I got on the subway last Sunday just as the Imax screening of 300 had let out, and the 1/9 platform was packed with amped up clumps of guys. Just the night before we’d joked at dinner about A.O. Scott’s review [“as violent as Apocalypto and twice as stupid”] that, even if it didn’t turn out to be Battlefield Earth, we should still go see 300 because it sounded like it’s a landmark of cinema, a touchstone for something, anyway.
But the excitement/incitement of this trainful of stoked dudes–they didn’t all seem like the out & proud, rightist sci-fi nerds to which Neal Stephenson attributes the film’s box office success in the NYT yesterday–made me realize Scott, at least, has a blind spot to the critical reference points of wildly popular genres such as video games and graphic novels. I also worried about my own quick dismissiveness of something that was clearly resonating with a lot of people.
By the time I read the reaction of artist/friend John Powers, however, at Art Threat, I was convinced a lot more attention needs to be paid and serious thinking needs to be done about gloriously violent media–films in particular, but TV and games, too–that stokes the flames of “total war”:
300 is following up on the success of Sin City. Both films are adaptations of comic books by Frank Miller, who also is credited as a producer for both films. The films share an aesthetic of digitally abstracted violence, real flesh is turned into the consistency of cartoon ink: it gives way like warm butter, without resistance and without regret or consequence. These are worlds of deep black and white. Sin City pioneered this aesthetic at the service of noir nihilism. With 300 this stylized violence is harnessed to the cause of glorifying total war. 300 is a pornographic vision of power and perfection and has only contempt for the disfigured and unfamiliar. It plays on the contemporary fear that we are facing a clash of civilizations, and stokes that fear with racist imagery. By calling up old Aryan dreams of a classical world peopled by blond haired blue eyed individuals, and threatening that world with an undifferentiated dark-skinned horde, the film panders to the ugliest aspect of America. Race separates good from evil in this film, this is part of the way it promotes total war. 300 would have us believe that no quarter can be given to our enemies because they are sub-human and hideous.
300: Racist Propaganda with Septic Timing [artthreat.net]