lunes, 18 de abril de 2016



"One day," I told myself, day after day, I will post my musings on 300, that epic sword-and-sandal war film, which I consider propaganda from the rightish ideologies of last decade. At last I have decided to type it all down. Poison frogs hop out of my mouth, an endless surge of vomit sears my throat, and a righteous fury fills my young mind as I spew my protesting response, my own humble opinion, on this epic film.
The film blatantly and shamelessly spews out Equal-Opportunity Evil, a trope that had me literally Rooting for the Empire just because it consisted of a thousand nations and even allowed women into the encampment (even if they are a royal/high-officer-class Paid Harem in the royal pavilion/Den of Iniquity). Yes, I abso-fricking-lutely rooted for über-effeminate Xerxes and his multi-ethnic hordes, in spite of them being coded as the bad guys. The titular 300 are not that unbiased, and their cult of white able-bodied virility, and their machoism and provincialism, appear pretty Third Reichy/Francoist/Bushy (as in Bush Jr.) to me. Even their scarlet and black attire conjures up lurid echoes of Nazis, just like their sexist, heterosexist, and eugenic worldview.

Xerxes is as racially ambiguous as he is sexually. The film thus also seems to make a statement against multiculturalism: the many peoples of the Persian Empire are all shown to be venal and immoral.
The Persian king is shown to be a decadent ruler, lording it over orgiastic feasts right next to the battlefield, and declaring himself a god.

  • Equal-Opportunity Evil: The legions of Xerxes are from all over the world (including Africa and Japan, apparently), and he even hires hunchbacks, which is Truth in Television, as the Persians had territory in the Middle East, parts of India (or at least Pakistan), and also ruled part of North Africa. The Greeks, however, were all… Greek.
  • Den of Iniquity: Xerxes' royal pavilion, filled with drugged courtiers, freaks and all forms of sex. Xerxes throws such a swingin' party that even Baphomet shows up.
  • Den of Iniquity: Xerxes' royal pavilion in 300, filled with drugged courtiers and all forms of sex. And pot-smoking goat-headed servants.
  • Paid Harem: In 300, King Xerxes has one, and uses the promise of women [···] to successfully tempt [···]
  • [···] the only real problem occurs when [···] sells [···] information to Xerxes for women, [···]

A Leftist Looney Lunchbox blog penned by “AradhanaD” also took note of 300’s use of ableism (among other –isms as well). AradhanaD notes that the Persian army is “substantially disfigured/ugly” and she/he recounts how the harem of evil Persian king Xerxes seduces [···]: 
[W]e are introduced to a whole harem of hot, ornated, tattooed, coloured sexy chicks...[it’s] like we’ve been thrown into a visual orgy of totally debaucherous sexuality...We see these women of every single colour, other than white, defiantly throwing themselves at [··· ] They tempt and snare [···] while luring [···] to the ‘dark side’ (AradhanaD).   

Xerxes. Played by Rodrigo Santoro. He is the film’s main villain, portrayed here as an effeminate Persian king. Depending on one’s perspective, one could perceive Xerxes as having a disability or as being able-bodied: He is of giant stature (clocking in at “9 ft. tall”), which could be beneficial, especially when one literally wants to take over the world (Grossman). His tall stature, however, could also be troublesome, as his non-normative self/body lives in a world built for people of normal stature. His tall stature could also signify a growth disorder (more on that later). 

