Saturday, September 06, 2014

300 (and more) flat-out evil lies

Frank Miller’s Sin City follow-up, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, has apparently bombed at the box office. Has this lemon -- plus the epic failure of Miller’s The Spirit -- marked him as a “Hollywood one hit wonder?” Well not quite.  Miller had his hands in many pies. Still, one can trace a big, common theme.

In almost every work, his message is the same: “Give up on civilization; there’s no such thing. Democracy is a farce, all civil servants are inherently corrupt and your fellow “citizens” are sheep. The only justice you will ever get is from the muzzle of a gun or the edge of a sword. So pledge your souls to the righteously violent.”

And yes, I deem this noxious. But one Frank Miller franchise, in particular, ticked me off more than the others. Not because of his obsessive hatred toward America and its enlightenment experiment. (He’s entitled; it’s a free country, after all.) But because this series features a fountain, a flash-flood, a veritable tsunami of outright and deliberate lies. 

Orwellian-scale falsehoods that seek to teach a generation of semi-literate viewers his vile version of history.  

== The earlier "300" lie-festival ==

My evisceration of “300” — Miller’s 2007 collaboration with Zack Snyder — exposed one blatant falsehood or omission after another, attempting to convince you that down is up and day is night. 

For example, in portraying ancient Spartans as noble fighters for freedom, Miller and Snyder never hinted at their legendary brutality toward their Helot slaves, several thousand of whom carried luggage and wine for King Leonidas’s three hundred Spartan bullies, into the Thermopylae pass. Slaves who were then thrown into the front battle line, with spears but no armor.  (Real hoplites did not expose their abs, but went into combat covered, tip-to-toe. It’s those never-mentioned slaves who fought half naked.) 

Miller wrote out entirely the 2,000 Thespian volunteers (farmers and shopkeepers) who stayed with Leonidas to the end, but who were inconvenient to “300’s” nonstop rant against citizenship, propagandizing in favor of military rule by tyrants.

I concluded my piece on “300” (years ago) by fantasizing how great it would be to see a film about the Persian Wars from an Athenian perspective! Showing not only their spectacular victory at Marathon but their fantastic second feat, that very same day. Running 26 miles in full armor to face down another army, by nightfall. What epic cinema that would be! 

Then moving on ten years to show the brave stand of citizen volunteers against Persia’s huge navy in the Artemesium Straits, their fighting retreat, after the Spartans let them down at Thermopylae. Plus the deft way Athenian women handled the evacuation of their city, and the bold skill with which their great admiral, Themistocles, lured Xerxes’s fleet into a trap, at Salamis.

I mused publicly about that epic tale, hoping someone might make that film, partly for the sheer dramatic excitement of that story — one of the greatest of all epics in the West — but also as a clear answer to Frank Miller’s fabrication-propaganda …

… little realizing that Miller and Snyder would, after my essay came out, decide to tell that side of things themselves!  

Alas… in their own way.

== The Rise of a Farce ==

All right, I finally rented that sequel — 300: Rise of an Empire”having waited till I could do it in a way that, while legal, sent as little cash as possible to Frank Miller.  Moreover, sitting down with popcorn at my elbow, I felt cognitive dissonance! We all have, within our human natures, many conflicting impulses.  The trick is to be aware — and wary — of them.  

Hence a real part of me hoped that Miller and his partner, Zack Snyder, might have seen the light, or had some kind of awakening.  After all, here they were, about to tell another side of the Greek-Persian wars.  A side that I had urged someone to tell, after “300’s” travesty of slanders.  A side of the story that they suppressed earlier — how Athenian “bakers, tradesmen, farmers and poets” won all the important victories that preserved the seed of Western Civilization. 

In my denunciation of that first “300” travesty, I showed that Leonidas would never - in real life - have sneered at the victors of Marathon.  And he would have at minimum turned his head, during his own battle, at least once, to give a nod of grudging respect toward the heroic Athenian fleet, guarding his flank, holding out much longer than his own pathetic three days.  

Perhaps now Snyder and Miller were about to correct it all! Or so I hoped. (Note: Miller's comic book Xerxes has yet to be finished or handed-in.)

And yet, I admit that another side of me - (all too human) - does like to be proved right. Hence for honesty's sake, when I watched 300: the Rise of an Empire,” I kept careful track of any redeeming qualities. Let’s start with those.

== Some truth, this time! ==

Proposed cover of Xerxes - uncompleted
1) At least the sequence of major historical events was correct.  The gross outline of things that some grizzled Miller fan might dimly recall from high school world history class:

- that Athenians wrecked the first Persian invasion sent by Darius, at Marathon.

- that Xerxes swore vengeance on those who had humiliated his father.

- that Xerxes ordered built a great rope-linked bridge across the Bosporus, so his giant army could march into Greece by land.

- that a mostly-Greek queen named Artemesia did serve Xerxes, with some distinction.

- that a mostly-Athenian, vastly-outnumbered fleet battled the Persian navy to a standstill in the straits, not far from Thermopylae, and that they retreated only when Leonidas failed there.

- that Xerxes took and burned Athens.

- that his fleet was lured into the passage at Salamis, where the Spartans arrived, at last, to help, and where the Persian Navy was largely destroyed.

- that this victory enabled a united Greek force to eliminate Persian ground forces at Platea.

That sequence correlates in both film and history. On can argue that Snyder and Miller had to do that much. Too many in their intended audience would notice, otherwise.

2) Okay, I must admit another redeeming moment. Just showing the Bosporus rope and pontoon bridge was way-cool. And it happened, a spectacular accomplishment of parthian engineering, no lie.

