Wednesday, March 07, 2007

I've heard he says he writes strong women too...

Okay, everyone has their own crazy idea. I spend all of my time mocking the crazy ideas I find across the internet.

Well, now its time to reveal my own special insanity. The idea that is so strange that I know it will probably make the entire internet sit up, blink, and ask when I went so insane.

I won't watch The 300 because the trailer makes it look like Anti-American propaganda.

Okay, hear me out here. Yes, I know what Frank Miller has said about his patriotism and that, in all likelihood, this movie was meant as war propaganda in the USA's favor, but every time I see the trailer I get this little creeping feeling in my stomach that its not going to show that way.

What makes me think this?

Because the premise is a group of 300 poorly armed men against the greatest fighting force in the known world. The voice-over refers to the "thousand nations of the Persian Empire" and shows an ethnically diverse group of people in power positions who are obviously villains. The Spartans, vastly outnumbered and overpowered, are all the same race, gender, and religion.

I'm absolutely certain that the US parallels better to the Persians, and I do not want to watch two hours of such an obvious US-parallel getting the Frank Miller-villain treatment.

There it is, Internet. My seemingly batshit crazy aversion to The 300. That's right, I'm not thrown by the misogyny and homophobia that is guaranteed to be contained within or any of the already stated reasons to not want to see this movie, but I'm obsessed with the unpleasant political parallels that so very few people have pointed out.

And I wonder who Frank Miller thinks he's fooling.

I await your reaction.

(ETA: See, I'm not alone!)


  1. Whatever the parallels, the book was published in 1999, so at the least it wasn't intended as commentary on the Iraq War -- in favor of either side.

    Just because the parallels aren't intended doesn't mean they aren't there, or that the movie won't be an unpleasant experience for you. But I think that in this case, any anti-American message you see will be more dependent on what you bring with you than what the film puts up on the screen.

    A war story released in a time of war will naturally be looked at through the lens of the current conflict, but yours isn't necessarily the only interpretation in that regard. Proponents of the Iraq War could view it as the effect of a charismatic leader (Bush) who leads a small, highly-trained force against hordes of foes (uncountable insurgents) because it's the only honorable thing to do -- even if it costs them everything, they must travel beyond their city and defend their home.

    I don't agree with that interpretation either -- at least of the comic, which I've read (as opposed to the movie, which I've only seen trailers for). But I think it's just as likely that it's pro-war propaganda than anti-war propaganda -- especially considering the awe with which the book holds the Spartans as they face these unbeatable odds, because their honor demands it.

    I think you're way off base on this one. Incidentally, have you read the book? It's been years for me, but I remember really enjoying it.

  2. Well, it does make a nice change from the people who see it as a comment on european immigration policy. (Heroic europeans figthing to keep dangerous middle eastern guys out of their continent.)

    The obvious problem is that the premise of 'small nation resisting mighty empire', is just about the only thing about this movie that is historically correct, and it is 2487 years old. Seems as if you have a problem with the historical parallel itself, rather than Frank Millers treatment.

  3. From my understanding of Frank Miller and his ideas (which I've read in his comic books and heard on interviews) and using your interpretation of the text, it could be that he does view the US as a homogenous ideal (like Sparta) and sees Pluralism as a "bad thing". Reading "300" way back when, it never occured to me that one would want to make a movie out of such a crappy book, but lo... in the book I didn't see any of the implicit (or overt like in the trailers) pro-us propaganda, I saw a really bad telling of the battle of thermopile(sp?). In the trailers it's possible the studios took away from Frank Miller's artistic lisence, or he could have just made the screen play more "relevant".
    I don't think it's strange for Frank Miller to believe in a homogenous America, despite it being the most racially and ethnicly diverse country on earth. Some people ignore that sort of thing.

  4. What actually gets me most about both the comic and the movie is that there were actually 1,000 people on the Spartan side - 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians. Even at conservative historical estimates they were still facing 60-to-1 odds, so I've never seen the point of discarding that extra 700 people.

    If Frank Miller has decided that the Spartans are going to represent America then, well, what's he trying to say by dismissing the Thespians?

  5. I don't see the allegory. But that's mostly because I've read about the battle of Thermopylae long, LONG before I ever heard of Miller's 300.

    I look at 300 as a stylized version of the battle, just like the dozens of Civil War, WWII, and Vietnam films that have came before it.

