Arguing over Argo

The film ‘Argo’ won an Oscar (Academy Award) for ‘Best Picture’. I watched it and researched it, as I wanted to know the different perspectives of the film. It seems that Canadian effort wasn’t adequately represented, Britain’s role wasn’t mentioned and New Zealand’s reputation was put in discredit because they refused to help.

A variety of people have commented on it and an overview of opinions can be found via Twitter #Argo.

The reason for this blog entry is that the discussions surrounding the film encapsulate the issues related to perspective taking, identity, culture and management. It isn’t an isolated incident, as a cross cultural ‘expert’, I get many questions about how to manage cross cultural conflict. With my MBA students, we do a ‘Game Theory’ exercise that requires mutual understanding and engagement. Students work in teams and negotiate over a scarce resource. Those who intend on convincing the other of their entitlement will lose. Those who aim to work together and try to see the others’ perspective, win.

We may all have encountered a dispute of opinion. I recall a discussion via email between American and Lebanese friends about the rights/wrongs of the invasion into Iraq. The Americans felt that surely the liberation of a people and the introduction of democracy was the way forward. The Lebanese questioned the American interpretation of democracy and the motives for the invasion. A stalemate situation, over which friends were lost.

So what is the solution? Well, show the whole picture. Just last week I asked my students what they thought the job-market was like for women in Dubai. All sorts of stereotypes came up. The few students who came from Dubai gasped at the preconceived ideas, much fuelled by popular culture and media. I then showed a short film of a British divorcee with 2 kids called Sonia, who works as a trainer in Dubai. It was a small alignment to stereotypical views, I hope.

The Iranians displayed in Argo, is a simplistic image, regardless of the token heroine. Especially the market scene is worthy of an award for most stereotypical display of a people. Whether or not Argo was a political tool to boost a pro-USA mood, is another discussion. What matters is that if Iran decides to sue, that conflict should not be wiped off the table as a hot-headed knee-jerk reaction.

I think the Middle East is tired of being depicted in a certain way, including Israel. Just as the majority of Russians were in the 70s and 80s and the Germans have been since WWII. Are ordinary (young) people to pay for decision making by autocratic leaders? As a producer, George Clooney could try and make a film that is less subjective about Arabs. Thanks to Syriana, my ‘street cred’ increased as I have travelled to Beirut several times. Clooney made it look positively dangerous there. Indeed, when I told friends I was invited for a wedding in Lebanon this summer, the reaction was all-round disapproving. That’s sad; it’s a great place to visit.

In management and governance research, experts support the notion for taking an other’s point of view: in the Journal of Public Administration Research & Theory (4* ABS), Ansell & Gash (2007) argue that “stakeholders’ level of commitment to collaboration is a critical variable in explaining success or failure of governance. … stakeholders may wish to participate in order to make sure their perspective is not neglected or to secure legitimacy for their position or to fulfill a legal obligation. By contrast, commitment to the process means developing a belief that good faith bargaining for mutual gains is the best way to achieve desirable policy outcomes. Such a belief is not altruistic. A developer may believe that the best way to get his houses built is to engage in a good faith bargaining effort with environmentalists. Yet commitment to collaboration can still require a very significant psychological shift, particularly among those who regard their positions in absolute terms. As a first step, such a shift requires what is sometimes called ‘mutual recognition’ or ‘joint appreciation'”.

We’re more similar in terms of our aims for security and social well-being than pop culture, media, politics would like us to think we are. I was inspired by Nilson Tuwe Huni Kui’s story. A young man, currently visiting New York, will soon follow in his father’s footsteps as a political leader and defined wealth as being ‘rich in culture, biodiversity and spirituality’. He says he likes film and technology and wants to use both to learn about the world outside his village and hopes the world will learn about them.  Clooney, Affleck et al – take note.




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