Each body is white and an example of impossible physical perfection. The women are strong and stoic but sexily sassy and domestically assertive. They are also constantly available for sex, consensual or otherwise. The children are taught the exact and unwavering belief in the society and its unforgiving principles. The civil government is skin crawlingly subservient to the military, to individual military figures in fact. The government is merely a means for effeminate men to feel good about themselves while serving to furnish the society with the barest of bare essentials while lionizing the military.
They practice infanticide, genocide really: weeding out all but the most perfect specimens and leaving the rest to exposure and the wolves. It is that delightfully reactionary form of evolutionary science corrupted into xenophobic social policy known as eugenic that they seem to subscribe to. Find a way to naturally keep out the “darkies, uglies, pussies and gays”. Those boys (we never see a female child in the film) who survive to the age of seven and beyond are ripped screaming from their silently weeping mothers and sent to the agoge. This kills off even more of the less than herculean, and leaves a cadre of young men breed, weaned, reared and obsessed with the manly art of war. The glistening bodies of these men are perfect objects of desire…for the women, not their fellow men of course. There is no homosexuality in this land of the Spartans. That perversion is reserved for the despicable tyrants of the east.
The true meaning of this propaganda is also underlined by what is not featured about this perfect Reaganesque society: it is all built upon the backs of helot slaves. In this movie we never see anyone of lesser rank than washer woman, and the backbone of this stolidly pastoral local is invisible to we the viewer, and absence of this aspect of society is in itself a tenet of their morality. Individuality in this world is essential, as long as it is driven to expressive itself in working for the benefit of the patriotic collective. Leonidas is the perfect leader: a un-morally compromised royal with unswerving loyalty to the mythology of the Spartan experience. He expresses his love and devotion to his society by rejecting an essentially beneficial thought pride-bruising offer to become part of the Persian Empire. All that is asked for is water and earth to symbolize submission. Presumably the entire society would benefit by the myriad and magnificent resources offered by the Pax Persica. Aside from the messengers being arrogant and colored a shade darker than pale white they offer no real challenge or danger to Sparta. They actually offer them a way out of the incipient and insipid culture of war in the Aegean.
But they are dark skinned. And they are asking for them to get on bended knee in front of them, and in front of their own Spartan women. That is not going to happen, so the offending political and cultural invader is dispatched along with his diplomatic corp. A move John Bolton would probably call a “good start”. I am not implying that the Spartans should have rolled over for the Persians, but a simple gesture could have at least gotten them a seat at the table of the movers and shakers who were shaping the new world order of the greater Mediterranean/Middle Eastern region. Look at some of the other societies that did chose to become part or else fell to the overwhelming military, economic, and cultural tidal wave that was Persia: Egypt, The Palestinian Jews, Iran, Iraq, Syria and most of Anatolia really benefited from the patronage of the Persian Empire. A centralized information/postage system roads, stability, more equitable taxation, influx of Persian literature, art, science and philosophy: The industrious manly Spartans could not have that now could they?
That is liberty killing nanny state not befitting the machismo underlining their entire culture and philosophical system. The Spartan “final stand” merely slowed the growth of one of the most constructive and stabilizing forces of the millennium stretching from Homer to Charlemagne, and destroyed the chance for one of the more potentially pacifying and civilizing forces of that time period take hold in the West. Culturally the Persians had done little to dissuade or retard the cultural and intellectual discoveries and contributions. In some cases they had spread the influence of beneficial and world changing ideas, including the creed of Zoroastrianism and the philosophies that accompanied and buttressed the same. But then again Sparta may have never fit into this cosmopolitan, dare I say multi-cultural system. They were far too dependent on unsustainable economic and social systems justified by a bombastic, jingoistic and ever expanding military culture.
Liberty, that ever present little philosophical meme, seems to be the central moral precept revered by this society, at least if you do not count unnecessary chauvinism. Liberty takes on an extremist Libertarian definition, with the idea of being an individual for the sake of individuality. The rub about the extreme libertarian definition is that it is extremely proscribed by the male dominated culture, and that individuality is by its very nature only valuable as an asset to free white males. If it is expanded or seen as egalitarian in any way that essentially undermines the liberty of the men of Sparta to do what they wish how they wish it. There is a secretly agreed upon catch to the system of libertarianism: to work it must be based around the assumption the only some people are worthy of or really capable of practicing true liberty. Which is why the liberty of the Spartans seems so very…limited, clichéd, and uni-directionally focused towards the military realm.
