23:59 Sat 31 Mar 2007
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So the good guys in this movie are the ones who kill off newborn males if they’re “defective” in any way? Hmm…

Despite being a Frank Miller fan, I’ve never read the 300 comic. It just didn’t seem as if it would have enough to hold my interest (plot is rather important to me). Seeing the movie version hasn’t changed my mind.

I don’t think too many modern political allegories should be drawn from the movie. I don’t buy the “Xerces’ army represents the Iranians” or “the Spartans are the Republican Party” arguments. Which is not to say that there aren’t political messages in it—of course there are. It’s profoundly celebratory of militarism, militarism in quite an extreme form, lifelong service. A lifelong service which is avowedly centered around the ideas that killing, and dying in battle, are the ultimate goals in life.

300 seems to waver between making this culture seem psychopathic and creepy (e.g. with the piled skulls of rejected newborns at the start) and making it seem wholesome and honorable (the camaraderie among the Spartans, the noble character of their warriors and king). Mostly, it comes down on the pro-militarism side, and doesn’t seem to ask many questions about what a society that forces all of its men to go through such intense and cruel training would actually be like.

Or perhaps it does, because Spartan society as portrayed in 300 seems very odd, with a significant chunk devoted to the ways of honor and war, and another significant chunk devoted to political intrigue, corruption, and odd religious rituals. That internal conflict, however, does fall away as the film goes on, and the overall conflict is portrayed as between the good, normal, heroic, self-disciplined, white Spartans and the bad, deviant/deformed, treacherous, tyrannized/tyrannizing, multicolored Persians.

I’m really trying not to read too much into it, but the racial/gender/sexual politics coming off of it seem rather unpalatable. The historical omissions are rather important too… Sparta wasn’t a democracy, the Spartans were slave-owners, and their actual role in the Battle of Thermopylae was not quite as the movie suggests. Wikipedia has a good article on it. The actual history seems a lot more interesting than the simplified, stylized movie accout.

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6 Responses to “300

  1. Helen Says:

    What about the reputed homophobia in the film? I’ve read that the Persians are not only deviant, but a pack of degenerate fags, to boot… is that the case, from what you’ve seen?

  2. Tadhg Says:

    The Persians are clearly depicted as a bunch of degenerates, many of whom are homosexual, yes—I meant to make that point in my post, but now see that I didn’t. That being said, the explicitly sexual content involving the Persians (and really, the movie lumps them in more broadly with “Asians”) is very brief, being primarily the scene where Ephialtes is won over to the Persian cause. That scene is a mock/show orgy, and the message the movie seems to be getting across is that one degenerate freak (Xerxes) is wooing another degerate freak (Ephialtes) by offering him his selection of degenerate freaks (the assorted sex slaves). This included what I thought was lesbianism-for-the-lads (again, to woo Ephialtes), but the end credits included “Transsexual #1 (Asian)”, “Transsexual #2 (Asian)”, and “Transsexual #3 (Arabian)”, so strictly speaking they might not have been actual lesbians.

    Homophobia was part of the general disgust-at-other that was a major thematic thread. Basically, if you’re not a buff, white, heterosexual warrior, then you’re Other and deserve no mercy (the part-time warriors, not as buff but still white and heterosexual, are accorded disdain rather than Other status). Some exceptions are made for mothers-of-warriors.

  3. kevintel Says:

    No offence, but… I wouldn’t read to deeply into any of this. It’s akin to reading about Little Red Riding Hood, and suggesting that the Wicked Wolf is the Chinese economic boom, and herself is Uganda or something like that, and that the wolf is being depicted in a manner which is unfair to canines. The final despatching of the Wolf (in the sanitised Western versions, of course) would be the triumph of Western cultural and economic values over rapacious communism. The grandmother could Burkina Faso. I’ve always thought there was something grandmotherly about that country.

    Although, if Little Red Riding Hood were to do something degenerate, then that would be kind of kinky.

  4. Tadhg Says:

    Sure. It’s fundamentally a silly movie. And as I said, I don’t agree with the geopolitical identifications (Persia as Iran, etc.). But I find it hard to ignore what it’s glorifying, and the point is that you don’t have to read very deeply at all to see a strong message depicting Otherness rather badly.

    That scratching-the-surface is along the lines of reading Little Red Riding Hood as a story with strong sexual undertones that’s aimed at scaring teenagers (especially girls) into staying on the straight and narrow.

  5. kevintel Says:

    I take your point. But then again, you can’t deny that teenagers need a little scaring to keep them on the straight and narrow. I guess that means that kinky is out.

  6. Tadhg Says:

    “you can’t deny that teenagers need a little scaring”

    I can’t? Of course I can. And do. I object to control-by-fear-and-intimidation in general and on principle—and hey, that leads right to our discussion in the God Delusion thread!

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