Long-suffering readers of the blog may recall that I’m a sucker for a good airport.
Yes, Copenhagen is a good example. But this past weekend, as President Trump stuffed sachets of ketchup into his hand luggage before heading off on his whistle-stop tour of some of the world’s top religious sites, we were at Washington’s Dulles International Airport.
[Did you catch last week’s Apoplexy Tiny Letter? It’s a nice warm-up for this post.]
Hanging out at IAD was pretty weird for a number of reasons. First, all of the fonts in the public spaces of the main terminal were from the 1960s version of the future.
And for all that the main terminal was pretty, its wide open spaces weren’t pleasant to spend time in. I clocked a plaque that kind of explained what was going on.
I read that the main terminal was designed by Finnish-American genius Eero Saarinen. I’m guessing the font on display in the main terminal was picked specifically to compliment the modernist future depicted by the terminal itself.
More recently – in 1996 – IAD’s main terminal was doubled in size to reflect Saarinen’s original vision. Spending time in the terminal is now an apt metaphor for the contemporary iteration of Modern Design – pretty, but really only available and tolerable for the terrifically well-heeled.
But as the picture above shows, IAD’s retro-futurism is perfect for establishing a sense of time. When Ben Affleck rolls up to the main terminal to depart for Iran in Argo, we’re very much in the waning days of a presidency.
I watched Argo on the plane from IAD to DUB. I’d never gotten around to it before, but the exfiltration depicted in the movie had gotten a fair amount of play when I visited the International Spy Museum the previous week. In contrast to the Stasi Museum in Berlin which I visited last year in Berlin, the privately-operated iSpy doesn’t spend time on the time the state spends spying on its own citizens. It’s all about state-on-state action and spy craft.
In iSpy, the Iranian Embassy exfiltration operation is presented as an example nonpareil of backstory building. Or rather, the Iran hostage crisis as depicted in the movie Argo is presented as an example nonpareil of backstory building. This is, after all, a museum that leads with the special exhibition Exquisitely Evil: 50 Years of Bond Villains.
I seem to remember a sense of the world being underwhelmed by Argo‘s victory at the 2013 Oscars ceremony, perhaps because it was only the fourth film to win the Best Picture Award without picking up a Best Directors nomination. I’ve not seen that year’s winner for direction – Life of Pi – but that seems a kind of weird omission, given that Argo‘s direction is really strong.
I also didn’t get the acting nomination. And no one’s saying I got snubbed there! – Ben Affleck
Argo is tremendously entertaining. And it all seems quite well judged, too. There are nods to the evils of the Shah’s regime as a cause of the Iranian Revolution. There’s a nice little postscript as Jimmy Carter describes the pivotal role of the Canadians in effecting the rescue of the Embassy workers. But pulling at that thread reveals some interesting points that kind of slide by as one is pulled in by that consummate direction.
Ian Wiki notes that many critics believed that Argo minimised the Canadian role in the rescue, while glorifying that of the CIA.
In response to this criticism, Affleck changed the postscript text to read: “The involvement of the CIA complemented efforts of the Canadian embassy to free the six held in Tehran. To this day the story stands as an enduring model of international co-operation between governments.” The Toronto Star wrote, “Even that hardly does Canada justice.”
Jian Ghomeshi, a Canadian writer and radio figure of Iranian descent, thought the film had a deeply troubling portrayal of the Iranian people. He has also suggested that the timing of the film was poor, as American and Iranian political relations were at a low point. [Wiki]
Once has to wonder to what extent these problems with Argo are related to the CIA’s involvement in the production. Or at least, one has to wonder that after 2016, when Vice revealed the CIA’s role in 22 different entertainment projects – including, for the first time, Argo.
FAIR covers that story, and its potential implications, in more detail here. Although the New York Times and NPR have set forth their own reservations about FAIR. I guess that even though we’re living in a post-truth world, truth is still complicated.
3 thoughts on “Argo”
The iSpy Museum is, unfortunately, a rip-off. Fun for children, or those with limited imaginations who enjoy morally uncomplicated, commercially appealing spy movies. As you mentioned, the museum does not dwell too long on states doing nasty things to their own citizens (except maybe for the enemies of the USA). There are plenty of for-profit rip-off museums in D.C. designed to suck in tourist dollars (including mine, when I first moved to D.C.). The iSpy, and similar “tributes” to journalism and “crime and punishment”, act like a back-alley shadow industry to the excellent (and free) Smithsonian museums, kind of like the porn industry in L.A. compared to Hollywood.
Yeah, I shoulda known better. I’d been to the iSpy when the law school took us on a trip to DC to see the Supreme Court back in the day. It seemed a harmless enough distraction at the time, with the occasional insight. What happened? Twenty years later, have I aged into an Angry Young Man?!
Fonts carry lots of political significances- as I leaned in this article https://backchannel.com/how-fonts-are-fueling-the-culture-wars-f9d692101fea
That seems tangentially related to your writing this week so I figured I’d share!