the plight of 52 others who were held hostage by Iran for 444 days.