Tuesday, August 14, 2007
300 Bridges Too Far
The in-flight movies I saw going to and coming from New York: "A Bridge Too Far", which deals concretely with the Second World War, and "300", which deals metaphorically with the Bush administration's effort to re-shape the Middle East by military means. Between them, they demonstrated how Hollywood in particular, and popular culture in general, usually serves a propaganda function during a war, while providing a more critical perspective once the war is actually over.
"A Bridge Too Far", which I saw coming to New York, fits neatly alongside other post-War fictional treatments of WWII, like "Catch-22" or "The Naked and the Dead". While the individual soldiers are portrayed heroically, the military command is rife with politics, careerism and ego. As a result, good soldiers are needlessly sacrificed to carry out a plan doomed to failure. Those who foresee the plan's flaws are either shunted aside or urged not to "rock the boat".
"300", on the other hand, is among the most shockingly militarist American movies I've ever seen. In no uncertain terms, it equates honor with discipline, glory with dying in battle, and leadership with physical dominance and brutality. Freedom (which apparently means the right to serve as cannon-fodder) must be paid for in blood. The danger from without comes at the hands of an androgenous enemy who uses pleasure to first seduce and then enslave his minions. Submitting to him is represented in a not-so-veiled way to sodomy. Those who recognize the "threat" are idealists. Those working to undermine them from within are the "realists". The takeaway from the film is that with time, deaths that seem needless and wasted will come to be seen as heroic and visionary. In other words, whether or not the "Persians" represent Iran and the next war or Iraq and this one, Sparta certainly represents what the neocons would like America to look like.
Supporters of Bush's folly in Iraq often point to the sacrifices this country made to win WWII. And during the war, Hollywood certainly churned out a ton of propaganda films that functioned -- like "300" -- to support the war effort. But even the universal acceptance of that war's noble aims didn't blind people to the shortcomings of the military command, all of which were vigorously lampooned and scathingly attacked once the war was over.
The turnaround was even shorter for the Vietnam War, which is part of what accounts for the common refrain of "Support the troops". But that's only half the equation of what the past sixty-odd years have taught us. Support the troops, yes. But question the generals. And hold the Commander-in-Chief accountable.