Folding, spindeling, and mutilating lauguage for fun since Aug, 2004
Thursday, 22 March 2007

Someone sent me this Townhall article by Ben Shapiro in my e-mail (since I still can't view their sites due to my IP address being blocked by them.  Which is certainly not because they are a bunch of weeenies who can't take mild criticism, or because they are vindictive little bitches who like the feeling of power they can get from banning IP addresses with small numbers of users.  I'm sure there is a reasonable explination.  I'll let you know what it is just as soon as they answer the e-mails I sent them asking what it is.)

Here’s a fun link to a spoof site that addresses Ben Shapiro.

Anyway, Ben Shapiro doesn’t like the movie “300”.  But he likes that he can read into it stuff that he imagines “liberals” don’t like.  And he has (I imagine) a fair amount of fun quote-mining and torturing an alleged “liberal” quote, and a quote from someone in the Ahmadinejad administration in order to produce a shadow of the “liberals agree with the terrorists” cannard.  But let’s let Mr. Shapiro speak for himself.

"300" is not a particularly good movie. The comic-book tale of the battle of Thermopylae (480 B.C.) brims over with excessive nudity and violence. The dialogue is often laughable -- lines like "This is madness! This is Sparta!" leap to mind.

Oh, I don’t know…stilted and over-blown dramatic dialogue is, after all, one of the literary hallmarks of the epic.  Beowulf's swaggering challenges to Grendel come to mind.  Although in fairness, you might have to be a public-schooled liberal in order to see that.  After all, public schools don’t teach what cultural conservatives call Judeo-Christian values, but they DO familiarize you with all those pagan Gods and Goddessses so you can understand Greek literature, as well as non-Greek epics such as Beowulf, or even “Christian” work rife with pagan imagery like the epic poetry of John Milton.  If only liberal public schools didn’t love the roots of Western Culture so much, we might all agree with Ben Shapiro, and the world would be a better place.

As for the nudity and violence, I am surprised.  I would have thought that Ben, a (presumably) red-blooded American boy would have loved it.  But as a cultural conservative, I guess he’d rather it be suppressed and sublimated as religious zeal that only occasionally expresses itself in excessive binges that can be blamed on temptation by demonic forces.  Whatever floats your boat, I guess.

David Wenham, who plays a Spartan soldier, narrates throughout the movie; his narration is guffaw-inducing. "Only the hard and strong may call themselves Spartans. Only the hard . Only the strong ," Wenham gravely intones. At another point, over footage of Spartans graphically slaughtering the oncoming hordes of Persian dictator Xerxes, Wenham intensely growls, "We do what we've been trained to do. We do what we've been bred to do. We do what we were born to do." There are no descriptors for this kind of purposeful anti-subtlety.

Shorter Ben Shapiro “hu-huh…he said ‘hard’ hu-huh.”

“There are no descriptors for this kind of anti-subtlety”?  Um.  Yes, there are, in fact, descriptors for it.  Literary imagery, for instance.  You might, if you were the product of the liberal public school system, have come across it while studying literature.  If you had, you would realize that those words were drawing a parallel between the mental and physical “toughness (or “hardness”) of the Spartan people as depicted in the story.  You may realize that literary imagery uses certain qualities of descriptive language that are independent of what springs into the blood-engorged, hot-throbbing brains of young conservative weenies who simper and whine about sex and violence.  I’m sure that all this has a terrible effect on your delicate constitution, Ben, but try to hold it together, buddy.

Nonetheless, "300" is drawing a crowd. It is drawing a crowd for two reasons: First, the movie is visually interesting, combining over-the-top comic-book imagery with live-action realism in the same way "Sin City" did. Second, Americans are interested in watching movies that pit good against evil.

OK, no argument there.

The Spartans of "300" are brutal. The opening scene of the movie depicts a Spartan soldier, standing on a cliff overlooking a valley of skulls, inspecting a baby to make sure it is hardy enough. If the baby is too weak, we are told, it will be left for dead. This isn't exactly civilized conduct.

It is if you are a Spartan, living in the time when the movie is set.  Oh, I’m sorry.  That’s liberal moral relativism isn’t it?  I forgot.  We are supposed to judge cultures and history by our own measure, and our own values, rather than learning to see them as they saw themselves so as to understand them and actually learn something about humanity.  Just judging them from our own perspective so we can hold up our example as elevated above the rest of human history is so much better.  That way, we can see ourselves as having some sort of divine writ of exceptionalism.  Yes.  Excuse me.  Please, go on.

But the Persian hordes make the Spartans look like members of a British tea club. Xerxes is an androgynous giant of a man with more body piercings than Christina Aguilera. His camp is full of decadent bisexual promiscuity. He seeks worldwide dictatorship and threatens Sparta with mass murder of its male citizens, rape of its female citizens, and use of women and children as slaves if Sparta fails to submit to his rule.

