Friday, March 28, 2014

Why Do Critics Obsess Over 300’s ‘Homoeroticism’?

The follow-up to the long-awaited Spartan spectacle 300 is finally out, and sadly, so are the predictable reviews tittering and snickering over its perceived homoeroticism, just as they did with its predecessor.

When 300 hit screens in 2006, it spawned gleeful critical fascination with its army of buffed, loinclothed Greek warriors reveling in a “homoerotic blood orgy,” as one reviewer called it. Blogger Andrew Sullivan approvingly quoted a reader who gushed that everyone in the film was gay. In “10 Reasons Why ‘300’ is Gay,” a particularly crude writer for Wired joked that “the movie’s tagline should have been ‘Prepare for gloryholes’ instead of ‘Prepare for glory.’” This speaks volumes about such critics’ inability or unwillingness to appreciate the film’s nobler themes of patriotism, courage, sacrifice, and the warrior brotherhood.

Now comes 300: Rise of an Empire, and along with it, reviewers with the same fixation. Ruthless Reviews calls it “gaygasmic” and confesses, “We all wanted the 300 sidequel to inspire machismo-challenging ‘Rise of an Erection’ headlines.” The Wire explained “Why Gay Guys Love the 300 Movies.” Gawker’s review (and I use the term loosely) was titled “300: Rise of an Empire is Predictably, Hilariously Gay,” and said that “unspoken homoeroticism functions primarily as comedy, regardless of intention” (by the way – had that title and quote appeared in a conservative review, it would have sparked torches-and-pitchforks outrage from the GLAAD crowd).

The fact that critics rub their sweaty palms about the sexual undertones and ignore or openly despise other, higher values, says much more about the critics than the movies. The Dissolve reviewer drooled that, in the new film, the “battle scenes are never more than a lascivious glance and wink away from being a full-on orgy between muscular men clad only in tiny leather garments that just barely cover their genitalia.” Wow. He also said that it “dopily fetishizes brute strength, brotherhood, and rippling muscles.” Actually, brute strength and brotherhood come in handy in wartime, and it’s the reviewers who are fetishizing the rippling muscles.

The nearly sole voice of reason about this obsession came from, surprisingly, a Slate piece in 2007 about 300. Dismissing the critics who “dug the movie because of the hot, sweaty men,” Matt Feeney explained the film’s massive success thusly:

What more plausibly accounts for this? That 20 million closet cases snuck off to see an illicit fantasy about bare-chested men in Hellenic Speedos, or that young men from the vast heartland of this very conservative, Christian, pro-military country flocked to see an unabashedly heroic tale of Occidental, republican military glory?

Although Feeney probably didn’t intend that latter description as a compliment, I couldn’t have said it better myself. I personally know American military servicemen who literally cheered at parts of 300 in the theater. They looked right past the imagined homoeroticism that has been the focus of many a critic, because what spoke to them was the warrior ethos on display, the unapologetic patriotism, the celebration of military courage, honor and service (it also didn’t hurt that the battle scenes were epic).

Such values are held in contempt today by many reviewers. A reviewer, who called the original movie “relentlessly homoerotic,” hated its “hateful war-mongering sentiments” despite the fact that historically it was the Persians who were warmongering and the Spartans who were defending their homeland. Forbes called it “warmongering propaganda” – in fact, “warmongering” is an even more common adjective than “homoerotic” in reviews of 300 (“racist” is another popular one, because critics bristle when white Europeans aren’t the bad guys, regardless of historical fact).

The 300 series may not be great films, but they are greatly entertaining if you enjoy rousing good-versus-evil celebrations of courage and the warrior ethos, as I do. And I’m not alone – 300 grossed over $456 million and Rise of an Empire has earned over half that worldwide in its first ten days. Obsessing over their sexuality is a sadly limiting way to view them.

(This article originally appeared here on Acculturated, 3/26/14)