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March 10, 2007

300!

I mainly agree with Matt's interpretation of the movie, which is actually much more interesting for its homoeroticism than for any political content. If my choices for interpretive box were "gay snuff porn" and "complex political allegory," I'd definitely choose the former. Indeed, i think it's fairly interesting that the producers and studio were comfortable with a major action flick that was so laced with homosexual undertones. It wasn't like anyone missed it in the editing phase. Clearly, there was a decision made that American society could handle this sort of thing, which either says something good about increased tolerance or something specific about tolerance for a sort of hypermasculine homoeroticism.

That said, there was a really awkward attack on the realist tradition which the movie could have done without. Also, Weigel's rundown of who's allegorically who is pretty great, though you'd sort of have to see the movie to get it, and I'd add the caveat that this is how an American neocon would interpret it:

Sparta = Israel.
Leonidas = Ariel Sharon.
Dilios = Marty Peretz.
Xerxes = Mahmoud Ahmedinijad.
Xerxes’ bad negotiators = Hamas.
The Arcadians = USA!
The leprous priest guys = the UN.
Officer McNulty = France?
The giant troll guy = Saddam.
The Immortals = the Republican Guard.

The giant troll guy, by the way, is clearly the American Left. Remember: They're not just anti-war, they're on the other side!

Update: I hadn't realized quite how true to life the film was.

March 10, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

its said that this movie is going to become a cultural phenonom- i can tell from the tell tale signs of places like here talking about it. considering its not a movie, it's a video game. just more indication of the dumbing down of the american movie goer. next up: they will replace all actors with Sims actors.

Posted by: akaison | Mar 10, 2007 9:17:05 PM

ps- this movie is about as deep as a puddle of vomit on a frat house floor, and its exactly that sort of personality its meant to appeal to.

Posted by: akaison | Mar 10, 2007 9:18:30 PM

I don't know akaison... the college kid audience I saw it with had a hard time taking it seriously, precisely because the homoerotic overtones were so, well, loud. It was hard to miss just who would be into all those hardbodied boys... and why... and there was lots of nervous laughter, and not just at the entirely unsubtle interplay between Xerxes and Leonidas (even the sex between Leonidas and Gorga, his wife, elicited near Team America World Police guffaws). And I think Matt is overly dismissive of just what his non-political friends see - in an image driven world, it's the kinky imaging of all those gleaming male bodies that's driving reactions to this thing.

I think making 300 political will be a largely DC-based exercise of the pundit class to try and add a layer of interpretation to this about who stands in for what, and it will largely be ludicrous and wise people will leave the matter where it belongs, untouched (leave the phallic symbol alone, I always say). This isn't a metaphor (well, except maybe the sword part), it's just a visually arresting history comix version of Ancient Greece and of a piece with Hollywood's classic approach to "Swords and Sandals" - preposterously hot people mouthing crap dialogue while trying to look terribly serious. As such, I dunno how much more "dumbing down" it does versus, say, Norbit - don't bother, we're there. At least 300 seems to know something about world history and gets at least some of the details ("with your shield or on it") and names and places somewhat accurate.

I guess my point is, it's the people who try to take 300 seriously who are probably missing the point here. Were it June already, I suspect we'd be better able to place just how silly all of this is, and let it be the popcorn pleaser it wants to be - albeit, a weird, gay-oriented one. And as such, I think it can't quite become a cultural phenomenon here until America works out some of its (sexual) kinks. But internationally? I bet this thing will be all the rage... and Americans will look, yet again, like we're more uptight and less with it than we like to appear.

Posted by: weboy | Mar 10, 2007 10:03:37 PM

since I'm gay I guess I find the idea that this is suppose to be attracted to even in an abstract sense kind of offensive. It's not personal to you, but it's kind of like when people say gay sensibilities, and I have no idea what that means.

Posted by: akaison | Mar 10, 2007 10:18:40 PM

I don't necessarily love the fact that gay men can be incredibly shallow about being attracted to images and pretty boys with little else to define them. But I think one has to acknowledge that it's a part of who we are.

