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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

An Offering from the Ministry of Film

I’ll be the first to admit that pursuing an advanced degree in the humanities all but precludes me from an innocent jaunt to the movies. My friends twitch with disgust when I use words like “critique” and “hegemony.” I chastise myself and vow to exercise my M.A. vernacular only while safely nestled in the Wheatley building. But enough about me and more about me and my recent viewing of “300,” the film adaptation of Frank Miller’s comic book.

I went because I was promised an afternoon of stimulus overload and visual madness. You see, my friends wanted to go all out, so we drove up to the Wakefield Jordan’s Furniture so we could see “300” on an IMAX screen. We waded through the trapeze lessons, candy store, and array of Ottomans only to find out that the show had already sold out. We settled on the far less mesmerizing Woburn movie theater. Nonetheless my eyeballs were dazzled, at the extent of my blood being boiled.

I don’t know what I was expecting to get out of this movie. But I certainly wasn’t expecting to leave feeling like I had just spent two hours hanging out with White House Press Secretary Tony Snow. In case you live under a rock, here’s the basic gist: Spartan King Leonidas takes a mere 300 soldiers with him to fight the Persian hordes. The age old underdog plot appeals to most Americans who think a little elbow grease and a can-do spirit can accomplish just about anything. Pomp, circumstance, and spear-raising oratory ensue.

While unclenching my fists on my way out of the theater, I exclaimed, “I can’t believe how much of a propaganda piece for the Iraq War that was!” Accused of “reading too deep into things” I noted that the queen had actually said, “freedom isn’t free.” Aside from this shiny nugget of dialogue, the film also features an emasculated Persian king who dabbles in mysticism and slavery and of course the Spartan king who goes to war illegally. Then there are your run of the mill tidbits about glory, duty, and dying by your best friend’s side.

And that’s just it: the use of rhetoric in this film is glaring. The narrator is blinded in one eye, thus becoming a traditional Greek seer. King Leonidas forces him to leave the battlefield, knowing that the story of what happened to the Spartans is more important than having one more soldier aid in the battle. Future generations must appreciate the Spartans’ – small in numbers, large in pecs – perseverance in the face of an effeminate king, and his monster soldiers.

The characters are archetypes, standing in for the power of rhetoric in aid to nationalism. The final scene – the queen and her son standing in a fertile wheat field – leaves us with an optimistic feeling that despite the loss of individual lives the Spartan city-state will go on. Of course, we could also argue that any culture could and would produce a similar piece of entertainment: a titular spectacular emphasizing nationalism, and militarism at the cost of dehumanizing the enemy. So is it really about the Iraq War? No – this war just happens to be the current product of such rabble-rousing.

I know it’s “just” a comic book and “just” a movie, but therein lies the problem – many Americans are seeing this movie. Something with such popular appeal and consumption is important. And it doesn’t take a person with a horrifying amount of student loans to see that.