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Death to Sparta...
The film does portray the Persians as barbarians but the Spartans are hardly portrayed as civilised

April 12, 2007

Death to Sparta, Death to Sparta, Death to Sparta ...

It is time we mighty Persians unite and avenge our honour and pride. We shall smite the Spartans, they shall feel our wrath. I am ready to fight and will make each and every last Spartan feel the sharp edge of my sword. Actually that is a tad extreme, perhaps I will make them feel the sharp edge of my tongue instead as I do not own a sword and have an aversion to physical activity. We should protest outside the Spartan embassy and burn effigies of King Leonidas.

Death to Sparta, Death to Sparta, Death to Sparta ...

We shall slaughter the Spartan infidels and soak the earth with their blood. We will launch a nuclear attack against the Spartan nation ... well at least we would if we believed in enriching uranium for anything other than peaceful purposes. We shall capture the Spartans and hold them hostage. We shall torture them and force feed them rice and chelo kebab, until their six-packs disappear. We will deprive them of wax, so that their body hair will grow.

Death to Sparta, Death to Sparta, Death to Sparta ...

Of course the only problem with condemning Sparta to death is that it doesn't actually exist anymore and, while it is refreshing to be chanting death to somewhere different (America and Israel are so last millennium); it does pose something of a practical problem. Fortunately, we have never let pride, self delusion or any of the other charming Iranian idiosyncrasies get in the way of rational behaviour.

Having read so many angry words about this film from offended "Persians", I went to watch 300 with a sense of righteous indignation, hurt national pride and of course an open mind. I genuinely wanted to be offended by this film so that I could spew vitriol about the anti-Iranian sentiment which is so prevalent in the media at present. Sadly, no matter how hard I tried to read between the lines and push the giant chip off my shoulder and over the edge, I just couldn't.

How on earth 300 managed to offend so many Iranians is beyond me. Presumably those who refer to themselves as "Persians" were forced to relive painful memories of relatives that they lost at the battle of Thermopylae.

There is plenty of anti-Iranian material out there, in fact you would be hard pressed to find anything positive in the current climate, but this film is not anti-Iranian or anti-"Persian" for the more ancient among us. I understand the heightened sensitivity and injured national pride, but it is none the less misplaced.

That is not to say that I have a high opinion of this film, for what it is worth I thought it was rather terrible but for completely different reasons. There's an inherent racism in the symbolic use of light or white to portray good and dark or black to portray evil. The film is full of clichés and stereotypes but it is hardly specific to Iranians. The Persian side is portrayed as evil, which in the small minded world of 300 translates as black, brown, ugly and homosexual. The Spartans on the other hand represent good, freedom, democracy and the American way.

The film does portray the Persians as barbarians but the Spartans are hardly portrayed as civilised. Frankly Xerxes comes across as a far more reasonable chap than Leonidas, whose poor Bond inspired repartee is cringe worthy. Spartans clearly like going to the gym and I am fairly certain that if they were subjected to current Olympic standards they would most certainly be found guilty of indulging in performance enhancing drugs. They come across as no less barbaric than the Persians and are clearly a few soldiers short of an army. If some members of the rather bizarre ensemble that made up the Persian army did resemble suicide bombers, as some of the more paranoid reviews I have read suggest, then surely the Spartans happily marching to their death for a deluded and flawed ideology, while celebrating just how glorious it is to die, isn't such a far cry from blowing yourself up.

The Spartans are masculine and virile, while their enemy is portrayed as effeminate and homosexual. There is an intrinsic unabashedly homophobic quality to the film but at the same time the Spartans come across as incredibly - though unintentionally - homoerotic. The main reason that I can't take the film seriously, apart from it being based on a comic, is that it is the campest film that I have seen in quite some time. It is the artistic spiritual bastard love child of Kenneth Williams, Walt Disney and Charlton Hesston.

Certainly it is worrying that such a violent film with such heavy reliance on stereotypes and clichés may influence young, impressionable, prepubescent boys, who I assume must be the target audience for this film. However the film is so tongue in cheek that it fails to be malicious and, if it really was a piece of anti-Iranian propaganda, it fails spectacularly. So apart from teaching us that it is good to do lots of sit-ups, wax your body hair, despise homosexuality while repressing your own urges until you join the army and march to your inventible death, the true moral of the story is that while it is good to take pride in your history and culture too much pride and patriotism is a dangerous thing.

Take this film the way you take your food, with a large Persian sized pinch of salt... Comment

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