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Sunday, March 18, 2007

Hey Joey, Do You Like Movies About Gladiators?

by digby

I've been following this story about "300" in the entertainment press with some interest. It has to be the most breathless, overwrought wingnut attempt to find relevance in popular culture yet. Here's Newsweek:

...the cultural significance and popular appeal of "300" reach beyond the thrill of watching pixilated decapitations. The Persians in "300" are the forces of evil: dark-skinned, depraved and determined to terrorize the West. The noble, light-skinned Spartans possess a fierce love of liberty, not to mention fierce six-pack abs. "Freedom is not free," says the wife of Spartan King Leonidas. The movie was adapted from a graphic novel by Frank Miller ("Sin City"). Miller's post-9/11 conservatism (he is reportedly working on a new graphic novel pitting Batman against Al Qaeda, titled "Holy Terror, Batman!") suffuses his comic-book fantasies. Perhaps it's no surprise, then, that "300" resonates for some real warriors. At a theater near Camp Pendleton outside San Diego, cheers erupted at a showing of "300," the Los Angeles Times reported. The Marines ("The Few, the Proud") identify with the outnumbered Spartans.

Ok. So the few the proud at Camp Pendleton see themselves in the role of Spartans. Most of them do have fierce six-pack abs, if not necessarily light skin, and it's common for soldiers to enjoy battle rituals. I'm not surprised by this.

But this is ridiculous:

The analogy between the war on terror and the death struggle of ancient Greece with Persia has not been lost on some high administration officials either, especially Vice President Dick Cheney. (A White House spokesman declined to comment about the film.) In the months after 9/11, a classics scholar named Victor Davis Hanson wrote a series of powerful pieces for the National Review Online, later collected and published as a book, "An Autumn of War." Moved by Hanson's evocative essays, Cheney invited Hanson to dine with him and talk about the wars the Greeks waged against the Asian hordes, in defense of justice and reason, two and a half millennia ago.

Everyone thinks of George W. Bush as being something of a child, with a childlike view of the world. But I think Dick Cheney's a bit of a child too, at least when it comes to war, something which has been well documented if not well reported. He indulged in ridiculous fantasy scenarios in the first Gulf war and was so taken with Ken Burns' Civil War documentary that he came to believe he was Lincoln and wanted to fire Schwartzkopf for being too McClellanlike.

Keep this guy away from netflix, half baked conservative historians and comic book writers. It's dangerous.

But, as pathetic as Cheney's Walter Mitty delusions are, nothing comes close to the wingnut bloggers:

The movie is a cartoon, based very loosely on historical fact. The Persians are depicted as either effeminate or vicious abusers of women, while the Greeks are manly men. The bad guys in "300" also include corrupt Spartan politicians who refuse to send more troops to the battle. Some right-wing bloggers have likened them to liberal Democrats voting against the surge in Iraq.

Here's a fairly typical post:

The mind set reflected in the reviews of "300" suggest that the reviewers, with their apparent discomfort with the open expression of defiant aggression expressed in the movie, are too sophisticated to partake, even vicariously, in the Spartan heroics. It is unclear whether the pacifist left would ever fight, even to save themselves, let alone to save the civilization that they cannot imagine is under siege. If the sophisticates of Athens had refused to pick up the sword, they would have been dead or enslaved. Our modern day sophisticated Athenians of the MSM who refuse to wield their weapons, their pens and computers, in the service of Western Civilization, have already shown their willingness to live as slaves. After all, what did the Danish cartoon saga tell us except that the members of the elites in Academia, Hollywood, and the MSM are willing to offer up their free speech rights in obeisance to the barbarians at the gates.

"300" resonates because Americans have not yet shown themselves so willing to live as slaves as their "betters" in the effete elites.

Who hasn't wondered why the "modern day Athenians of the MSM refuse to wield their weapons, their pens and computers, in the service of western Civilization?" Thank God Americans such as this fine blogger are wielding their mighty weapons in public for all the world to see, eh? It's made all the difference.

The Jawa Report is much more honest and straightforward than most:

I just saw "300". It is probably the most important movie made since 9-11.


The propaganda, it is oh-so-beautiful. It rivals anything put out by Republic Pictures or Warner Brother's animation during WWII. Heroic Americans fight the Hunnish/Asiatic hordes (many seem to forget that it wasn't until after WWII that our movies redeemed the "Germans" by separating them from the "Nazis"---part of the Cold War propaganda effort).

