Politics from the Palouse to Puget Sound

Friday, May 04, 2007

Valor Still Valued at the Box Office

A couple of decades ago, bookstores discovered that not even they could retreat far enough from the frontlines. Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses" brought threats of violence against anyone who dared put the book on the shelves. Newspapers last year were too intimidated to publish the cartoons of death that inspired riots around the world.

I doubt that Hollywood ever expected to find itself on the frontlines of the Global War on Terror – unless it was on the other side. The Hollywood of recent years has dedicated itself to undermining America’s morale and convincing Americans that Western civilization is fundamentally corrupt. A visitor from another planet might point to Hollywood itself as proof of that latter charge.
Children of baby-boomers and many baby boomers themselves might find it difficult to believe that it wasn’t that long ago that the entertainment industry appreciated that its decadent self-indulgence and bohemianism depended upon a resilient culture willing to defend even its most repellent warts, such as Hollywood. And Hollywood did its part by producing movies that celebrated America and the heroes who defended her. As recently as the Vietnam War, John Wayne starred in a movie that celebrated our fighting men’s heroism and ridiculed leftwing nay-saying journalists.
But despite embracing America’s enemies, Hollywood now finds itself accused before the United Nations of engaging in “cultural and psychological warfare” against one of America’s most intractable enemies – Iran. Considering that Hollywood considers the UN’s thugocrats a more reliable fount of goodness in the world than the United States, this development must cause some consternation, at least during those brief intervals of sobriety and introspection that not even Hollywood can postpone forever.
Hollywood’s crime is the movie “300,” Frank Miller’s cartoonified retelling of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. The real history of the event is one of heroism and, if the movie had gone on a little longer, the preservation of that spark of modern civilization that was nearly extinguished by the Persian king Xerxes and his imperial hordes. A more mature treatment of the historical events would have set serious people to trembling when they realized how near to extinction democracy came while it was still in its embryonic form. But the cartoon treatment accurately captured the spirit of heroism and sacrifice of the battle. And in truth, telling the story in comic book format might be the best way to instruct students in history these days. Students do not matriculate from our modern public education institutions prepared to absorb Plutarch or Herodotus. Most aren’t even up to Kitty Kelly.
And while the caricatures employed in 300 faithfully conveyed the majesty and heroism found in the classical treatments of the Battle of Thermopylae, the modern day descendents of Persia, today’s Iranians, are deeply offended at the treatment of their ancestors. Xerxes himself is portrayed as an effeminate giant festooned with body piercing, resembling and behaving for all the world like a typical American anti-war protester, except that Frank Miller’s Xerxes exhibited a manly side, rather like Mr. Clean.
Joining the Iranians are a fair percentage of movie critics along with leftists here and abroad who consider the film propaganda for the Global War on Terror. The first German audiences were reported to have booed as they saw Leonides as a stand in for George Bush and Xerxes as a sock puppet for Osama Bin Laden, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il, or whatever bellicose enemy of the west is grabbing headlines at the moment.
The New York Times’ A. O. Smith labeled 300, “a bombastic spectacle of honor and betrayal.”
California State University history professor Touraj Daryaee condemned the movie for portraying Persians as, “a bunch of veiled towel-heads who remind us of Iraqi insurgents, a group of black-cloaked Ninja-esque warriors who look like Taliban trainees, and men and women with body and facial piercings who are either angry, irrational or sexually deviant.”
Ahmadinejad complained that the movie was designed to “humiliate” Iranians.
Isn’t he the guy who’s been threatening to exterminate Jews and obliterate Israel?
These are code word complaints for the fact that this movie had unambiguous good guys and bad guys. And just like the television show “24,” the movie has enemies that are easily identifiable even though such recognition is officially condemned as racial profiling.
In my view, the real unease that this movie creates among the left is that it was enthusiastically attended and enjoyed by a predominantly young audience. I saw the movie on its first day in the theaters and I would estimate the median age at between 20 and 25. That marshal heroism was celebrated and clearly inspiring to this demographic has to give the left nightmares.

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