The three top professions that specialize in “make believe” -- Hollywood, intelligence agencies and the Executive Branch -- collided Sunday at the Dolby Theatre as the president’s wife announced that the pro-CIA agitprop movie “Argo” won the Best Picture Oscar.
“Welcome to the White House everyone,” Michelle Obama declared towards the end of the live Academy Awards ceremony via remote camera, cutting away from her co-presenter Jack Nicholson to the Executive Mansion, where she was surrounded by uniformed personnel.
The First Lady’s odd, historically unprecedented intrusion into what is supposed to be an entertainment event during one of the most-watched telecasts of the year came as the Senate was considering Pres. Obama’s nominee for the CIA.
Furthermore, one of the nine movies nominated for Best Picture, “Zero Dark Thirty,” portrayed a mission ordered by her own husband.
Although there have been other appearances by a First Lady and presidents at the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences’ annual ritual of patting itself on its back, none have ever announced the Best Picture winner.
Mrs. Obama is the first to do so in an act that Tom Hayden described as “showing the prominence of Hollywood in political culture.”
And, one could say, vice versa.
The awards ceremony celebrated cinematic espionage in a number of other ways. There was a long homage to James Bond, depicting 007’s derring-do and the virile, handsome stars from Sean Connery to Daniel Craig, who have played the supposedly suave British secret agent for five decades.
The tribute was capped by 76-year-old Shirley Bassey reprising live the famous theme song for 1964’s “Goldfinger.” The British singer Adele went on to belt out her hit from the latest Bond flick, “Skyfall,” for which she also won the golden statuette for Best Original Song.
On the surface the occasion for the Bond salutation was the 50th anniversary of the first 007 thriller, 1962’s “Dr. No” -- but it might have been a salute to Hollywood’s love affair with cloak and dagger and those spies who dupe us on the big and little screens, on and off of Her Majesty’s -- and His President’s -- secret service.
One of the Oscar ceremony’s other award presenters was Jennifer Garner, who from 2001-2006 portrayed spy Sydney Bristow on the TV series “Alias.” Garner also appeared in a recruiting ad for the Central Intelligence Agency around the time the CIA was involved in falsifying disinformation about Iraq’s fictitious WMDs. During her husband Ben Affleck’s Best Picture acceptance speech, he acknowledged his wife and the camera cut to Garner, the TV spy who loved him.
“Argo” also won in other Oscar categories, including Film Editing and Adapted Screenplay. Never mind that the tense inter-cutting between those Iranian Revolutionary Guards chasing that Swiss Air flight down the airport tarmac in a well-written scene is a flight of fancy concocted by screenwriter Chris Terrio.
Or that this paean to the CIA is what Andrew O’Hehir called in Salon “a propaganda fable” and “wholesale fictionalization.”
In an interview with The Progressive Magazine, Tom Hayden noted that while a brief intro to “Argo” mentions the U.S. and U.K. role in overthrowing the democratically elected prime minister Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953, it does not specifically cite the role the CIA played in that coup and in installing a regime that wreaked so much CIA-supported torture and brutality on Iran that it spawned the chain of events that led not only to the 1979 revolution, but to the very hostage taking depicted in the film. (And while we’re at it, forget about the fact that agent Tony Mendez, “the Mexican-American hero was played by a white guy anyway,” as O’Hehir put it.)
Mired in controversy because of its depictions of torture and the contested allegation that these enhanced interrogation techniques helped hunt down Osama Bin Laden, “Zero Dark Thirty” lost in all five Oscar categories.
By picking “Argo” over “Zero,” the liberal wing of the Academy seemed to be signaling that it had zero tolerance for torture, and preferred the kinder, gentler CIA depicted in “Argo” than the Agency that had journeyed over to the Bush/Cheney dark side of cruel and unusual punishment in “Zero.”
But liberals such as Affleck, and his “Argo” co-producers George Clooney (who reportedly uses satellites to monitor Sudan) and Grant Heslov, are still lauding the Agency.
With liberal propagandists like this, who needs reactionaries?
Ironically, another of the evening’s award presenters was that icon of the Hollywood Left, two-time Oscar winner Jane Fonda, Hayden’s former wife. As the Chicago Seven alum told The Progressive, “the CIA had files on both of us,” because of the couple’s activism and, presumably, Fonda’s influence in movies, with films such as 1979’s anti-nuclear “The China Syndrome” and the 1978 antiwar feature “Coming Home” and the suppressed 1972 anti-Vietnam War documentary “FTA.”
There’s a good reason why the spies who dupe us with propaganda disguised as mass entertainment haven’t been played in onscreen dramas by, say, Jerry Lewis, Karl Malden or Melissa McCarthy.
From Sean Connery to Roger Moore to “24’s” Kiefer Sutherland to Jennifer Garner to “Zero’s” Jessica Chastain to Claire Danes of the Showtime CIA series “Homeland,” Hayden said: “The Left has become incredibly marginalized in popular culture since the ‘War on Terrorism’ broke out. These [TV] projects like ‘24’ and ‘Alias’ and whole series of movies culminating in last night have created a favorable impression of the CIA… Overall, it’s not so much the content; it’s the image of very attractive people. Hollywood, above all, knows that image trumps fact. Political consultants know that, too. You can get away with quite a lot if you’re personable, attractive, and charismatic. It’s not a good position to be in if you’re a longtime critic of the CIA.”
Over the years, from the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine to the Gulf of Tonkin incident to Iraq’s confabulated weapons of mass destruction, the White House and clandestine agencies have, like Tinseltown, mass produced and disseminated fiction, disinformation, lies and fables that purport themselves to be “news” or “entertainment.” Just like the Hollywood filmmakers portrayed by Oscar nominee Alan Arkin and John Goodman, who deceptively collaborate with the deceptive CIA covert mission that “Argo” apotheosizes, deception is justified in La-La-Land -- if it helps the CIA catch its man.