300: Homophobic Propaganda for Bush’s Upcoming Invasion of Iran?

The movie 300, based on the Frank Miller graphic novel, has earned $70 million at the box office, breaking some records. But if you read some of the commentary out there you might not be too interested in seeing it. All the villains are gay. All the good guys are white and the bad guys are black. The whole thing is just Frank Miller's thinly-veiled cheering for Bush to invade Iran. Etc. Now, 300 is definitely not a historical documentary. But I don't think the criticisms mentioned above are completely true-although I can certainly see why many people may have jumped to them. First off, any movie about war coming out in the year 2007 will inevitably be seen as a commentary or allegory for the current War in Iraq. That's understandable, but probably not reflective of the intent behind this particular movie. In fact, 300 (the novel) came out in 1999, well before the current Bush presidency. Ah, but isn't Frank Miller known to be somewhat right-wing, and couldn't he have updated the movie to better reflect his clash-of-civilizations views today? Miller has said that 300 is largely director Zack Snyder's film. Although he seems more-or-less pleased with the result, he plans on directing any movies based on his books himself from now on. Second, it is hard to equate 300 Spartans repelling an invasion of their homeland by a technologically and numerically superior force of Persians with the current Iraq War or any planned invasion of Iran. That is, unless you switch the metaphorical teams. The United States is clearly the superior, invading force in the Middle East. Leonidas personally leads his Spartans against Xerxes' forces and is able to succeed because of superior tactics and knowledge of the terrain. This has been the exact opposite of the current administration's handling of war. Insurgents have used their knowledge of the neighborhoods of Baghdad to their advantage, and are using asymmetrical warfare tactics with unfortunate success. Where was the scene of Leonidas getting into the Laconian Air National Guard and avoiding combat? The charges of homophobia are largely based on two things - the "boy lovers" crack about Athens and the notion that Xerxes was portrayed as gay. Many have pointed out that the Spartans most likely had just as much pederasty as the rest of Greece at the time, so the joke didn't even make sense to anyone with a little historical context. True enough. But I would like to point out that sexual relationships between men and young boys are not the same as homosexual relationships between consenting adults. You can condemn child molestation without being homophobic - in fact, many gay organizations make this point themselves. As for how whether or not Xerxes was gay - I can see where that interpretation comes from, but I guess I didn't interpret it that way. Critics cite the makeup and jewelry, but that to me seemed like obvious symbols of decadence and Xerxes' facade of otherworldliness (and therefor godhood). There is one scene where Xerxes puts his hand on Leonidas' shoulder which some have said looks like a come on - to me, the scene looked more like an attempt at paternalism on Xerxes' part. He was, after all, offering Leonidas control of Greece in return for acknowledging Persia's rule, as you would offer your son the keys to the car if he respects your curfew. This is all not to say that 300 was a perfect film. My biggest criticisms were: 1) Although the vast majority of 300 is an almost miraculously successful translation of comic art to live action, the freakish characters like Ephialtes were overdone and looked a little ridiculous. Why would the Immortals look like the orcs from Lord of the Rings? What was with the giant fat guy with axes for hands? 2) All the mentions of fighting for freedom were a bit much. I get the point, that the Greek city-states fought dearly for their freedom from external rule, but most modern viewers will think the Spartans were talking about the modern idea of freedom - that is, personal political and economic freedom. Sparta wasn't exactly a shining example of this kind of freedom, built on the slavery of serfs working the land. There was some democracy, but only for the few. 3) One of aspects of the story of this battle that made it interesting was the fact that Leonidas knew he was doomed. According to Herodotus, an oracle had told the Spartans that they would either lose their kingdom, or lose their king. So beyond the incredible odds, Leonidas would have gone knowing there was no chance of return. In 300 instead they draw a distinction between the mysticism of Persia and the rationality of the Greeks. It's an interesting choice, but I kind of missed the fatalism of Herodotus' telling. 4) I thought the scenes back in Sparta of Gorgo's attempts to get support for sending the whole army were a good addition, but it was more than just 300 Spartans fighting this war. Thespians and Thebans fought and died with the Spartans and Athens was busy preparing to fight Persia at sea. Adding a bit of larger context, even indirectly could have made this a better movie. Any film worth watching will inspire different interpretations and criticisms, but I recommend you watch 300 before taking some viewer's criticisms (including mine) to heart.