Ben, you ARE aware that this is an obvious conscious interpretation of how the peoples often depict their opponents?  This couldn’t possibly be the result of a tradition in nationalistic epics of depicting one side as being completely right, and depicting the opposition as being completely without merit, right?  You define what you are, and then you selectively define your enemy as that which you are not.

The Spartans, by contrast, say they are fighting for "freedom." In which case, "300" is an old-fashioned battle between the forces of freedom and the forces of oppression.

Yes.  That is one possible element of an epic story.  Having one side champion a virtue, and the other side is inherently everything that is antithetical to that virtue.

And the left doesn't like it at all. Many reviewers have panned "300" not on artistic grounds, or even on grounds of inanity, but on the grounds that the Spartans in the film are a bunch of jackbooted thugs; that the tyranny they fight is less tyrannical than Sparta; that good vs. evil is too simplistic. "His troops are like al Qaeda in adult diapers," writes Kyle Smith of the New York Post. "Keeping in mind Slate's Mickey Kaus' Hitler Rule -- never compare anything to Hitler -- it isn't a stretch to imagine Adolf's boys at a "300" screening, heil-fiving each other throughout and then lining up to see it again." A.O. Scott makes the obligatory racial point: "It may be worth pointing out that unlike their mostly black and brown foes, the Spartans and their fellow Greeks are white."

Who is this “left” of which you speak?  The last time I checked, The New York Post was one of Rupert Murdoch’s little fiefdoms.  You don’t really think that the “liberals” who work for Rupert Murdoch actually represent liberal opinion, do you?  Really?

The Iranians don't like "300," either. Javad Shamqadri, an art adviser to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, proclaims that "300" is "part of a comprehensive U.S. psychological war aimed at Iranian culture." "Following the Islamic Revolution in Iran," explains Shamqadri, "Hollywood and cultural authorities in the U.S. initiated studies to figure out how to attack Iranian culture … certainly, the recent movie is a product of such studies."

Yeah.  Megalomaniacle nut-bags tend to see themselves reflected everywhere, view themselves as attacked and embattled where they actually are not, and tend to read far, far too much into things, while at the same time missing the actual cultural relevance of the intended references and giving inappropriate weight to incidental facts.  (shrug) What ya gonna do?

Ben now ends his commentary on the movie “300”  by taking a paragraph or two to let his lips flap uselessly, making a lot of meaningless noises interspersed with specious swipes at liberals, confusions of Islam and liberalism, and spiced up with a little useless sophistry in a grumbling ramble that just sort of trials off into a feel-good re-frame of a nice-sounding platitude:

Of course, "300" is not meant to be a historically accurate portrayal of the battle of Thermopylae. It is a cartoonish movie with a simple theme -- a theme that resonates with the American public. It is no surprise that the Iranian regime -- the embodiment of evil in today's world -- objects to a movie depicting a conflict between ancient Western civilization and ancient Persian civilization as a conflict between good and evil. And it is not surprising that the left objects to any movie pitting freedom against tyranny and coming out squarely on the side of freedom.

"300" is not as morally murky as movies like "Syriana," "Babel" and "Kingdom of Heaven." The movie has many weaknesses, but its strength lies in its affirmation that there can be good, there can be evil, and that good must be willing to withstand evil's best efforts to annihilate it.

 

Is anyone else surprised that Ben had nothing to say about the fact that the movie also depicted the great weakness of Sparta to be a "evil" hold-over of reliance and delegation of too much power to religious leaders and superstitious mumbo-jumbo that will give it’s “spiritual” stamp of approval to the advantage of the side that gives out the biggest payday?

 

Or that the most slimy of all the politicians misused and abused moral principles that he himself didn’t value to silence opposition?

 

I suppose I could go through and point out all the "real reasons" why conservatives who hated the movie chose to hate it.  Or I could go through the movie and catalogue all the "real reasons" that the conservatives who liked the movie liked it (for instance, the hero was a despotic leader who made a unilateral decision to go to war against the advice and council of his allies and the deliberative body of his government AND, within the context of the story, was right to do so)...

 

...but that would just be silly.

 

Sorry, Ben, it’s just a story.  A re-telling of a timeless, compelling, epic story that was well told for what it was, preserving some classical elements and re-imagining others as would fit the purposes of the story-tellers (which was to entertain a modern audience that had some passing knowledge of both comic books and classical literature, a fondness for high production quality, stunning visuals and the occasional exposed breast and  death metal riff) and has no real meaning beyond that.

Thursday, 22 March 2007 09:41:05 (Central Standard Time, UTC-06:00) | Comments [7] | #
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