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Thursday, March 15, 2007

99 severed heads roll by

So we went and saw 300 tonight. (A tip of the ancient katana to Tony Collett, who sent us free tickets for 300. I'm glad I saw it so I can have an informed opinion on it, but I sure wouldn't have wanted to pay actual money for the experience.)

I was composing my review in my head as I watched 300. Words like 'retarded', 'moronic', 'idiotic', and 'jesus, Leonidas, just kiss him already, would you?' kept recurring, much though I tried to rise above them . Yet, mostly, as the film continued to flicker across the screen before me, I found myself planning to emphasize just how bizarre I found it that conservatives could somehow manage to embrace this movie so enthusiastically, while clearly identifying themselves with Leonidas and his 300 doomed but supposedly noble warriors.

This baffled me as I watched the film, because, yeah, sure, okay, I got the whole "how can a king uphold the law when the law itself prevents him from defending his people" thing -- riiiiight, so Leonidas is supposed to be Bush, and this is a thinly veiled reference to the whole wiretapping thing; I understand, they're trying to say that Bush has to break the law to protect his people, yeah, I get it.

But then, how could conservatives (or anyone else, for that matter) possibly continue to think of Leonidas as a CGI buffed up stand in for Bush, when Leonidas turns around and actually leads his troops into combat, and Dubya is a guy who pulled strings to avoid combat, and who sneered "Bring it on!" into a TV camera within a heavily fortified cocoon of concrete, steel, and bulletproof glass and behind a wall of heavily armed Secret Service agents to an enemy that was on the other side of the planet at the time?

That just made no sense to me.

I understood that the diseased, leprous, scabby looking priesthood counseling peace (while all the time in the pay of The Enemy) was supposed to be the United Nations, especially the French. And yes, I follow that the effeminate, toga wearing Spartan elders wringing their hands and imploring Leonidas/Bush not to go to war in defiance of the oracle are supposed to be Congress... except that doesn't make any sense; Congress wrote Bush a blank check when he started the war in Iraq. So what the hell...?

And all the ways this didn't make sense kept piling up. I mean, Persia is invading Greece, right? And the 300 Spartans are defending their homelands from a massive military force, right? So, again, how is it that the Spartans are the U.S., and the Persians are... what... the hordes of islamofascism? The global caliphate? Al Qaeda?

Honestly, it was just stupid. Not that I expect conservatives to be particularly intelligent or reasonable about anything, but, still, this seemed even more senseless than most right wing bullshit. It was much, much dumber than the average wingnut spew... and, man, that takes some doing.

But then I got it. (Sometimes I'm a little slow.) It's not that Leonidas is Bush and the 300 noble Spartans defending the narrow pass are somehow the invading U.S. forces occupying Afghanistan and Iraq, and Persia represents the unrelenting monolithic hordes of global Islam. Because, really, that just won't work, and even conservatives can't be stupid enough to somehow believe that logic rings true.

No, actually, it's much simpler than that. Leonidas is supposed to be Bush, sure. But the 300 noble Spartans, fighting and dying to preserve their way of life from an overwhelmingly oppressive enemy, in the hopes that all their fellow Spartans would wake up to the threat in time to take up arms and repel the wicked hordes of rotten, sinful corruption? They aren't the U.S. forces occupying the Middle East. And Persia isn't the Islamofascists. Leonidas is meant to be Dubya, absolutely. But the 300 Spartans, those half naked, weapon wielding, totally ripped specimens of sheer raw testosterone in strappy sandals?

They're supposed to be... wingnuts!

Yep. The brave 300, sacrificing themselves heroically for the good of their culture, throwing their lives away to slow the relentless progress of an unstoppable, irrefutably evil and immoral enemy... these are supposed to be right wing nutjobs.

And Persia? Wicked Persia, decadent Persia, sinful, pagan, evil Persia, lost in the throes of its own moral corruption, with all its parties and slave girls kissing each other on the mouths and traitorous hunchbacks groping their way through orgiastic seas of sweaty, heaving, naked bosoms and perfectly manicured totally bald god-kings who wear rouge and eyeshadow and lipstick and who demand that everybody kneel before them?

That's the liberal menace, boys and girls. That's... us.

The conflict is clear, the lines are drawn, the gauntlet is thrown. The Spartans... steely eyed, mighty thewed, sweaty browed, smooth featured, clench buttocked, clean limbed and, you know, universally melanin impaired... that's Jonah Goldberg, Dan Riehl, Rush Limbaugh, Dafydd ab Hugh, Michael Medved, Mark Steyn, David Frum, Mike S. Adams, Rich Lowry, Ben Shapiro, Sean Hannity, Glenn Reynolds, etc ad nauseum.