  1. I’m going to make my own movie called 300 and 1/2 and it’ll be all about pederasty. I play King Testicles of the Spermtans. I have sex with 300 boys during the course of the film. The 1/2 is a 3 month old infant so he only counts as a half.

    D Wallz
    March 14th, 2007 at 10:27 am
  2. Oh and I forgot to mention my movie is completely based on the Bush administration and Mark Foley

    D Wallz
    March 14th, 2007 at 10:27 am
  3. I have to admit – other than swooning over the 300 rock-hard abs in full digital color, the thing that stuck out most to me in this movie was the “current war allegory.” I had no knowledge of Miller or his political views nor did I really care about historical accuracy.

    Seemed to me that Leonidas represented Bush, leading his army of strong but body-armorless troops into battle with the Arabs (Persia = Iran, right? Basically everywhere there’s oil in the middle east). He was headstrong about the fact that he was going and anyone else who wanted to come (England, et al) was welcome. Some of the other troops ended up figuring out it was a bit of a lost cause and went home. There was the local government telling him this was a bad idea. Then it turned out that the loudest mouth in the government was a money-grubbing wife-sodomizer (a Democrat). Xerxes (the Middle East) pretty much told Leonidas (Bush) “hey listen – just give in and you can continue getting wealthy along with us, ok?” (ie keep getting oil from us).

    He refuses, because he’s all obsessed with “freedom.” Then everyone dies and instead of giving up, they send in more troops.

    Sound familiar? It all played out like a huge Bush propaganda play.

    But, like I said, the hot bods and the copious amounts of bloody swordplay were enough to let me enjoy the movie. Maybe if we had our soldiers fighting in Speedos and rampaging around Baghdad with swords I’d be more for the war.

    March 14th, 2007 at 11:06 am
  4. Too bad miller wrote the original comic in 1998, so I don’t think he was thinking about Bush at the time, maybe the old one. I still prefer to think about that pederasty.

    D Wallz
    March 14th, 2007 at 11:43 am
  5. I don’t think for a minute that Miller wrote it as such. It was just a eerily timely movie release.

    I also think I am the only person in the world who did not get any gay or pederasty vibes from the movie. I wonder if it’s because I’m a woman – or because I just watched the movie Wilde – about Oscar Wilde who had the same “love” for young men.

    March 14th, 2007 at 1:07 pm
  6. There was actually an interesting exchange about the “boy lovers” line in the letter column of the original serialized version of the comic. A reader had brought up the point about Spartans being just as guilty as the Athenians of boy love, and I think Frank’s comment was something like “True, but there was also evidence that the Spartans tended to lie about it.” There was more to it than that, but that’s as much as I can remember.

    I agree that it’s not likely that 300 is intended to be an alegory for Iraq. It’s funny at any rate, because half of the reviewers who dislike this movie say that the movie is full of meaning, while the other half who dislike it say that it is totally meaningless.

    March 14th, 2007 at 1:23 pm
  7. JessB, I’ve read similar explanations of how Leonidas is meant to be Bush, etc., but I just don’t see it. The Spartans are defending Greece from an overwhelmingly large and better-armed invading force – the exact opposite of the U.S. versus Iraq.

    I don’t think Saddam’s Iraq or the current regime in Iran ever said anything like “just give in and you can continue getting wealthy along with us, ok?â€? They have tended to say things more along the lines of, “the Americans are immoral and planning on invading us,” “we want nuclear power (meaning weapons),” “America is Israel’s puppet,” “the Saudis are America’s puppet,” etc. They have been more likely to criticize American wealth than offer any. Saudi Arabia might fit the role of Persia in this sense, except that the U.S. has happily agreed to join them in getting rich rather than refusing.

    Much of Congress might oppose the war now, but back in 2003 they voted to allow it–again, the opposite of what happened to Leonidas in the film. In the actual history, Leonidas faced no such descent from any elected body. Sending the 300 Spartans (plus a few thousand other Greeks) was a calculated tactical move – to do as much damage to the invaders as possible at the best choke point and delay them so that the Athenian-led navy could attack the Persians’ ability to move and resupply by sea. Which they did, at the Battle of Artemisium and later the Battle of Salamis.

