What is special about the film 300

In the cinema "300": In the ghost train of history

The US sandal spectacle "300" will start in German cinemas on Thursday. In Iran, the comic film adaptation of the battle between Persians and Spartans is already a DVD hit - and a scandal because "300" invariably demonizes the ancestors of the Iranians or portrays them as disabled zombies

In the ghost train of history
The US sandal spectacle "300" will start in German cinemas on Thursday. In Iran, the comic film adaptation of the battle between Persians and Spartans is already a DVD hit - and a scandal because "300" invariably demonizes the ancestors of the Iranians or portrays them as disabled zombies

BY POUYEH ANSARI AND PATRICK HEMMINGER

Going to the toilet or buying popcorn in between is no problem when you visit "300". There is little risk of missing something. In most of the scenes, a couple of Spartans slaughter a lot of Persians while they yell and blood splatters. More on the story later.

"300" is the film adaptation of a comic by Frank Miller from 1999 and is a success as such. The pictures are simply grandiose in their absurdity and surreality. Nobody can take the film seriously. Actually. And that's where the problem begins. Although the film can be dismissed as slightly moronic evening entertainment, the opposite is currently happening, especially in Iran.

"I thought the Iranians are exaggerating as always," says Kambis, a young Iranian entrepreneur from the chic north of Tehran: "But when I saw the film myself, I just thought: hard." "300" is not shown in the cinema, but the DVD can be bought everywhere - and the film is the dominant topic of conversation in the capital. Kambi's employees are just as angry as the Iranian government, which protested at the United Nations. The accusation: The Persians are portrayed poorly in the film, to say the least. And this accusation is true.

The film tells the story of the first battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC. At that time, a few Greeks stopped the Persian army at this pass, which was just a few meters wide. The numbers of 300 against a million mentioned in the film are certainly not realistic, but that does not play a role for this consideration.

What is important is the image that is created for the viewer. A small troop of Spartans defends Europe from the realm of evil: Persia. This small group embodies a collection of western ideals: democratic, freedom-loving, noble, self-sacrificing and so on. They look and dress like the "California Dream Boys".

On the side of evil are people who are almost no longer people. Monsters, giants and a scissorhanded executioner. There are also groups that are often used as enemy images: dark-skinned people, cripples, disfigured people, homosexuals. "The Iranians are portrayed as if they came straight from the ghost train. And the Spartans all look like Adonis," says Kambis. The Persian king Xerxes is around three meters tall, wears golden panties and is hung all over his body with golden piercings, rings and chains.

The Iranians perceive this as a particular humiliation, as part of a "psychological war against Iran", which at the time the film is set already had a highly developed culture. For example, Cyrus II, the grandfather of Xerxes, had already written down human rights. The Iranians associate a special identification with the era of the Achaemenids, to whose tribe Xerxes belongs, especially since it dates back to the pre-Islamic period. The Arabs did not bring Islam to what is now Iran until the 7th century AD, before that - in addition to Manichaeism - there were above all numerous natural religions.

What makes the representation of the Persians in "300" even more humiliating is the contrast to the Spartans. Not only are these physically flawless. During the scenes in the Persian encampment, the jolly Xerxes celebrates orgies à la Sodom and Gomorrah, depravity in every corner. How different, however, the depiction of the backward Spartan queen Gorgo - who of course looks outrageously good. She is giving a speech to an unspecified council meeting, and there are three things about that speech that are noteworthy. First, it doesn't exist in the comic book. But that is not surprising because, secondly, it is completely irrelevant to the story. And third, this speech contains everything an American neo-con could say. Gorgo laments the lack of support on the home front, raves about freedom that must be defended, and rants about mothers who lose their sons in the war. Not only does this scene fit into the concept of anyone who accuses the USA of a propaganda war. It simply twisted the historical facts. It has not been proven that there were slaves at all in the Persian Empire - in contrast to Greece, where at that time, according to some information, every second inhabitant was not free.

"The people of Iran are indignant about how it came about that a nation (like the USA) that does not have its own historical high culture can come along and make such a film about our country, which has a far-reaching cultural history, who portrays the cultivated Persians as animals, "writes the Iranian student Pegah in an email. The young people in Iran are particularly disappointed because American pop culture, with its music and its films, is a role model. Despite government bans, young people get the latest American music, hang posters of their stars, and watch their films. The approximately 49 million under 30-year-old Iranians are fed up with censorship - the total population of the country is 70 million. Many see the western way of life as desirable and suffer from the bad image that Iran has abroad and which is undoubtedly reinforced by the film.

That is why the Iranian blogger Pendar Yousefi from Canada tries to educate people about Iranian history, art and culture with his website. He calls on Iranian cartoonists and artists to send him works that are supposed to educate people about the Persian Empire. More than 600 Iranian bloggers have now linked Yousefi's page.

The Iranian Kambis recalls the protests against the Danish Mohammed cartoons, which a little over a year ago caused anger among Muslims around the world. "At that time there were 300 people on the streets here in Tehran," he says. "That is not comparable to what is going on here now. There are no demonstrations or anything like that, but the anger runs through all layers." This can also be explained by the fact that, through the government's propaganda textbooks, very few people know what it really was like.

This outrage can also be found in film blogs on the Internet. And there are also answers there, mostly from Americans who know just as little about history. They berate the Iranians, mostly with the tenor that they shouldn't do it like that, after all, that is how it was, and if not completely, then certainly partly.

The danger here is that the truth becomes less important. If you are interested, how it really was when a film is exciting and also consolidates your own view of the world. We the good guys. The other the bad guys. The west wants to destroy us. All Persians are evil monsters. Such thoughts are seductive because they are simple. It's just frightening how much this excitement fits the governments in Washington and Tehran at the moment - if you don't believe in coincidences.

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