Operation Ajax as Historical Interactive Prosthesis

by Amani Jordan


 I was introduced to the app “Operation Ajax” during the Fall 2013 Undergraduate class, Iranian Cinema:Women and the Moving Image instructed by Ph.D Candidate Hadi Gharabaghi. He presented the app in relation to the history of the Iranian nation and its relation to the CIA/USIA intervention of the 1950s. I was not only unfamiliar with the coup but my relation to Iran was one filled with public memory(its relation to Iraq/Kuwait/Middle East). Before taking the Iranian Cinema class I believed Iran to be a repressive society(hijab women, theocracy, dictators,etc), but I had just always envisioned this place to be that way; Iran was static, frozen in historic time.


Persepolis: Iran post-1979 Revolution

I have no ‘real’ memory of Iran, as nation-state, I am only familiar with its relation to the country of Iraq .
Then, I began to ask myself well what do I know about Iraq? I know Hussein, the president of Iraq was the enemy of Bush Jr.  because of his depiction through mass media. One iconic moment that sticks out is the toppling  Hussein’s statue found in Firdos square. I began to speculate that this event was staged; this event was a part of a narrative: ‘mission accomplished.’

Figure 5. ‘Free Iraq’, Firdos Square, Baghdad. © Photograph by Goran Tomasevic, Reuters/ Landov, Newsweek , 9 April 2003. Reproduced with permission of Reuters. 

Next, I began to understand further that the media is constructed. What’s more is that it is centralized. There is little room for independent voices to make a considerable impact. To connect through historiography, the”  Operation Ajax” smartphone/tablet application offers an immersive experience into the ivory-tower-subject that is ‘history.’ It is subversive to engage with history. I believe us children of the Internet age feel it is necessary to learn ‘real’ history; due to mass media spectacles like Firdos Square These depictions in media have been formulated through concept of Prosthetic Memory.

Landsberg defines the concept of prosthetic memory as remembering memories through technological utilization. To clarify:pros

“Prosthetic memories are those not strictly derived from a person’
s lived experience. Prosthetic memories circulate publicly, and although they are not organically based, they are nevertheless experienced with a person’s body as a result of an engagement with a wide range of cultural technologies.”



Through  Ajax I have engaged with history and the formulation of histories(historiography) through the medium of a computer-based comic book. Although I do have the option of accessing this book through traditional means (print) I know that this experience is stale and static: it is not  an experience of immersion. However, to swipe left/right/up/down, engage with menus/documents/images/text bubbles allows for history to become more immersive and memorable.

The interactive portion of the app derives from the video game aesthetic. Indeed, the creators of this app come from video game backgrounds. The comic is not only moving but ‘talking’ through soundbites/videobites/foley/music. The dimension of sound/image relation makes the app cinematic in my opinion. And yet, is this cinema? The viewer is able to control the ‘film’ or rather the ‘episodes’(chapters) of Ajax. The motto  of Cognito Comics is  “ pioneering the story of interactive storytelling.”  Yet, is this presented story of the 1953 coup accurate? I don’t believe this question is relevant when talking about memory because we cannot trust our own minds to give us an ‘accurate’ picture, anyway. And yet, why is my generation still are angered when we are duped through mass media propaganda? Why do we still trust institutions historically suppressed? Will the Internet age see a toppling of this kind of government control?

The journalist Rachel Maddow presented Operation Ajax  on her August 19 2013  MSNBC broadcast. Through a satirical tone, she formulates her argument: the CIA as an intelligence agency has only recently begun its step towards ‘transparency.’ She also illustrates a NY Times article that  the 1953 coup:

“They released a CIA internal history, not only admitting to it but explaining how they did it and why. And that admission is both a huge deal and also, as I said, something everybody already knew since, oh, say, pretty much the day after the coup happened in the first place. Look at the date on this story. August 20th, 1953. The day after the CIA carried out Operation Ajax, open charges that the U.S. implicated in the first stages of the coup. This was the day after the coup, they were already saying it was us. But we’ve always formally denied it until today. And this is such a widely known thing that we did that there is literally an app for it.(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Introducing Operation Ajax for the iPad. Based on actual events of the CIA`s involvement in overthrowing the Iranian government. (END VIDEO CLIP)”

What does the inclusion of this event and  the fact that an app ‘rediscovering’ this history and branding it as ‘actual events’ have to do with interactive history? The app’s creation by Cognito Comics  and its reception by media pundits shows the times that we are living within.  “Operation Ajax” provides a shattering of historic discourse through providing a moving comic book app complete with “actual events.” Additionally, the consumer becomes responsible for their experience of history ;Through the prosthesis of a smartphone app, history becomes individualized.