3) To my shock and disbelief, Snyder and Miller actually allowed Themistocles to point out… twice! … that his force was largely amateur, not professional fighters — fishermen, merchants, farmers and poets.  Two brief moments of actual retraction-rebuttal vs. the relentless ranting against citizenship that made the first “300” flick little better than an ode to Leni Riefenstahl. Unfortunately, those twin glimmers never go anywhere. And Miller-Snyder still set things up so that Spartan professionals wind up saving the amateurs’ hash.

That’s pretty much all the quality that you’ll find in “300:2”  A sequence of basic bullet points that Miller had to follow, because his audiences aren’t completely ignorant. Plus a way-cool bridge…

… oh, and action!  Lots and lots of eye-candy, distracting action! 

Ships ramming ships! Slow-motion stabs and decapitations! Ab-flexing and homoerotic kill-em-all prancing! Hey, I can wallow in that stuff as well as the next guy.  I was able to put down my pencil and enjoy the wowzer visuals. (Heck I have to confess: I even pay to see Transformers flicks!) As I said, we are many people, inside of each of our complex heads… and one of me is forever-twelve!  So give let me give this thing an 8.5 score when it comes to gleeful, gladiatorial choreography.

Oh, and the infamous sex scene between Artemesia and Themistocles? Sure. It never happened, but why not? Kinda rough, but consenting adults and all that.  Probably the film’s most creative and memorable moment.

And so, we complete our list of good aspects assigned to 300: The Rise of an Empire. None of which even begin to stack up against the litany of noxious, disgusting, batshit-evil other-crap that filled this monstrosity to overflowing.  Starting and ending with a gusher of outright lies.

== 300-plus fibs ==

I’m not the only one to call-out this franchise for “inaccuracies.” Let’s start with an excerpt from WikipediaPaul Cartledge, a professor of Greek culture at Cambridge University, noted that the film contains historical errors. For example, Darius was not killed as depicted as neither Xerxes nor Darius were present at the Battle of Marathon. Artemisia in reality argued against sailing into the (Salamis) straits and survived the Persian Wars. The Spartan navy contributed a mere 16 warships to the Greek fleet of 400 warships in the ending battle scene, and not a huge army.”  

history-vs-hollywoodThe History vs. Hollywood site is no kinder: “Unlike in the film where Artemisia (Eva Green) demands that Xerxes order the Persian fleet into Salamis to finish off the Greeks, the real Artemisia had actually advised the Persian King Xerxes against the battle, arguing that it is not wise to engage the Greeks at sea.”

From the same site: “Was Artemisia's family murdered by Greek hoplites, after which she was taken as a slave?… No. This backstory for Artemisia was invented by Frank Miller and the filmmakers to explain the motivations behind Artemisia's ruthless thirst for vengeance in the film.”  

A blogger, Bob Dekle, summed up his own objections far better than any of the standard critics: …”Aside from the bleak scenery and the gallons of spilled blood, I enjoyed it. The movie did not, however, even make a feeble attempt at being an accurate retelling of the history of the Greco-Persian War.  This is unfortunate, because the history of the Greco-Persian War as recounted by Herodotus is a much more interesting story populated by much more interesting people than the cardboard characters who populated the movie.”  

While we're at it, here's a link to an extensive article by Alex Pappademas on  Frank Miller's Dark Night.

Fair sized indictments. But way too mild. I will not be so kind.

== It wasn’t like that… at all ==

Some of the lies in this film are somewhat understandable, when you can at least see the propaganda point that Frank Miller wants to push. For example, in the real battle at the Straits of Artemesium there was no trick with a barge-fulla-oil. Themistocles and the Athenians weren’t routed, but fought a well-ordered retreat, after Leonidas let them down by losing the Hot Gates.  

But you can see that Frank Miller can’t leave things that way. He cannot allow the Athenian merchants and fishermen to seem more effective than his beloved Spartans. They must be just as soundly defeated as Leonidas. It is a lie, but at least one with a (vile) purpose.

Likewise, at Salamis, Themistocles is shown rowing out with his few survivors to perform a final gesture of macho defiance, just like Leonidas, instead of coolly and carefully springing the strategic and tactical trap that (in real life) changed the world. Moreover, while amputating the historical Athenian-allied fleet down to a pathetic remnant — a damsel-needing-rescuing — Miller expands the measly, 16 ship Spartan contingent at Salamis into a triumphant armada, arriving in the nick of time to save the foppish Athenians’ hash.  That is no mere quibble.  His central aim in life is to proclaim the futility of citizenship and to extoll the primacy of take-everything lords.

Again, Miller’s reasons for telling these outright falsehoods this are evil reasons… but at least he had reasons for those lies.  

Other betrayals of fact, however, left me deeply puzzled.

== Lies without any purpose at all ==

Not only was Darius not at Marathon (as we’ve seen), but when he died (of natural causes) he made a reluctant Xerxes vow to take vengeance on Athens. That vow and its consequences would have been just as dramatic as the utterly-reversed father-son interplay created by Miller.  It’s one thing to reverse history if you have a point to make. But why do it, when it serves no purpose?

Likewise, for Xerxes to impetuously order the cautious Artemesia into the channel at Salamis would have not only been historically accurate, but made far more sense for the characters, dramatically.  Her film character had every reason to be the wary one!  (As she was, in real life.) Making her the impetuous-imperious one was unnecessary and… weird.