Posted by: weboy | Mar 10, 2007 10:25:58 PM

all men are shallow. we are supposedly according to pop pscyh far more about visuals than women are. the idea that gay men are anymore so ignores the fact that the biggest entertainment business in America is straight porn. it ignores the fact that oen of the biggest things in the music industry are hoochie videos in gantsta hip hop being consumed by straight men. wheneer i hear another gay person say that I always want to ask have you hung out with straight men? i have, and frankly there is not much difference except for where they place their desire in terms numbskull behaviors. and the film isn't by gay men - its by a straight man- unless there is something about miller that I haven't read.

by the way, i'm a comic book geek (proud of it). the imagery reminds me of all comic books. It's not homoerotic- they always make the guys big and beefy, glistening etc. THey always have the women with barbie doll figures and boobs the size of bazokas. I think, in other words, the homoeroticism is being read into the film because of the way the movie is done like a comic book.

Posted by: akaison | Mar 10, 2007 10:37:20 PM

I haven't seen the film, but I'm swayed not to by reports that the Persians are portrayed as the dirty, evil force that motivates the built-in assumptions of the anti-Islam neocon crowd.

Movies have their time, I've heard said. The reverse should also be true, IMO. Now is not the time for the US to be appealed to by images of the white guys being the good guys and the swarthy Persians as the epitome of all that is bad in the world.

Least we forgot, their civilization has lasted in one form or another for millenia, not just a few centuries.

As for the homoeroticism: that just makes the movie somewhat better as the neocons so obviously drool over their two obsessions - war, and hidden/forbidden same-sex activities. It will play well in DC, for sure. And Colorado Springs, etc. as well.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Mar 10, 2007 10:56:44 PM

It's not that I think gay men are more shallow, but just that, well, shallow is part of the equation for gay men too; I think a lot of gay men find the endless parade of bodies tiring (I know I do, and I get the impression you do as well), but there's a reason it's done, and it's got a lot to do with the fact that it sells. I don't think 300 is different from other comic books either - I've been a DC geek since I was a kid - except that this is a comic book that focuses a lot of attention on male physique (there's what, maybe two women who actually play characters here - and one's the Oracle and she has little to do. The only other women are in Xerxes' mad lesbian party scene). And more than most - possibly with the exception of (the brutal and frankly misogynist) Sin City - 300 has done an exceptional job of achieving visually what comic books usually present as simply idealized; and they worked hard to make those men get comic book physiques. I'm just asking - who is that likely to appeal to? I'm guessing not a lot of frat boys, and my audience seemed to agree... but what's interesting, I think, is that they weren't so appalled that they wouldn't watch it or that they would walk out.

I think one of the really interesting things about 300 is that it's hard to know exactly whether the gay overtones - the emphasis on male beauty and bonding - add to its allure or turn straight men off. If it succeeds (and it just might), I think it may actually take some of the energy out of the charge that straight men skeeve at all things perceived to be even remotely gay. Of course, to succeed at that is to prove that, indeed, all men are shallow no matter what beauty is on display, which as you say, is highly problematic on its own. But aside from not liking the fact that gay male culture, like straight male culture, is attracted to hot bods, I don't think one can pretend that 300 does not have a weird gay vibe to it, just because it's so into showing off these guys. And I think it may be more evidence that fear of teh gay is not what we once thought it was.... for better and for worse.

Posted by: weboy | Mar 10, 2007 11:09:37 PM

It's not homoerotic- they always make the guys big and beefy, glistening etc. THey always have the women with barbie doll figures and boobs the size of bazokas. I think, in other words, the homoeroticism is being read into the film because of the way the movie is done like a comic book.

I've only seen clips (and don't plan to see more), but this seems a real possibility to me. It obviously has homoerotic appeal, but that may not have been the intent.

On that thumby movie review show, the Siskel substitute and the Ebert substitute both liked it.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 10, 2007 11:09:56 PM

"as the neocons so obviously drool over their two obsessions - war, and hidden/forbidden same-sex activities"

Would "hyper-butch" be preferred to "homoeroticism?"

I have been mulling over some connection between some homosexual cultural variants and fascistic violence/racism since I watched/studied some stuff about Ernst Roehm.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Mar 10, 2007 11:22:45 PM

web

You are correct in that I'm overly sensitive to a point that I should be sense it's not the point that you made. The Uber masculinity and your view, probably correctly, that it will be perceived of as homoerotic actually brings up a more interesting subject matter to me- namely the nature of masculininty in America in general. How it is perceived. The recent documentary on Hip Hop about its mistreatment of women, it's focus on violence, and its homphobia reminds me of the central issue for a lot of men right now seems to be in part what does it mean to be masculine. Have you ever seen The Celloid Closet? In it early images of men are who are straight are for more affectionate and emotionally connecting than these images now. I don't know what to say to all of this.