    That said, I saw 300 a few weeks ago as part of a radio station promo. The trailers and AICN reviewers got really wacky with the context. From everything I saw/read I totally expected Frank Miller to appear on screen insiting that there was no homosexuality among the spartains, and 20 minutes of a set of breasts wiggling to heavy metal music or whatever. (Neither happened, btw).

    It's a decent movie as far as make-believe war films go. It has plenty of silly bam-pow! moments, so bring the popcorn!

  6. Thank you, Ragnell. I laughed and laughed.

    I won't see it either, because I think the Spartans were crabbypants, and I'm pro-Pericles.

  7. "Even at conservative historical estimates they were still facing 60-to-1 odds, so I've never seen the point of discarding that extra 700 people."

    Oh, come on Flidget..."1000" would just be a dumb title. ;)

  8. Just watched the trailer (and going solely off that). Doesn't really strike me as anti-US although it's certainly both pro-War and anti-Empire.

    There didn't seem to be any geurrilla warfare elements and similarly the Persians shown to have any technological advantages.

    Also, I've played a fair number of console RPGs that have a empire-bad kingdom-good default. So this doesn't seem like an unusual setup.

    I think Melody_Kitty gets it exactly right. There's a lot more ground for viewing it as anti-pluralist rather than anti-US. Now, I also think that pluralism should rightly be considered one of the top five U.S. values, so there's still some connection there. (In books and games I'm tempted to pull for the often villianous pluralistic empires against homogenous kingdoms, but happily I often get a pluralistic rag-tag rebel group against a homogenous empire which makes things nice and easy. :P)

  9. Go see the fricken movie. It looks fantastic. The books relesaed back in 98 were great. The style of the movie looks interesting. It's not a period piece like "The Patriot" or "Full Metal Jacket".

    It is an adaptation of a comic book based off of a legend which is based off of actual events.

    It's going to be over the top with action with a very strong male and female lead. That alone is worth seeing it to me.

    You know this, I know this.

  10. See, this is why people get aggravated by Americans.


    Have you (smack!) GOT THAT?

  11. Also, this discussion reminds me of Stephen Hunter's review of the Ant Bully. That movie was more of a symbolic left-wing critique of U.S. policies. Although pluralism wasn't really an issue in that case. (I enjoy Stephen Hunter's reviews although I think we have very different politics. Also I completely disagree with his trashing of the first X-men, but that's a different story.)

  12. And before the internet cracks in half, I should point out that the above was not intended as a serious contribution to debate on any parallels which may or may not exist in the finished film. But you have the democratic power to determine whether the US behaves heroically or villainously; I do not.

    So are you seriously suggesting that, say, STAR WARS is similarly anti-American? I mean, there you've got a military superpower whose only serious problem is a ragtag bunch of aliens, smugglers, hotheaded youngsters and beardy warrior mystics living in desert caves...

    Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.

  13. When I see the trailers for 300, I don't see a pro or anti stance as to current politics. I see a movie thats incredibly faithfull to the look feel and spirit of the comic.

    I see more of a hyperbolized version of Greek history. The only American parallel I can find is the Alamo.

    The movie version of V for Vendetta was twisted around to be a commentary on conservatism, with an eye toward present day politics, as opposed to the book's more timeless theme of anarchism vs. authoritarianism. To criticize that film for being too swayed by present politics is fair. So there is precident for these fears of politically motivated storytelling.

    It looks like 300 is not going to commit the same sins. This may be less motivated by a fear of politics, than it is by the success of the prior film adaptation, "Sin City", which was extremely faithful to the source material. That films success set the formula to be slavishly dedicated to reproducing an exact retelling of the comic.

    I think that any political analysis of 300 would tell you more about the person analyzing the film than about the film itself.

    Sometimes a comic book movie is just a comic book movie.

  14. In Star Wars the empire isn't diverse and the rebels are. I think the actively racist empire mostly comes from the related materials and not the original three movies, but it still looks almost completely white males (often in uniform outfits). Similarly, all the female leadership that I can think of in the original three movies are on the rebel side.

  15. That's funny, because I wasn't going to watch it because I know how Frank Miller intended it to be -- pro-American propaganda, white soldiers verses the evil middle easterners, freedom by bloodshed, etc. I just can't separate the art from the artist.

    But I just started hearing that the director may have played it more the other way. Or at the very least, that people are reading into it the things they want to see.

    Now I'm interested. I'll still probably wait for the dvd, though. I mean, it's Frank Miller. Jeez.