Yes, the Persians torched Athens to the ground. But which portrayal of that event would make better cinema? Showing them slaughtering the population in yet another (yawn) atrocity? Or portraying the skillful way Athenian women snuck everyone out of town, right under Xerxes’s nose, leaving him only wooden timbers to burn? Ashes upon which returning citizens would soon build a beacon -- the beacon -- of civilization?

Time and again, Snyder and Miller chose to do that… to reverse a true-history that was already plenty-dramatic! Leaving one head-scratching and asking… why?

The same goes for all the mystic claptrap. Does Xerxes have to be Artemesia’s leering-silly puppet and a mumbo-jumbo-mutant god-king?  Hey, I didn’t mind the sea serpents… much… though Annalee Newitz at io9 riffs hilariously about them... but are they necessary? Don’t they imply that : “none of this ever really happened; it’s just another Hollywood fantasy”? 

Must you mutate this conflict - one of the foundational epics of our civilization - into the equivalent of “George Washington, Exorcist”? With King George in the role of Lucifer and Benedict Arnold as a talking-flying snake… that has laser beams mounted on its head?  (Come to think of it, that’s a great elevator pitch!  A real winner, in today’s Hollywood. Get agent on phone.)

Let’s go back again to Marathon, at which Themistocles was only a common foot-soldier.  The Athenian bakers and poets would never have stood a chance against Darius’s Immortals in leap-n-slash, showoffy-dance-cavort style combat. Anyway, we saw the Spartans doing that in the first flick. Been there, done that.  So how about letting us see what really happened? Farmers and potters lowering their spears, shoulder-to-shoulder in a thin blue line, pushing forward against a great mass of professionals that outnumbered them ten to one? Rushing just in time to fill gaps in that wavering line? Swerving to confront cavalry charges, grunting and shoving death all the way into the surf, until the invaders were overcome… and then…

…and then — almost without pause — turning around to run those grueling 26 miles, and confront a second force before nightfall? Did Spartans ever come close to equalling such incredible… 

…oh, but I’ve said all that, before.

== The aim and the Lesson ==

Summing up, we must divide the falsehoods spewed by 300: The Rise of an Empire into those two categories.  First are lies that served Frank Miller’s purpose — to undermine confidence in our Athenian, citizen-centered civilization.  It is an ambition that Miller shares with science fiction author Orson Scott Card — a message that Card also pushes relentlessly, in all of his works, but especially in a recent book called “Empire.”

Democracy? Citizenship? An open society of laws and flawed-but-improving justice? Institutions and occasional public servants that sometimes do their jobs and that we can criticize and tweak, until they get better? Or, at least, the aspiration for such a nation and society? To achieve perhaps someday? 

These hopes are declared inherently futile by Miller and Card, who always, always prescribe: “find yourselves a demigod to admire. It’s your only hope.”

(I admit that Card spins out demigods who are less brutal, more conflicted and tormented, than Miller's, perpetually wringing their hands -- before always deciding to take over... for our own good, of course.)

Okay, I understand the lies in 300 and 300:2 that actually served Miller's propaganda purpose. But the other, second category of deceit is more telling.  Lies that served no purpose. That didn’t even preach the author’s (evil) message!  Lies made the tale less dramatic and interesting! 

Lies that could only have spilled forth out of habit, a reflex for preferring any falsehood, always, over truth.

== An escape clause ==

Oh, but is there an out? An escape clause? 

There is! Right there, in “300:II”! An excuse for every drooling fabulation and reversal of fact.

R6_V10K3_81313_CO3_PULLS_01rl_0034.tifThe film begins and ends with a narration by Gorgo, the widow of Leonidas, a pep talk for the benefit of her Spartan horde.  

This implies that every exaggeration or historical anomaly is her fault! It is only natural that she would put a superstitious, Spartan spin on things, all the way to sea serpents! And demeaning those Athenians, proclaiming that her own armies saved their bacon.

 Yeah, that’s the ticket. It’s all Gorgo’s fault.

Alas, even this doesn’t help with the TITLE of Miller’s flop: “300: The Rise of an Empire.”  Huh?  What empire arose from this story?  

Oh, sure, across the next 50 years, Athens would gradually climb ever-higher, invigorated by democracy, emboldened by commercial and technological innovation and stimulated by leaders like Pericles, the George Washington of his time.  But that Athenian “empire” (it would become flawed, vainglorious and foolish, in time) isn’t even hinted at, in the movie. Hence one has to wonder, were the makers of this thing stoned, the entire time?

That is easy enough to believe.

== Enough ==

There are so many flaws, so why must I flog a flop and dismal failure?

Because we need to lift our heads — as consumers — and demand better.  

One can have vivid action without lobotomization.  We can have movies that are true to their subject matter (e.g. history) without being dry or boring. Indeed, some historical events make great drama! Especially if you simply retell what actually happened, with truth and heart. Have a look at ZULU, or Ted Turner’s GETTYSBURG, or THE CROSSING.

The question arises again and again “why lie about any of it!”   

One can easily hear the whispered reply of the makers of this wretched mess.

“Why lie?  Because we can!”


David Brin said...

A reaming of the original 300, by artist John Powers, raises entirely different points than mine, with great passion.

daddyoyo said...

I agree that Ted Turner's Gettysburg was quite accurate, having read Harry Pfanz's amazing 3 volume work, one for each day of the battle. I only wish it had been filmed using all the Spielbergian verisimilitude of Saving Private Ryan, instead of civil war re-enactors. One additional criticism I have of the 300 series is the utter invisibility of the bisexuality of the Greeks, especially the Spartans, not to mention the portrayal of the enemy leaders as ultra feminine, something still common in many films. In support of your emphasis on the citizen army of Athens, the great playwright Aeschylus (no professional soldier was he) considered his service at Marathon worthy of an epigram on his gravestone.

