Thursday, March 15, 2007


Directed by Zach Snyder
Based on a graphic novel by Frank Miller

In one scene of this movie two women can be seen openly kissing each other in the court of Xerxes, the Persian monarch. A few cuts later, a man with a disability is welcomed into the Persian court by the great king himself. Even though Persians are a Caucasian race, they have chosen a king who appears to be of African descent. In the movie 300 the Persian Empire seems overrun by American liberal ideology. I half wondered if the bloody battles weren't really over universal health care and gay marriage.

The neo-cons in this allegory are the Spartans. Their king, Leonidas, has taken his troops to war despite opposition from virtually every wise counsel in his land. Like his modern counterpart Leonidas says he is going to battle in the cause of freedom and reason. But 300 shows us that Leonidas is not a reasonable man. In a fit of rage the Spartan king executes Xerxes’ messengers--a deed the reasonable Xerxes seems to have forgiven when Leonidas himself stands vulnerable before the Persian king. And anyone who has read even a little about Spartan society would know that Leonidas couldn’t possibly be fighting for freedom. The slaves in Sparta outnumbered free citizens by seven to one. A common initiation rite for a young Spartan male was to sneak up on local slaves and massacre them. No wonder Leonidas and his 300 braves would rather have died than become part of the Persian Empire: ever since the time of the Persian king Cyrus the Great, such human rights abuses had been against the law of the empire.

On a clay cuneiform cylinder made 25 centuries ago Cyrus declares, “I will never let anyone take possession of movable and landed properties of others by force or without compensation. As long as I live I prohibit unpaid, forced labor. Today I announce that everyone is free to choose a religion. People are free to live in all regions and take up a job provided that they never violate others’ rights… I prohibit slavery and my governors and subordinates are obliged to prohibit exchanging men and women as slaves within their own ruling domains. Such a tradition should be exterminated the world over.” The return to Israel of the Jews held in Babylonian slavery was a consequence of this legislation. Historically, King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans died to prevent freedom, not to preserve it.

So how does director Zack Snyder take these obvious facts in favor of ancient Persia to deliver a pro-Spartan message? The trick is infuriating in its simplicity, and perhaps not an undeserved insult to the members of the audience who carelessly empathize with the 300. Snyder presents the Spartans as a good-looking bunch with chiseled faces, bulging pectorals, and abs that even a computer graphics body would need megahertz crunches to accomplish. None of the Spartan's adversaries on the other hand look like they have seen the inside of a health club except Xerxes himself--and even this character has disfigured himself with unsightly piercings. Persians and other nay-sayers to the war have ugly skin, whereas the hawkish Spartans have manly sex appeal. Also, using swaggering language such as “come and get us,” and “We’ll fight in the shade,” the Spartans establish a locker room camaraderie between themselves and among susceptible members of the audience. The Persians on the other hand have obviously never drank beer in front of the TV on a Monday night.

300 is worth studying because it reflects the cognitive dissonance of American society under the Bush administration. Like the Nazi propaganda footage sometimes aired on the History Channel, one wonders just how much it will take for a human to think black is white and white is black. 300 reiterates the frightening lesson we learned during the heyday of fascism: it takes very little to manipulate the human mind. The simple ingredients are smart uniforms, and pats on the back for enjoying violence. And of course talented film directors with no scruples.


Anonymous said...

Jack Snyder’s 300 proves beyond any doubt that Iran’s contemporary enemies have in many ways been already defeated in their attempts to limit Iranian power and influence. But just so 300 does not prove to be a prelude to kill, maim, and destroy the lives of millions of innocent people, just as Bush’s false intelligence did in the case of Iraq, Iran must withdraw from the NPT and move quickly to develop powerful nuclear weapons and delivery systems on par with the best in the world. Iran must produce such weapons in abundance and perhaps even use one or two if Iran is confronted militarily. There must be a high price paid for aggression against Iran and for smearing of Persian civilization. In a world lost in neocon ideology, defenders of sovereignty must stoop as low and be as brutal as the best neocon. Neocons must be made to feel very uncomfortable in their own skin.

Anonymous said...

Well done Ari. Thanks for the thoughtful post. I wish the Iranians on various blogs would put emotion aside and respond to the assault in a more thoughtful way...but then again what do you expect from the land of poets and artists? a lot of emotion and not much logic!