  16. Fidget makes an excellent point, except he/she neglected to mention the 200 or so Spartan slaves that were used as support, and possibly arrow fodder. Because, as Miller has Leonidus scream, they are fighting for the freedom of all men.

    Yeah, not going to see it either...

  17. What actually gets me most about both the comic and the movie is that there were actually 1,000 people on the Spartan side - 300 Spartans and 700 Thespians.

    But in the movie, they're all thespians anyway. So I don't know where that gets us.

  18. You're right: that is batshit crazy. :-) But until I see it for myself, I won't know if you're right.

    Personally, I expect the homophobia and misogyny alone to be awesome. ;-P

  19. Ever hear of the story of 3 blind men who were touching an elephant for the first time? Each of the men were touching a different part of the elephant and so each came to a different conclusion about what the animal was and they fought like crazy, insisting that they alone were the one who was right. None of them were right.

    Moral of the story is that if all you ever get is one piece of the story, then you can never make an informed judgment about anything.

    That is how all this mess with Iraq got started, people on both sides, each listening to 1 blind man.

    If you don’t want to see the movie, then don’t. Just remember that if you want to discuss it later…. you might sound crazy trying to discuss something that you don’t know about.

    P.S. Will, the cigar quote is my favorite Freud quote. LOL!

  20. You know what?

    I've heard so much about this movie, I've just decided to go and see it for myself and see how I feel about it as a movie.

    I'm not going to judge it as an adaptation as a Frank Miller book that I found to be - well, a Frank Miller book - good action and visuals, no plot or characterization. I will not be surprised if the movie is of a similar bend but that will be a point of note, not a plus or minus.

    I am also not going to go into it expecting an accurate historical epic nor will I snark about any homophobic comments made by The Spartans nor give a lecture about how much slavery there was in Greek "democracy".

  21. I can see how you came to the conclusions you came to, but I have to agree with the other posters who said that this was not created with any political implications. It's just pure adrenaline, that's all I think Miller was going for.

  22. Delurking...

    I liked 300 when I read it. Over the top action, but sometimes that’s fun. Some effort was made at historical accuracy – the 700 Thespians do show up in a supporting role. Disappointingly, they don’t try to act the Persians to death. I'd say it's less sexist than most of Miller's work, not least because there are very few female characters. Homophobic? Quite the opposite as I recall, with lots of oiled up naked men bathing together. I have not seen the movie, but from the ads it looks surprisingly like a shot for shot remake of the comic book.

    If we have to draw a historical analogy:
    1) The Persians were by far the greatest empire in the region.
    2) Their more or less unprovoked attack on Greece was a war aiming at imperialist conquest.

    So, Persians --> USA is not implausible. Here's where things get weird...

    3) The Spartans at Thermopylae are a tiny group of people bound together by loyalty to a charismatic leader.
    4) They are fanatics, with no fear of death.
    5) They fight using asymmetrical tactics. (fighting in a narrow pass to remove the Persian numerical advantage)

    So, it seems that the best analogy to our political situation is…
    Persians --> USA
    Leonidas --> Osama Bin Laden

    I don’t know whether to be amused or disturbed by this. Perhaps it goes to show that courage is only a virtue if it’s used to advance a good cause.

  23. I absolutely think it's Pro-American propaganda and am feeling overtly squicky about seeing it for that very reason. I actually still like Frank Miller's work a lot, feminist that I am, but it does make me hugely uncomfortable to see those previews.

    ...and yet, I'll probably see it anyway, for I am easily tempted by visions of scantily-clad muscle men being all aggro and whatnot. But then I'll probably be annoyed about the overt nationalism afterwards.

    So if you don't intend on seeing it, good call.

    -- Anun

  24. Oh, wait. You're seeing it as Anti-American propaganda, and I'm seeing it as Pro-American propaganda. Well, that changes everything. I mean, not my squicky feelings, but it does change what I thought was agreeing with you.

    Well, still, don't see anything you don't want to. Ain't no reason for that.

    -- Anun

  25. I can see that, although I'd point out that Americans always see themselves as the plucky freedom fighters even when, in fact, they are the Empire.

  26. Anon: I wouldn't say that it's likely to be propaganda in either direction, except to the extent that a good war story can get people stoked for fighting yet another war. The comic really was trying to tell the story of Thermopylae, draw what analogies we will.

    Chad: Quite right. The US has been forcing people to be free for more than a century now. Thinking of American soldiers as the underdogs is particularly odd; overwhelming firepower is the American way of warfare.