    March 14th, 2007 at 6:28 pm
  8. There has been a lot of talk amongst critics and bloggers regarding whether the film “300″ is essentially war propaganda; some suspect that it was made in order to encourage America to attack Iran using several techniques, among them the central plot of Sparta vs. Persia being painted as Good vs. Evil, having the Spartans use such patriotic phrases as “Freedom is not free”, etc. While I agree that the filmmakers and/or financers are attempting to say something about our current state of affairs using this film, where we differ is regarding what they’re actually saying. I think what everyone is missing here is that if there is any tinge of intentional political propaganda inherent in the film “300â€?, the situations portrayed are much more analogous to the United State’s previous and current invasion of Iraq than anything that the administration is planning now (although I do realize that geographically, Iran is part of what Persia once was). After all, as some have noted, this film was in pre-production in 2003.

    I just saw the film last night, and while it was stunning visually and cinematically, well acted and directed, just extremely lush and vibrant, and while I thoroughly enjoyed the film as a story on it’s own, it was undeniable as the film wore on that the filmmakers were drawing clear comparisons to what has occurred in this nation in the last several years, and not so subtly implying that we as a country need to continue fighting for “freedom� and “our way of life�.
    Let me begin by saying that I realize this is a film based on history, and so of course the details will not all be congruous to our situation because obviously the director and producers did not set out to make only a political film that mirrors our situation today, but also to create a stunning historical (if somewhat embellished) picture and it is obvious that they put their hearts into it. I will not say “300″ is like the war propaganda films of old because, unlike those films, this one was made for the sake of art as well. Thematically, though, I’d like to point out the comparisons that I couldn’t help but notice as the film wore on (I’d also like to state that I had not read one review of “300â€? before seeing it, and had no idea there was any controversy over this film being perceived as propaganda; these conclusions were mine and mine alone, not influenced by others):
    1) The side we are meant to (and so skillfully made to) root for is Sparta, a city of tough, beautiful white men and women who are defending their freedom. The side we are made to look upon with disdain and root against is Persia, an overwhelmingly non-white population of cruel, weak people made into mindless slaves of their king through punishment and fear (whereas the soldiers of Sparta would die for their king out of love and respect, and he for any of them), so many of whom happen to be wearing what we today recognize as traditional Arab head coverings (although whether they were Arabs is up to debate (See this article: http://argus.theorem.ca/view.php?aid=38792 ). The Persian women are portrayed as (albeit willing-looking) sex slaves, nothing but flesh to please the warriors. Whereas the Spartan women were tough, beautiful, graceful and intelligent, much revered by the men. These things may all be historically true (I honestly don’t know), but I’m just pointing out the similarities, when you look at the impression of Sparta and Persia next to popular conservative impressions of the United States and the Middle East.

    2) One of the opening scenes, after the introduction of King Leonidas, is of a Persian messenger coming to propose a deal with the King to avoid bloodshed (“Earth & Waterâ€? is what the Persian says he’s there for), to give up some of his land and succumb peacefully to Persian rule, in order to retain some of their freedoms. One of the Spartan Councilman fetches Leonidas for the meeting, and immediately we see there is scorn for this councilman from the beautiful Queen. The Persian makes his offer, or request, and Leonidas immediately responds with fury and defiance (none of which I disagree with, actually). The Councilman tries to jump in and say “Leonidas, we need to be cautious!â€? (United States Congress before the invasion of Iraq, anyone?), but Leonidas shakes him off and ends up killing the messenger and all of his group right there. He then goes to the top of a mountain to consult with the elders of Sparta (United Nations before the… well, you get it), monks of sorts who live atop the mountain as it is their final say on whether Sparta goes to war with Persia. They are diseased and misshapen, with boils all over their faces and bodies. Leonidas constantly describes them as “hideous inbred swineâ€? and things of that nature. The elders say they want to consult the Oracle, which turns out to be a pre-pubescent girl, presumably drugged and clothed only with a see-through white shroud, and she dances and levitates and jerks around for awhile before one of the “disgusting pig men who nonetheless still have needs”, according to Leonidas, goes over and licks the girl’s neck, at which point she tells him that Sparta will burn if they go to war, and for them to stay home for their usual celebration (I didn’t catch what the name of it was, but it revolved around the full moon). So Leonidas sends his captain to gather three hundred of their best soldiers, and only ones who’ve borne a son to carry on their name, to assemble and come to him. The Councilman who has advised against being impulsive to begin war, came and asked what he was doing with all of these men. Leonidas replied he was just going for a walk, and that these 300 men were simply his personal bodyguards. He then marches these men to war without the permission of the elders or the council. (Hmm..)