I am not against good looking guys. I like dating them. I guess I just think of the whole ultra masculine thing as not either straight or gay, but on teh level you are talking about it- the audience to whom these images appeal- certainly more gay men will be turned on by glistening male bodies, and maybe women.

Posted by: akaison | Mar 10, 2007 11:49:08 PM

"...which is actually much more interesting for its homoeroticism than for any political content."

The very word "Sparta" is filled with political content. Anything more detailed than that is worth hours of contemplation no matter how badly portrayed. Centuries of rulers translated Xenophon in grade school and Thucydides as young adults. Modern political theory may start with the Hobbes translation.

Sparta has always freaked me fucking out. It was at least if not more, genius as Athens, and the fact that there are no Spartan Sophocles or Plato or hell, Thucydides (Athenian) is an expression of Spartan genius. Spartan had a conservative genius, a society designed for the preservation of the power of elite families. Dynasties. Shogunate Japan may have been a little better at it, maybe Confucian China a little worse. Sparta should make you tremble at what is possible.

"My child (grandchild, great-great-great-grandchild) will never have a boss" I heard Trent Lott say that once.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Mar 10, 2007 11:51:31 PM

Akaison - my whole approach to film was transformed by reading the Celluloid Closet shortly after I came out. I think Vito Russo was a genius. I think the documentary film made from it is very interesting, though on the whole I would first recommend the book for being more in-depth and offering many more key examples (the addition, though, of interviews with writers, directors and performers in the film does considerable good in amplifying points he makes in the book). I think pre World War II there was more room in the culture for honest depiction of male affection, and it's taken close to two generations to sort out how a deeply homophobic definition of masculinity has been damaging to men, and to our culture. What concerns me - as you say - is that we've replaced that homophobia (which borders on the bizarre itself) with a creepy (and as McManus says, almost Nazi) fascination with the male physique, while still looking askance or deriding softer male emotions of affection, caring, warmth, and love. In a way, this wraps back around to tha past couple of weeks and the whole Coulter/ "faggot"/ Edwards thing (and even Matt Sanchez)... even as we make progress, the obstacles get clearer.

Posted by: weboy | Mar 11, 2007 12:12:03 AM

I haven't seen the movie, but being a history buff and fan of comics, it seems like it would be great. I am not at all interested in gay snuff porn, however. Is it possible that the intent of the "gayness" was to portray the Greek Ideal? The Greeks strove for perfection and this was exemplified by the human form in their art. I'm curious if this movie goes beyond capturing the beauty of perfectly proportioned bodies in action? If, for example, there were a movie about the first Greek Olympics and the director decided that the athletes should compete nude as the real Greeks did, would we, as a society, consider that the equivalent of gay porn?

Posted by: Just Karl | Mar 11, 2007 12:44:59 AM

I agree with one of the reviewers I read somewhere (who liked the film, I think) that the 300 is too dumb of a movie to warrant reading in a political message. I was actually expecting better, more stunning visual effects, and was disappointed along that front.

As for the gay overtones, one has to realize that there are homoerotic overtones in a lot of military stories, one of the best examples being the Iliad. Although my first thought when I saw the 300 Spartans marching off with bare chests and six pack abs, was "Damn, they didn't pay for the body armor back then either!"

While "true to life" in that it follows the skimpy historical accounts, what is not mentioned in the movie is that turning point in the war was the Athenian naval victory at the Battle of Salamis, which the Spartans did not wish to fight. The Athenians, maligned in the film, used superior tactics and technology to defeat the Persian fleet and thus cut off the supply lines to the Persian army, leading to the decisive Spartan led victory depicted in the film.

Posted by: umbrelladoc | Mar 11, 2007 12:47:39 AM

Greeks=homosexuals
Spartans=the problem with gays in the military
Thespians=anti-Christian Hollywood Democrats
Oracle at Delphi=false religions
King Leonidas=John Edwards

Persians=big tent Republican party
Medes=social conservatives
Immortals=keyboard commandos
Xerxes=George W. Bush
Ephialtes=Sullivan

The moral of the story is that God hates queers more than foreigners.

Posted by: James Dobson | Mar 11, 2007 12:49:08 AM

Get back to me when 'Jackals and Arabs' is a Major Motion Picture.