Bahar said...

Dear Ari,

I watched 300 recently and thoroughly enjoyed it because deep down inside my Iranian woman's body lies the heart of a 15 year old lunatic boy. And I think the creators of this movie were appealing to that age group more than to seasoned movie goers and those who question historical inaccuracies.

On the other hand my 40-year-old woman's brain was saying to me that poor Edward Said is turning in his grave. I'm not sure if you are familiar with his work or his philosophies on Orientalism which is also the name of a book he's written. Throughout the movie, incidences of Orientalism were rampant. One of the premises of Orientalism states that in order for one group to gain power over another, it has been common practice to paint the other side as monstrous, strange and alien. It's the same concept as cowboys and Indians, the black hair femme fatale, compared to the blonde haired innocent wronged woman. The list is large and long.

I think our mistake as a society is that we've put too much of our trust in movies to educate us, and our children. What happened to books? What happened to documentaries? Does everyone who creates a movie to entertain and make dollars bears the burden of educating us and giving us correct information? Do fairy tales no longer play a part in our lives? Can't we chalk up certain stories as fantasy and leave it at that without getting bent out of shape because they're fraught with inaccuracies?

It's a damned if you do damned if you don't kind of situation, because I'm one of those people who hopes and demands that parents take control of disciplining and educating their kids and after watching 300 say to them: This was only a story. In real history,this is what happened. The Persian Assassins didn't come into being until around 11th century AD, many centuries after Xerxes. Xerxes wasn't some gorgeous Brazilian guy with a painted face and synthesizer altered voice.

300, to me was nothing but a movie made from a comic book, and I didn't expect any more than what I saw in the three X-mens.

B S Y Sabeti said...

Dear Ari, LOVED your article, you are the MOST truthful author I have ever come across to! Good Job!

Ari Siletz said...

In reply to Bahar,
Thanks for writing.
Unlike the X-men, which had a humanitarian message of universal tolerance, the message and the timing of this historical fantasy is suspicious.
The movie 300 comes at a time when the Bush administration is arguing for a military engagement in Iran, possibly with nuclear weapons. In doing so, the United States must psychologically prepare her population for the massive loss of life that this campaign could cause. It is commonly believed that images of the realities of war contributed significantly to Americans withdrawing their support for the Vietnam war.

In this context, 300 seems designed to make it easier on the American conscience to devalue Iranian life and Iranian heritage, thereby extending public support for the war, and allowing brutal rules of engagment. We saw the consequences of such demonizing in the Abu Ghraib atrocities and in the siege of Fallujah.

Also, by glorifying the death of the 300, susceptible Americans--young American males if you wish-- are being indoctrinated to believe that the atrocites they are about to commit is an honorable enterprise.

I too enjoy a good fable, and fantasies that warn us against universal evils such as greed, envy, callousness and prejudice are good stories. But a storyteller who exploits our innocent desire for works of imagination to desecrate the admirable heritage of an existing nation is just recruiting support for an unjustified war.

This fantasy could have elevated itself from a mere propaganda film if it had allowed some moments of insight, a plot twist now and then, or a few ambivalent characters--Snyder borrows some of the pro-Western motifs of the Lord of the Rings, but none of the sophistication. As it is, the movie has used its comic book origins as an excuse to push its militaristic agenda through an abjectly simple minded and predictable plot.

Angelia said...


While I think that you are a very insightful person, I still believe that perhaps you too have read more into this movie than there truely is. I happen to catch my first glance at this movie last night while out with my husband.

I do not think that 300 was produced in order to push the US-Iran affairs, nor do I believe that the movie pushed any dark light on the Persians. Here's why; It's a movie. It's fiction. It's Fake. I already know what history states, what the facts of the true battle were.

I feel that most that have turned this in to a "Let's beat on Bush" or "let's beat on Westerners" atittude should really re-look at this movie. This story of bravey in battle is no different than the thousands of "Under-dog comes back for the win" type movies, in which there is always an "evil" entity. Just so happens, in the eyes of Spartans, The Persians were the "evil" that they were trying so hard to defeat. I'm sure if the movie was produced to make the Parsians to be the "Heroic" entity and the Spartans to be the "evil" entity, the Spartans would have been casted in a darker light. Again, this is all in the "eyes of the beholder."