    3) This councilman who advised caution, inevitably turns out to be a lying, cheating, woman-hating traitor, found with Persian coins in his robe late in the movie. He is killed after the Queen gives a speech to the council asking, wait for it… for MORE TROOPS to be sent to assist the 300 already fighting. The speech includes such beautiful statements as “We have to pay for freedom with our blood� and “Our way of life has to be protected� and “I come to you not only as your Queen, but as a wife, and a mother, and as an Americ.. er, Spartan woman, just one member of the 300 families who are paying for their freedom today with their men out there fighting alone� (this is not all verbatim, but you get the drift). The Councilman, who had the previous night promised to endorse her request of more soldiers (under umm… dubious circumstances), then proceeds to lay her open in front of the room, accusing her of all sorts of unmentionables, while painting himself as a saint, and denouncing her request for assistance. She guts him with a sword and they all cheer after seeing the Persian coins, intoning “Traitor! Traitor!� I just thought this was a bit over the top, that’s all.

    The thing is, in this instance, I AGREED with the request for more troops, because (and this is the singular difference between the film and reality that no amount of flowery freedom speeches can cover), the Persians were ATTACKING them, were banging on their back door. They brought the full might of their military upon this city, with the expressed intent of taking it over. Might there be a small difference between going forth to protect your land from imminent attack, and actually going far away from home to attack a country that never once threatened your way of life? But I digress, because this really isn’t about my political views, and it’s not even about whether people will be affected or “brainwashedâ€? by this movie, as some fear (although, in response to some of the critiques and blogs I have read today, I submit that you may be selling short your “average Americanâ€? by stating that they will not notice this flagrant attempt at garnering sympathy for a war gone bad, and that “the ones who do should be smart enough to not be affected by it”; and I think the “average Americanâ€? who does NOT notice this is the most susceptible to falling prey to its’ ideas); it’s about the freedom of speech. The freedom of these filmmakers and investors and everyone involved in this film to shape something to fit their outlook on politics, on life (and let’s not forget, it is their right to do so). It’s about the “average American’sâ€? right to watch this film and take from it what they choose, to enjoy it for its beautiful sequences, or hate it for its violence, love it for its violence, revere it as allegory of their long-held political beliefs, or dislike it as an allegory of beliefs that to some have stifled the very freedom this war has intended to protect (see: Patriot Act). And it’s about the freedom for me to write such things as this review/rant, and lay it out there for people to take from it what they will as well. “300â€? is something to be happy about BECAUSE it invites such debate.

    Mary Burnett
    March 15th, 2007 at 9:07 pm
  9. It is sort of odd to this this movie in this day and age. Seeing lord of the rings and king kong and a few other movies where the savages are all “native”, nonwhite people didn’t bother me as much as this movie did. These savages were from a nameless land, in a fantasy world. But to actually call the savages chinese, indians, blacks, persians, the deformed, the homosexual is taking it to a new level. Empathy I think the greatest single human emotion. How would white people like it if they were constantly portrayed as dumb monster to be slaughered by the hundreds and thousands. Repeatedly in movie after movie after movie. Does this make any sense? Yes this might be a ridiculus film with no connection with reality of the human world but so where Hitler’s speeches about his races superiority. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should. I mean we are adults here and we should be able to control our actions instead of doing whatever horrible thing is going through our head, even if that’s called “freedom of experssion”.

    March 31st, 2007 at 1:35 pm
  10. This is straight out of the Nazi play book of the 30′s and 40′s. If you don’t see the similarities you should do a little research. I didn’t realize the Iranians had so many black Africans in their ranks. This is clearly an appeal the raciest element in the United States and Europe. Whoever made the eternal Jew would be proud. I have to ask myself, does this kind of obvious appeal to the dormant but still present barbarism in us still work; time will tell.

    If you don’t see it try listening to the dialogue more and watching the pretty pictures a little less.

    August 1st, 2007 at 8:03 am
  11. Howdy y’all,
    I just watched 300 30 minutes ago, and I can´t believe how propaganda still happens today like what it was back with Goebells and the Nazis. It´s so obvious that the movie is propaganda of current USA´s administration, which of course, thank God, most Americans disaproove. Greece is considered the birth of Western Civilization, that is, Europe and America, including us from the South. Persia is Islam, what today is Iran. That is so obvious even a stupid blind & deaf person can figure. The homophobic fact isn´t so important, what is important is that Barack is gonna win (or Hillary), and the US will end the blood for oil war. Farewell, George W.
    No one will miss you!!!

    February 29th, 2008 at 9:20 pm

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