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The True Hollywood Left

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Zack Snyder's 300, the saga of the 300 Spartan soldiers who sacrificed themselves at Thermopilae in halting the invasion of Xerxes' Persian [[army]], was attacked as the worst kind of patriotic militarism with clear allusions to the [[recent ]] tensions with [[Iran ]] and events in [[Iraq ]] - are, however, things really so clear? The [[film ]] should rather be thoroughly defended against these accusations.
There are two points to be made; the first concerns the story itself - it is the story a small and poor country ([[Greece]]) invaded by the army of a much larges [[state ]] (Persia), at that point much more developed, and with a much more developed military [[technology ]] - are the Persian elephants, giants and large fire arrows not the ancient version of high-tech arms? When the last surviving group of the Spartans and their king Leonidas are killed by the thousands of arrows, are they not in a way bombed to [[death ]] by techno-soldiers operating sophisticated weapons from a safe distance, like today's US soldiers who push the rocket buttons from the warships safely away in the Persian Gulf? Furthermore, Xerxes's [[words ]] when he attempts to convince Leonidas to accept the Persian domination, definitely do not sound as the words of a fanatic Muslim fundamentalist: he tries to [[seduce ]] Leonidas into subjection by promising him peace and sensual pleasures if he rejoins the Persian [[global ]] [[empire]]. All he asks from him is a [[formal ]] gesture of kneeling down, of recognizing the Persian supremacy - if the Spartans do this, they will be given supreme [[authority ]] over the entire Greece. Is this not the same as what President [[Reagan ]] demanded from Nicaraguan Sandinista [[government]]? They should just say "Hey uncle!" to the US... And is Xerxes's court not depicted as a kind of multiculturalist different-lifestyles paradise? Everyone participates in orgies there, different races, lesbians and gays, cripples, etc.? Are, then, Spartans, with their [[discipline ]] and spirit of sacrifice, not much closer to something like the Taliban defending Afghanistan against the US occupation (or, as a matter of fact, the [[elite ]] unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard ready to sacrifice itself in the [[case ]] of an American invasion? The [[Greeks ]] main arm against this overwhelming military supremacy is discipline and the spirit of sacrifice - and, to quote [[Alain ]] [[Badiou]]: "We [[need ]] a popular discipline. I would even say /.../ that 'those who have [[nothing ]] have only their discipline.' The poor, those with no financial or military means, those with no [[power ]] - all they have is their discipline, their capacity to act together. This discipline is already a [[form ]] of organization." In today's era of hedonist permissivity as the ruling [[ideology]], the [[time ]] is coming for the [[Left ]] to (re)appropriate discipline and the spirit of sacrifice: there is nothing inherently "Fascist" [[about ]] these values.
But even this fundamentalist [[identity ]] of the Spartans is more ambiguous. A programmatic [[statement ]] towards the end of the film defines the Greeks' agenda as "against the reign of mystique and tyranny, towards the bright [[future]]," further specified as the rule of [[freedom ]] and [[reason ]] - sounds like an elementary [[Enlightenment ]] program, even with a [[Communist ]] twist! [[Recall ]] also that, at the film's beginning, Leonidas outrightly rejects the [[message ]] of the corrupt "oracles" according to whom, gods forbid the military expedition to stop the Persians - as we learn later, the "oracles" who were allegedly receiving the divine message in an ecstatic trance were effectively paid by the Persians, like the Tibetan "oracle" who, in 1959, delivered to the Dalai-lama the message to leave Tibet and who was - as we learned today - on the payroll of the CIA!
But what about the [[apparent ]] absurdity of the [[idea ]] of dignity, freedom and Reason, sustained by extreme military discipline, including of the [[practice ]] of discarding the weak [[children]]? This "absurdity" is simply the price of freedom - freedom is not free, as they put it in the film. Freedom is not something given, it is regained through a hard [[struggle ]] in which one should be ready to risk everything. The Spartan ruthless military discipline is not simply the [[external ]] opposite of the Athenian "[[liberal ]] [[democracy]]," it is its inherent condition, it lays the foundation for it: the free [[subject ]] of Reason can only emerge through a ruthless [[self]]-discipline. [[True ]] freedom is not a freedom of [[choice ]] made from a safe distance, like choosing between a strawberry cake or a chocolate cake; true freedom overlaps with [[necessity]], one makes a truly free choice when one's choice puts at stake one's very [[existence ]] - one does it because one simply "cannot do it otherwise." When one's country is under a foreign occupation and one is called by a [[resistance ]] [[leader ]] to join the fight against the occupiers, the reason given is not "you are free to choose," but: "Can't you see that this is the only [[thing ]] you can do if you [[want ]] to retain your dignity?" No wonder that all early modern egalitarian radicals, from Rousseau to Jacobins, admired [[Sparta ]] and imagined the republican [[France ]] as a new Sparta: there is an emancipatory core in the Spartan spirit of military discipline which survives even when we subtract all historical paraphernalia of Spartan [[class ]] rule, ruthless exploitation of and [[terror ]] over their [[slaves]], etc.
Even more important is, perhaps, the film's formal aspect: the entire film was shot in a warehouse in Montreal, with the entire background and many persons and [[objects ]] digitally constructed. The artificial [[character ]] of the background seems to infect "[[real]]" actors themselves, who often appear as characters from comics rendered alive (the film is based on Frank [[Miller]]'s graphic novel 300). Furthermore, the artificial (digital) [[nature ]] of the background creates a claustrophobic atmosphere, as if the story does not take [[place ]] in "real" [[reality ]] with its endless open horizons, but in a "closed [[world]]," a kind of relief-world of closed [[space]]. Aesthetically, we are here steps ahead of the [[Star Wars ]] and Lord of the Rings series: although, in these series also, many background objects and persons are digitally created, the impression is nonetheless the one of (real and) digital actors and objects (elephants, Yoda, Urkhs, palaces, etc.) placed into a "real" open world; in 300, on the contrary, all main characters are "real" actors put into an artifical background, the combination which produces a much more [[uncanny ]] "closed" world of a "cyborg" mixture of real [[people ]] integrated into an artificial world. It is only with 300 that the combination of "real" actors and objects and digital [[environment ]] came close to create a truly new [[autonomous ]] aesthetic space.
The practice of mixing different [[arts]], of including in an art the reference to [[another ]] art, has a long [[tradition]], especially with [[regard ]] to [[cinema]]; say, many Hopper's portraits of a [[woman ]] behind an open window, [[looking ]] [[outside]], are clearly mediated by the [[experience ]] of cinema (they offer a shot without its counter-shot). What makes 300 notable is that, in it (not for the [[first time]], of course, but in a way which is artistically much more interesting than, say, that of Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy), a technically more developed art (digitalized cinema) refers to a less developed one (comics). The effect produced is that of "true reality" losing its innocence, appearing as part of a closed artificial [[universe]], which is a perfect figuration of our socio-[[ideological ]] predicament. Those critics who claimed that the "[[synthesis]]" of the two arts in 300 is a failed one are thus wrong for the very reason of [[being ]] [[right]]: of course the "synthesis" fails, of course the universe we see on the careen is traversed by a profound [[antagonism ]] and [[inconsistency]], but it is this very antagonism which is an indication of [[truth]].
[[:Category:Zizek Articles]]
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