Cheat-Seeking Missles

Friday, March 09, 2007

Left Doesn't Like 300 Any More Than 24

Shame, shame on the directors and producers of 300 for telling the story of the heroic stand by 300 Spartans at Thermopylae to hold back hundreds of thousands of Persians intent on conquering Greece -- and with it the seeds of Western civilization.

We should not honor this bravery, they say, we should ignore this heroism to protect the Greek city states, with their emerging democracy, against those who would crush them and impose slavery.

No really, it's true. Here's Dana Stevens, writing today in Slate:
If 300, the new battle epic based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley, had been made in Germany in the mid-1930s, it would be studied today alongside The Eternal Jew as a textbook example of how race-baiting fantasy and nationalist myth can serve as an incitement to total war. ...

The comic fanboys who make up 300's primary audience demographic aren't likely to get hung up on the movie's historical content, much less any parallels with present-day politics. But what's maddening about 300 (besides the paralyzing monotony of watching chiseled white guys make shish kebabs from swarthy Persians for 116 indistinguishable minutes) is that no one involved—not Miller, not [director Zack] Snyder, not one of the army of screenwriters, art directors, and tech wizards who mounted this empty, gorgeous spectacle—seems to have noticed that we're in the middle of an actual war. With actual Persians (or at least denizens of that vast swath of land once occupied by the Persian empire).

In interviews, Snyder insists that he "really just wanted to make a movie that is a ride"—a perfectly fine ambition for any filmmaker, especially one inspired by the comics. And visually, 300 is thrilling, color-processed to a burnished, monochromatic copper, and packed with painterly, if static, tableaux vivants. But to cast 300 as a purely apolitical romp of an action film smacks of either disingenuousness or complete obliviousness. One of the few war movies I've seen in the past two decades that doesn't include at least some nod in the direction of antiwar sentiment, 300 is a mythic ode to righteous bellicosity. In at least one way, the film is true to the ethos of ancient Greece: It conflates moral excellence and physical beauty (which, in this movie, means being young, white, male, and fresh from the gyms of Brentwood).
To please Stevens and the raving anti-war, anti-West, anti-American Left, Snyder would have had to:
  • Integrate anti-war sentiments into a story where there were no anti-war sentiments. It was win or die and everyone knew it.
  • Make all the actors similar in color, stature, profile, hair color and sympathetic qualities.
  • Include a secondary plot within the Persian ranks that makes us sympathetic to this army intent on conquering, raping and pillaging.
  • And finally, just not make the film at all since it glorifies war and says civilization and democracy are worth fighting for.
The war fought at Thermopylae, which Stevens discounts as "classical history and legend," was the first of many wars that made it possible for Stevens to be Stevens today -- writing freely, dodging any defense of country, happily unfettered and Western. Pity anyone should glorify it.

Stevens just can't have any fun at all. He looks at the film's portrayal of Persians and sees World War II films' portrayals of Japs and Krauts:

Here are just a few of the categories that are not-so-vaguely conflated with the "bad" (i.e., Persian) side in the movie: black people. Brown people. Disfigured people. Gay men (not gay in the buff, homoerotic Spartan fashion, but in the effeminate Persian style). Lesbians. Disfigured lesbians. Ten-foot-tall giants with filed teeth and lobster claws. Elephants and rhinos (filthy creatures both). The Persian commander, the god-king Xerxes (Rodrigo Santoro) is a towering, bald club fag ["Fag?!" Isn't that short for something?] with facial piercings, kohl-rimmed eyes, and a disturbing predilection for making people kneel before him.

Sounds like standard issue comic book villains. If Stevens is "disturbed" by Xerxes' fixation on demanding subjects kneel before him, I doubt if he could stomach the routine tortures and corporal punishments of the day.

Stevens doesn't care much at all for the Spartans:

Meanwhile, the Spartans, clad in naught but leather man-briefs, fight under the stern command of Leonidas (Gerard Butler), whose warrior ethic was forged during a childhood spent fighting wolves in the snow. Leonidas likes to rally the troops with bellowed speeches about "freedom," "honor," and "glory," [Why the quotes? Are those concpets not real?] promising that they will be remembered for having created "a world free from mysticism and tyranny." (The men's usual response, a fist-pumping "A-whoo! A-whoo!" sounds strangely fratty.)
And worst of all, here at the dawn of Eurocentric history, Leonidas did not follow the rules of war set down in Geneva (forget the fact that if there hadn't been a Greek victory at Thermopylae, there wouldn't have been a Geneva):

When a messenger from Xerxes arrives bearing news Leonidas doesn't like, he hurls the man, against all protocol, down a convenient bottomless well in the center of town. "This is blasphemy! This is madness!" says the messenger, pleading for his life. "This is Sparta," Leonidas replies. So, if Spartan law is defined by "whatever Leonidas wants," what are the 300 fighting for, anyway? And why does that sound depressingly familiar?

Stevens would have cancelled production on all the great movies of World War II, and John Wayne and his buds would have been waiting tables instead of playing valiant sailors, soldiers and Marines. Worse, he would have called for movies that showed the soft, nice side of Japs and Krauts, made the troops watch them and hope for crushed morale.

Is it no longer OK to have a romp that has good guys and bad guys ... and lets us be the good guys? Apparently Stevens and many like him think so. They want Hollywood to stay in its critical, anti-American mode, and will attack 300, 24 or any other production that dares to defend the concept that civilization, whether American or Greek, beats repression any time and is worth defending.

hat-tip: memeorandum

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