The Argo election

The release of Argo — a wonderful film — comes ever so coincidentally a month before the presidential election and a month after the murders of our diplomats in Bengazi.

It’s timing that can be exploited. I half wonder whether that helped inspire Romney’s campaign to double down on its attacks regarding Bengazi, trying to make Obama look like Carter (for those of us old enough to remember) and himself like Reagan (well, there is the hair).

But it could go the other way. Tonight in the crowded theater, the audience needed to let out applause after the Americans arrived safely home (no spoiler there) and even again at the end of the credits. In the long, awful saga of American involvement in the Middle East, there was only one other time when I remembered hearing such a release of pride and overdue relief: when Obama announced that we’d gotten Osama Bin Laden.

So will Argo — which undoubtedly will do well at the box office — make more Americans mindful of the morass in the Middle East or of one victory there? Of course, I have no idea. But I do expect it to be exploited, since anything and everything — even Big Bird — has been in this election.

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I do recommend seeing Argo. It doesn’t try to do much more than tell an amazing tale that couldn’t be told for years. That’s enough. It’s plenty. Ben Affleck, the star and director, passes up innumerable opportunities to play for cheers (the audience tonight wasn’t sure when to applaud, only that it wanted to) or to shove us to the edge of the seat (we do know how it turns out, after all) or to go for an exploitive political message (many others will do that for him). It’s just good story-telling.

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Another note: In April 2003, a bit more than a year after I started blogging, I happened upon news of the arrest of an Iranian blogger named Sina Motalebi, revealed by another Iranian blogger, then in Canada, named Hossein Derakhshan and also known as Hoder, who is given more or less credit for helping start the blogging scene in Iran.

From them both, I learned much about Iran and about the power and potential of blogging. I marveled then at how this new medium made connections possible even to a country that I had envisioned mainly from TV reports in the ’70s of those 444 captive days and of angry Iranians in black chanting for our downfall. Argo brings back those memories. It also reminds me that Hoder — who in charming naiveté once declared his candidacy for the Iranian parliament on his blog and who went through some strange times later — is now in prison in Iran for 19 and a half years. It is still a frightening place.

Sina made it out of jail and out of Iran. He found his way to London, where he now works for the BBC and where last April — nine years after I first heard of him online — Sina’s 9-year-old son resurrected his father’s original blog, called Webgard, with this message: “My dad was originally the creator of this blog so this post is partly to say that, how much the Iranian government try, they will never stop bloggers like me and my dad, how much they harass, torture, and basically make the fear into normal people… They will never take our freedom.”