#3. The Communist Propaganda Film That Accidentally Made Capitalism Look Awesome
In the '60s, Cuba loved two things: repudiating everything about the decadent lifestyle of the capitalistic imperialists, and going to the movies. Unfortunately, their cinemas and drive-ins were looking a lot emptier due to the American embargo on, well, everything, leading Fidel Castro to appeal to the USSR to make him a film that would put all those Hollywood blockbusters to shame. The Soviet Union obliged, always happy to help their allies and promote international communism in any way they could (often without the allies ever asking them to).
The result was the 1964 film Soy Cuba ("I Am Cuba"), headed by veteran Soviet director Mikhail Kalatozov.
"Oh, sure, this'll be just as easy to masturbate to as Marilyn Monroe."
Castro was so convinced that his propaganda film would be a game changer that, according to Wikipedia, he ordered a thousand active-duty soldiers to leave their posts to shoot a single scene for the movie -- because, you know, what else did they have to do only a week after the Cuban missile crisis almost triggered World War III?
So What Went Wrong?
So you've got a film meant to show impoverished Cubans how awful Americans are, and you do so by showing the beautiful capitalist scum at a rocking pool party:
At a gorgeous resort with a huge swimming pool:
The goal is to make the viewer say, "Damn those greedy Americans!" but you know that's not what goes through the human brain when seeing that -- the thought is something closer to "How can we get in on that shit?"
So it's unclear who hated Soy Cuba the most: the Cubans, for portraying them like spicy Latino hillbillies, or the Soviets, because they worried that Kalatozov's elaborate film techniques made the "American excess" look pretty awesome compared to the "heroic" life of peasants. But you know who ended up loving it? America.
Stoney Road Films
We're a little disappointed none of the reviewers went with "Che-nsational!"
Decades after the movie bombed and its makers and funders disgustedly cast it aside until it rotted from collective memory, Soy Cuba was uncovered by Western filmmakers, who called it revolutionary, though not for the reasons Kalatozov intended. Those same shots that left the Russians cold? The likes of Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola thought they were pure cinematic gold. Thanks to festival screenings and a restoration campaign, Soy Cuba is still influencing filmmakers today. For instance, the famous "American Party" opening was the inspiration for another movie about people getting screwed:
That's how badly Soy Cuba failed as anti-American, anti-capitalist propaganda -- the scenes meant to condemn "American excess and debauchery" ended up being perfectly suited for fucking Boogie Nights.
#2. Iran Forces Student Leader to Dress as a Woman, Thousands Imitate Him
When Iran's 2009 presidential election was tainted by a slight case of "rampant, shameless, widespread voter fraud," the country's students took to the streets to let their discomfort be known. That's when, in a bizarre turn of events, prominent student leader Majid Tavakoli was arrested for "propaganda against the system" and the authorities released pictures of him dressed as a woman, claiming he was in the process of pulling a Tootsie when the arrest happened.
Fars News Agency
In another shameful photo, he's shown respecting the rights of sexual minorities.
The pictures practically made the regime cream their manly, decidedly heterosexual pants, because here was a leader of the protesters shamefully dressed as the inferior sex while trying to escape, or arrested in the midst of the world's saddest drag act (they never really settled on one story). And then the protests ended forever, and no one questioned Iran's government again.
So What Went Wrong?
Just kidding. Pretty much not a single Iranian believed it. The authorities had clearly Tootsie'd Tavakoli themselves, expecting all the students to go "I ain't following no sissy," because they think everyone must be A) terrible and B) a moron. Instead, thousands of Iran's young (and not so young) men reacted by doing the exact opposite: They followed Tavakoli's example by dressing up like ladies:
Via New Politics
A victory for equality, and for Google porn searchers with very, very specific turn-ons.
The Be a Man campaign sprouted up, daring Iranian dudes to post pictures of themselves "questioning their masculinity" in solidarity with Tavakoli. Even celebrities like Babak Takhti, member of the manliest family in Iran, joined in the fun. Mir Hossein Mousavi, the candidate who "lost" to famed crazy man Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in the elections, spoke enthusiastically about the campaign. However, you only know a meme has gone nuclear when videos with dramatic music pop up on YouTube.
The campaign may not have gotten Tavakoli released, but at least it made sure that 100 percent of the country was aware that his arrest was a sham. So, just remember: For every 3,000 awful, unfunny memes we suffer, we get something like this. It almost makes "Condescending Wonka" worth it.
#1. The Viet Cong's Biggest Martyr Turns Up Alive, Helps the U.S.
In 1966, teenager Nguyen Van Be was a Viet Cong volunteer transporting a shipment of high explosives with his comrades. Suddenly, a fierce, half-hour gun battle with the enemy erupted. Be fought bravely, but was eventually captured, tortured, and ordered to explain how the mines he was carrying worked. Seeing an opening for a classic action hero moment, the brave young man grabbed a mine, ran straight for a tank, and quickly detonated it, while still having enough time to yell "Long live the National Front for Liberation! Death to the U.S. imperialists!" He died in a massive explosion, taking 69 Americans and South Vietnamese with him.
You can see the totally-not-made-up scene immortalized in the second most action-packed stamp ever:
Nguyen Van Be was awarded the title of "Indomitable Loyalty and Magnificent Bravery" and became an instant hero in North Vietnam. Songs, poems, and operas were written for him, and children were encouraged to study and emulate the example of the brave boy who exploded himself. The entire country had Be Fever, and the government had no interest in finding a cure.
So What Went Wrong?
Just one problem: Be was still alive, and in an American POW camp. Not only that, but his "Indomitable Loyalty" to the Viet Cong would turn out to be somewhat overstated when he agreed to help the U.S. troops call shenanigans on his own myth.
"My loyalty is extremely domitable, I assure you."
His "Magnificent Bravery" wasn't much, either. In an interview for the South Vietnam government, Be admitted that the gun battle had lasted only a few minutes, and he himself had never fired a shot. Instead, he immediately tried to run away by jumping in the water and was captured by a South Vietnamese soldier pulling his hair. Oh, and if the receding hairline in his picture didn't tip you off, he wasn't a 13-year-old hero boy -- he was a 20-year-old wimpy man, as the millions of U.S.-made leaflets dropped over North Vietnam made sure to point out.
So how did the Viet Cong take the devastating news? By pretending nothing happened, continuing to celebrate the anniversary of his "death" for years ... and ordering an (unsuccessful) hit on their own martyr.
"Listen, being dead comes with the title, dude."