The noble Spartan Queen, sneering to a dark skinned interloper that "only Spartan women can give birth to true men"? That's Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Peggy Noonan, Marie Jon', that she-troll from the Atlas Shrugged blog, and all those other noble conservative chickiepoos, all rolled into one.

And Persia? Rotten Persia, disgusting Persia, vile and hideous and blasphemous Persia, with its god-kings and its slave armies and its horrifyingly deformed hunchback traitors and its mincing, cowardly soldiery? Well, that would be, like, Ted Kennedy and the Clintons and Barack Obama and Michael Moore and, I guess, me.


I had no idea all us liberals owned so much jewelry, or that we were having so much fun all the time while wearing it.

I could get all petty in terms of some of the historical details of the film, I guess. I could ask exactly what material those shiny all-metal shields the Spartans lug around with them are made of, since Leonidas and his 300 lived and died in the Bronze Age, and nobody carried around a shield made entirely of metal in the Bronze Age, because such a shield would have weighed several hundred pounds and even a CGI enhanced Spartan would have had a hard time hauling something like that into combat strapped to one arm. I could wonder at exactly what kind of 'freedom' a culture in which it is unlawful to retreat or surrender is actually fighting for, or what kind of 'justice' is embodied in a culture that throws sickly babies off a cliff. I could even quibble that when Leonidas boasts that all Spartan males are warriors and none of them are blacksmiths or sculptors or potters like the fruity Arcadians, well, there sure seems to be someone back home in Sparta running the smithies and making the pots and sculpting the statues, and those guys look a great deal like the same sort of male Spartans Leonidas has in his 300.

And I could muse on the fact that Greek culture during the historical period of Leonidas and his 300 was predominantly homosexual; the men in ancient Greece (even the manly, manly Spartans) only had intercourse with women for purposes of procreation, and took their pleasures (often) with other men, and boys.

That last notation is probably unfair, though. I mean, conservatives certainly don't have to identify with that aspect of Leonidas' lifestyle if they don't want to. They can absolutely emphasize Leonidas' nobility, his bravery, his courage, and his idealism, if that's what they choose to do. Yet, still, any movie that features this many half naked, really good looking guys running around thrusting long shafts into each other over and over and over again, in which so many men spend so much time demanding that other men kneel before them, and in which so many truly butch guys dressed only in panties and leather straps manage to get so constantly and thoroughly spattered with the body fluids of other men... I don't know. I'm thinking that pointing out that the Greek culture which the Spartans were part of and which they were fighting, killing, and dying to defend was homosexual by choice is, well, appropriate, and merited.

As SuperFiancee said in the car on the ride home "That movie was WAY more gay than BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN". And she's entirely correct... even if it does make all the Fighting Keyboarders who are strutting around proudly identifying with Leonidas and his 300 a little bit nauseous.


At 11:50 AM , Anonymous John S. said...


People need to stop psychoanalyzing the shit out of this movie.

To papraphrase Freud: Sometimes a movie is just a movie.

At 12:23 PM , Anonymous Always_Esteemed_Scott said...

I understand, they're trying to say that Bush has to break the law to protect his people, yeah, I get it.

Isn't that Frank Miller's worldview in a nutshell? Has he ever written about anything else?

At 5:44 PM , Blogger AaA said...

Well, technically, it was two sentences, one embraced in quotes by the other. And you left out the trailing quote mark.

Other than that, well, thanks for saving me $9 that I wasn't likely to spend anyway.

At 5:48 PM , Blogger Highlander said...

Sometimes a movie IS just a movie.

But if someone were to adapt Frank Miller's promised BATMAN VS AL QAEDA miniseries into a movie, and someone else were to do a review of the film which imparted the startling revelation that the film was nothing but goddam conservative agit-prop, and then some OTHER dipshit came along and sniveled "gee, people need to stop analyzing this movie, sometimes a movie is just a movie", well, I might then say, "No, when you're talking about contemporary Frank Miller horseshit, it's never 'just' anything, it's ALWAYS 'noble conservatives holding the line against horrible decadent liberalism' horseshit, usually with a lot of gay subtext thrown in for free, most likely because Frank just doesn't really understand how truly conflicted he really is."

And that last bit there was all just ONE GODDAM SENTENCE, too.

I think I need to put my head down on my desk for a while.

Thanks for stopping by.

At 3:40 PM , Blogger teh l4m3 said...