Xerxes is the arch-villain of the film, portrayed as a ruthless Persian king who seeks to rule the entire world. Xerxes has a commanding presence, as he is literally larger than life, scaled to 7’6”, down from the 10-foot portrayal in the graphic novel (300). He is not disfigured in the same way many of the Persians are, but, as Lytle explains, there is “no need,” as “it is strongly implied that Xerxes is homosexual which, in the moral universe of 300, qualifies him for special freakhood” (Lytle). Lytle notes that this is another of the film’s historical inaccuracies.
Viewing Xerxes’ size through an ableist lens, his tall stature could even be seen as a disability, akin to Gheorghe Muresan’s character in the aptly titled 1998 film My Giant, which co-stars Billy Crystal. In real life, the 7-foot-7 Muresan has a pituitary condition: Muresan's height is not hereditary. His father was 5-9, his mother 5-7. He has a rare form of a non-hereditary disease called acromegaly. His problem developed from a benign tumor in his pituitary gland while he was a teenager. The disorder caused an overproduction of growth hormone before it was removed in 1993. But by then, Muresan was already 22 and had been through abnormal growth spurts (Asher). Prior to his acting career (perhaps “career” is a bit too generous of a term), Muresan was a Washington Wizards basketball star; in fact, he shares the title of “tallest NBA player in history” with Manute Bol (Kwan). Much like Muresan in My Giant, Xerxes displays little (if any) athletic prowess and his unusual stature is used as a plot device to further a narrative. 
One of the film’s more controversial representations is that of the Persian king, Xerxes. Although he is not described in the historical sources, from ancient relief images we can surmise that the king probably wore a long beard and sat on his throne away from the front lines of battle. Yet Miller portrays Xerxes as a hairless giant who demands submission, and Snyder follows suit to intensify the threat: “What’s more scary to a 20-year-old boy than a giant god-king who wants to have his way with you?” (Daly, 38). In the film, Brazilian actor Rodrigo Santoro plays Xerxes as a sexually-ambiguous figure, covered in jewelry, with dark eyeliner and long fingernails. By showing multiple piercings on his body, the film offers a visual signal of his corruption.

Über Immortal (Giant). Played by Robert Maillet. He is a one-eyed, disfigured “giant with awful teeth” who fights alongside the Persians (Turan). He is restrained by chains before he 32 is let loose to fight, indicating that his services are not necessarily voluntary. His size likely surpasses that of Xerxes’.

The Persian king is shown to be a decadent ruler, lording it over orgiastic feasts right next to the battlefield, and declaring himself a god.

Xerxes’ Harem. Played by many actors. These are the members Xerxes’ exotic, erotic, androgynous posse. Some are missing limbs, some are disfigured, and many are apparently “heavy into body-piercing and decadent orgies” (Rea). 

 The Immortals. Played by many actors. These Persians are dressed in black and wear silver masks and connote a distinctive Asian flair—in fact, they look like ninjas. Their hands are disfigured and twisted with long claws, and their hidden faces suggest their visages may be disfigured as well.

Instead, the film casts the Persians as seeking to enslave the entire Greek world. To further its agenda of portraying the Asian Other as a fundamental threat to the western way of life, 300 presents the Persian army as endless and, with few exceptions, faceless – a multicultural multitude hell-bent on crushing Greek resistance. The battle scenes are the most patently ridiculous, as well as the most outwardly informed and distorted by pulp fiction. The Persian elite units, the Immortals, are fancifully presented as faux-ninjas, wearing Japanese facial armour and sporting wakizashi swords. As Dilios intones "―our eyes bear witness to the grotesque spectacle coughed forth from the darkest corner of Xerxes' empire!", we witness men in African war paint in an absurd spectacle straight out of some 1940s serial. It seems almost pointless to state that their numbers are vastly exaggerated...

[···] insulting the Persians as “philosophers and boy lovers” (read thinkers and gay pedophiles)—
That pretty much sums up a lot. Saying that being intellectual or queer is an insult... 

As for the Paid Harem depiction of the pavilion women being sexist --- I think it's less acceptable to have women stay at their homes wearing sterling white togas, waiting for their men, cooking, and doing needlework; and more acceptable to bring women to a royal pavilion on the war front, have them dressed in a risqué manner and take the action of seduction and eroticism in their own hands. Even if they are objectified and merely treated as goods/rewards promised in exchange for betrayal... they are at least doing what they like and being both active and passionate. There are non-Caucasian women, hefty women, lesbians, disfigured, drug addicts, a goat-headed minstrel... There is the fact that they are treated as gifts, rewards, chattel, material possessions. But at least they have a more active, dynamic attitude than their domestically submissive counterparts on the other side.

Xerxes’ Harem. Played by many actors. These are the members Xerxes’ exotic, erotic, androgynous posse. Some are missing limbs, some are disfigured, and many are apparently “heavy into body-piercing and decadent orgies” (Rea). 