Anonymous said...

I'd no sooner go to the movies for real History, than I would go to a Spiderman comic book for real Science. Although I saw Ender's Game(reluctantly) and actually enjoyed Sin City 2, I didn't realize these people had an agenda. I thought : " Sin City is scripted as if by a horny 14 year old who managed to get C's in English. " And that's sort of what they aim for. The disturbed, nightmarish musings of poorly raised minds are what are more or less ruining the potential for a better world. I guess Hollywood finds it easier to make money off of people who are less intellectually "There", than it is to profit from people who actually have a bit of a grip on the facts. But the Music industry is probably the worst offense. And Cocaine. All those tens of thousands of murders throughout this hemisphere and the next, are traceable directly to Cocaine and the entertainers (for the most part, because almost nobody used it when I was a kid) who just had to be a little more "Extreme". I'd think that these were the principle causes of horrible test scores in schools, child prostitution, and an over all decline in civility.

escoles said...

@daddyoyo, the feminization is pretty consistent with Miller's larger aesthetic framework, which is generally pretty misogynistic. Snyder's isn't a heck of a lot more enlightened.

I actually think a lot of the 'illogical' lies make a lot of sense when viewed through a Millerian lens. Athens was a relatively open culture, where demagogues could be and often were tossed out on their ear for being the kind of character Miller loves. So it's natural that he'd want to minize their contribution. Similarly, Miller doesn't have a lot of use for women, so casting Artemesia in the role of a manipulative harpy suits his purpose quite well.

The night-dress of Gorgo's "embellishment" is actually the thing that bothers me most. It's another manifestation of the 'i was only joking'/'it's only a story' ploy. Well, yeah, of course it's a story. We did noticed that. Some of us (e.g. David) also know a bit about the uses to which stories can be put.

Unknown said...

How about mysogeny as an explanatory variable in Miller's twists on the truth? Artemesia is unhinged and vengeful, not wisely cautious. The Athenian women are subjected to rape and pillage, not strategically absent as their city burns. And Gorgo, well, it's her delusions (or spin) that keep us from the truth! Even though she's Spartan (good) she's still a woman (weak and/or out of control). So maybe Miller has another agenda. And it isn't friendly to women.

LarryHart said...

@Dr Brin,

Full disclosure--I haven't read your entire piece yet, just the first few paragraphs.

My comment is general. Back when Frank Miller was writing "Sin City" (the comics), he wrote about how impressed he once was with a movie called "The 300 Spartans". That movie, moreso than actual history, was his inspiration for "300" the Graphic Novel.

His inspiration for "300" the movie seemed to be more of a post-9/11 pro-Bush screed. Thus, the Spartans, as Greeks, were "Europe", therefore "western democracy". And the Persians aka Iranians represented "despotism" and "terrorism". The fact that the American revolution was against European despotism and other such facts notwithsatnding. You're either with us or...blah blah blah.

I'm truly sad at the trajectory Frank Miller's career has gone off on. In the 1980s and 1990s, he was a champion of creators' rights in the comics field, and the writer of some truly revolutionary stuff, including the "Dark Knight" series which pretty much revived the "Batman" franchise and has defined the character ever since. The beauty of the "Sin City" film was not in its subject matter, but in its 100% faithfulness to the comics pages (often too faithful, to the point where I finally understood why Hollywood often has to take liberties with its adaptations).

But after the real-life 9/11, Frank Miller went full-on right wing apologist who seemingly believes that fascism is the only protection against terrorism, and that criticism of the former amounts to endorsement of the latter. The kicker for me was his screed (which you wrote about) against the "Occupy Wall Street" movement a few years ago in which he asserted that those protesting abuse of the financial system were alligned with al-Queada. What the one had to do with the other still mystifies me, unless he was confusing OWS with anti-war protestors. Or did he really mean that the fascists must be allowed their way in all things, or else terrorist nukes will destroy us all?

Before 9/11, I could read the graphic novel "300" and enjoy it for what it was. When the movie came out, I was so disgusted with the pro-Bush message that I couldn't finish it--even though the plot and dialogue were virtually identical. I agree with you wholeheartedly about detesting he message that 21st Century-Miller evokes. But all the same, I can't help fondly remembering 20th Century Miller's "Daredevil", "Batman", and even "Sin City" and feeling a certain sorrow at our loss of that Frank Miller.

Maybe the terrorists did win after all. More's the pity.

Unknown said...

Previous comment came in while I was writing, but clearly we agree on Miller's problem with women. I'm not sure what autocorrect from an alternate reality made misogyny into mysogeny! said...

David, do you think the film, The 300 Spartans," which inspired Miller is any better or historically accurate than 300? I do not think that anyone goes to see 300 and expects a historically accurate depiction of the story. Honestly, we have no way outside of historical artifacts and accounts to know with any certainty exactly than we can look back at Homer or Virgil and see it as anything more than classic and artistic works of antiquity, but not objective history. As for Miller, he has a huge legion of fans and the filmmaker's who are adopting his works are fans that grew up reading his graphic novels and stories. The irony being that most most comic book writers hired today are also screenwriters and TV writers too. Stan Lee himself stated this fact and I went to college with a person who is the Executive Producer of a popular CW TV show and he has written for Marvel and DC too. As long as there is a synergy between the comic book industry and Hollywood, I think Miller will be writing and directing films regardless of quality for many years to come.

