Victor Davis Hanson is one of the Blogosphere's treasures. He, more than anyone else, connects us to our roots in the formative days of Western Civilization. Last week, in the midst of a long post that dealt with the Scooter Libby imbroglio, he discussed the recently released "300." Hansen pointed to a moral bedrock upon which "300" rests:
Why-beside the blood-spattering violence and often one-dimensional characterizations-will some critics not like this, despite the above caveats?
Ultimately the film takes a moral stance, Herodotean in nature: there is a difference, an unapologetic difference between free citizens who fight for eleutheria and imperial subjects who give obeisance. We are not left with the usual postmodern quandary ‘who are the good guys’ in a battle in which the lust for violence plagues both sides. In the end, the defending Spartans are better, not perfect, just better than the invading Persians, and that proves good enough in the end. And to suggest that unambiguously these days has perhaps become a revolutionary thing in itself.
To anyone with even a cursory awareness of humanity's struggle to emerge from barbarism into civilization, his conclusion would be unexceptional. Yet reviewers and commenters on the movie have gone to great lengths to obfuscate and decry the message.
Ben is a member of a news group of liberal hawks. He has not seen the movie "300" (neither have I) but offered his critical take on the reviewing of the movie. His comments are worth repeating here and make some important points; with his permission, I am quoting extensively frm his note:
So then comes the wave of reviews. Not only does the movie review establishment hate it, but they clearly hate it, at least in part, on political grounds. What? Are they trying to tell me that somehow, the events and people portrayed in 300 have some relation to modern day politics? Well, perhaps in the broadest sense- people are fighting- but how else? I've read a number of reviews in which the reviewer seems to believe that the movie connects the Spartans with everything that is supposedly right wing today, including support for the various military endeavors going on today: Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.
"Some of the rhetoric is so war-thirsty, it's surprising the movie wasn't followed by "I'm George W. Bush, and I approved this message."
Director Zack Snyder's new dramatization of the epic Spartan stand at Thermopylae will probably go down real well at the White House 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.
Oh, no, they just can't be trying to tell me that the Spartans are identified with modern day conservatives. The Spartans considered the killing of physically deformed children to be beneficial to their society. Conservatives are appalled by abortion. Conservatives dislike government support for the arts, whereas the mandated and government provided education for boys included, in addition to the military arts, singing and dancing. Sparta had a program of land redistribution aimed at balancing the wealth of rich and poor citizens. They were poets: the oldest known Greek love poem- well, a heterosexual one- is of Spartan origin. Maybe there is one, tiny connection they can make: the Spartans considered their society worth defending, to the death if necessary, and so do Conservatives. Without doubt, some on the Left considered this a "Right Wing" flick only because the Spartans displayed a virtue they couldn't possibly comprehend: They wished to defend their nation.
So the only "Right Wing" behavior the Spartans showed is a willingness to defend Greece. Is that enough? Does that one little thing make all the difference now? Has the Litmus Test truly become: Do you believe our society must be defended with force, if yes. Step to the Right, you are a Conservative, if no, step to the Left, you are Liberal.?
I wonder: One of the things that 300 fails to tell us is that Greek victory over the Persians had a second critical moment, a month after Thermopylae: The Battle of Salamis. This time it was Athens that provided the main heroic protagonists as a grossly outnumbered Greek Navy fought off the much larger Persian force. Against Spartan advice, no less. What would be the discussion today if THAT had been the movie: the wine sipping lyre strumming interior decorating limp wristed boy loving Athenians- the cultural antithesis of militaristic Sparta- step up to defeat the Persians. Would that imply that they too were nothing but bloodthirsty hawkish conservatives?
Thermoplyae and Salamis were both crucial for the Greeks. Without the heroism at Thermopylae, they would never have rallied to win further battles. Without the heroism at Salamis, the Persians would have had a fleet capable of sustaining their large army in Greece. Both victories were needed to save Greece. If you were to join the stories of Thermopylae and Salamis, you would get, in my opinion, a much more compelling story: a society on the verge of destruction by a foreign enemy, which managed to win against overwhelming odds because both warrior kings and gentle poets did what they had to do. The wonders a diverse and cosmopolitan society can achieve when the media actually supports the military!
Thus, to me it's neither a Left or Right thing. Some people simply get the idea that their society is endangered, some do not. 300 is clearly about some that did. It may be that today, a lot of people on the Left are uncomfortable with the very idea of a foreign, existential threat to society, but such discomfort does not erase the fact that historically, this has happened, time and time again. To them, it's either impossible, or well deserved, or both.
And then comes the second wave of reviews.
It made money. Tons of it. This, to the movie industry- to any industry- outweighs all other considerations. The reviews were now much more positive. Hollywood will twitch its collective whiskers and wriggle its nose at the scent of money. And they will do what comes naturally to them: they will want more of it. Oh, sure, individual artists will sniff at how the movie-going public manifests the IQ of cheese, and puff that the reason *their* work wasn't so popular was only that the audience wasn't smart enough for it, but the real power will follow the money. So why did it make money? Do we really like dreary slice and dice blood and gore films? Or do the messages- neither left nor right but vital and sincere- resonate?
As I have noted in the past, every civilization, every society (civilized or not), has a shared mythos which helps to bind the citizenry together. Our civilization descends from the Greeks. Greek civilization might never have occurred if not for the heroics of the doomed at Thermopylae, which gave the Athenians the time necessary to fight and win the Battle of Salamis. Both Sparta and Athens form the seed from which grew Western Civilization.
The mind set reflected in the reviews of "300" suggest that the reviewers, with their apparent discomfort with the open expression of defiant aggression expressed in the movie, are too sophisticated to partake, even vicariously, in the Spartan heroics. It is unclear whether the pacifist left would ever fight, even to save themselves, let alone to save the civilization that they cannot imagine is under siege. If the sophisticates of Athens had refused to pick up the sword, they would have been dead or enslaved. Our modern day sophisticated Athenians of the MSM who refuse to wield their weapons, their pens and computers, in the service of Western Civilization, have already shown their willingness to live as slaves. After all, what did the Danish cartoon saga tell us except that the members of the elites in Academia, Hollywood, and the MSM are willing to offer up their free speech rights in obeisance to the barbarians at the gates.
"300" resonates because Americans have not yet shown themselves so willing to live as slaves as their "betters" in the effete elites.