The first response that comes to mind amid reports Iran might sue over "Argo" is the movie's running gag – a one-liner that plays off the title's sound-a-like similarity to "aw, go" and is followed by an obscene two-word request.
But our stronger, longer-lasting reaction is that Iran's own silly "Argo" joke stands as an unintended tribute to the impact of Ben Affleck's thriller about a daring rescue operation during the 1979-1981 hostage crisis. Affleck should be proud to place any court papers on his mantle – right next to his Best Picture Oscar.
The Iranian government previously railed against the fact-based film, which depicts how six U.S. Embassy workers were smuggled out of then-turbulent Tehran under the ruse they were Canadians working on a science fiction movie that didn’t actually exist. It’s likely First Lady Michelle Obama’s surprise Oscars appearance to announce "Argo" as Best Picture last month has only added to Iranian officials' ire.
The exact targets of any lawsuit remain unclear, according to The Associated Press' account of Iranian media reports
. But taking the idea of suing Hollywood types for defaming national honor to absurd lengths conjures images of hate-spewing Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad lining up at the courts behind a United Nations worth of Bond villains with complaints dating to the Cold War.
If that sounds ridiculous, it's no more so than the notion of an oppressive regime slamming filmmakers with legal papers for sullying its reputation, a move destined only to make more people – including everyday Iranians – want to see the movie.
Perhaps Iranian officials were emboldened by flaps in the U.S. over the historical accuracy of other Best Picture nominees in the latest round of Oscars. "Zero Dark Thirty" came under fire
from some pols for its depiction of the role of torture in the Osama Bin Laden hunt. "Lincoln" drew flack
for putting Connecticut on the wrong side of the 13th Amendment vote.
By comparison, Affleck's insertion of a pulse-pounding, if fictional, chase sequence at the end of "Argo" seems safely within the boundaries of dramatic license.
Iran, which held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days after the 1979 storming of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, again finds itself on the wrong side of history, at least when it comes to the popular culture. For a government with a deep antipathy toward the U.S., Iran appears all too eager to jump into the American pastime of litigation – which might be the most laughable "Argo" joke of them all.
Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.