David Brin said...

GenreOnline sorry... I have catalogued a litany of lies and presented them in several places. A few might have been matters of interpretation of murky events. But most were falsehoods that played diametrically opposite to well-documented factsThe universal character of those falsehoods shows that it is a consistent campaign of propaganda.

The 1962 film 300 Spartans was enjoyable. In those days the background message was the Cold War. Miller openly declared he wanted more complexity, a bigger story and wider scope. Everything he added was a vicious lie.

Alex Tolley said...

I fond 300: Rise of an Empire rather boring. Only Eva Green lent any interest to this story for me, which was all set piece CGI.

I think Snyder really has only been associated with one artistically successful movie - Watchmen. (Possibly Man of Steel). Everything else I've seen hasn't been good.

As for Miller, what exactly was his involvement in 300 and 300:RoaE? He neither wrote the screenplay or directed either movie. He was the producer, which means he may have had some influence over the creative process (since he wrote the source graphic novels). But as movies, the result, good or bad, lies at the feet of Snyder. I haven't read teh source graphic novels, but I accept that they were historically wrong from reading critiques elsewhere.

LarryHart said...

@Alex Tolley,

I may be wrong, but I believe Frank Miller was given screen credit for "Sin City" (and maybe the others) by Snyder because Snyder more or less put the comics panels almost directly on film. He asserted that Miller had already done the work by writing the comics, which Snyder used as storyboards.

There was a flap about Miller not actually being a member of the screen actors' guild, and I don't know if he joined or if that's still a sore spot.

Alex Tolley said...

I have the The 300 Spartans in my movie collection. I think it is fairly standard Hollywood "swords and sandals" fare. IMDB rates it slightly above 300: RoaE and below 300. This seems to be reflected in Amazon reviews too.

Alex Tolley said...

@LarryHart - you may well be right. IMDB only giver Miller writing credits for Sin City 2, but as you say, that may not be entirely accurate - I would have to dig out the movie and watch the credits to check. Or maybe it was unofficial to avoid the legal issues?

Paul451 said...

"Must you mutate this conflict - one of the foundational epics of our civilization - into the equivalent of "George Washington, Exorcist"?"

You mean "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter"?

David Brin said...

Paul451 I was dreaming a new (if perverted) dream!

Anonymous said...

I didn't mind the original so much as it was popcorn and soda time. We were all hoping for Gates of Fire not what we got.

As for the second film: it strikes me as no more or less accurate than other recent "historical" films. War movies in general are terrible about details (We Were Soldiers and BlackHawk Down are notable exceptions.) For those of us who are military history buffs it is one disappointment after another.

David Brin said...

Sorry anonymous, but your scaling factors are all messed up. Most war films try to balance history with drama, sure. But they do not capriciously or impulsively reverse history. Films like LONGEST DAY, A BRIDGE TOO FAR, and so on were meticulous. SAVING PRIVATE RYAN took a few liberties of timing, but closely listened to advisors.

In contrast, THE BATTLE OF THE BULGE was a horrid, notorious mishmash and made things up whole-cloth. None of the participants would cooperate and neither did the US Army. They could not even show the eagle patch of the airborne troops at Bastogne since retired paratroopers threatened to trash theaters.

Which is what Aeschylus or Themistocles would do, were they around to see Miller's wretched feast of lies.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Dr, Brin,
I thought I might relate a little Frank Miller anecdote you might find amusing. About a year ago was listening to the radio while driving home and caught the tail end of an interview with him. I was waiting for the news so I figured it would just be a couple minutes. He was explaining to the interviewer that he once had a gay character is a comic back in the 70's, apparently trying to get some progressive cred. He went on to describe the character, a soldier in a WW 2 themed story (St. Rock, I think). He was an Englishman who wore a bowler and carried around an umbrella everywhere (yes, in combat). It was obvious this was nothing more than an old stereotype, what Archie Bunker called an English fruitcake, yet the interviewer seemed to be eating it up. Maybe she was just being polite - it was radio, so for all I know she could have been making gaging gestures behind the mic. Either way, it was good for an ironic chuckle.

locumranch said...

I think we're comparing apples & oranges:

(1) Frank Miller does not distinguish between soldiers & warriors in his films, arguing only that the Spartans were the superior 'warriors' of that era, especially when compared to the more democratic Athenians.

(2) Frank Miller never makes claims in regard to merits of Spartan 'civilisation', mostly because the Spartans were the least civilized of the Greek City States, being the equivalent of Ancient Greek 'hillbillies' or 'rednecks'.

In aggressive fashion, what Frank Miller does is to reiterate the individualist (largely American) mythos of the Uncivilised Man (aka the myth of the 'Noble Savage', 'Common Man' or 'Lone Hero'), insomuch as he favours Spartan anarcho-individualism over of Athenian collectivism (which then metastasises into the Company Man mentality of the Roman Soldier), whereas David is a 'company man' himself who prefers the equally fallacious myth of the 'Creative Collective'.

The problem is that both David and Miller are no more than 'half-right' (equally mistaken) as soldiers (Next Gen marionettes) do tend to build better (but more static) societies than do warriors, while warriors tend to monopolise change & individual creativity as did 'Old Gen' Captain Kirk BECAUSE societies perpetuate rather than create and individuals create rather than perpetuate.


Paul Shen-Brown said...

