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Why "300" So Deeply Troubles Hollywood
© Jack Cashill
Posted: March 15, 2007
In pondering the question of whether it was appropriate to present children with frightening images, C.S. Lewis answered:
Lewis understood something that the political left decidedly does not: young people, males especially, need worthy role models.
The few masculine heroes the left serves up-Mumia, Che, Leonard Peltier-are murderous thugs masquerading as martyrs, incapable of being emulated by the comfortable minions who admire them.
For the rank and file, progressive opinion shapers glorify passivity, petulance, self-absorption, and sexual ambiguity.
The young guys on the left try to fashion themselves thusly, but their innate and undisciplined sense of aggression inevitably seeks an outlet.
From what I can see, that outlet takes the form of vile language—a recent survey showed the “Daily Kos” to have 20 times more profanity to the page than the “Free Republic”—and self mutilation through multiple piercings and tattoos.
Oh yeah, and occasionally graffiti. That’s about it.
The young males who recreate themselves in this image can’t feel very good about themselves. Neither can their “partners” of whatever gender.
These opinion shapers can sustain the worth of this image only because they monopolize the visual media. And when that monopoly is threatened, there is hell to pay.
This I discovered by happenstance.
Unaware of the controversy to come, I used the excuse of an overcast sky to duck out of yard work and into my neighborhood cinema for a Saturday matinee of the movie, 300.
Directed by Zack Snyder, and based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller, the movie tells the well-known story of Spartan King Leonidas and the battle at Thermopylae and does so in great visual style.
I went for no better reason than that the previews intrigued me. Given its R rating, I was hoping that I would not be the only one in the theater at 1:30 in the afternoon. I wasn’t. The theater was about 2/3 full. Something was going on here.
That something has the critical community in a snit. “It's not so much the body count or even the blood lust that's disturbing,” opined CNN’s Tom Charity two days before the opening. “It's that the film, with its macho militarism, seems out of step in a war-weary time.”
Out of step were CNN’s critic and his colleagues. The film grossed a stunning $71 million opening weekend, a figure twice as high as even optimistic projections, higher than the next nine films combined, a figure that defied the critics’ best effort to cripple the movie at the starting gate.
And that $71 million is just the beginning.
Wrote one liberal blogger in summarizing the critical response, “I mean, even normally well-heeled mainstream film reviewers are really, really disgusted with the brazen orientalism, homophobia, sexism, racism, and testosterone-heavy jingoism.”
Had the audience known the film had so much added value—orientalism?--the opening weekend might have topped $100 million.
Still, the blogger’s summary was not off the mark. A. O. Scott of The New York Times began his review thusly, “’300” is about as violent as “Apocalypto” and twice as stupid.’”
It’s not that Scott opposes violence. He found some of the images in Quentin Tarantino’s “astonishingly violent” Kill Bill “rather thrilling.” It is just that Scott opposes violence that serves a noble purpose like that in 300 or in any Mel Gibson movie.
At Newsday meanwhile, after debating whether the American military mission mirrored the Spartans’ or Persians’, the self-deluding Gene Seymour opined that it didn’t matter because the movie is “too darned silly to withstand any ideological theorizing.”
No, what upsets Seymour and Scott and their fellow cinematic travelers is that 300 is neither silly nor stupid.
These critics know the film will have a powerful effect on the audience. They know what that effect is, and they don’t like it at all precisely because 300 is ideological to the core.
In the film, rather than appease “the thousand nations of the Persian empire,” Leonidas and 300 of his best special forces ops take pre-emptive action against this imminent third world threat.
While the 300 journey afar to confront the multicultural Persian hordes, the lovely and loyal Queen Gorgo tries to rouse a divided and even treacherous congress back home.
“We are at war, gentlemen,” she reminds them. She then argues for a massive troop surge in the hope that the efforts of “a king and his men have not been wasted to the pages of history.”
As is obvious to the viewer, these congressmen are no more “war-weary” than the film critics at CNN. They have sacrificed nothing and suffered nothing.
The queen exhorts them nonetheless to send reinforcements “for the preservation of liberty . . . for justice . . . for law and order . . . for reason.” Only a progressive film critic could mistake her unambiguous and unapologetic pro-western message.
The Persians certainly got it. “Iranians outraged over movie "300", calling it insult to ancient culture,” blasted the headline from the Associated Press.
To be sure, the film is a bit over the top. The well-ripped Spartans could pass for the Chippendales in designer battle gear. And the androgynous Xerxes looks scarily like the artist formerly known as Prince but two feet taller and with killer abs.
Nor are the Spartans ideal role models for American troops. They have been bred to near perfection by a program of infanticide that even the critics find troubling—the Spartans had yet to invent the conscience salve of partial birth abortion--and they take no prisoners, real or figurative.
That much said, the film presents an attractive image of disciplined male camaraderie that the left is incapable of even imagining.
Early on, in fact, Leonidas distinguishes the mission of his men from that of the “boy-lovers” of Athens (and did that line send the critics howling!).
“A new age has begun,” the king tells his troops, “an age of freedom, and all will know that 300 Spartans gave their last breath to defend it.” Although the sets are virtual, the emotions are real and raw.
Unlike so many critically cherished Hollywood films, the violence in 300 is not purposeless. There is nothing camp or ironic about it.
Nor does the film does stray all that far from historical accounts to create this image (although one interesting deviation is that the movie Spartans are undone by blowback from their eugenics program).
“If critics think that 300 reduces and simplifies the meaning of Thermopylae into freedom versus tyranny,” writes classicist Victor Davis Hanson, “they should reread carefully ancient accounts and then blame Herodotus, Plutarch, and Diodorus.”
The U.S. Marines have never had a better recruiting film. The young males who dominate the audience will leave the theater not so much eager to behead a Persian as to examine their own, dare I say it, manliness.
The progressive media moguls, who have so dominated what these young men see and hear, can offer them no such visions “of brave knights and heroic courage.”
They are losing constituents with every showing of 300, and they are howling mad about it.
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