Occupy Wall Street v. Frank Miller’s Spartans

David Brin takes on Frank Miller’s anti-Occupy Wall Street rant and 300, arguing that the Athenians — and by extension the Occupy movement Miller seems convince is going to undermine our fight against Islamic terrorism — are vastly more bad-ass and effective than Miller gives them credit for:

The first invasion by Persia, ten years earlier—under Xerxes’s father—had been defeated by just such a militia army… from Athens… made up of farmers, clerks, tradesmen, artists and mathematicians. A rabble of ill-disciplined “brawlers” who, after waiting in vain for promised help from Sparta, finally decided to handle the problem alone. On that fateful day that citizen militia leveled their spears and their thin blue line attacked a professional Persian force many times their number, slaughtering them to the last man on the legendary beach of Marathon…Think about that for a moment. Can you picture it? Damn. Please pause here and Wiki “Marathon.” Even better, watch it computer dramatized. Prepare to be amazed there were once such men. Go on… I’ll wait!…

That Athenian triumph deserves a movie! And believe me, it weighed heavily on the real life Leonidas, ten years later. “300″ author Frank Miller portrays the Spartans’ preening arrogance in the best possible light, as a kind of endearing tribal machismo. Miller never hints at the underlying reason for Leonidas’s rant, a deep current of smoldering shame over how Sparta sat out Marathon, leaving it to Athenian amateurs, like the playwright Aeschelus, to save all of Greece. The “shopkeepers” whom Leonidas outrageously and ungratefully despises in the film.

To a certain extent, it seems silly to keep pointing out how warped Miller’s world-view is. There are no questions that there are problems with safety at Occupy encampment, and I’ve been particularly troubled by the early trouble the movement seemed to have dealing with the risk of sexual assault and women’s concerns. But that’s not really what Miller’s screed is about. It’s just another way for him to assert that he’s doing more than anyone else is to combat terrorism inspired by extreme interpretations of Islam, to sneer “Wake up, pond scum. America is at war against a ruthless enemy. Maybe, between bouts of self-pity and all the other tasty tidbits of narcissism you’ve been served up in your sheltered, comfy little worlds, you’ve heard terms like al-Qaeda and Islamicism.”

And if Miller was an isolated crank with totally implausible beliefs, I’d probably just ignore him. But his conviction that the folks who don’t have jobs could have work if they wanted it in a time of persistently high unemployment is similar to the views University of Pennsylvania students who responded to Occupy protestors by telling them to join the same tax bracket those students expected to enter. The creepy idea that a New York mosque is a cover for a nest of terrorists, an animating fantasy of his execrable Holy Terror, is the one that’s entangled the development of a community center in the real world. Miller’s views are self-aggrandizing, uniformed junk, but it’s junk that has a foothold in American society.