To Bahar:

Thank you so very much with your post. I could not agree anymore with what you posted. The movie 300 should only be taken at face value, for the worth of the price you paid to get in and see it.

Enough said..........

Ari Siletz said...

In reply to Angelia,
Thank you for your kind opening words. Your insight is correct, 300 makes strong use of the "underdog" theme--the same motif that made the "Rocky" series--and countless other films-- so enjoyable to watch.

My younger daughter hates watching movies with me. "Dad," she complains, "a movie is like a hotdog. I don't want to know what's in it or how it's made." At the risk of ruining your appetite for 300 and films like it, allow me to cite a confidential meeting that occured on Nov 11 2001 between White House senior adviser Karl Rove and high ranking Hollywood executives. Here's a transcript of the CNN reportage of the event:
On Sunday, another meeting will take place in Beverly Hills, with big power players in Hollywood and Washington, like senior White House adviser Karl Rove, and Paramount Pictures studio chief, Sherry Lansing.

The agenda: how Hollywood can support the nation's cause. Like during World War II, when the movie industry produced documentaries on why we fight.


ANNOUNCER: This is a film about victory and defeat.


SCHNEIDER: Why the sudden urgency of enlisting Hollywood? Because the administration is worried about wavering support for the war, particularly overseas, where the image of the U.S. promoted by Hollywood has been less than inspiring.

What does Hollywood hope to get out of all this?

ROBERT ZEMECKIS, DIRECTOR: They want me to do a propaganda movie, I'm down for that. Yeah, I'll do the "Why We Fight" series. That would be fun.

SCHNEIDER: Fun? No. More than that. How about redemption?

(on camera): Sources tell CNN that the Bush administration has built a relationship of respect with Hollywood. For instance, the invitation calls Sunday's event -- quote -- "a private, confidential, working meeting of senior administration officials and entertainment industry principles only." People who can green light movies, and people who can green light wars.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Washington.


Ketchup and mustard anyone?

Bahar said...

Ari, thanks very much for replying, and happy spring to you. I agree 100% with everything you've said, but at the same time I would have to disagree with you about the masses being able to see that Persia is the new Iran. The reason why many of my country men/women have called themselves Persians, not knowing if their heritage indeed is Persian, is because they have found that most people in the U.S. don't know that they can be one in the same.

If this film were politically motivated, I believe the creators would have somehow slipped in words like Iran or Iraq to implicate those they were targetting. If anything, I saw the Persian Army as an imperialist force, say like the U.S., and the Spartans as a small weaker force like, say, Iraq or Iran. If anything, those same people who are gung-ho about the war in Iraq, would have a "hmmm" moment and see what the U.S. is doing to that part of the world, but they will never put two and two together and see the Persians as Iranians. That's a bit of a stretch for those who don't even know where the State of California is on the map.

I am a very skeptical person when it comes to politics. I understand and have a memory of many propogandist films and cartoons against the Japanese, Germans, and the list goes on. I just somehow don't see this one in the same vein.

Ari Siletz said...

In reply to Bahar:
Let's agree to disagree about the motivations for the making of 300. I should express the thought however that none of the propaganda films made about the Germans and the Japanese during WWII included attacks on Beethoven or Hokusai. There is a line to be drawn between inviting anger against an enemy regime and misrepresenting the accomplishments of their civilization. The abolition of slavery and the instituting of tolerant religious policies by the ancient Persians is an accomplishment that was ahead of its time by more than two millennia. This historical fact is a powerful reminder of the human potential for recognizing right from wrong on a trans-national scale. No story, however fictional, can bear the falsehood of casting ancient Persia as a symbol for evil.

Ironically I am grateful to the producers of 300. Their work has brought special meaning to this Norooz, a festival that still reflects the sophisticated worldview of the ancient Persians. A happy Norooz to you and thank you for the gift of your thoughts.

Prajney said...

I think Bahar is a very open minded and sensible person. A movie is a movie. It's for entertainment. 300 is one of those movies which depend on graphics and locker room lines to capture the audiences' attention. Nothing is wrong with that. The Director or the story writer never pledge to dish out accurate historical facts, and it's fun to watch such movies once in a while. People should stop being so uptight about it.