You liebruls will never get it. Clearly the hoplites, after a hard, hot, sweaty day of training in the field, went back to the barracks they shared for nothing more than bowls of cheetohs and games of solitaire...

At 5:40 PM , Blogger Rob said...

Sorry to be such a prat, but it wasn't the Bronze Age (that was Troy), and the shields were bronze-coated wood. In fact, from clips I've seen, the helmets, shields and cloaks are about the only things they got right. Unless I've been mistaken about the meaning of "hoplite", which I understood to mean "heavily-armoured soldier", but seems to mean "soldier in speedoes".

All Spartan males were warriors. The joe-jobs were done by non-Spartan citizens and helots.

Other than that, fair enough.

At 5:58 PM , Blogger Highlander said...


I would imagine most of those solitaire games were team efforts, though. Buddies giving each other a hand. Or... whatever.


No problem with you being a prat; I don't mind being wrong. But the shields in the movie are pretty clearly a silvery grey color; I thought bronze was kind of brownish red. And what little I actually know of ancient weaponry still tells me that, whether it's wood covered with metal or its all metal, it's still awfully goddam heavy. Plus, I'm a little freaked out by the massive two handed spears being wielded so expertly by guys with 70 lb shields on their off arms.

Sparta had non-Spartan 'citizens'? I thought 'citizen' was the highest rank you could get? I realized as I watched the movie that the 'joe jobs' were almost certainly done in Sparta by slaves, but the guys we saw doing them didn't look like slaves. They all looked Spartan -- which in this movie, means, extremely buffed up, very WASPy looking guys... and The Women Who Belong To Them.

I mean, if the potters and sculptors and shit were all slaves, they were damn good looking, damn ripped, damn white ones.

At 3:33 PM , Blogger jrm said...

There are several (almost) contemporary sources of information about Spartan social organization. One is Herodotus (The Persian Wars; another is Xenophon, A History of My Times; and the best one of all, for sheer all-around excellence, is the bone-chillingly awesome Thucydides, The Peloponnesian War. All of these were actually written within a century of the Battle of Thermopylae. Another historical source, Diodorus Siculus, wrote about 3 centuries after Thucydides and I haven't read his work.

A less reliable source, because wildly idealized, are a couple of pertinent entries in Lives of the Noble Greeks.

The Spartans were the elite; they ruled over an agglomeration of microstates known as Lacadaemonia, part of which was Messina (sw. part of the Pelopennesian Peninsula). At one time this had been a large settlement of farmers, but they were defeated, enslaved, and reduced to helot status. They had no rights and performed all of the labor. The Spartans (aristocratic elites) were citizens of an oligarchy, which was--for the tiny portion of Lacadaemonians in the polity--somewhat less democratic than Attika (Athens).

(Athens had had a radical democratic revolution around 510, which enfranchised all citizens. Also, non-citizens of Athens had some rights, albeit degraded ones--see Plato's dialogues, "Meno")

The Battle of Themopylae involved 300 Spartans, plus 700 Thespian allies; for the first three days, the Spartans had another 6000 allies who left. In addition, an unknown number of helots also fought to the death with the Spartans. These get mentioned and then forgotten in the historical accounts, as if only the Spartans were real.

The Spartans did not have any such rule about never retreating, and of course they surrendered in the battle for Pylos (to Athenians; 317). Another point to remember is that the Persian Empire is generally described favorably by Thucydides; Herodotus strongly implies the Persians were more morally strict than the Greeks generally.

Elective homosexuality seems to be an extremely common and enduring feature of the region; Socrates mentions it, especially in Plato's dialogue "Phaedrus"; Aristophanes mocks it in all of his plays, apparently because it had degenerated to pederasty (Marcus Aurelius praises his elective father, Antonius Pius, for having overcome his "passion for boys"--as if it were normal to have one). Still, the petit bourgeois of Athens--quite large, then--was critical of homsexuality and there seems to be an early reaction to it since it was a method of initiating aristocrats.

Xenophon was the most extreme admirer of Sparta, and intensely involved in its wars and political struggles. He reports on a lot of the adventures and peccadillos of the Spartan elites, and of course, there is a lot of bisexuality. Alcibiades, the most famous Athenian playboy, rose to power as a boytoy of both Spartan and Athenian politicians, but later was assassinated in revenge for a protracted affair with the Sparton archon's wife.

At 3:53 PM , Blogger Highlander said...

Uh... yeah. What JRM said.

And, thanks for the expertise. I feel all enlightened. ;)


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