While I'm here, I hope you don't mind if I bring up something from your last post. Now my vacation is over I have little time, though your blog still draws me. I came in too late last time, though. One of the commentators mentioned the dangers of using biological metaphors (you were comparing whistle-blowers to T Cells), and it reminded me of reading George Lakoff's classic "Metaphors We Live By" for a linguistics class many aeons ago. Specifics escape me, but I remember it being a fun little exercise in metacognition, opening eyes up to just how metaphorical language really is, and (a la the Sapir/Whorf Hypothesis) how much metaphor shapes our thinking and understanding. Of course no metaphor is ever perfect, but a metaphor is useful if it enhances understanding or gets you thinking is new ways. Your T Cell analogy brought to my mind the idea of an autoimmune disorder, where immune cells attack your own normal, healthy tissues. Taking on Miller at a metaphorical level might be fun, too.

Spud said...

I believe Eva Green is contractible obligated to appear nude at least three times every year.

LarryHart said...

Paul Shen-Brown:

He was explaining to the interviewer that he once had a gay character is a comic back in the 70's, apparently trying to get some progressive cred. He went on to describe the character, a soldier in a WW 2 themed story (St. Rock, I think). He was an Englishman who wore a bowler and carried around an umbrella everywhere (yes, in combat).

That was from "Sgt Fury and his Howling Commandos" (Sgt Rock was a DC character, Sgt Fury was Marvel).

The character he describes was the Englishman Percy Pinkerton. Yes, he used an umbrella in combat. One of the other characters had a trumpet. It was that sort of comic.

It was probably "understood" by the sophisticated reader that Percy was gay, but that wasn't the sort of thing that was explicit in 1960s comics.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Hi Larry,
Thanks for the memory correction there. My comic book days were a very long time ago.

Joe said...

I'm skipping the second movie because I deeply despised the first one. At the time I could have written a piece as involved as this explaining why. Three things stand out in my memory.

The depiction of Athenian intellectuals as wimps and pedophiles It's a put down of anyone who prefers brain over brawn. I was anoyed that they drew attention to Athens' crimes while ignoring Sparta's far far worse perpetration of the same crime.

The put down of the handicapped man Through no fault of his own he's unable to be a warrior. When he offers to help in the fight, to defend people who clearly hate him, he's thrown out. When he understanably changes sides, he's portrayed as a villian. The only heros in this film are the handicapped man's parrents who bucked the expectations of their society to love a child their peers considered as flawed.

A Persian general of Affican descent Persians are caucasians. I haven't read the comic book. For all I know, they may just have been ballancing the casting a bit. All through the film I had the uneasy sense that said depiction expressed someone's racism.

Joe said...

I'm skipping the second movie because I deeply despised the first one. At the time I could have written a piece as involved as this explaining why. Three things stand out in my memory.

The depiction of Athenian intellectuals as wimps and pedophiles It's a put down of anyone who prefers brain over brawn. I was anoyed that they drew attention to Athens' crimes while ignoring Sparta's far far worse perpetration of the same crime.

The put down of the handicapped man Through no fault of his own he's unable to be a warrior. When he offers to help in the fight, to defend people who clearly hate him, he's thrown out. When he understanably changes sides, he's portrayed as a villian. The only heros in this film are the handicapped man's parrents who bucked the expectations of their society to love a child their peers considered as flawed.

A Persian general of Affican descent Persians are caucasians. I haven't read the comic book. For all I know, they may just have been ballancing the casting a bit. All through the film I had the uneasy sense that said depiction expressed someone's racism.

LarryHart said...

It's satisfying to have pretty much all of my own views on "Sin City" spelled out in an actually-published article.

From the article on Miller's Dark Night linked in the main post:

Miller and the movie business stopped speaking until the early 2000s, when Robert Rodriguez proposed the idea of using green screen to create a Sin City movie that would drop actors playing Miller’s characters into CGI backgrounds designed to look like Miller’s panels. The finished film, a hit in 2005, is a technical marvel and one of the most slavishly faithful adaptations of anything, ever; it so exactly mimics every beat of the comics that Rodriguez credited Miller as his codirector and declined to take a screenplay credit. It’s even faithful to certain infelicitous aspects of the work that might have benefited from a gentle punch-up.

(Emphasis mine)

LarryHart said...


A Persian general of Affican descent Persians are caucasians. I haven't read the comic book. For all I know, they may just have been ballancing the casting a bit. All through the film I had the uneasy sense that said depiction expressed someone's racism.

The comic had Xerxes looking African as well. The symbolism was that the Spartans, as Greeks, stood for Europe and therefore Western civilization. The Pesians, i.e., Iranians, stood for despotic authoritarianism (the comic came out prior to 9/11 or I'd have said "terrorism".)

The African look probably follows this logic: The Persians are Iranians, Muslims in modern times, and Muslims have associations with Africa. The Greeks, who invented Western democracy stand for white Europe.

The irony that the real-life Persians of 480 BC were both whiter and more monotheistic than the Greeks has already been mentioned on this site. Dr Brin links to his earlier column on the first "Sin City" film, and I encourage you to not only read the posting, but the comments beneath it as well. Or at least the ones that are mine. :)

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Hello again,

Just a quick comment on race, since the subject has been broached. The idea that you can measure a trivial adaptation like the amount of melanin in someone's skin and separate them into fundamental categories is utter nonsense to a practicing biologist. Race is a social category, what ethnographers refer to as a "folk taxonomy" no more real than saying that tomatoes are vegetables because they don't taste sweet (they are fruits because they contain seeds).

