Monday, April 02, 2007

Xerxes and George W. Bush

Obviously I've gone to extremes in my presentation of religious law [in 300], but then this isn't a historical text; this is an adventure yarn.” Frank Miller (comic book creator)

One of the absurdities of the human condition is the Arrogance of Culture. It seems that most people believe in the superiority of their own cultural lifestyles and histories and, in doing so, propagate the illusions of their moral superiority as well. Sometimes this arrogance can move beyond the borders of the parent culture and even be absorbed by other cultures. For instance, the French language was once considered a language of sophisticates and became the lingua franca of European royalty. The Russian nobility even used it in everyday communication.
The historical reality of every conflict is distorted by both cultural bias and poor record keeping. It is rarer still, that a non-biased, critical examination is applied. Many people are, after all, romantics at heart.

There seems to be a bit too much controversy surrounding the movie 300. But what is most amusing, as perhaps a touch of cultural arrogance, is how most people automatically assume that the Spartans represent the American military and the Persian forces represent the Iraqi insurgents or the state of modern Iran or even Middle-Eastern terrorists in general. If I were to draw such a metaphorical implication from the movie, I could easily assume the complete opposite – with the Spartans representing the Iraqi insurgents and Xerxes representing President George W. Bush.

The Persians are the invaders of Greece – The United States is the invader of Iraq. Xerxes claimed to be a god-king and did as he pleased – Bush holds himself to be specially chosen by god as does as he pleases. The Persians offered peace if the Spartans would kneel – the US offers peace if the Iraqis will kneel. The Persians offered power and wealth if the Spartans would yield – the US offers democracy and security if the Iraqis yield. The Persians were dismayed when the Spartans willingly sacrificed their lives on the battlefield – the US is dismayed when Iraqi citizens willingly detonate themselves in the streets. The Spartans wanted freedom and self-determination – the Iraqis want freedom and self-determination. The Persians refused to allow this – The US refuses to allow this.

I could go on of course if I really believed that such a deep message existed in the movie but ultimately, it is just that - a movie. In fact, a movie based on a comic book. It presents the Spartans in the same surrealistic grandeur as the samurai of medieval Japan are often portrayed. A perfect society filled with perfect warriors. It is surrealistic because just as with the samurai, Spartan society was not perfect and its warriors were not invincible. All warriors, though they may believe they are made of steel, are made of nothing more than flesh and blood. More importantly, there are always those who are less-free who must supply the warrior caste with the fruits of their labor or they will be punished with a sword.

So let go of your cultural arrogance and understand that the concepts of freedom and justice belong to no single culture.
- Just a peasant