Dulce et decorum est
24 March 2007
There are at least three reasons that, elaborate protestations by everyone from the director to reviewers to the contrary, 300 is a highly political movie. Furthermore, the kind of political ideals the movie espouses are exactly those that almost never declare themselves openly, because they don’t come across so well in open debate. The three things that I think demonstrate political intent are listed here as themes of the movie:
1. war is exciting and good, and death in war is glorious death
2. brutal military dictatorships are very concerned with freedom and justice
3. the small number of good guys defending civilization are anglo-european, while the barbarian hordes ravening to destroy motherhood and apple pie are brown or black
In my naivety, I didn’t think about the first two before I saw the movie—it had been that long since I’d read the graphic novel. I totally called the third one, though, just ask Ramon. The racial issue seemed like a no-brainer in an American movie, particularly one that relies so much on color and artistic atmosphere. I suspect that the foregoing sentence displays a naïvety of a differen kind, but I don’t know much about the rhetoric of good and evil in the movies. Counter examples to good:evil::white:black are welcome.
Apologists for the movie (and they are legion–just check your local campus newspaper) argue that because the original graphic novel was written in 1998, or because that graphic novel is based on a historical event, any political message of the film is a fantasy conjured up by moonbat spoilsports. A quote from C. S. Lewis, of all people, seems an appropriate response: “An author doesn’t necessarily understand the meaning of his own story better than anyone else.”
One guy actually throws out the phrase “It might even be a good idea for young American men and women to understand why Thermopylae was important for the survival of Western civilization and that, yes, there is indeed something distinct called Western civilization.” The discussion about history being written by the winners seems an obvious corollary, but we’ll leave it aside for the moment. Instead, it might be a good time to consider a quote from Freda Kirchwey. She writes with power and eloquence, directly repudiating some all-too-common false choices in our society:
Democracy was not intended as a luxury to be indulged in only in times of calm and stability. It is a pliable, tough-fibered technique especially useful when times are hard. Only a weak and untrustful American could today advocate measures of prepression and coercion, or encourage a mood of panic. Now is the time to demonstrate the resilience of our institutions. Now is the time to deal with dissent calmly and with full respect for its rights.
The punch line, if such a stirring paragraph permits one, is that she wrote that in The Nation in October of 1939. Her call for preservation of democracy was a response to fascism, destruction, and killing sixty years ago. The enormity of World War II, the shoah, and the cold war have never been equalled since. And are certainly not now. Nor are the exact offenses Kirchwey details any more legitimate now than they were then.
Now go read some Wilfred Owen.