A while back I promised I wouldn't do anymore serialized academic papers, but this one just begged a blow-by-blow.
Uri Margolin, my World Literature professor from last semester called Politically Correct speech the Inquisition without Religion, or the Inquisition without torture, or something to that effect. He compared it to the Inquisition, effectively saying that Politically Correct speech was stripping literature of everything that made it fun. All the violence, sex and naughty bits censored for the civilized, cultured academic. No Lysistrata with its proliferation of erect penises, no Illiad with gory battle scene after battle scene. I missed Uri a lot this semester.
This past semester I was enlightened by Said's Orientalism and a host of Donna Haraway's new age feminist manifestos (and for the record, I really enjoyed her Companion Species Manifesto), as well as a barrage of discussions about how the West can't represent the East (which effectively means no writing about any culture that isn't your own...Fennimore Cooper is a bad bad man by the standards of this course), and somewhere during a discussion about "representing the other" I finally snapped. In true Perschon style (I am third generation shit disturber) I decided to find a Politically Incorrect topic for my final paper.
When I presented my abstract, there was a disagreement over what my prof deemed the oversimplification of the material I was dealing with, and made a suggestion for a different approach, to which I replied, "No." Saying "No" became the theme of the paper, for better or for worse. I loved writing it, even though I'm not too sure about the ultimate quality of the work. Judge for yourselves. I'll post it all in serial, but I think each part stands of its own. The text you read here is the Director's Cut of the paper. It's the version with all the witticisms, rants, and musings that had no place in an academic paper. Hope you enjoy it, and if you can't agree with it, you will have by rejecting my thesis taken your own stand, said "No", or as the David Whyte would say, "zero."
Introduction – the controversy and the case for 300 as heroic fiction
Both the New York Times’ A.O. Scott and Donna Stevens at the online magazine Slate have conflated the highly stylized action film 300 (which is an adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel recounting the events of the Battle of Thermopylae) with the current conflict in
Yet in its opening weekend 300 reportedly made 70 million dollars (rottentomatoes.com), making it the first official blockbuster of 2007, and the largest opening box-office draw for a March release. Why is a film like 300 so popular given the current political situation in the
It isn’t good history, but it might be great fantasy
It’s interesting to note the detractors’ usage of language to critique the film. Stephen Hunter of the Washington Post states that the film “betrays its comic book origins”, and that the use of slow motion is overdone “until it becomes comic” (C01) Hunter also adroitly notices that the action moves along “for reasons not historical but purely dramatic” (C01). Wesley Morris notes that “nothing seems approachably real. Even the blood is digital” (web). Gary Leupp begins his invective by informing his reader that he always takes in “the Hollywood period dramas set in ancient
The critics have it. And don’t have it. The animosity towards the picture (and by extension the graphic novel) may simply stem from a misappropriation of genre. Frank Miller’s 300 is not a work of historical fiction, nor is its film adaptation. As Greek critic Panayiotis Timoyiannakis commented that “It's an adaptation of a comic to the big screen, and that's only how it should be judged” (iht.com). Frank Miller has stated in an interview that the film is based as much on Rudolph Mate’s 1962 film The 300 Spartans and that as an artist and writer he took “an awful lot of liberty with everything…if you want reality, watch a documentary” (chasingthefrog.com). Like Robert Rodriguez’s film adaptation of Miller’s
It could be assumed that that term ‘comic’ in reference to comic book, is a genre of its own, but I would argue that the graphic novel is a medium of many genres in the same way film is. But Miller’s graphic novel is not a comic book in the traditional sense; the Spartans are not super or preternaturally strong, as in the case of Superman or Spiderman. They are akin to Homeric heroes, who are “normal human beings cast on a very large scale” (Hainsworth 27). Even when dealing with conventional superheroes such as Batman, the hero is ultimately human. A look through Miller’s works reveals that “In Miller’s world, only humans can be superheroes, and Leonidas is one of those beings” (Blackmore 327).