  27. Did you hear Miller on NPR last month?

    The things he said about "arabs" make me think he might disagree.

    I'm gonna wait for it on DVD.

  28. You are absolutely right, Mister Pickering; not everything is about America.

    Everything is about ME!

  29. Uh....they just shot Captain America right in our own backyard and you're complaining about some movie being anti-american?

    Now THAT'S unAmerican.

  30. "That's right, I'm not thrown by the misogyny and homophobia that is guaranteed to be contained within or any of the already stated reasons to not want to see this movie..."

    I'm sorry, but isn't it rather unethical to pass judgement upon a work before even being exposed to it?

  31. Uh, no. One can pass judgment all one wants if one is determining whether or not one wishes to pay money for the entertainment.

    Moreover, how is having an opinion unethical? Jumping to the wrong conclusion is always a possibility, but there's nothing immoral about doing so.

    -- Anun

  32. Honestly, I can see it being interpreted both ways.

    On the one hand, the Persians are the superior force looking to conquer the world, with Xerxes seeing himself as a god.

    On the other hand, the Queen, trying to persuade the council to send the army, actually uses the "freedom isn't free" line, and there's much talk of liberty and reason and freedom and values that have been appropriated as "Western" (at least more so than they are the values of Al-Qaeda or Iraqi insurgents).

    I suspect the right wing will be the ones co-opting the film as they have every war movie since 9/11, but, in the end I don't think it effectively maps to either "side".

  33. Does this mean you can't be bought-off with rockhard abs?...

    Maybe it's because I'm not American, but that's not the first thing that leaps to my mind, and it's not something that really bothers me.

    Little known fact: The Jews rising up against the Egyptians was NOT, in fact, an allegory for current American politics.

    I joke, I joke.
    Well, about everything but the abs.
    Go on, Ragnell. Look at them. LOOK AT THEM!!!

  34. Mike -- You should know by now I'm a backside girl.

  35. Perhaps I say this as a "person of color," but "anti-American" is pretty much the last response I have to the trailer (or the film itself). 300 is a war film about a small group of white guys - who spend an awful lot of downtime mouthing off about freedom and liberty - holding off a teeming multitude of swarthy-skinned Middle Easterners in a desperate last stand. I've noticed that when Hollywood - or Western film in general - feels like indulging its xenophobic and/or nationalistic side, it likes to whip out the "white people in jeopardy from tons of darkies!" cliches in war films (see also: The Alamo, Black Hawk Down, Zulu). So to my mind, 300 dips into the same age-old Caucasian fears, hatreds, and prejudices which have been haunting white people since at least the days when the Pope told people that Jerusalem needed to be liberated from the Saracens.

  36. Over at Andrew Sullivan's blog, a viewer suggests that one can ignore the racial/geopolitical interpretations, and see it purely as the "gym queens" of Sparta versus the "pierced, shaved, and bewjeweled bar queens of Persia".

    "It is a deeply silly and deeply beautiful film. It's most silly when it's trying to be a movie, and it's most beautiful when it's trying to be a graphic novel. Fortunately, it mostly just tries to be a graphic novel. But, ah, the men Andrew. All those beautiful, beautiful men dancing around in briefs and capes. It almost brought me to tears. It is perhaps the gayest movie that I've ever seen that wasn't porn."

  37. Sometimes a movie is just a movie.

  38. I suppose "Sands of Iwo Jima" should not have been nominated for multiple awards because it features a band of plucky white soldiers fighting an uphill battle against a foreign empire? I suppose that movie was racist and ethnocentric as well?

    Sometimes a comic book is just a comic book.

  39. Anony-darling, your point has been stated multiple times on this thread. If you have nothing new to add and don't have the interest in reading the other comments why bother to comment?

  40. Will Pickering: "...So are you seriously suggesting that, say, STAR WARS is similarly anti-American?"

    "STAR WARS" IS anti-American!
    But remember WHEN it was made: The allegorical context isn't the War on Terror - but the Vietnam. So the rebels don't represent alQaida - but the "Jane Fonda aliance" of hippies plus Viet Cong.

    Still the typical headlines in my home country were "The Empire Strikes Back" when the US started arguing for an Article 5 NATO retalliation against the Taliban after 9/11....

  41. Ragnell - forget about the politics. The film has 300 fit half-naked men in it..
    But honestly - as a Norwegian - I interpreted the movie as a tribute to the idea of freedom. But then again, I'm more pro-USA than most...