I finally saw Argo a week and a half ago. My interest in politics was born with the Iranian Hostage Crisis. I was a kid and the sheer scope and human drama of it had me thinking for years that what I loved was politics; it took me decades to figure out that my real love was narrative. It just so happens that politics provides a very potent stage for narratives to play upon.
I think that’s why Argo, with all of the hyper-ridiculousness at the ending*, is still such a great film. It’s a story about one of our more stirring stories of my lifetime. From the moment they showed the yellow ribbon hanging dejectedly in the gray dawn of Washington D.C. I knew that I was in love with that movie. That one shot perfectly captured that whole zeitgeist. The years of fuel shortage and hostages and Cold War bleakness were so relentless; even as a kid 6-10 years old I got it. Those were also the years that the International Harvester Plant that had employed so much of my hometown went on strike. Everywhere you went there was just absolutely no hope at all. Half the kids I knew had fathers who were out of work. The Catholic family across the street housed a family of Vietnamese Boat People for several months, and we were all fed second-hand horror stories about their tragedy. It was a pretty forlorn time and it was no wonder that Ronald Reagan’s “Morning In America” resonated so deeply. If you didn’t see those years you maybe can’t fathom the gray pall of life. And yet somehow that one shot in Argo brought it all back for me.
Reagan is a hero because he came along when we badly needed a hero. Like him or not, agree with his policies or not, his legacy will be something that the U.S. and its politics will have to contend with for a very long time. He had the very good fortune to be the man that so many of us attributed with a resurgence of hope and a sort of ersatz prosperity. Because of Reagan I wanted to be part of politics. I wanted to be in that story where bad things got put right again. I was one of thousands of 70s babies who majored in Political Science because in those days it was rock star territory for a certain nerdy type.
I got out of the major for a lot of reasons, but the most succinct answer is because when I finally saw Washington and Politics I didn’t see the heroic jingoism of Argo. I saw the naked double-dealing and cynicism of House Of Cards.
I just started watching that Netflix series last night and that’s when I started putting this all together. That the story we all wanted and dreamed of–that Ronald Reagan Olympic Hockey Team fantasy–was just that. A fantasy. Instead what we’ve got is this mess of self-interested influence peddlers. On one level I mind because I think the country has become a sadder place but on a deeper level I see that I’m content and happy and it seems like so few of those people actually are. For all the power they claim to have, none of them has the power to relax into who they are without power.
*seriously! after a certain point it just got relentlessly annoying with all the close shaves and near misses. Ben Affleck loves the contrived drama of a near miss the way Peter Jackson loves padding out his films with minutae.