Archive for February, 2010

300 – A Love Letter To Adolf

February 18, 2010

Zack Snyder’s adaptation of Frank Miller’s comic 300 is wildly popular amongst young men of a certain demographic. As a fight journalist covering MMA, one question I often asked fighters was ‘What is your favourite movie?’ (hey, it made a change from ‘So, you like punching people or what?’) Time and again, the response was 300. Hell, even UFC ring girl Arianny Celeste picked 300 as one of her favourite films (although unlike the fighters, she admits to loving chick flicks too.)

Stay the hell out of my neighbourhood!

What is it about 300 that resonates so powerfully with these young men? It might have something to do with its ultra-macho message of no retreat, no surrender, fight to the death. However for a film that purports to be about a small brave band fighting to defend freedom against tyranny, 300 is a love letter to fascism and the ideology of the Nazis.

I’m writing just about the movie here, I haven’t suffered through the comic. It’s a humourless film, depressing in its dour and relentless carnage while historically suspect. The movie conveniently ignores the fact that the Spartans kept slaves or that the fall of Sparta came when they went to war against Thebes in an attempt to suppress democracy flourishing in a city-state Sparta considered its vassal. The script makes it very plain that the Spartans are the defenders of truth and justice against the aggression and oppression of the Persian Empire, embodied by Xerxes. “A new age has begun,” shouts Leonidas (Gerard Butler, in a typically understated and subtle performance that covers the full gamut from shouting all the way to yelling). “An age of freedom and all will know that 300 Spartans gave their last breath to defend it.”

Nothing says "Freedom" like a mountain of dead baby skulls

Wow, that sounds nice, an age of freedom. But underneath this talk of freedom lies an insidious message about racial purity. Take the opening narration – “When the boy was born, like all Spartans he was inspected. If he’d been small or puny, sickly or misshapen, he would have been discarded.” The Spartans cast out impure children to keep their bloodline strong and pure. Why does that sound familiar?

Rassenhygiene was a Nazi concept about racial purity coined by Alfred Ploetz, who was given a professorship at Munich University by Adolf Hitler. This idea was further expanded upon by Ernst Lehmann, Professor of Botany at Tubingen. Lehmann launched the publication Die Biologie which made the case for selective breeding. A regular contributor to the publication was Konrad Lorenz who later became a member of the Nazi’s Office of Race Policy (read John Cornwell’s Hitler’s Scientists: Science, War and the Devil’s Pact for more information). The notion of Rassenhygiene led the Nazis to forcibly sterilize anyone they considered to be an undesirable presence in the gene pool. From August 1939 to August 1941, 5000 “malformed” children in Germany were rounded up and killed, just like those heroic Spartans defending freedom in 300 casting out impure babies.

Ephialtes - 300's walking argument for Eugenics

300 offers a wholesale endorsement of the desirability of racial purity. Ephialtes is a deformed hunchback whose parents hid him from the Spartan authorities as a baby. Now fully grown and hideous, he betrays Sparta when offered the sexual delights available in Xerxes harem of freaks. The movie makes a direct connection between physical deformity and moral corruption. If only his parents had murdered him as an infant. Ephialtes is grotesque in startling contrast to the sleekly muscled and sculpted figures of the pure Spartans – the ubermensch personified by Leonidas himself.

Step off, white girl!

Notions about the master race are littered throughout the film. “We do what we were trained to do,” intones the narrator during another violent massacre as the Spartans slaughter their Persian enemies, “what we were bred to do, what we were born to do.” Born and bred to be the master race. Eugenics was what the Nazis called the science of selective breeding to create the Aryan master race. Is it coincidence that the Persians and their warriors are not white? From the first emissary who arrives in Sparta to the Immortals and Xerxes himself, none of them are white. “What makes this woman think she can speak among men?” demands the Persian emissary, who just happens to be black, when interrupted by Queen Gorgo. “Because only Spartan women give birth to real men,” replies the Queen. Swap Spartan for the word Aryan, just to see how it looks there.

I'm telling you, Leonidas, once you go black, you can't go back

Xerxes himself is black, androgynous and a sexual deviant. His personal guards are described in the following terms: “They have served the dark will of Persian kings for 500 years. Eyes as dark as night. Teeth filed to fangs. Soulless. The personal guard to King Xerxes himself, the Persian warrior elite, the deadliest fighting force in all of Asia – the Immortals.” So we’ve got two uses of the word “dark”, we know they are Asian but unlike the white Spartans, who lest we forget live hard lives governed by their warrior-code, they don’t have souls. Despite the avowed harshness of the Spartans childhoods, they never lose their souls. Why are only the white trained killers allowed to keep their souls? “Only the hard and strong may call themselves Spartans. Only the hard, only the strong.” Only the honky.

“This day, we rescue a world from mysticism and tyranny and usher in a future brighter than anything we can imagine,” bellows Leonidas in his final rabble rousing speech to his troops. One of the reasons that the Nazis fell behind in the race to develop the atomic bomb was that Hitler initially dismissed atomic science as Jewish mysticism. Under the Nazis, Jews were forbidden from teaching and Jewish professors lost their jobs at universities. Luckily, here come the Spartans to rescue us from all that mysticism.

The dawning of a new Reich...I mean Age, A New Age...

“From the time he could stand he was baptized in the fire of combat. Taught never to retreat, never to surrender. Taught that death on the battlefield in service to Sparta was the greatest glory he could achieve in his life.” Absolute devotion to the military state. An entire way of life dedicated to preserving, protecting and propagating the state and its bloodline. If that is not a recipe for fascism, what is? Fascism is a religion of the state, a fetishization of the state’s power. “Freedom isn’t free at all,” says Queen Gorgo without the slightest shred of irony. 300 is one long blood-soaked hymn to the glories of fascism and racial purity. Adolf would have loved it.