Pulp Fictional History

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Many have already
heard the buzz, if not already seen the
movie itself
, about the latest "graphic novel" (remember
when they used to be called just comic books?) to become
enshrined in celluloid, 300. I came in not expecting another
V
for Vendetta
, but instead a Sin
City
. Cinematically "cool," the whole black/white
noir thing with only select objects being colorized, no real deep
meaning other than blood, guts, brawn, and over-the-top macho males
parading as violent heroes. Kinda like eating kettle corn &
cotton candy for dinner when a salmon salad would have been "better"
for me, but I had no pretensions at the time that it would be anything
else. Oh how wrong I was…

I don’t
know at what point I stopped seeing it as comic book fluff, like
how the Spartans have the most conveniently placed bottomless pit
ever (classic comic book gold), but I’m sure it was probably after
the first time Leonidas (King of Sparta) bloviated about "logic"
and "reason." While the graphics never went downhill,
the script proceeded to practically nosedive into a redux of Bush’s
"freedom and liberty" Inauguration speech whenever Leonidas
opened his mouth. Before the major battle even begins one is besieged
by inconsistencies and blatant parallels. "Reluctant to battle"
Sparta is forced into a war with Persia in order to "defend
logic and reason" from the "tyranny and slavery of Asia"
and are being hampered at home only by the Spartan council politicians
who are being paid off by the enemy to not fund the Spartan army;
it was like National Review commissioned its own version
of reality. The audience that complained about Bush’s "cowboy
diplomacy," cheers on Leonidas when he boldly marches his 300
men off to the "Hot Gates" (a narrow mountain passage
right on the coast where Xerxes’ troops plan to land) without approval
from the bumbling old men that make up the Congr-I mean Council.

Of course
there were a few "inconvenient truths" of blood-thirsty
Spartan society that don’t appease National Greatness Conservatives
that were sanitized. The destruction of the family by the Spartan
state, which was even documented at the beginning with Leonidas
being "sent off" to be brutally tortured at the age of
7 to become a "real Spartan," somehow morphs into Leonidas
play wrestling at the most with his boy and then kissing
him on the head (?!). Also forgotten down the memory hole (hey maybe
that’s what that bottomless pit was!) was that Spartans molded their
strong camaraderie through practicing violence AND homosexuality
on/with each other. This was sophomorically deflected by the inclusion
of two jokes made by Spartan soldiers on how Athenians (the real
defenders of logic and reason!) were known only for being effeminate
homosexuals in an other wise completely straight ancient Greece
… yeah right. While one never sees any Athenians, too busy cowardly
prancing about in their walled city discussing that useless thing
called "mathematics" no doubt, the Spartans do have an
equally pathetic Greek ally in the Arcadians. Their uselessness
as spear fodder was displayed in a prominent scene where Leonidas
quizzes a couple Arcadians on what their jobs are. "Potter."
"Sculptor." "Blacksmith." Reply the three visibly
weak and pale 1-dimensional characters like its something to be
ashamed of to be skilled in a peaceful and constructive skill that
can be traded for goods or services. "Spartans!" bellows
Leonidas, "what’s your occupation?" and before I can yell
out "florist!" in frustration at this comic book turned
neo-conservative passion play three hundred beautiful and strong
slightly tanned white men proudly yell back "Soldier!"
to an audience hushed in awe of them and me in shock that I’m still
sitting there watching it.

I was
rescued from dialogue finally by the staggeringly large sea landing
of Xerxes during a fantastic storm and some pretty sweet slow motion
spear-to-torso combat accompanied by electric guitar, which is pretty
much mandatory now in action movies. Besides curiously portraying
the Persians as almost uniformly swarthy if not outright black (like
all of the bombastic emissaries were) I found comic relief at least
in that they wanted the audience to associate Xerxes, an over the
top decadent tall light black androgynous male with a deep voice
that thinks he’s a god, with Prince obviously. Or maybe I really
was the only one humming "Purple Rain" in the theater
whenever the Persians fired a massive volley of arrows at the Spartans.
Frank Miller (writer) and Zack Snyder (director) of course had to
ruin even this moment for me with their inclusion, and subsequent
legitimization of by far the most Nazi-esque feature of Spartan
society, eugenics. The Spartan Army had been followed to the
Hot Gates by an odd figure named Ephialtes who was deemed "unfit"
for Spartan society at birth and instead of nobly leaving him on
a hillside to die like most normal Spartan parents did, they had
the nerve to keep him and escaped Sparta to raise him elsewheres.
So of course they’re going to show how this practice was barbaric
if not utterly stupid to make such a definitive decision on just
physicality at birth, right? Nope, bring on the horribly disfigured
and disloyal hunchback! That’s right, even though Ephialtes had
been sentenced to death by his State he still tries to come
back and fight for his family’s honor by joining them in battle.
Leonidas asks him to hold his shield up while crouching, something
he can’t do because of the hunched back I’m sure all of those babies
left on hillsides had because of superior Spartan knowledge of post-natal
anatomy, and is offered only the position of clean-up guy, literally.
He gets mad, stomps off, and joins the Persians because he knows
of a secret goat pass (lousy unpatriotic goats) where the Persians
can attack the Spartans from above the Hot Gates. This disgusting
oversimplification was only redeemed at the end when he appears
with the Persian army and Leonidas realizes his betrayal and I realize
just how funny he looks in a silly hat the Persians made him wear.

Ultimately
the smarter Arcadians realize this battle is lost and go back to
their jobs in the free market, the Spartans fight until they all
die, and I get to groan/roll my eyes at the end when the lone survivor
(sent back before final assault to tell story) talks of how Sparta
stood as the "lone light of reason & logic in the world
and preserved liberty for later humankind to keep because"…wait
for it… "freedom isn’t free!" I leave the theater
exhausted and hopeful that Americans have become so sheepled at
this point that they don’t even recognize the underlying message
(or want one) and that they just came to watch moving pictures that
also happened to have blood and female nudity in them. The next
morning online I find my optimism bubble popped by the blood-thirsty
artists at Cox and Forkum,
the always "imaginative" Victor
Davis Hanson
, and reports that people are going to see 300
to "inform themselves on history." Like someone wanting
to "eat healthy" by ordering a salad, and then having
it only be full of iceberg lettuce and 5 lbs. of ranch dressing,
Messrs. Miller and Snyder have made history appetizing to the American
booboisee the only way they know how, by drenching it in
misinformation
and the myth of the "glorious war." To have such a movie
be the Pied Piper to millions of Americans that the only way to
fight a tyrannical superpower is to become … a tyrannical superpower
makes me question if William F. Buckley hasn’t found a second
calling
in directing.

March
15, 2007

Tomas
Engle [send him mail]
is a student at a West Virginia Community College.

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