We see get small, but thematically telling glimpses into the ‘multi-culti’ cesspool that is the Persian traveling court. Xerxes is of course that now passé mixture of “butch” lesbian stereotype and mincing Sado-Masochistic intellectualism. We get scenes of orgies, and wise viziers talking, and exotic fruits and dress. We see these things not in a neutral way though; we see them through mostly through of a physically grotesque miscreant who was rejected by the Spartans as a child and once more by Leonidas for the crime of being imperfect in the presence of a real man. He is seeing the opulent and contrary fantasy escape from the Spartan (no pun intended) and callous world we was born into. He is doubly cursed: he is Spartan by mentality, but he can only survive as a freak and as a stooge to a culture he instinctually sees as alien and disgustingly (and alluringly) physically and intellectually indulgent. The Republicans had lecherous and dangerously hedonistic welfare queens and Union Slush fund cheats, while the Spartans seem to see a world degenerating into one that resembles the “boy loving” and maddeningly rational and resourceful Athenians. They hate the rest of Greece, and really the rest of the world so much because it seems to have what they do not: a purpose outside of unwaveringly declaring that they have a purpose to their strange and soul crushing, body destroying and intellectually retarded system and its means of control and expansion.
So a like the Post-Civil War South and its selective mythologizing/deification of its past institutions, mores and leaders. With its overly comfortable relationship with a suspiciously homo-eroticized military corps, its obsession with overrated and morally compromised intellectual and political leaders, and its whitewashing of the means of achieving the seemingly utopian and idyllic civilized society, the American south in period following 1870 up to and including the first decades of the 21st century. It is a story of a society where men can be men and women know what it means to be a woman, and where all authority is respected, trusted and beyond reproach if they adhere to the misogynistic, militaristic racialistic policies of the status quo political system. The problem comes when the ultimate representative of and stopgap to the governmental process, the too good to be anything but a postulate monarch in Plato’s Republic King Leonidas decides to up and lead a futile special forces vanity mission. Before his voluminous cape has disappeared out of sight everyone from the clergy, the leader of the chief representative body to the Queen herself compromises his or her morals in order to help perpetuate a system that only works if they lie to themselves about their own flawed humanity and its accompanying motivations. And as we know, any system that claims to be based on absolute moral and socio-political theories but cynically depends upon the work and resources created by the alternately hidden and derided “lower classes” has whether it knows it or not rejected the basis of and rational for its own existence.
But we are soon asked to forget all this when the Adonis like bodies of the elite 300 start tearing apart the flower of Persian warrior elite. It is a particularly beautiful example of the bread and circuses view of “rational” (i.e. Christian) military theory and a preplanned and perfectly expected example of it at that. We see that as soon as the offending African emissary is killed off earlier in the film that Leonidas and his cronies already have a plan in place for a war to protect all that is “wholesome” and “pure” about the morass of greedy xenophobia punctuated by occasional existential genius that is Western with a capital “W” Civilization. We see the blood spilt like the seed that the manly Spartan (Western) man cannot dare lose upon the toned thighs of his man at arms, we see the swords and spears penetrate the exotic and alluringly distasteful flesh of the Persian hordes. It is truly the only way the can consummate the love they feel for their fellow male citizens. They lust after them in a erroneously Platonic way and this warfare is the last acceptable expression of male on male sexuality and eroticism.
The battles and blades last as long as they need to distract us from the political machinations back home, where the Republic has been sold for what essentially amounts to a few bags of gold and a roll in the hay. It did not take long for the Great Greek (white?) Hope to go all “wishy washy” Athenian and decide that all means justify the one acceptable end of societal and moral perpetuation. Western Cultural Imperialist apologist and prophet Samuel Huntington moaned that “in terms of territorial control, in terms of economic preeminence, the western share of the gross world product is declining as Asian societies in particular develop economically”. It is a familiar bogey to we Americans and Westerners, we heirs of great civilized Euro/Anglo imperial systems and morality. The world of Sparta in 300 is the last best dream of the white Judeo-Christian Capitalist cabal that claims to represent that which is most Western about the West. It is a bloody and bawdy eulogy and justification of Neo-Conservatism, the necessity of Xenophobia and the subjective and situational basis of universal objective morality.
In the end the most honest and eloquent of Sparta’s men of war is chosen to be the one to survive the fatalistic maw of paternalistic self-justification that is the Thermopylae suicide mission. This most intellectually capable of Spartan manhood is tasked to carry the story of the appropriately macho yet touching holy war to the people of Sparta, and to use the memory of a self-created martyrs to bludgeon a fascistic junta out of the comfortable but ineffectually petty Republican system they currently have. It is all a cathartic and perhaps unconscious act of collective spiritual and ethical cultural masturbation. And it works exactly as it is meant to. The inevitability of the East is held at bay, at least for now, and the West is allowed to live its lie for one more day. This is the Neoconservative dream. This is their meaning for existing. This is Sparta.