My comment is not intended to suggest that anyone here is racist, only to point out that race is not a 'real" category in any natural sense. It was invented for social/political purposes by ancestors centuries ago whose comprehension of biology was primitive by our standards today. The American Anthropological Association wrote a very powerful statement on just this issue back in '98, and I'll paste a link to their statement, should anyone want to look and not just take my word on it. Given that anthropology is the science of humans, they seem like they should have an idea of what they are talking about.

Burt Voorhees said...

I also wanted to see an actually historically accurate version of this. Was tremendously disappointed in the film which in my view wasn't even that good. The real twist I thought would make a great film was to have it run much longer (3hrs) and focus on the personalities of Xerxes and Thermestocles (arrogant tyrant vs cunning tricky Greek) and include the irony of the Athenians banishing Thermestocles and his ending up in Xerxes court.

LarryHart said...

BTW, Dr Brin, I love it when you occasionally like to the Miller "300" post or the Ayn Rand post (which the Miller one does have a link to). I always end up re-reading the comments sections as well, and relive a prolific time in my own life. Dang, I talked a lot back then! :)

I also miss Tacitus2. Sigh.

David Brin said...

Yeah, I miss Tacitus2, too.

Bah, locum, you are back to strawmanning. Your model of both Miller and me is wrongheaded in so many ways as to be beneath notice. Indeed, it is close to wrong in EVERY way.

Paul S-B yes, one of my points is that “TCells” that attack perceived errors do not have to always be right, so long as they create conditions for exposure, transparency, argument, evidence testing and negotiated improvements. some degree of adversarial vigor is necessary, in order to over come natural, human institutional rigor.

And those T Cells must be energetic - often propelled by egotistically oversimplifying impulses - in order to do this. The T Cell himself is almost never right! Not in the purist hero-palladin role he sees in a mirror! But he does his job by exposing citizens to a grating reminder to LOOK!

Alas, this process easily metastacises. Why?

You all have heard this: Suspicion of Authority (SoA) is the meme taught in every Hollywood film Ironically, most of us think we invented it. It is a wise social phenomenon... that easily transforms into something noxious and toxic... hatred of expertise. -- Yes, experts are not always right, and smart folks aren't always wise, and folks who know a lot (e.g. scientists) are sometimes wrong...

...but when that metastacizes into "smart people are ALWAYS unwise" and "people who know the most about a topic are inherently obstinate conformists who conspire to repress originality"... then something very sick has happened and we get cults.

And yes, the Right is afire with cults, deliberately fostered by cynical oligarchs. But the left has some as well. AND YES... climate denialism is one of the worst... but the vaxxers are definitely in this mold.

Steven Lopata said...

You have convinced me. I never intended to see this, now I won't even rent it.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

Dear Dr. Brin,

Viz. your comment: And those T Cells must be energetic - often propelled by egotistically oversimplifying impulses - in order to do this. The T Cell himself is almost never right! Not in the purist hero-palladin role he sees in a mirror!

This reminded me of a show I heard about female whistle blowers. Not all of these T cells are high testosterone males, or even high testosterone females, but are motivated by a simple sense of human decency.

An old Terry Pratchett novel once berated the makers of folksongs (in a low-tech fantasy world) as bearing a heavy burden they have often taken too lightly. Anyone who peddles memes in one way or another is influencing people around them, and the Law of Unintended Consequences is always around the corner. I suspect that the SoA meme has a very long history, but the volume with which it is being screamed today is reminiscent of reading Graves' "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." As the leadership grows more inept, the propaganda intensifies.

A former student of mine used to hang out during lunch sometimes, and once she told me about a story she had written that all her friends were raving about, saying it should be a movie. She described the story, and at one point she said "and then the government came and killed her family, cause governments do that." I asked what reason the government would have for killing the main characters family, and asked her if she knew anyone whose family had been killed by the government. I got little response, except that she didn't visit during lunchtime as often after that.

Frank Miller's memes are deeply rooted in our times. I'm glad there are people who recognize this and can tell the difference.

David Brin said...

Aw heck... on a vaguely related tangent... have any of you seen these?

At one level it is chilling of course. On another, it is finally opening up outside the box thinking ... as I did in Glory Season.

David Brin said...

Aw heck... on a vaguely related tangent... have any of you seen these?

At one level it is chilling of course. On another, it is finally opening up outside the box thinking ... as I did in Glory Season.

LarryHart said...

@Dr Brin,

Just going by the wording of the link: is-reducing-the-male-population-by-90-percent-the-solution-to-all-our-problems

That's hardly new. I remember the idea popping up (retroactively, almost out of nowhere) as a motivation of the female vampire character in the third of Anne Rice's "Interview With a Vampire" novels. I'd have read that in the mid 1990s, and it didn't seem like the idea was original then.

Paul Shen-Brown said...

I know from personal experience that not all feminists are this extreme, or this looney, but when you hear this stuff it feeds into our cultures' already self-destructive anti-intellectual memes. It all operates off the assumption that males are pretty much slaves to their hormones, that they have no frontal lobes and therefore no self-control. Statistics on violence notwithstanding, it is pretty clear comparing rates of violence in the past versus today that simply by raising our standards we grow more myelin in our executive control centers.

However, as long as Hollywood keeps turning silly comic books into blockbuster movies, the male-violence-as-nature memes remain strong. Silly overreactions like this should not be surprising.

Tacitus said...

It is a common notion that if you speak certain names aloud that said entity will appear before you.

Be careful, oh so careful what you wish for!

who has little or no interest in comic books or movies made from them.

David Brin said...