Xerxes’ erotic harem is similarly used to further distinguish him (and the Persians) as non-normative, and, thus, evil. Xerxes’ harem, [···] The first “person” shown in the harem has the head of a goat and is playing an instrument. Snyder explains the scene in the film’s DVD audio commentary: “The goat-headed minstrel was another drawing that… I thought was cool and thought it would be neat to have in the movie. I just wanted Xerxes’ harem…to be a place of exotic wonders (300). Next, an androgynous, heavily jeweled person with missing limbs is shown looking at the camera seductively.
The next scene shows two women kissing. Apparently to add more shock value, one of the women turns her head to reveal the disfigurement of the previously out-of-view side of her face. A topless woman lying on the floor, luring, is shown next. Important to note is that many of the women shown here are comparatively heavier-set than those in any other part of the movie. The lack of heavier women throughout the rest of the film is perhaps an anachronism given the time period in which the movie was based, as, historically, the female standard of beauty was geared to more voluptuous figures than the bodies of the other characters who appear nude.
The harem is also one of the first times a non-white woman is shown. The fact that perhaps the most diverse group of individuals in 300—a mixed bag of sexuality, gender, race, disability, and even species—exists in Xerxes’ evil harem underscores the extent to which hegemony based on ability is such a central focus of the film. This depiction of the harem is unique to the film, as the meeting with Xerxes is captured in only a few frames in the graphic novel. In the graphic novel version, apart from the Xerxes, the only other people shown are two (non-kissing) heavily jeweled (and heavily shadowed) apparently able-bodied women.
[···]  the goods promised by Xerxes [···]

In 300, the only non-whites are the Persians and their leader, Xerxes who is the god-king. The Persians are depicted as a slave army with no will of their own. 
They are fighting for Xerxes because they are either afraid of him or they enjoy the [···] women they receive as gifts. They are seen by their king as expendable soldiers with no personality of their own. Computer generated armies help to aid with this feeling since the Persian army consists of a few actors who are multiplied through the use of special effects.
Xerxes is depicted to be a hybrid giant who is a man, but also has a feminized appearance. Xerxes' homosexuality is exoticized and demonized. His outfit consists mainly of chains, which according to Prince, symbolizes the undemocratic nature of his empire that threatens to enslave the people.
In 300 for instance, the only "ideology" Xerxes provides is [···] women in return for total submission to his large empire. In this manner, Persians--and Muslims--are portrayed as having no beliefs at all but material desires.

As this analysis has shown, characters with disabilities were often literally created solely for the sake of representing inferiority, weakness, and evil.
A far right agenda, I see. An agenda that leans on the too far right...

[···] to Xerxes, who rewards [···] with the assorted pleasures of women [···]

[···] en la tienda de Jerjes [···] «I want it all. [···]  women…». En el cómic, tan sólo aparecen dos siluetas de mujeres desnudas, pero en la película, el director aprovecha la escena para mostrar a los seres más variopintos, grotescos y lujuriosos nunca vistos: 
Mientras escuchamos una melodía con claras reminiscencias árabes, nos topamos, en primer lugar, con una especie de macho cabrío negro con largos cuernos, que toca un instrumento de cuerda: algo más parecido a un demonio o al diablo mismo que a otra cosa. En segundo lugar, alguien toca la flauta, otro el tambor, hombres cuyas cabezas no vemos. A continuación, en primer plano, dos mujeres semidesnudas fumando alguna sustancia extraña de una cachimba mientras al fondo otras bailan sensualmente. En el siguiente plano, otras dos mujeres que se apartan para dejar paso a la cámara y que esta enfoque a un ser venido del lejano oriente, travestido y con los brazos cortados. Acto seguido,  dos mujeres lascivas que se están besando sin pudor y una de ellas tiene la mitad de su cara tan desfigurada. Durante la entrevista de Jerjes, se suceden los planos en que el espectador ve bellas y libidinosas mujeres que excitan cada vez más.
A tenor de lo visto, el cortejo de Jerjes es un conglomerado de seres grotescos y mujeres lascivas, una especie de harén muy particular. De nuevo, el espectador puede fácilmente identificar, por medio de este harén, a los persas con los musulmanes.
(Este mismo argumento, sin embargo, es utilizado por Žižek, loc. cit., para rechazar cualquier alusión al régimen fundamentalista iraní, tan contrario a los homosexuales y a todo lo relacionado con la libertad sexual.)

