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.

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6 Responses to “Dulce et decorum est”

  1. Baquies Says:

    Dude, if you are gonna be that way, I am not going to the movies with you. Though Id love to hear your thoughts on The Mummy 2, you liked that one!

  2. erikrau Says:

    Ah, yes. The Mummy 2, that incomparable Marxist critique of the postmodern economical marketplace. I can’t believe that no one cried out against what was so transparently a highly revisionist hagiography of Che Guevara. A shocking oversight by the Academy.

  3. Baquies Says:

    Thoughts on Episode 3? Cuz there was nothing political there at all.

  4. erikrau Says:

    Yeah, there certainly wasn’t. I’m (I hope) not naive about the presence of some kind of politics in most movies–the thing that set me off on this particular rant was that I heard so many apologists talking about how, sure, some movies about war had political points, but this one was totally innocent of such manipulation. These same dudes repeatedly asserted their intention to just make a movie that glorified killing and dieing, but not actual war as such.

    I didn’t go into all the Persian/Iranian hidden message stuff because I figured I’d reveal my ignorance on that one pretty quickly. And I didn’t list my sighting of the animated Al Gore amongst all the penguins in the final scene of Happy Feet. But I hear its on the special edition DVD.

  5. Baquies Says:

    It all reminds me of an argument I got into in senior english class about all the BS as far as looking at work X from 100 years ago and what all the meanings were. Does everything have to have a meaning, does the meaning count even if it was not the creators intention. WHo is some snotty grad student to say what this author had in mind, etc etc etc.
    Frank Miller likes tits and violence. Now you want real political commentary, go dig through Dark Knight or Sin City.
    Catch ya later.


  6. […] In the realm of equally but very differently graphic and political, since I first read Watchmen in junior high, when it was (relatively) new, it has both fascinated and repulsed (typical of Alan Moore, for me). Now, it turns out that I am behind the curve about the movie, while everyone else is busy reading the graphic novel so they can say that they liked it better than the movie. I’d think that the Wikipedia article linked above was parody in its sober repetition of ‘modernism,’ and ‘anti-veneration,’ except that I know from experience that people take this kind of stuff both far too seriously and not seriously enough. I wonder how many people have read both Fashionable Nonsense and Watchmen? Probably only the ones as snottily know-it-all as me. Besides, I saw 300. I know how this could turn out. […]


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