Who ought to be mortally offended by the following film scene? A troop of emissaries to the Persian Emperor Xerxes rides into Sparta and demands the Spartan King Leonidas' submission. Leonidas refuses and has the envoys killed, telling them that even the Athenians had refused to recognise Xerxes as their ruler, "and if those philosophers and boy-lovers had that kind of nerve..."
The scene is from Zack Snyder's "300", and it's the people of Athens who should well be offended. But they're not – quite the opposite. No other film before it has had such a successful start in Greece's capital as Snyder's bloodthirsty epic.
Hollywood's "psychological war"
The film tells the story passed down by Herodotus, of the battle between three hundred Spartans and a mighty Persian army at Thermopylae. But one country that has only seen Snyder's film on pirated DVDs is deeply insulted: Iran.
Outspoken Iranians view the representation of the Persians as distorted; even President Ahmadinejad himself has accused Hollywood of fighting a psychological war, portraying his country as savage.
Iran has since protested to Unesco about "300", the prevailing opinion in Teheran being that Snyder has made a piece of overt propaganda, with the Spartans as the noble defenders of democracy (and thus historical precedents to the Americans) putting an end to Persian despotism (i.e. the Mullah regime in Iran).
Anyone with eyes to see could, of course, object that it's Osama Bin Laden who might see King Leonidas as an ally. For what is the Afghan Taliban doing right now if not emulating the Spartans, who in 480 BC withdrew in the face of an extremely superior military enemy into the mountains of their homeland, to put up a tough resistance? Zack Snyder himself recently joked that his Xerxes is more like George W. Bush than anyone else.
Film critic Ahmadinejad
That's no less audacious than the film critic Ahmadinejad's comments, but at least Snyder has a sense of humour.
In Teheran, in contrast, the matter is deadly serious: Xerxes as a camp giant with countless transsexual playmates is an affront to Islam's moral values; the huge computer-animated Persian armies on the advance against Greece is a cliché of the Iranian aggressor; the call for peace legitimises the USA's hegemonic foreign policy.
When the Persian envoys are killed on Leonidas' command in the film, their leader calls to the king: "This is madness!" Leonidas answers him: "This is Sparta!" Little seems to have changed in this equation of madness and politics in the past 2487 years.
© FAZ/Qantara.de 2007
Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire