The Danish physicist, Niels Bohr, received the Nobel Prize in 1922 for his contributions to understanding atomic structure and quantum mechanics. Bohr was one of the founding fathers of CERN — the research centre for high-energy physics. He once said, “Everything we call real is made of things that cannot be regarded as real.” Bohr shows not only an understanding of the very limits of human inquiry but also what motivates physicists to seek solutions for all those unanswerable questions. It was this motivation that led to the confirmation of the existence of the Higgs Boson particle in 2012 after a decades-long search.
Argo, the film that received the best picture award at this year’s Oscars may be based on real fact but is also a compilation of snippets that simply cannot be regarded as real. Ben Affleck takes several liberties with history in the movie. In Canada, it is widely accepted that the movie gives the wrong impression that the rescue of the Americans was an operation run entirely by the US government in which Canadian diplomats are not given their rightful due. In the movie, Affleck plays a CIA agent who, while watching an episode of “Planet of the Apes”, gets the idea he can free American hostages in Iran by having them pose as a movie film crew. The inspirational patriotism has not settled well with either Canadians or Iranians. According to Iran’s state news agency, FARS, the ministry of culture criticised the film, stating, “The movie is an anti-Iranian film. It is not a valuable film from the artistic point of view. It won the prize by resorting to extended advertisement and investment.”
FARS has its own idea of what is considered real. FARS digitally altered photographs of Michelle Obama at the Oscars making her conform to local restrictions regarding how women can be shown in Iranian media. The news agency restyled Obama’s dress so it fully covered her upper body when she announced that Argo had won an Oscar for best picture.
Like FARS, the Egyptian state newspaper, Al Ahram, altered a photograph of then president Hosni Mubarak, when he met with President Barak Obama in 2010. The newspaper moved Mubarak from his position of walking behind President Obama and the other Middle East leaders to appearing in front of everyone. Bloggers around the world ridiculed this fabricated reality. No different than the physicists who fervently sought confirmation of the Higgs Boson particle, bloggers sought answers as well — exposing Mubarak, using satire and wit. Manipulated photographs of Mubarak walking on the moon with Neil Armstrong; triumphantly holding up the Fifa World Cup trophy; or comprehensively beating Usain Bolt at the 100-metre dash popped up on blog sites around the world. These altered photographs of Mubarak became part of an ongoing campaign of reform to oust Mubarak from office.
We no longer live in a world where realties can be manufactured simply through the manipulation of images or revising history. Egypt’s current president, Mohamed Morsi, sought to depict himself as a man of the people in a recent television appearance, his voice rising and tears welling in his eyes as he spoke of the country’s poor. Egyptians, nationwide, mocked him. As Bohr said, “There are some things so serious you have to laugh at them.” Satire provides a glimpse of the relationship that exists between criticism and patriotism. It clearly reveals how people view their nation and government.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 28th, 2013.