Paul no one said all feminists are like that! In fact, of course they are at a loony fringe! It's just that this fringe has a patina or penumbra that is at least asking new questions and that mainstream feminism has been reticent to ask.

Tacitus! (That's all I have to say about that ;-)

Paul Shen-Brown said...

I hope you don't think ... I was just attempting to forestall the kinds of comments I have heard too often from otherwise normal hominids. The mention of the word "feminism" seems to cause an instant and precipitous rise in T levels.

I came up with a very different scenario ages ago when my son was younger and easier to manage. Imagine a virus that specifically attacks spermatogonia, causing male infertility worldwide. It would have to be extremely virulent, and would no doubt cross species lines. In the panic that would ensue, doubtless huge sums would pour into genetic research, both to reverse the effects of the virus and to find an alternate way to reproduce if that fails. Given where we are now, I have little doubt that bright people with money and labs would be able to perfect either cloning (not a great idea) or ovum to ovum fusion (better) before the last batch of natural babies aged beyond fecundity.

I wrote a story in which this happened, reducing the human population to just a few million before the technique was perfected. The result was that over the next few hundred years most of the environmental damage caused by industrial civilization was reversed, and the human population reduced its growth rate to sustainable levels. Since reproduction would be a choice requiring medical intervention, there we be no more "accidents" and unwanted children. No one has to die, and no one has to be reduced to servitude, as in this lady's vision.

Another possibility would be for humans to get whatever mutation led to certain species of whiptail lizards being able to reproduce by parthenogenesis. I don't know if this is anything like Glory Season, as I have not had a chance to read that one. My list grows!

Tony Fisk said...

Hi, Tacitus2 en passent.

Speaking of invoked entities appearing, I recall that 'A Bridge Too Far' featured a red beret (Major 'Digby' Tatham-Water)with an umbrella (to show he was English). He also encouraged the use of bugles at Arnhem in case the radios were faulty (which they were). Clearly what inspired Miller's early character!

Tony Fisk said...

...Just to line the ducks up.

Hatham-Carter is who the film character Maj. Carlyle is based on.
(Reading his wikipedia biography, I'm amazed he doesn't merit a film in his own right!)

Tony Fisk said...

Bah! I meant Tatham-Water, of course!

Tacitus said...

Well if you want to go deep on Movie Triva...

The phrase "A Bridge too Far" was coined by General Frederick Browning, deputy commander of Operation Market Garden. He was married, rather unfaithfully, to Daphne du Maurier. She of course was the writer of the short story The Birds, later a Hitchcock thriller of the same name.
Ah, they knew how to make movies a generation or two back. Now the main genres appear to be:

Glittery Vampires (Twilight etc)

Sweaty violent men with overstuffed codpieces (see above)

and black folks behaving in ways that would be grossly offensive if they were not in more or less all black movies which I guess sort of makes it ok somehow (Madea, etc)...


Acacia H. said...

I thought Dr. Brin and the rest of you might find this comic amusing - I love the Ray Bradbury quote and the other person being blithely unaware (and distracted by online media).

Rob H.

David Brin said...

Robert yes, that is far more likely as a dystopia than 1984!

Still notice the implied contempt of the artist: "I and my savvy readers are immune, of course."

David Brin said...

All right, I am back on to do a Reddit sub-AMA for the futurology forum, about... the future! Tuesday (tomorrow) at 11 am Pacific, 2pm Eastern 18:00 UTC. There were communications problems but I will sign in and hope for the best.. AMA stands for "Ask Me Anything" and you can. Though "future" is the topic. Just two hours, this time! Not the a8hour marathon I did a few years ago for a scheduled Reddit main i/AMA.

LarryHart said...

Tony Fisk:

I recall that 'A Bridge Too Far' featured a red beret (Major 'Digby' Tatham-Water)with an umbrella (to show he was English). He also encouraged the use of bugles at Arnhem in case the radios were faulty (which they were). Clearly what inspired Miller's early character!

Most likely, no one here cares but me, but just for the record...

The character from "Sgt Fury" who carried an umbrella in battle was created by Stan Lee (as were many Marvel characters) in the early 1960s. Frank Miller may have written a much later story with that character in it, but he had nothing to do with creating the character or the title in the first place.

Now, if Stan Lee had been inspired by a movie, that wouldn't suprise me at all.

LarryHart said...

Dr Brin:

I am back on to do a Reddit sub-AMA for the futurology forum, about... the future! Tuesday (tomorrow) at 11 am Pacific...

I first read that as "about the future--Tuesday at 11 am." As if the talk would be about what might happen late Tuesday morning. I mean, sure, that is the future, but hardly worth the effort of speculating about.


David Brin said...

We'll see if you think Tuesday 11 am turns out as banal as you thought it would be!

Tim H. said...

Too few people would get it, but wouldn't it be fun if Apple's show began with an elderly David Bowman proclaiming "Something's coming, something wonderful!"

Unknown said...

Glory Season: one of my favorites. Would love to see Miller's misogyny up against that!

Anonymous said...

Hi, David Brin,

Sorry for the late note--2 years. I didn't know others had issues with the movie and book "300". I just finished reading a biography of Cyrus the Great who founded the dynasty from which Darius and Xerxes came. I am fascinated by the time of the first Persian Empire and just the outtakes of the movie "300" bother me as being historically inaccurate. For one thing, the Persian kings were significantly hairier, the statues and the reliefs showing them as having full heads of hair and beards, and would have balked at the idea of walking out in public naked save for chains.

It has been a while since I have read about Thermopylae. Thank you for the article. I enjoyed it.

Donna M