The Battle For Fictional Heroism

6 comments March 18th, 2007at 07:44pm Posted by Eli

Sci-fi novelist Neal Stephenson has an op-ed piece in today’s NYT, which reminds me of something I find rather silly:

Many critics dislike “300” so intensely that they refused to do it the honor of criticizing it as if it were a real movie. Critics at a festival in Berlin walked out, and accused its director of being on the Bush payroll.

Thermopylae is a wedge issue!

Lefties can’t abide lionizing a bunch of militaristic slave-owners (even if they did happen to be long-haired supporters of women’s rights). So you might think that righties would love the film. But they’re nervous that Emperor Xerxes of Persia, not the freedom-loving Leonidas, might be George Bush.

I remember this happening with Chronicles Of Narnia, the Star Wars prequels, and with the new Battlestar Galactica. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it elsewhere, but those are the three that came to mind first. Both Democrats and Republicans start from an assumption that the movie or show must be an allegory for something else, and then either strive to prove that the good guys represent their side, and the bad guys represent the other side, or else complain that the allegory is somehow slanderous or propagandistic.

While it’s probably true that some movies and TV shows are allegories, does it really matter that much? Is anyone really going to vote against Democrats or Republicans because their party were the bad guys in 300?

Side note: It seems like this phenomenon crops up a lot more often for sci-fi material (which Stephenson lumps 300 in as). This is probably because it’s so unmoored from our reality that it’s much easier to project additional meaning onto.

Entry Filed under: Democrats,Movies,Politics,Republicans,TV


  • 1. charley  |  March 18th, 2007 at 10:25 pm

    Chronicles Of Narnia is certainly an allegory.

    only i don’t think Lewis was think’n about dems or repukes.

    it’s also a lovely story… cheapened by politicks

    yup, i blame george bush.

  • 2. Eli  |  March 18th, 2007 at 11:30 pm

    Yah, my point is not so much that they’re not allegories, just that it seems strange to me that so many people find it deathly important to characterize sci-fi movies and TV shows as conservative or liberal. I suspect that 99% of the viewing public are just taking them at face value, as entertainment.

    Narnia might be an exception, since as you say, it was already a pretty well-established allegory, and therefore has an already-established Christian audience going to see it for spiritual inspiration.

  • 3. Rob  |  March 18th, 2007 at 11:55 pm

    Technically, Chronicles of Narnia is not an allegory. Lewis, himself an expert in allegory, said it wasn’t. If anything, it’s closer to SF: if a universe like Narnia existed, what would Christ have been like?

    Definitely not allegory.

    That said, the thing that shocked me about “300” was what a bunch of doofuses we have for leaders. Bush hid out in the National Guard, Dick Cheney had “better things to do” than serve in Viet Nam, and the one person who did serve in Viet Nam in the last election was belittled for having done so by the right.

    Of course, “300” made a complete screw-up of the history as we know it. I can ignore that, except the changes made the film weaker. The Spartans didn’t use the pass properly and the final sacrifice was a…can I say “Hail Mary” pass?…instead of a brilliant military sacrifice that allowed most of the army to retreat and finally enabled Greece to win the war.

    If Miller had stuck closer to the history, it would have been a lot better movie.

    The sloganeering was a bit hokey, too. It really would make a good recruitment movie for the fight in Iraq, except as I said, it makes our leaders look like morons in comparison.

  • 4. Eli  |  March 19th, 2007 at 12:01 am

    The Spartans are what the Republicans *think* they are, or like to think of themselves as, but the Spartans would have had nothing but contempt for them as soft, weak, pampered and decadent.

    Their lack of self-awareness is quite impressive, really.

  • 5. Ol'Froth  |  March 19th, 2007 at 12:31 pm

    ANd what’s with the lack of breastplates?? I always thought that hoplites were heavy infantry?

  • 6. Eli  |  March 19th, 2007 at 3:10 pm

    And this is why Frothy will never have a career directing homoerotic action movies.

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