The othering of the Persians is also performed through race: the first three emissaries we meet – one of which may well be a general – all have pronounced African features and black skin; of these three, two are murdered (although the filters employed by the filmmakers make it hard to be sure at times). Persians are shown to have Middle Eastern features. Xerxes is as racially ambiguous as he is sexually. The film thus also seems to make a statement against multiculturalism: the many peoples of the Persian Empire are all shown to be venal and immoral.

The enemy is distinctly different, mysterious, not like “us”, and consequently Othered. Regardless of the actions of the individuals within the film, it is easy to understand based on this presentation that the Persians are immoral or bad, simply by how they look. 
But the enemy as Other does not end with the messengers. The entire Persian army is depicted as barbarous, murderous, monstrous, and at times inhuman. In fact, as the battle scenes progress and the warriors descend upon the Spartan soldiers, they become increasingly outlandish and strange. Seemingly every new wave of enemy is less and less human with faces hidden by veils, and animal limbs or weapons as human appendages. Perhaps, the enemy as Other is most clearly seen with the main antagonist of the story, King Xerxes. Xerxes is depicted as an androgynous, ebony-skinned, giant. The questionable portrayal of Xerxes’ gender also creates rhetorical space for queering of the enemy. Because his gender is ambiguous his sexuality also becomes unclear and this is depicted in a negative light. His voice booms with subwoofer bass frequencies that contradict his painted on eyebrows, his eyes adorned in liner and shadow, his lipgloss tinted mouth, and mascaraed eyelashes.
The blurring of gender (and subsequent Othering) in Xerxes continues as we enter his temple. Within it contains half-animal, half human bongo players, women in various states of undress, paraplegic hermaphrodites, and individuals engaged in what appears to be an endless buffet of patchouli-scented orgies. Meanwhile, Xerxes sits on his throne looking upon all of this approvingly. He states:  “Everything [···] could ever desire, every happiness [···] can imagine, every pleasure [···] have denied [···], I will grant [···]." Xerxes is the devil tempting Christ in the wilderness.  Xerxes is perverted, evil, decadent, and depraved.

The portrayal of the Persian king and army can be viewed as homologous to the rhetoric of the war on Islamic extremists during the Iraq War. The visual aesthetic is strikingly similar in terms of appearance, dress, and values. Xerxes temple is homologous to the harem of virgins often described when discussing Jihadist terrorists. A sexual paradise rewarded to those who sacrifice their life for an “unholy war.” The Persian army as Other symbolizes a clash of Western and Middle-Eastern values, and is formally linked to the struggle between Western Judeo-Christian beliefs and Islamic fundamentalists. Audiences recognize this conflict as a Just War in defending traditional beliefs against Others who want to destroy our way of life.

Indeed, the Paid Harem trope, the dark side of Women as Reward and a variant of the Femme Fatale, is as old as patriarchy itself. A medieval manuscript has its male hero, who in the second of his four trials, mustn’t look upon a group of girl choristers; a moral epilogue gives the explicitly worded explanation: the pleasures of the flesh as represented by women (carnis complacentie que sunt mulieres); [···]

I adore the Paid Harem characters in the royal pavillion for being erotic, exotic, androgynous, missing limbs, disabled, disfigured, addicted to drugs, sexually ambiguous, heavy into decadent orgies. There are queer characters among them, and apparently a furry as well, and many of them are non-Caucasian and/or heavy-set females. Coding these signifiers as evil is as freakish as some of my own personal features (left-handedness, red hair, freckles, height above average in a female) were coded in the past. Yes, the Inquisition would have me burned to a crisp due to both my physique and my opinions.

300, mostly in its pavilion/Den of Iniquity scene, makes a virulent statement against multiculturalism, free love, disability, sensualism, and alternate lifestyles. The rightish agenda of the film cannot be more obvious.

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