In fact, I'll go out on a limb and compare this to Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible, Part I--that classic piece of Soviet propaganda which artfully legitimized the Stalinistic purges as an effort to consolidate state power in the face of a foreign menace (Ivan as Stalin, the boyars as anti-revolutionary forces, and the Turks as the Germans). And who would argue that Eisenstein's masterpiece wasn't needed to help the war effort? Or Bugs Bunny? Or John Wayne?

No, "300" brings us back to the good-old days of propaganda. When propaganda was produced in support of our country. When propaganda was produced to remind us that we are the good guys and that our ideals are better than the ideals of our enemies.

Go see "300". If you don't like it you probably hate America. That, or you're gay.


It should be said that some rightwing bloggers were not as taken with the film. But their commenters showed them that they were missing the point:

No one ever said that reinstalling the American man’s long-lost testicles was going to be a painless process, but it’s worth it. Best of all it reminds us that we once made of far sterner stuff than we are now and we need to get it back. I’m hoping there are a hundred more movies like "300" over the next couple of years. We need them.

dostrick on March 16, 2007 at 12:51 PM


Haven’t seen it yet (getting my infusion of cinematic testosterone tomorrow), but I’m definitely pumped up and ready for it. I can let the fact that it’s not historically accurate by any means slide since the movie makes no pretenses to the contrary. It pisses off all the right people (liberals, the tyrants in Iran, etc.) while espousing themes such as that there are some things worth fighting for.

‘Bout damn time. I’ll take this over former tough-guy Clint Eastwood’s Iwo Jima wimpfests any day.

thirteen28 on March 16, 2007 at 1:03 PM

“It’s a manly film, full of heroic poses and speeches…”

Which is why some liberal reviewers hated it, of course. After all, liberalism’s fundamental premise is the sissified surrender of the West, while presided over by girlymen.

So there you have it.

I couldn't believe it when I heard about this movie because I've long joked that "America isn't Sparta -- America is a bunch of fat, spoiled shoppers" which is true. We are not a warrior culture, never have been, and yet we've fought and won our share of wars. These guys can go on and on about how it doesn't matter that the film was historically inaccurate because it was all about teh good vs evil and all, but its inaccuracy is quite relevant. If you want to be a mighty warrior nation, everybody has to move their fat asses off the couch and become --- you know --- warriors. "Wielding" a keyboard and using words like "girly-men" and Islamofascism" doesn't count.

This is how it's done:

The agoge was a rigorous education and training regime undergone by all Spartan citizens (with the exception of future kings.) It involved separation from the family, cultivation of loyalty to one's group, loving mentorship, military training, hunting, dance and social preparation.

The term agoge literally translates as 'raising'. Supposedly introduced by the semi-mythical Spartan law-giver Lycurgus but thought to have had its beginnings between the seventh and the sixth centuries BC, it trained boys from the age of seven to eighteen.

The aim of the system was to produce the physically and morally steeled males to serve in the Spartan army, men who would be the "walls of Sparta," the only city with no defensive walls – they had been taken down at the order of Lycurgus. Discipline was strict and the boys were encouraged to fight amongst themselves in order to determine who was the strongest in the group...

Boys were sent from the family home and from then on lived in groups (agelae, herds) under an older boy leader. They were encouraged to give their loyalty to their communal mess hall rather than their families, even when married they would not eat an evening meal with their wives until at least 25. The boys however were not well fed and it was expected that they would steal their food. If caught stealing however, they would be severely punished (not for stealing, but instead for getting caught). All Spartan males with the exception of the eldest son of each of the Spartan royal households (Agiad and Eurypontid) were required to go through this process (they were permitted not to attend as it was believed they were part god).

Americans wouldn't last a day in such a regime, and frankly, good for us. There have been others who tried to emulate it and it didn't work out so well.

These flabby keyboarders are just big babies like their hero Dick Cheney, getting all hot and bothered at the sight of all those rock-hard abs and all that death. If they want a piece of it, there are military recruiters everywhere who would be more than willing to sign them up and send them to the marine version of agoge. It's called boot camp. Once they get through that and do some time in an actual war zone then maybe they can cheer wildly at "gladiator" movies and talk about manly-men without sounding like a bunch of fools or closet cases.

Or if they have "better things to do" maybe they could just be all they can be. The Spartans would have been pleased.