Now *that* is allegory.

Posted by: wcw | Mar 11, 2007 1:14:02 AM

Have to agree with some of the commenters here. I didn't really see much homoeroticism. Sweaty, muscular, half-naked dudes fighting in close proximity? Sure. But there wasn't really anything beyond that. The movie is 90% fighting.

Posted by: Anonymous | Mar 11, 2007 3:21:13 AM

Sometimes a movie is just a movie...people are starting to cross over into Debbie Schlussel territory desperately trying to interpret 300 as some intentional current political allegory......since the movie has clearly defined protagonist and antigonist roles - all viewers are intended to identify with the former...so the politics games is quite a pointless excercise really. As entertainment though - I thought it was fantastic....it actually improved on the Frank Miller source material and really worked as a visceral experience. Just my 2 cents.

Posted by: zedd | Mar 11, 2007 4:13:12 AM

With the first group, it's usually anything effeminant that's identified, with the second group it's virtually any type of male bonding or interaction that's characterized by masculine behavior that's identified (this factor is compounded should one of the men not be wearing a shirt). Both groups seem to agree that virtually any interaction between males that could be considered sensual is a tag as well.

The first group could be classed as "sexually insecure heterosexual males" I don't know what you would call the second group, but though they both differ on many things, they both share a rather stunted & juvenile obsession with identifying the GAY in everything.

All in favor of leaving the verdict of what is "homoerotic" in the judgement of actual homosexuals say "I".

Posted by: DRR | Mar 11, 2007 7:24:32 AM

All in favor of leaving the verdict of what is "homoerotic" [to] the judgement of actual homosexuals say "I".

Nay.

Posted by: Sanpete | Mar 11, 2007 8:02:33 AM

It's kind of like a car wreck. I want to just drive past at normal speed and let others do their work, bypassing the entire thing. But I have to look...

My wife wants to see it, I could care less. Once I saw the troll (or whatever the hell it is) I figured Lord Of The Rings used up my fantasy movie alotment for this decade. Not that the Thermopylae story couldn't be compelling film, I'm sure it could be, I just don't think that two hours of sword fighting is what I'm looking for.

Nice commercial though. It seems to get people going.

Posted by: ice weasel | Mar 11, 2007 9:23:01 AM

since the movie has clearly defined protagonist and antigonist roles - all viewers are intended to identify with the former

And all the protagonists are white (despite the obvious historical inaccuracy) and all the antagonists are brown.

We all have an ethical responsibility for what we choose to make. This film is about righteous white people killing a "horde" of subhuman brown people who threaten to overrun them. Miller and Snyder made that their dominant theme, and it has a particular meaning in this social/political context, and for that they bear responsibility. That is, no one forced them to make this movie in this way. They bear responsibility for what they chose to make.

The search for allegories here shows just how difficult it can be for the social-scientifically trained to understand how this sort of thing works. It's not that Xerxes "is" Ahmadinejad. Rather, the Persians are composed of a wide variety of heterogeneous white male fears - they're brown, they're not fully human, they could destroy "us", they're sexually licentious, they're soft, their sexual license extends to threatening to get all gay with "us" - that don't map to one or the other exact world situation. Rather, the movie works by grouping all of these heterogeneous fears and prejudices together as if they are naturally found together - even though there's actually no one in the real world who embodies them.

Prejudice like this - Matt said Orientalism, that's exactly right - works exactly by its illogic. You can't explain it as pure allegory, and attempting to defend the film by showing that it isn't pure allegory completely misses the point.

Posted by: DivGuy | Mar 11, 2007 9:38:31 AM

As a historical matter, I will also note that it wasn't 300 against a horde. There were almost certainly many more hundreds of soldiers there, helots who were basically slaves. It's just that in the logic of Herodotus, those weren't people. Nice of Miller and Snyder to extend that logic into modernity.

Posted by: DivGuy | Mar 11, 2007 9:55:34 AM

Akaison - Its so totally awesome to the max that you are soo much smarter than anyone else. Good luck with that...BTW - calling a movie a 'video game' is the most intellectually lazy cop out for criticism I can possibly think of....you can go back to any action movie in the past and say the same thing if you view it in the modern context. Video Games emulate action movies. Period...unless, you are just talking about the fact that it uses CGI, in which case you are just an idiot. Thanks and have a nice day!!

Posted by: zedd | Mar 11, 2007 12:01:30 PM

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