While at the very least, 300 is obviously fiction, “a story about stories...about the uses of myth, about the way different narrators in different times interpret the same fable for very different purposes; it is about the way we as readers choose to interpret texts now” (Blackmore 326), it is arguably a work of a very specific form of fantasy fiction, namely heroic fantasy. In an interview by Dan Vergano, Paul Carledge, author of Thermopylae: The Battle that Changed the World comments that while the film is rooted in history, “What the movie adds in is a slew of fantasy fiction, including scary monsters”. It was likely fantasy, not science fiction Dr. Nasab meant to reference when he made his statement that the film cannot be seen as a form of fiction, confusing (as many who are unfamiliar with the difference between these genres do) science fiction with fantasy. Nasab argues that a work using historical events and personages cannot be construed as a work of fiction; yet this is simply not the case, given the existence of both historical fiction, and its more fictional science fiction counterpart, the alternate history.
Heroic fantasy is neither traditional nor alternate history; though someone might wish to include Robert Howard’s Conan series as alternate history, given that it takes place in a prehistoric
Heroic fantasy, unlike mythopoetic fantasy or “high fantasy: as it will be referred to for the remainder of this paper, does not involve “a larger supernatural conflict” (Thompson 114) as many assume fantasy must be, based upon the domination of popular understandings of the fantasy genre by works such as Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. In Manlove’s terms, the supernatural elements are toned down. Heroic fantasy is more concerned with “the extent to which the protagonists are prepared to follow the standards of conduct that they hold dear” (Thompson 114). In this, the genre is thoroughly modern, pitting the strength and ability of the individual against their conflict, with their allegiances to personal standards or loyalties; contrary to accusations which type heroic literature as “fascist” (Alpers in Frederickss 104), sword-and-sorcery “offers highly personal philosophies and individualistic points of view and tries to make its readers more exuberant, more intense about life in our real world of the present” (Fredericks 120).
 The lone voice of Greek support amidst a group of critics who were equally unimpressed with the presentation of
 Despite the precedent of a general lack of academic interest, the genre of alternate history has garnered a good deal of attention recently as a popular phenomenon. Gavriel Rosenfeld cites the decentralization of political ideology in the West, the emergence of postmodernism, recent scientific trends such as chaos theory and evolutionary biology, the advent of cyberspace and virtual reality, the “speculative sensibility” of pop culture (where narratives do not simply mirror reality, but “explore alternatives to it”) and the impact of the entertainment revolution on the popular presentation of history as contributing factors to this popularity (8-10). One might even be tempted to say that since “historical representation is dependent in practice on the representability of events and not on their reality as such” (Ryan 3) then all histories could be considered alternate histories. As Mary Gentle observes, we do not recover the past, but represent it using “a collection of fallible memories, inconvenient documents, disconcerting new facts, and solemn cultural bedtime stories” (Turtledove,
 In regards to writing his Conan novels, Howard said, “There is no literary work, to me, half as zestful as rewriting history in the guise of fiction” (Knight 118).
Associated Press. “Greek critics lash
Blackmore, Tim. “300 and Two: Frank Miller and Daniel Ford Interpret Herodotus’
Fredericks, Casey. The Future of Eternity: Mythologies of Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Hainsworth, J.B. “Ancient Greek” Traditions of Heroic and Epic Poetry: Volume One-The Traditions. Ed. A.T. Hatto.
Herron, Don, Ed. The Dark Barbarian: The Writings of Robert E. Howard: A Critical Anthology. Gilette: Wildside Press, 1984.
Hunter, Stephen. “’300’: A Losing
Kahane, David. “300 Shocker:
Knight, George. “Robert E. Howard: Hard-boiled Heroic Fantasist” Herron 117-134
Leupp, Gary. “300 vs.
Morris, Welsey. “300 Movie Review: Sweating it Out at the Hot Gates.” The
Nasab, Hamed Vahdati. “Bad History, worse timing” Iranian.com, April 2007.
Rosenthal, Michael, “What was Postmodernism?” Socialist Review, 22. (1992): 83-105.
Turtledove, Harry, S.M. Stirling, Mary Gentle, and Walter Jon Williams. Worlds That Weren’t