The White Mythology of 300
Manifest Destiny is the most well known and established instance of this in the United States, but we can literally see it everywhere. Manifest Destiny did not come into being with the stroke of a pen, or the simple publishing of a book. It came from a number of different yearnings for power, wealth, sovereignty, exceptionalism. The nation, as an organism is always trapped in a contradiction. It is a consistently modern thing, captivated by a progressive, moral soul, which constantly pushes it forward in time. Yet at the same time, it cannot simply celebrate this youth, its power and ability to capture the future and to embody the apex of the present depends upon a tenuous genealogy, a skeletal chronology, through which that same good national soul has been sighted repeatedly, unfolded and revealed occasionally, and manifested proudly in this moment!
To see a very simple way how this works, how one accumulates this sort of force, how you become simply a wave which has built in intensity from the millions of waves that have pushed you into existence, with a particular mandate, read the following quote from a 19th century US Senator. Writing in an 1895 article titled “Our Blundering Foreign Policy” Henry Cabot Lodge stated about the United States and its need to embody this imperialist and ferocious destiny which is so so manifest, “We have a record of conquest, colonization and expansion unequalled by any people in the Nineteenth Century. We are not about to be curbed now.”
Films such as Alexander and 300 are glorified instances of white mythology because of the way they provide images and can give life to empty and hollow claims of the eternal and far reaching greatness of the “Western” and “white” civilization. They make history real not only in the sense of “real in that time” but more so “real in this time.” In the ways that history can never remains in the pages that it is confined to by deaths and dates, the traces of any film touch us today, and if we are not careful can find ways of making concrete and natural the most grotesque, in this instance, racial ideologies.
Everyone in life is on a trip to search for an absent and never fully realized origin. Although you may have come from a family, a nation, a house, a school, etc, pieces of you always seem to stretch into realms and world beyond what seems possible and what can be readily explained. Thus all of life is about filling in the spaces for our always absent origins and sources. This doesn’t mean that what we fill in those spaces has no meaning, but only that the meaning they have is always open, is subject to change, contestation, rejection.
So for instance, the claim made by both Republicans and Democrats that it is in the American character to spread democracy to the world, and that we are a just and moral civilization who has the monopoly on this particular “universal” commodity, finds consistency, solvency and safety, yes, in a text such as Samuel Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations, but more so, and on a wider and more dangerous scale, a films like Alexander and 300.
So this incredible thing which the First World subject possesses is so awesome and powerful that everything either wants it or wants to destroy it. This is one of the reasons that Bush’s rhetoric after 9/11 had so much power. He didn’t only promise everyone war and violence against those who had toppled the World Trade Center. He also informed everyone as to why these attacks had taken place. But because of the way his rationalization touched this incredible national thing, it didn’t so much as inform them, but remind them about its existence, its potency, power and the fact that it is always under threat. Bush reminded everyone that these attackers hate our freedoms, our ways of life. The New York Times chimed in on September 16th, 2001 that, further enhancing Bush’s point that, “the perpetrators acted out of hatred for the values cherished in the West, such as freedom, tolerance, prosperity, religious pluralism and universal suffrage.”
I think I’m done with this post for today, but I have plenty more to say. From what I have been reading and hearing about the film in the news, internet and just random conversations, this film is very frightening, precisely because it an apolitical and therefore ideal piece of white mythology. This characteristic making it perfect for those who wish to argue that civilizations around the world are clashing.